rye reginetti pasta, fresh peas and shoots

I made a field trip to Brooklyn to visit the workshop of artisan pasta maker Sfoglini. Owners Steve Gonzalez and his friend Scott Ketchum wanted to launch a business together a few years back, but after their initial plan to open an Italian restaurant was pushed to the wayside, they decided to focus on making pasta. Not just any pasta, but organic, bronze-die-extruded pasta made in small batches. That’s my favorite kind!

Steve is a chef with experience cooking all over Italy, and in New York City too (most recently he headed the pasta program at Frankie’s Spuntino‘s restaurants); Scott has expertise in product design and branding – a great match.

The other day, they were kind enough to let me poke around their kitchen, where I watched Steve make a batch of rye reginetti, from start to finish.

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israeli farro salad

I have a friend from Tel Aviv, a talented pottery artist who now lives in St Louis. When I first met them, she and her husband taught me a few things about what to do when you have people over. It goes like this:

Put some chairs around a table inside a charming screened porch that overlooks a lovingly tended garden of native plants, trees and bird feeders, complete with a creek running through it. At the same time let the kids outside to explore amongst themselves.

Next open a bottle of wine, maybe some chilled rosé, and set out some glasses so everyone can help themselves. Finally, put some fresh pita bread and a bowl of salad on the table, composed basically of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, fresh herbs and some olive oil.  Commence talking and sipping while enjoying this perfect snack, one I think is about thousand miles away from the usual chips and salsa.

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bay laurel pound cake

When I first visited San Francisco, I was walking down a shady little avenue somewhere and looked up. I was under a fragrant canopy of trees, all with dark, shiny green leaves I recognized as bay laurel. Amazing! My whole life I’d only seen those leaves preciously packed in small glass jars in the spice aisle, and here were literally millions of them just growing wild on the street.

At the time, I had a 4-inch pot in my apartment back home containing a struggling wisp of a bay laurel plant. It was a sickly skinny stick with maybe a handful of leaves on it when I bought it. One by one, the leaves withered away and then the plant died. I tried a few more times to grow my own little tree as a houseplant, each time while living in various places that had lots of things going for them but for the unfortunate lack of a Mediterranean climate.

I’ve since learned that the plant I was trying to grow was the not Umbellularia californica I saw in abundance in that state, but Laurus nobilis – same species, different variety. Both kinds thrive in the kind of climate where olives, rosemary and artichokes also thrive (as I’m absolutely sure I would, too).  [Read more...]