Thursday, March 26, 2009

St. Joseph's Day Feast at Pete's in Brooklyn

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

This photo hardly does justice to Pete's beautifully upholstered antique furniture and other furnishings/wallpaper/etc. from the art nouveau period. Pete and Thom graciously invited me to share their St. Joseph's Day Feast in honor of Pete's mother, Josephine (although I might have this wrong -- it may have been his grandmother, but hopefully Pete will let me know when he sees this post). (Update: I did have it wrong -- Pete's mom's name was Cookie and his grandmother was Josephine.)

I had heard about the delectable delights Pete serves during special feast days from Thom for years and always wished I could experience them with Thom and Pete. Luckily, this year the stars aligned in that direction.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

One of the key elements of the St. Joseph's Day feast is dishes with sardines. And, sardines there were! When Thom and I arrived in Brooklyn (after he did a magnificent job cutting my hair), we were welcomed with delicious scents emerging from the kitchen of the brownstone house.

In the photo above, you can see the pan that welcomed us on the counter as we entered the kitchen. This beautiful display is stuffed filleted sardines separated with individual bay leaves. Each fillet is spread with a mixutre very similar to that of stuffed artichokes -- bread crumbs, grated cheese, garlic, seasoning, and olive oil. Pete had painstakenly filleted each of the sardines himself prior to stuffing, rolling, and arranging them in such a lovely way.

We ate these as a third course, so I'll describe them later.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

Also on the menu for the evening was this amazing sauce Pete was heating on the stove. It was meant for the pasta course -- Pasta con Sarde, meaning the sauce of sardines. Pete made this sauce from sauteed onions, fennel (a major flavor of the St. Joseph's Day festivities), sardines, olive oil, tomato paste, capers, and dried currants (although not in that order). I don't usually enjoy fruit in savory dishes, but (while I'll describe it in detail soon) I really liked his Pasta con Sarde.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

Since the pasta was boiling, it wasn't long before our host began to plate our first course, Pasta con Sarde.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

Pete explained that his family (like many Sicilians) was greatly influenced by Spanish cooking and culture. This explains the sweet addition of the currants. To explain the taste of the Pasta con Sarde, I really have to dip into the imagery section of my brain. While the gentlemen ate their two bowls of the pasta dish, I savored mine, eat-thinking on each bite.

The sauce (served with a perfectly cooked, fresh buccatini pasta from right there in Brooklyn) was complex, with the taste of the sea under the flavors of the fennel and the sweet-tang of the currants and capers. As I read what I just wrote, it's just not adequate to explain the richness of the sauce -- not rich in that "I'm going to really feel this later" way, but in the way that makes you remember trips to Italy, the way that makes you deliberately eat very slowly to capture each moment, each nuance of a delicious experience.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

Pete reminded me that Italians do not top their pastas made with fish sauces with cheese, so to top the Pasta con Sarde was a dish of freshly made Modica bread crumbs. On our way out to Brooklyn, Thom called Pete to say we were on our way, and Pete said he'd burnt the first batch of the bread crumbs, but you'd never know it from the fantastic flavors emanating from the kitchen. This topping was perfectly garlicky, golden brown, and crunchy. Pete said the crumbs were pan toasted with garlic and olive oil. I have to try this at home.

I could tell the Sarde was a long-cooked sauce because most of the sardines were long part of the sauce, except for those delightful little chunks I would find now and then. Thom thought I wouldn't eat the entire bowl, but he was wrong.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

After the pasta course, and while the stuffed sardines were cooking, we had a refreshing raw fennel and mesclun salad dressed with Pete's homemade dressing that featured capers and currants as well as white wine vinegar (that got all of us to coughing at one point or another from the tartness). Simple, fresh, and delicious.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

We also enjoyed slices of a very special bread baked locally just for St. Joseph's Day. It is a fennel bread, as you can see from the light green seeds speckling the very white bread in the photo. I imagined how delicious the leftover bread would be the next morning, toasted with fresh butter. Heavenly just to think about. I'm going to have to ask Pete to buy me an extra loaf next year just for the next morning's breakfast.

Next, came the stuffed sardines. Again, it was a course of many flavors and textures. The stuffing reminded me of the best stuffed artichokes -- garlickly bread crumbs seasoned perfectly and just a little salty from the hard chesse. The sardines had the flavor of the stuffing, but I could also taste the subtle bay flavor -- an ideal pairing for the lovingly prepared fish. The fish itself was perfect. Mind you, it's not for the bone-pickers. There are many, many tiny bones in the fish flesh. John definitely wouldn't be able to do these. A pity, I thought, as I finished two of the delicately rolled fillets.

Finally, while I enjoyed the cookies I had baked for the occasion (sugar sensitivities prevent me from doing otherwise), Thom and Pete enjoyed some traditional St. Joseph's Day pastries -- sfingi and zeppole stuffed with pastry/cannoli cream.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

Overall, it was a very tasty meal, but the best part was indeed the company. I felt spoiled in a way I haven't been in a long time. I'll have to work on a good way to return the favor.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Springfest Flower and Garden Show -- Review

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

I wish I could say otherwise, but it was a disappointment. Because it was an expensive show, John and I thought about it as an opportunity to help the local economy. We did receive a couple of free compact fluorescent bulbs for our trouble, though.

I also wish I'd known that 99% of the exhibits weren't actual exhibits, but vendor displays. They were lovely displays, but vendor displays nonetheless.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

The one actual display was a wall of award-winning orchids. Some of them were quite stunning. However, on any given day during the cold months, I can see equally, if not more beautiful (and fragrant in some cases) orchids at Mom's and Dave's house.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

Lesson learned.

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

The best part was the drive home when we stumbled on a really good deal on some Polish pottery. I'll be showcasing it here soon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Springfest Flower and Garden Show

If you're in Northern New Jersey this weekend, you should definitely go to Springfest Flower and Garden Show. If you visit the site, you'll find a coupon for $1 off the adult admission.

The show is filled with gorgeous, colorful exhibits; great speakers; and lots of neat stuff to buy. Rutgers Gardens will be there as well, so you can see what they've been up to in their greenhouses this winter.

I'm planning to go and take lots of photos (to be shown here, of course!).

By the way, Sunday's my birthday. And, I'll be OLD. 40. Well, as my friend Maryann says, 40 is the new 30. ;)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

AeroGarden Update: Lettuce and Basil

From March 2009 Recipes, Reviews and Other Photos

Probably the best thing about the AeroGarden's lettuce is being able to make sandwiches with the baby lettuce as the plants grow ever larger. It's great stuff! The basil is coming along as well, but not as quickly. I've pinched a couple of leaves here and there and noticed that both types of plants are much improved by gentle pruning.

If you don't already have one, I highly recommend the AeroGarden for homegrown greens all year 'round.