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Entries in Arthur Avenue Bronx (3)

Monday
Feb062012

Borgatti's Ravioli with Elana's Special Vodka Sauce

There are two parts to this story:

Part the first: A review of our last stop in our Mega-Bronx weekend, the handmade pasta shop, Borgatti's.

Part the second: A treatise on the importance of a well-made Vodka Sauce and instructions in that regard (read: recipe).

Full to the brim with Zero Otto Nove's pizza and laden like expert Sherpas with cheese-stuffed breads, Italian wines, pastries and a roll or three of perfect mozzarella, the three of us (Marmo, John and I) waltzed up to Borgatti's to peruse the offerings:

This examination of the above menu was a bit of a charade, because we were there for one thing and one thing only: LARGE RAVIOLI. Handmade and stuffed to Thanksgiving turkey style proportions with copious amounts of fresh ricotta cheese.

We shuffled in (careful to protect our bags of bounty we had accumulated from slamming doors, wayward customers and even the BVM):

Once inside, we were invited to step to the left of the store by way of some helpful indicators:

And were also offered some spiritual reading material on the large refrigerator while we waited for our order (3 boxes of large ravioli, please!):

A close-up:

Walking out, I asked John what I should make with these gargantuan pillows of cheesiness.

"It's for the blog," I said, "It should be good....something we haven't done before...."

"Make a Vodka Sauce," he responded immediately.

Every now and again I think John is a genius. Other times that I've had this feeling have included this past Groundhog Day when he suggested we imbibe too many beers and go visit Punxsutawney Phil; and our infamous negotiations with a Vespa Sales rep in which John requested an in-dashboard cannoli dispenser.

This Vodka Sauce suggestion was right on. We've talked about it before, naming our local New Jersey Steakhouse Sammy's as our current favorite (John even suggested their Pasta with Vodka Sauce would be part of his last meal).

What's so great about Vodka Sauce? If you don't know, then you've never had a good one before. Chunks of tangy tomatoes are combined with heat from red pepper flakes, a heavy cream flair for thickness and smoothness and a generous cheese-glorious Parmesan infusion. And what role does the Vodka play? Well, folks, it's "the straw that stirs the drink". It somehow magnifies the heat from the pepper and complements the cream-cheesiness all the while adding a flavor of its own...and perhaps a feeling too. A feeling that makes you think, "Hey, maybe...just maybe I should DRINK this sauce."

You should want to drink it.

The following is MY own recipe for Vodka Sauce that You Will Want to Drink.

The dough-to-cheese proportions in a Borgatti ravioli are a perfect dance of harmony. And in old-school Italian grandma style, they don't skimp on portion size. Or flavor.

With this sauce placed atop Borgatti's large ravioli, this is a meal of which you can be proud. You can raise a flag and salute it with your cheeks stuffed chipmunk-style full of thick and fresh pasta dough.

What You Need:

Olive oil
1 large shallot
5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/3 cup vodka
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like it hot, hot hot!)
1 small basket cherry tomatoes
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
16 ounce can peeled tomatoes
4-5 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmeggiano Reggiano (more for the table)
Fresh Italian Parsley, chopped (as much as you want)

What To Do:

First, you need to prepare the roasted tomatoes.

Heat up your oven (or your toaster oven!) to 350 degrees.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with tin foil.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and place them in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) and sprinkle with a generous pinch of kosher salt.

Mix all of this around with your hands so that all the tomatoes are evenly coated with oil and salt.

Spread the tomatoes onto your prepared baking sheet and place them in the oven for about 20 minutes. The tomatoes will bubble and turn slightly brown. This is just as it should be. Remove them from the oven and let them cool.

Once they have cooled, place the roasted tomatoes in your food processor and puree them.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. I used a cast iron pot, because everything gets nice and toasty in there. Anything non-stick won't work as well. It'll work....just not as well.

