Lately, I have run into a lot of Europeans who in some fashion or another work in the arts. The interactions have left me both inspired and puzzled. Inspired, because they are behind some truly magnificent craft be it through the medium of sculptures and paintings or be it food. Yet puzzled, because they choose to remain below the ‘radar’.
I recently stumbled upon a tiny Italian café in Murray Hill called ‘Piccolo Café’. How could I not give this give this charming San Gimignano-like place a shot? The walls were filled with Italian newspapers on one side and a sprawling basil plant on the other and then of course there was the food counter playing host to a variety of baked goods.
The blackboard was chalked with inscriptions of dishes that I had not seen since my days in Italy. Great Southern dishes full of flavor and yet unmistakably honest. These dishes weren’t masked by an amalgamation of many ingredients, but rather, executed using only 3 or 4. The little Latin food haven pulled in a crowd of regulars and newcomers and one thing was certain for them all; they were in for a treat that would be hard to rival.
Such a great place and yet I had never heard of it. How could that be possible? Were they not aware of the plethora of social networking available to them? This is after all the 21st century. And then it dawned on me. In a world where it has become common practice to put the cart before the horse, one forgets the pleasures in honing in on ones skills before blowing their own trumpet. There is of course the added pleasure of being discovered by chance, like stumbling upon a pot of gold when one least expects to. The element of surprise is far more gratifying than the instant gratification of internet hits and fan page likes. Funny how simple things like ‘food’ can bring up such thought provocation.
As for the dish I ate, it was a zucchini parmigiana. Simple layers of shaved zucchini, tomatoes and a light dusting of parmesan truly allowed the ingredients to do all the talking.
¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp pesto sauce (fresh or store bought), or just some basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
Prepping the zucchini and tomato slices
1) Preheat oven to 320 degrees
2) Slice the zucchinis thinly on a mandolin, sprinkle with salt and set aside for 5 minutes
3) Slice the tomatoes in rounds, sprinkle with salt and set aside for 5 minutes
4) Drain off the excess water from both
5) Lay zucchini strips and tomatoes on lightly greased parchment paper and cook until they have dried out. Remove from oven
1) Sweat the garlic cloves in olive oil to infuse and then discard the garlic
2) Add the crushed tomatoes, season with salt and cook until most of the moisture is evaporated
1) Grease a narrow, oven proof dish (like a meatloaf pan)
2) Lay down strips of the zucchini, followed by half of the sliced tomatoes, sprinkle with the parmesan, top with half the pesto and ½ the tomato sauce. Repeat this one more time and then complete the final layer with a generous spread of the tomato sauce and a few pieces of mozzarella
3) Bake in the oven at 350 for approx. 30 minutes
A few wedges of toasted bread and a simple salad tossed in olive oil and vinegar
Pearls of wisdom
To avoid a sinking titanic, do not skip drying the zucchini and tomatoes in the oven first. The tomato sauce must also be reasonably well dried off