Hungry? If not, you will be after reading this post.
Last week, as part of my trip to New York for the IACP Conference, I had the opportunity to take a tour entitled "Greenwich Village and Beyond: Exploring Italian Food."
If there's one thing that I know, it's this: When you have the chance to "explore Italian food", you go. So I did. Fortunately for you, I also took pictures.
Our first stop on the tour was the quaint Pasticceria Rocco on Bleecker Street for cappuccino and mini Italian ricotta cheesecakes, or "croce", which means "cross". Lemmetellya, if this is how the Italians start their day, then sign me up. Ralph Allo, whose father-in-law started the shop in 1974, came out and spoke to us while we nibbled. When he told us about the 1920s granite cannoli-making machine downstairs someone of course asked if we could see it.
Ooh-kee-doo-kee. I guess we've worn out our welcome. Time to move on. Grazie!
(Don't get me wrong. He was extremely hospitable. I think that he's just protective of his cannoli machine. I would be too.)
Next up was the teeny tiny Florence Market, one of two remaining meat markets in the area, which still uses the traditional apprentice system (as opposed to the Donald Trump circus variety) to train their butchers. We had to tour the shop in shifts, as it could only fit about 5 of us at a time. No samples here, but I was eyeing the lamb sausage in their case--nice to know they ship.
On to Faicco's pork store! So far, not really a tour for vegetarians...
Look at what I got to eat (below). These were bananas. Well, obviously they're not bananas in the literal sense, but they were totally bananas in the Rachel Zoe slang sense. As these freshly fried prosciutto ricotta balls and arancini rice balls were passed around, Franco (of course his name was Franco), told us that Faicco's prides itself in being the only pork store in the city.
Now, I'm not a big consumer of fried food, but I could've eaten about 20 of these.
Next stop was Murray's Cheese shop, about which I was particularly excited. Eric and I have been ordering from Murray's on-line shop for awhile now (Yes! They overnight cheese and charcuterie to Las Vegas!), but I had never actually been to their store.
I love cheese.
And olives. Especially Cerignola olives. Try them. They're like buttah.
I could've easily stayed at Murray's for 5 hours and been perfectly happy........but fresh pasta, and Nonna, beckoned.
This is Nonna Ramona. Yes, it rhymes. She is the matriarch of Raffetto's on Houston Street, and she prepared cheese and spinach ravioli with tomato-basil sauce and whole wheat taglierini with pesto just for us.
Then, she showed us how they make fresh fettuccine using their guillotine-style pasta cutter. I really want one of these, but I'm not sure if it would fit in my kitchen.
At this point, obviously, I was famished. Fortunately, we had fresh mozzarella in our future.
And when Joe's Dairy says "fresh", they really truly mean fresh. The heaping platter of mozzarella that was served to us had just been finished 5 minutes beforehand. Crazy, huh?
I loved so many things about this little shop, which sold about 35 different types of cheese. They've never advertised anywhere except a listing in the Yellow Pages. The owner had been making cheese since he was 11-years-old and, from listening to him, he was clearly an expert.
Fun fact: Did you know that winter curd is preferable to summer curd because the cows eat hay in the winter vs. grass in the summer? Grass has higher water content, which affects the cheese.
You see? I was eating and paying attention.
Grandaisy Bakery, formerly Sullivan Street Bakery, was up next for Roman-style pizzas. Yes, plural. Four pizzas to be exact. Good. Still famished.
This photo below is of what might just be the best thing that I tasted during the tour. It's hard to pick just one favorite of course -- kind of like asking Michelle Duggar to pick a favorite child -- but this butternut squash, sage, onion, and Gruyere pizza is definitely a contender. I kept talking about it long after the tour was over, and it inspired the recipe for today's post.
The other three flavors, cauliflower, wild mushroom, and potato, were also excellent, but this is the one that stood out. Can't wait to go back.
Time for gelato!
This is Philippo, owner of Amorino Gelato. I have no idea what he said, but he had the cutest accent, and he definitely had our attention (am I right, ladies?)
We were allowed to try as many flavors as we wanted, in either a cup or a cone. I opted for a cup of the stracciatella, salted caramel, and Cioccolato Amorino, their own rich bitterweet chocolate flavor.
Others on the tour opted for Amorino's signature "flower" cone.
And then we were finito, and it was time to start thinking about where to have dinner.
Seriously though, I can't think of a better way than this tour to kick off my trip to New York. It really inspired me to explore other areas in the city on future visits, and to hunt down some of the great little artisan shops, of which I know there are many.
As I mentioned above, this Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion, and Gruyere Tart was inspired by that life-changing pizza that I tried at Grandaisy Bakery. I decided to do a tart because I knew that my attempts to recreate a New York-made pizza crust would leave me disappointed. Instead, I made a basic pate brisee crust, but I added a bit of cornmeal for some extra crunch.
This tart can really be served for any meal (or all three!) It's also just as good at room temperature, or cold, as it is fresh from the oven.
Ciao, or rather, "chow"!
Here are a few extra tips for making this tour-inspired tart:
- If you don't feel like making your own crust, certainly a store-bought one will suffice. That said, this crust is really fairly simple, so I encourage you to give it a try.
- No tart pan? No problem! Create a "rustic style" tart instead. Roll the dough out to a 14-inch circle, and place it on a baking sheet. Layer the ingredients in the center of the dough, leaving a 1 ½-inch border. After the ingredients are layered, fold the edges of the dough over to form a crust and slightly overlap the ingredients. Bake as directed.
Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion, and Gruyere Tart
Makes one 10-inch tart
For the crust
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
2-3 tablespoons ice water
For the tart filling
2 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large sweet yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 small butternut squash (1 ½ pounds), trimmed, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
1 ½ cups grated Gruyere cheese
Prepare the crust dough: In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt; pulse to combine. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 10-12 pulses. With the machine running, add 2 tablespoons of the ice water through the feed tube in a slow stream, mixing until the dough just begins to hold together, adding more water by the teaspoon if necessary. Do not overprocess, or the dough will become tough.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour before proceeding.
Meanwhile, start on the filling: Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Add the slice onion to the skillet, and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, 25-35 minutes. Set skillet aside to cool slightly.
Thinly slice each half of the squash crosswise. Toss the squash with the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil and the sage in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 425F degrees.
Remove the crust dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to a 13-inch round. Carefully transfer the dough to a fluted 10-inch tart pan with a removeable bottom, pressing evenly into the edges. Trim the dough so that it is flush with the edge of the tart pan. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.
Spread the caramelized onions over the bottom of the tart pan. Sprinkle the Gruyere over the onions. Arrange the squash slices in concentric circles over the cheese, overlapping as necessary.
Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the squash starts to caramelize and the crust becomes golden brown. Allow the tart to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting, or allow it to cool completely and serve at room temperature.