November 2012

Best Med Dish at…Porsena Extra Bar

OK, SO I COULDN’T CHOOSE ONE DISH. LUNCH. LUNCH IS THE BEST Mediterranean dish at Chef Sara Jenkins’s Bar Extra in the East Village. Perch yourself on a stool at the long bar, pick almost anything on the midday menu, and you’ll likely find a Mediterranean-inspired combo: a trio of eggplant purée, spicy red pepper walnut purée and cucumber and labne, with Sardinian flatbread;  a Swiss chard and ricotta tart; salad of farro, tomato, cucumber, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Ribolitta, a warming Tuscan bean and vegetable soup, was tempting, but we were early and it wasn’t quite ready yet. (Oh, kale, where are you?)
 
We decided to start with another special, an arugula, shaved sunchoke and red onion salad, with a yogurt dressing ($6)—It was crisp and fresh and, sipping on hibiscus tea served Brooklyn-style in a Mason jar, I was already content.
 
 
After our salad, my friend Carol ordered the spicy grilled “Kimcheese” sandwich ($8), which she pronounced delicious, and I had the surryano ham sandwich ($10) made with cantaloupe melon butter (very delicate, but, yes, there was the cantaloupe) and cornichons on stecca, a baguette-like bread. Surryano, I learned, is a dry-cured ham made from Berkshire pork in Surry, Virginia. Clever name. Tasty in my sandwich.
 
 
The Extra Bar, which is right next door to Porsena, Jenkins’s pasta dinner restaurant, just opened in September, so being closed because of losing power for days post-Sandy—and refrigerated food—wasn’t exactly what they needed, but it wasn’t too long before they were announcing, “We’re back—boot straps up, knives sharpened, stove tops afire.” Lucky us.
           
In the evening, this friendly lunch counter turns into a wine bar, serving small plates and wines from around the Mediterranean. I walked by one evening and it looked so convivial. I’ll definitely be back—for lunch or a rosé, depending on the time of day and/or my mood! Mondays are always a good choice—$1 oysters all day long.
 
 
Want to learn how to cook like this at home? Jenkins will be teaching a class at De Gustibus Cooking School tonight, November 29, 5:30–8 pm, sharing classic holiday dishes from Tuscany. $95. The school is located on the 8th floor of Macy’s. Get tickets here.
 
Porsena Extra Bar 
21 East 7th Street
New York, NY
212-228-4923 

RECIPE: Fennel, Orange and Radish Salad


 
ORANGES, RADISHES AND RED ONION make a lovely salad on their own; Moroccan, Tunisian and Egyptian cooking all have tasty examples. For this meal, I decided to add fennel, for a welcome crunch—and because there it was, at the market. The dressing is an orange citronette (using orange juice as the acid, instead of lemon or vinegar). To prepare the orange segments, cut off each end of the orange, stand it on end and, using a sharp knife, cut downward in an arc, taking the pith and peel off. Finally, separate each segment from the membrane. (Here’s a handy video from Food52 if you’d like a demo.)
 
Serves 6
 
2 fennel bulbs, halved, cored, then very thinly sliced to create crescent shapes
2 oranges, peeled and in segments, membranes removed
4 radishes, thinly sliced (a mandoline makes this easy)
1/2 small red onion, halved, then very thinly sliced
Handful of mint leaves
   For the citronette:
Zest and juice of one orange
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
 
Combine fennel, orange segments, radishes and onion in a bowl.
 
In a separate bowl, combine the orange zest and juice with the mustard, then whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
 
Pour citronette into the bowl with the fennel combo, add mint leaves and toss gently. 

RECIPE: Tunisian-Style Carrot Salad


 
I’VE COME ACROSS MANY DIFFERENT VERSIONS of Tunisian and Moroccan carrot salads. Some are made with julienned raw carrots, often with raisins added. This one, though, is made with cooked carrots, which are tossed with a spicy citronette at the end. (Tunisian carrot salad is sometimes garnished with hard-boiled eggs and olives, a version that would make a great light lunch on its own.) A good harissa (hot chili sauce), made at Les Moulins Mahjoub in Tunisia, is available at Le Pain Quotidien. 
 
Serves 4, as side dish
 
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into thin (1/4-inch) angled slices
2-3 tbs lemon juice (depending how lemony you want it)
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne (or more, to taste)
1/8 tsp harissa
4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
Handful of flat-leaf parlsey, chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
 
Boil a medium saucepan of salted water and cook the carrot slices for 5 to 6 minutes. Don’t let them get mushy.
 
While the carrots are cooking, whisk together the lemon juice, spices, harissa and extra-virgin olive oil in a small bowl.
 
Drain carrots, let cool a little and place in a bowl.
 
Add the citronette to the carrots and the parsley and toss gently. Let stand for 10 minutes or so, so that the flavors combine.
 
Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Two Mediterranean Salads for the Thanksgiving Table

 
DAVID TANIS, WHO FOR MANY YEARS WAS CHEF AT CHEZ PANISSE, was writing in the Times last week about how chutneys, relishes and pickles can brighten up the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, gravy and stuffing. He wasn’t dissing the Thanksgiving meal, but he pointed out that the usual add-ons to this trio, delicious as they may be, “simply seem to add more richness.”
 
That got me thinking: Wouldn’t the much-loved citrus notes in Mediterranean cooking also help “brighten up an otherwise one-note meal,” as Tanis put it? When I first got interested in Med cuisine, I was amazed and thrilled by all the different uses of oranges and lemons and grapefruits. Grapefruit and fennel salsa with roasted halibut, sliced oranges with black olive spread or in a salad with beets, lemon zest on a roasted chicken dish. Lemons, especially, have become a pantry staple now for me.
 
But back to Thanksgiving. Carrots and fennel were plentiful at the farmers’ market this week. I thought they might work well for my citrus-y mission and complement the traditional Thanksgiving menu as well.
 
 
 
The dishes I came up with are both inspired by the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean—Morocco and Tunisia in particular. The cooked carrot salad is lemony and redolent of the spices of the Maghreb. The fennel, orange and radish salad incorporates the zest and juice of an orange, as well as orange segments, with fresh mint adding the final flavor boost. Both certainly add a bright note and lightness to the meal. I can even see leaving the fennel salad til the end of the meal, as a little palate cleanser before those fabulous desserts.