Chop the shallot and add it to the pot. Stir it around and turn the heat to medium-low so that it doesn't burn.

Add the freshly chopped basil and the red pepper flakes. Gently crush the red pepper flakes with your fingers as you add them to the pot. This releases the heat in the flakes.

Cook this untll the shallots have softened, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and add the vodka. Always add alcohol away from the heat. Alcohol is flammable, and generally (at least in my kitchen) I like to avoid spontaneous human combustion. Or spontaneous dish towel combustion....you get the idea – AWAY from the heat!

Once the vodka has been added, return the pot to the stove and let this whole mixture simmer and reduce until you have about half the volume that you started with.

Add the pureed roasted tomatoes and the whole peeled tomatoes. Break apart the whole peeled tomatoes with a wooden spoon, so they are in chunks. Add a pinch of salt (to taste) and some freshly ground pepper.

Bring the mixture to a simmer. At this point you can give it a taste and see if you would like to add more salt, pepper or red pepper flakes. You can definitely add as much basil as you like!

Now add the heavy cream. It's best to add the cream one tablespoon at a time, as a little heavy cream goes a long way. You want the sauce to be a red-orange color. Not pink.

Remove the pot of sauce from the heat again and add in your grated Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese. The sauce is hot, so it will melt the cheese. Swirl it around to make sure all the cheese is incorporated.

And violá! You are done.

Except for your ravioli....

So, boil a quart of water per 4 ravioli. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add a generous pinch of sea salt, and plop in your ginormous ravioli. Allow them to cook for about 4 minutes.

Drain, top with vodka sauce and freshly chopped Italian parsley. Make sure there's more grated Parm hanging around...

Friday
Jan132012

Madonia Brothers Bakery in the Bronx – Carbing Me Up Since 1918!

If you read Wednesday's post you know that John, Marmo and I had an all-out food fest last Saturday on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. It was nuts. We left the Bronx with the car packed to the rear-view mounted EZ-Pass with pastas, pastries, wines, cheeses and BREAD.

Between John and I, I am probably the one with the carb fixation. We've discussed this. It's a problem that I don't wish to fix.

So when we walked past Madonia Brothers Bakery and I spotted this in the window, I seized up a little bit:

Prosciutto bread? In a fancy ring that I could potentially wear as a floury bangle bracelet and take occasional (ok, constant) nibbles from all day long, like it was one of those candy necklaces you had in the third grade?

Yes, please! I'll take two - one for each wrist.

In reality the prosciutto bread rings are much larger than bracelet sized. But while they are unwieldy as an accessory, they are excellent for actual eating.

The above photo provides a close-up view of the prosciutto chunks nestled between the crispy, bubbled golden brown crust and the soft salty insides. Cracked pepper speckles the ring and provides a little bite and also a nice contrast to the salty prosciutto.

Dip this in some olive oil, melt some provolone on top – you won't be sorry.

But I didn't stop there. Marmo is often like a little blonde food oracle. And when the food oracle speaks, I listen. Or pretend to, anyway. Marmo's advice at Madonia's was to get the Cheese Bread. "You MUST," said she.

And so I did, and dove in immediately after they handed me the freshly sliced loaf. The cheese is integrated so seamlessly into the bread that it feels and tastes like part of the batter. The result is a soft cloud where flour and cheese intermingle with tiny flecks of pepper.... I should have purchased more than one loaf as it didn't last until the next day.

I then spotted a Cranberry Walnut bread staring me down by the cash register. It laughed in my face. It said, "You think you're going to walk out of there without me? Think again, lady."

Now, I've met some Cranberry Walnut breads in my time. They aren't modest. They pack themselves full of berries and nuts and just let it all hang out, unembarrassed and unashamed. They want you to butter them. They like it.

The above photo demonstrates this well-deserved berry and nut conceit. This is another loaf I should have purchased in bulk. I've been toasting it with some currant jam, plopping poached eggs on top and calling it a night. Or a morning. Or a snack... A little cinnamon cream cheese will do the trick too. To say nothing of butter.

