I to start with one of the great Italian dishes of all time. Porchetta, completely accessible and easy to do at home.
You just need to know what to ask for at your meat counter or order it ahead: one whole skin-on pork shoulder, boned. You can tell them there’s no need to tie it but that you want the bone. It should look like this when spread out on a cutting board:
You’ll need to score the skin, easiest to do using a box cutter:
Then load the interior with seasonings (lots of fresh herbs, garlic, salt, pepper, fennel pollen or crushed fennel seeds, though pollen is worth it) and tie it into a roll:
I tied it using a knot Thomas Keller taught me, a simple slipknot; you start it like you’re tying a square knot then instead of taking the string in your left hand behind and around the string in your right, you do the opposite, bring the string on the left in front of the string on your right and around the back and through toward yourself. You should have a knot you can cinch tightly.
Slowly roast this pork shoulder for five or six hours, until the tough muscle is tender and fragrant and the interior fat has rendered, basting it frequently with wine and the pan juices.
One seven-pound shoulder easily fed eight people. A splendid and celebratory centerpiece to an unmasked evening with friends.
We used a fantastic recipe created by Sara Jenkins, who used to operate a small shop in the East Village called Porchetta where, judging from her recipe, she perfected it, (published in Food52). It really is worth splurging on the fennel powder instead of using crushed fennel seeds. And it smells so damn good all day long.
But I think the best part of making a porchetta for friends was opening the door to those friends and hugging them as they entered. It still feels thrilling and new and lucky. May we never take this pleasure for granted again.
Brunch in New York City…
Certainly the most joyous meal of the past two weeks was Sunday brunch in our apartment in the West Village with Ann’s son Sam and his GF, Katherine, Ann’s daughter Annabelle and her friend, Jaileen. It was a rainy Sunday in the city, the day before Memorial Day and thus perfect for a cozy brunch at home. Our first group meal there since the pandemic.
I kept it simple: hot coffee and bloody Marys; bangers from Myers of Keswick (a wonderful shop selling English fare a few blocks up on Hudson), scrambled eggs with cheddar, and Bays English muffins, the tastiest English Muffin available (look for them in the refrigerated section of your store; they won’t be with the shelf-stable Thomas’s and Wonderbread).
Thence to The Met…
To see the FABULOUS Alice Neel exhibit, one of the most original portrait painters of the last century, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Self-portrait of the artist as an 80-year-old woman:
We had to wait in line in the rain for a half hour, and it was a post-pandemic delight. As the NYTimes noted the next day: “Lines Never Felt So Good: Crowds Herald New York’s Reopening.” True!
And I must mention …
Apropos of nothing, just because it was the best burger I’ve had in ages.
$5.75 at The Blarney Stone in Syracuse, NY, visiting my son James, who’s in school there.
What we’ve been drinking…
Two excellent Friday Cocktail Hour cocktails. First, the Pink lady, a gin-applejack sour, sweetened with homemade grenadine, enriched with an egg white. A fabulous cocktail. But it was over shadowed by what we’re calling the Minkin Manhattan, thanks to a gift from our friend, writer-editor Tracey Minkin, who arrived in Providence bearing an amaro from a new company in Brooklyn called Faccia Brutto. Patrick Miller, formerly chef of Rucola, decided to begin making this and four other amari after making his own bitters to give as Christmas gifts.
He joined us live on Instagram to talk about amari and his company, and I created a Manhattan-style cocktail using it. It’s fabulous. Can’t wait to try his other amari.
The Minkin Manhattan
2 ounces bourbon (preferably Michter’s Single Barrel)
1.5 ounces sweet vermouth
0.5 ounces Frenet Pianta
Garnish with marischino cherry, lemon or orange twist
That said …
We sat down for a cocktail in our neighborhood at restaurant Dante, which opened just before the pandemic, and the drink was, Ann and I agreed, the best Manhattan we’d ever had.
Woodford rye, Woodford bourbon, Carpano Antica, Nocino, chocolate bitters, and coffee bitters. You see the garnish. And I loved the service, extra on ice in a mini carafe. It’s that Nocino, the walnut liqueur, that makes it.
What we’re reading…
I’ve just finished an excellent biography of James Beard, The Man Who Ate Too Much, by John Birdsall, a delightful read. One of the book’s focuses is on Beard’s homosexuality and the subterranean gay life of Paris, London, and New York at a time when one’s sexuality was punishable. Beard himself was expelled from Reed College after being caught in an indiscretion (fellatio, German professor) and went on to pursue acting before finding his gift for food.
James Beard actually cooked in my high school auditorium, Cleveland, 1980, five years before his death, when I was a junior. It was the one day that year I was absent.
I think the entire time Ann was reading Ruth Gilligan’s The Butchers, she kept saying, “I love this book,” and “I can’t wait to get back to this book,” and “This is the kind of book I want to either dive in for hours and just read it through in one go or read it so slowly that it never ends.”
“Rich with folklore and mystery and Ireland,” Ann says, “The Butchers are eight men who roam the country, slaughtering the cows of those who still have faith in the old ways. They are feared and mocked in equal measure by people who dismiss the tradition. But this is also the story of the women and children they leave behind. I cannot stop thinking about this book.”
What we’re listening to…
A while back I recommended Bach’s Cello Suites, transcribed for the piano by Eleonore Bindman (thanks to the Culture Gabfest’s Julia Stevens, something we also listen to weekly). I’ve just discovered these same classic cello suites transcribed for the violin, by Johnny Gandelsman. Lovely.
What we’re watching…
Two nights ago, opening night on HBO Max, we watched, In the Heights, the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first play, which Miranda began writing, I believe, while he was still an undergrad at Wesleyan.
And Ann watched Bo Burnham’s Inside, which I cannot wait to watch, especially after hearing what she had to say: You have to watch it even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Links we’re loving…
I always love kitchen gadget stories because so many really are unnecessary. (The Guardian.) But I do have to give a shoutout to one of my favorite unitaskers: the lemon juicer. Which I use all the time.
I’ve been enjoying Kate Hill’s substack, most recently this one, where she defends the mid-day nap. Hear, hear. Kate is an American, living in and writing about the food and cooking Gascony, southwestern France. Kate is a great source of information and inspiration.
And if you’re having pandemic related sleep issues, this was an interesting article on tips to keep you on schedule and asleep through the night. (NYTimes)
This is an excellent story on Billy West the man behind Zuni Cafe, well before he convinced the late Judy Rodgers to take over the kitchen, by Mr. Birdsall, author of the aforementioned Beard biography.
And, in keeping with the LGBTQ+ theme, here are two women butchers who have opened up shop in Dobbs Ferry, NY. I hope this isn’t sexist, but I have to say, women butcher rock. Moms, no less! (via Eater.)
And, happily, I just came upon this photo essay on New York City’s opening back up, all shot by 20-something photographers for The New York Times. Makes the heart glad.
I leave you with this extraordinary Jimmy Fallon/Lin-Manuel Broadway is Back routine, featuring one of my favorite songs from Hamilton (well worth enduring the 15-second ad that precedes it):
See you in a couple of weeks!