Rapini - broccoli rabe - with sausage and orecchiette pasta.
Massapequa, New York - my hometown - was chiefly notable for being the stomping grounds of Alec Baldwin and his clan of acting brothers; celebrated comedian Jerry Seinfeld; and popular joke-butt Joey Buttafuoco, who enjoyed a brief period of notoriety on account of his involvement with underage girlfriend and would-be murderess Amy Fisher in the early 1990’s. It was also the summer residence of one Carlo Gambino, boss of the eponymous Cosa Nostra crime family.
Massapequa was also notable for its ethnic makeup. Typical of many areas on the south shore of Long Island, it had large populations of both Italians and Jews. It was not for nothing that it was called “Matzoh-Pizza” by local wits.
Last week, I paid culinary homage to both facets of my old hometown’s personality.
Tuesday, with She Who Must Be Obeyed having had dinner arrangements elsewhere, I did what I usually do when I’m on my own: I prepare something the Missus doesn’t especially care for. In this case, I had a pile of broccoli rabe sitting in the fridge, a vegetable that SWMBO generally disdains owing to its bitter edge. For me, however, that bitterness only adds to the vegetable’s appeal.
Broccoli rabe (AKA rapini) pairs up very well with hot Italian sausage. I elected to cut a few calories and go the chicken-based sausage route, adding a few extra shakes of red pepper flakes to kick up the heat index. Sautéeing freshly washed rapini with some minced garlic and red pepper flakes kept it crisp-tender while taming its fearsome bitterness. Along with all this went some orecchiette pasta, a bit of chicken broth (reduced along with a cup of the starchy pasta cooking water) and a finish of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. It was a meal like you might find in Apulia... or Massapequa.
The week rolled by and before we knew it, it was Friday. Following in the footsteps of Elder Daughter - who became an accomplished bread baker during her summer Farm-Sojourn in Massachusetts - I decided to bake a challah.
I had tried baking challah a few times before, always with less-than-satisfactory results. My first loaf was flavorless; my second, wet enough to require baking in a pan, was overly cakey and sweet. This time, however, I adjusted the sweetening downward a tad, using a 50:50 blend of sugar and honey, and was careful to use enough salt. I also took pains to add enough - but not too much - flour, adding a few minutes of kneading after the first rise.
Challah à la Elisson: for perhaps the first time ever, I manage to bake a pretty decent loaf of bread.
Whatever I did must have worked. For once, this loaf was a bready home run: the right flavor and texture that cried out for you to tear off just one more little hunk. How good was it? Usually, our store-bought loaves survive Shabbat dinner mostly intact - this one was pretty much demolished. Easily the best loaf of bread I have ever baked. (Actually, the only really decent loaf I’ve ever baked.)
It was a challah that might have been at home in any Brooklyn bakery... or in Massapequa.
As a coda to the week’s Foody Activities, we joined a group of friends at the local Tibetan place - yes, there is actually a Tibetan restaurant in the neighborhood, strategically tucked away behind a Shell station - where I stuffed myself with (what else?) yak meat, served up in a hearty stir-fry with scallions, baby bok choy, and gaboons of cumin and cilantro. For afters, we all repaired to Chez Elisson, where I cranked out a load of ice cream flavored with matcha green tea.
Matchless Matcha Ice Cream.
It was a dessert that would have been perfectly at home in Kyoto... but probably not in Massapequa. “Green tea ice cream? Yo, I gotcher green tea ice cream right here!”