August 7, 2010

A Tribute to New York City Part 2

Lady Liberty

It’s during this time of year that I start to miss New York the most.  The idea of cooler weather with a slightly salty breeze coming off the Hudson River sounds much more appealing than the extreme temperatures we’ve been experiencing here in Texas.  Seriously, I’m melting as we speak.  When I used to complain about the cold winters (which I do not miss, not one bit.) in New York, people would tell me, “Just wait.  Our summers are brutally hot.”  I’d laugh inside.  Because, really, you’re going to tell me New York summers are more blistering than the ones we have in Texas?  Ha. Ha. HA.  However, there are things about New York that I miss besides the milder temperatures, though most of them are associated with summer time.  I loved the fact that during warmer weather, the city would just come alive- to a completely different level.  On almost any day of the week you could find some kind of outdoor event to while away the hours, whether it be at a regularly scheduled flea market or an outdoor celebration like the Mermaid Parade (celebrating the beginning of summer out on Coney Island).

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Couldn't resist this gorgeous flower at the BBG

It was around mid-summer during my year spent living in New York that I had made the decision to move back to Texas.  I also made the decision right then and there to do as many “New Yorky” things as possible.  I had a blast checking things off my list.  I made a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Jones Beach out on Long Island, Coney Island, several museums, and the New York Aquarium.

The Wonder Wheel and Coney Island

The funny thing is, that with the exception of the beaches, I could do all those other things right here in Dallas.  For whatever reason, I never bother to here.  Two things I can’t do in Dallas, however, and desperately wish I could, is attend Broadway shows and spend the day at Central Park.

Strawberry Fields in Central Park

Bow Bridge in Central Park

I had a deep love affair with Central Park.  I was in awe of the beauty of that place during all seasons.  Whether it was watching the leaves fall while strolling down The Mall, gazing out upon the blanket of snow from Bow Bridge, welcoming the first spring rain while relaxing in Strawberry Fields, or enjoying a picnic among the sea of people in the Great Lawn.  (I actually took my mom along for one of those picnics when she came to visit.  I made a pretty spectacular spread, if I don’t say so myself, of grilled vegetable panzanella, spicy apricot and molasses glazed shrimp, watermelon, feta and arugula salad, and chocolate espresso caramel bars- now my most requested item.)

On top of the MET

Inside the MET with my favorite artist, Van Gogh

While there is an endless amount of activities and places to visit in New York, there are probably twice as many restaurants.  Of course, there are the classics and the critically acclaimed that stand out from the bunch, too many of which I didn’t have the time or money to enjoy, but there is one restaurant in New York that I could probably call my favorite (or at least mark it as a tie with my other favorite restaurant located here in Dallas): The Spotted Pig.  I only had the opportunity to eat a meal here once, but that was enough to solidify its place in my heart.  The wait for a table is always extreme, but there is a reason for that.  The food is unreal.  It’s a gastro-pub offering a fusion of traditional British fare and Italian cuisine.  The pork belly was succulent.  The shoestring fries, crisped to perfection.  But nothing, nothing, could ever be as decadently delicious as the plump, pillowy, perfection that is their gnudi.   Gnudi, which is literally translated to “naked”, are pasta-like ricotta dumplings that have been shed of their pasta “clothing.”  The ricotta bursts through its thin exterior and immediately changes your world.  They are a revelation.  Trust me, once you eat gnudi, you will never want run-of-the-mill ravioli ever again.

Rise No 1 Souffle

By comparison, my favorite Dallas restaurant, which is much easier to get a table at, is rise nº 1.  It’s an adorable French restaurant specializing in soufflés.  They of course offer other French fare beyond soufflés, but why bother going if you’re not going to indulge in one of their many, many flavors like sun-dried tomato and pesto chèvre, truffle infused mushroom, or the Cajun crab and boursin cheese.  You must save room for a chocolate, strawberry, or praline soufflé to finish your meal, however.  All three are to die for.  On second thought, it’s probably better to go ahead and order all three.

My Williamsburg Bridge

Besides my beloved Central Park and The Spotted Pig, there is perhaps one last thing that I miss more than anything: my bridge (otherwise known as the Williamsburg Bridge).  I ran across it almost daily.  There was something so peaceful and serene about pounding my feet on the pavement as I looked out upon the East River and the Manhattan skyline, breathing in the crisp, salty air.  I loved being able to race toward the Lower East Side with Brooklyn behind me, only to turn around and experience it all over again.  It’s not quite the same running around my flat Plano, TX neighborhood anymore.  I’m always hoping to suddenly approach a vast metal structure that will carry me over a body of water of some kind.  Which, on a side note, up until I lived in New York I never knew how much I loved being around water.  Watching the sun glisten on the water’s surface never failed to make me smile, especially if I was lucky enough to catch a sunset while standing at the water’s edge. 

I spy... Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

It’s funny how memories tend to become more dear and precious as time goes on.  As my time spent in New York grows more and more distant, I grow even fonder of my experiences there.  My affection for sunsets, Central Park, and the Spotted Pig may be but mere, fading memories, but they’ll always hold a place in my heart.  And at least I can still have my gnudi, and eat it too.

(Gnudi recipe follows)

gnudi=pillowy perfection

Ricotta Gnudi with Crispy Sage and Brown Butter Sauce
Inspired by The Spotted Pig, adapted from The Paupered Chef

1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (if possible, use sheep’s milk ricotta or, if you’re up to it, make your own ricotta)
1 cup grated grated Parmesan
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ cup all-purpose flour
4-5 cups semolina flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
about 24 sage leaves
¼ cup shredded Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
fresh black pepper to taste

1. Combine the ricotta, grated Parmesan, eggs, egg yolk and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl and whisk vigorously until the mixture is light and airy.

2. Gently fold in the ½ cup flour until it is combined with the ricotta mixture.  If the mixture seems too sticky at this point, add in 1 tablespoon more flour at a time.

3. In a large, shallow dish (but at least 2-inches deep), sprinkle ¼-inch semolina flour on the bottom.  Using a small cookie dough scoop, about an inch in diameter, scoop the ricotta mixture into small, round balls, using floured hands to shape if necessary, and arrange on top of the semolina, making sure not to touch each other or the sides of the dish.  After all the ricotta mixture is scooped, rolled, and arranged, cover the balls completely with the remaining semolina flour. The balls should be buried.  Transfer to the fridge and let sit for at least 12 hours, and up to 24.  *I found that resting the ricotta balls for 24 hours made a thicker “crust” than I would have liked. I would suggest a shorter resting period.

4. Carefully unearth the gnudi and set aside on a baking sheet.  The remaining semolina flour can be sifted and reserved for another future use.  Allow the gnudi to come to room temperature.

5. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  In a skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Watch it carefully, and when the butter solids begin to brown and turn foamy, add the sage leaves.  Continue to cook until the butter turns a nutty brown color.  Be careful not to burn the butter, as it will turn bitter.

6. Once the water is boiling, carefully transfer the gnudi to the pot and cook until they float, about 2 minutes.  Avoid overcooking or the exterior will toughen.

7. Removing the gnudi with a slotted spoon to drain, transfer to the brown butter sauce and serve immediately.  Top with the shredded Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh black pepper.

Serves 4

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