While we were there the FDNY Tower Ladder 58 rolled up and invaded the bakery.

The roof was not on fire, literally speaking anyway. The group of firefighters walked in and purchased 1/3 of the inventory of the place. I'm glad I got mine before the hungry firemen.

Not even a week later and I only have a little prosciutto bread left. I stupidly handed over my other prosciutto bangle to The Box. I'll be headed out for a return trip, as should you! Even if it's for the very first time!

Madonia Brothers Bakery
2348 Arthur Ave
Bronx, NY 10458

(718) 295-5573

Wednesday
Jan112012

A Super Saturday in the Bronx - Stop #1, Casa Della Mozzarella

 

This past weekend, Elana, Mom ("Marmo"), and I traveled to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to get a full day's worth of Italian culinary glory.  (The mural above of JC and what I believe to be a deceased local man greeted us as we parked our car in the town lot.)  For those unaware, the Bronx has a "Little Italy" section of its own, which is superior to the one in Manhattan in most respects.  For starters, this Little Italy has, wouldn't you know it, an actual Italian population.  It's not uncommon for the native language to be spoken in and around Arthur Ave by its inhabitants, which only reinforces the authentic feel of area.  Although it still caters to tourists with the occasional cheesy t-shirt store and gimmicky gift shops, it's not an overwhelmingly commercialized cavone scene like in Manhattan.  And the culinary landscape, with its impressive selection of delicatessens, bakeries, markets and butcher shops, is a bit more bona fide as well.

One of the first stops for this Super Saturday was Casa Della Mozzarella, an Italian deli located just off Arthur Avenue on 604 East 187th Street.  Truth be told, I had not been to this place before, and was directed by some credible sources, including Marmo herself.

The deli itself is an extremely narrow, tight space.  Really tight actually.  And seemingly crowded, too.  Even from the back of the line, behind the semi-solid wall of hanging meats and cheeses,  I hear one of the guys behind the counter shout "you customers all look the same to me!" - Which is greeted with a roar of laughter from the customers.  Even though there is a decent wait, no one is angry or in a rush.  Understanding customers realize that good things can take time.

On my way towards the front of the line, I'm impressed with the neatly organized cans of sauce, jarred truffles, and packaged pasta which line the walls, seemingly inches away from my face.  With its Christmas decorations, Italian music, and protruding display counter, it's like I had been placed in a cozy wonderland of Italian delicatessen decor. 

All of the staff is in uniform: white chef coats, and blue azzuri hats.  There is a quiet, smooth professionalism to the whole operation.  All of the men are working; some taking orders, others slicing meats - but there is no rush or haste.  All orders are receiving the requisite amount of care.

I really just wanted to sample all of the aged provolone and salami in the joint, but I needed to pace myself.  This was one of the first stops of the day, and my stomach could only expand so much.  So Elana and I make the decision to just try their homemade mozzarella, which is a fair compromise I think.  I mean, if you're going to just have one item from an Italian deli, why not make it the deli's own fresh mozzarella.Casa's actual Mozzarella is outstanding.  We opted for the salted mozzarella (seen above) which we got free samples of first.  Even cold, it was extremely soft, slightly stretchy, with a tangy, slithery, milky quality to it.  The salt levels are perfect.  After our sample, I immediately order one pound to take home, which I subsequently devoured in its entirety (not kidding) at around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning after a late night dance party at a friend's apartment.  Nice and light, late night snack.  Pretty gross to picture that, right?  Except it wasn't gross.  It was goddamn glorious.  And I could have had more.  It was even perhaps better than Ben and Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (pints of which I have also cleared out in a single, non stop sitting).

Based on that mozzarella, (and the long line), I'm willing to confidently bet that the rest of the deli is amazing, too.  Stop #1 = a success.  Casa Della gets a big thumbs up.