Matt and I used to live just around the corner from one of the best Italian specialty stores in Brooklyn. Caputo’s. Oh dio, this place is fantastic. They import the best stuff from Italy and make their own sausages and fresh pastas. They also make mozzarella and ricotta several times a day so it’s always extremely fresh. Needless to say, we were there a lot.
Note: This story gets a little sad… It was actually the owner’s elderly father who made the mozzarella and he liked to pick out the perfect ball for each person, dip it in the salty brine and hand it to you himself. It was very sweet. So one day Matt and I go in and order a bunch of stuff and as we’re chatting with the old man, he asks us how long we’ve been married. We tell him and he tears up, grabs my hand and tells me that his wife died. So of course, I tear up as he says how much he misses her. Now the old man and I are creating quite an awkward spectacle. Not what people expect to see as they’re buying their gnocchi. The owner comes out from the back and calms his dad and explains that his mom actually passed away a few years ago but his dad forgets this. Then he kindly hands me a tissue as I am no longer at all sanitary.
After that day, for some reason, every time the old man saw me, he would burst into tears. I felt so bad that I was triggering this reaction that I would lurk outside to see if the old man was there, and if he was, I would get the counter guys to sneak a mozzarella ball into my order while I would duck behind the counter. He stopped working eventually but mozzarella now has this bitter-sweet association for me. Maybe now it will for you too! You’re welcome.
Steamed mussels and clams are perfect for a crowd. Compared to a lot of seafood, they’re cheap, they’re a cinch to make and best of all, tasty. I also really like informal dinner parties and you can’t get more casual than everyone digging and dunking out of a big bowl in the middle of the table. Slurping broth from a clam shell is a great equalizer.
Over the weekend, we had our friends, Karen and Tom, over for dinner and we made a big pot of Garlicky Mussels and Clams along with a Corn, Tomato and Basil salad. With some good bread, a decent bottle of wine (or 3), it was a good night.
We did end up with a lot left over since someone couldn’t make it (‘sup Eric! You were expecting a leftover delivery, huh?). Well, we selfishly kept the leftovers to make this the next night. The best part is, it only takes as long as the pasta takes to cook.
I hated fish so much as a kid that I would fake allergies, stomach aches, symptoms of the plague to keep from having to eat anything from the sea (except seaweed which I loved, oddly enough). Every so often, my parents would take my brother, Nick, and I fishing off of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. We would have to wake up at 4:30am to get to the charter boat on time, which (in my memory) was always filled with cranky old Brooklyn mobsters.
Being on the water was exhilarating though, and I loved the excited chatter that went around the boat when anyone felt a nibble on the line. At least once, I was the only person who caught anything which would fill me with dread because that meant, at some point, we would be expected to eat it.
I think I might be a tomato snob. I mean, I’m not one of those people who goes to a farmers market and knows the name of every heirloom variety in existence (overheard at the Cold Spring market “They only have Brandywine and Green Zebras left, God I hate this place“).
During most of the year, I’ll pick them out of sandwiches and salads and usually try to sneak them onto Matt’s plate even though he doesn’t love them either (I feel better knowing they’ve gone to a good home). I just really don’t like the taste and texture of out of season tomatoes and would rather wait until the good ones come out. Well, they’re out, and I can finally have the tomato sandwich I’ve been dreaming of all year.
Quick aside; in my real job as a film editor, I recently worked on a movie about farm labor and learned that all commercial tomatoes (the grocery store kind) are picked green because they need to be rock hard to survive the long trip to the store. When they get near the store, they gas them (!) which turns the skins red, but the insides stay un-ripe. That’s why even pretty looking supermarket tomatoes usually taste like wet sneaker. Yum!
Anyway, I dedicate this recipe to my old roommate Paola who introduced me to the glory of the perfect tomato sandwich. When in season, we ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hers was simply good bread, ripe tomato and sliced onion but I’m a bougie bastard and can’t resist gilding the lily with mayo, basil, maldon salt and occasionally avocado. Your tomato sandwich may well be different, but wouldn’t life be boring if everyone was the same?
Ok, one more zucchini recipe. I’m not obsessed, I swear, we just have a lot of zucchini growing in the garden. Matt’s sister Hayli made this zucchini cake (AKA courgette cake) for us when we visited her in France (I know you’re feeling SO sorry for us right now) and it was fantastic. Very summery from the lemon curd and the zucchini keeps the cake extremely moist. I adapted it from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. We usually make it with green zucchini which gives the cake delightful green flecks throughout, but we’re growing yellow zucchini so that’s what I’ve used.