We've got lots of plans for The Butcher & The Baker in 2012, but perhaps closest to our hearts is a growing focus on collaboration. Not only are three, four or five heads better than two, but we stand to learn so much from our friends' tastes, voices and skills. This Sunday, in a first attempt, our good friend Mark Silver spent the afternoon in our kitchen, cooking us a beautiful and hearty brunch. Like us, Mark is a seriously dedicated home cook, who loves clean, bright flavors and does most of his shopping at green markets. And unlike us, Mark is a vegetarian. But as carnivorous (and cynical) as we are, Mark has proven time and time again that a meal doesn't need meat to be colorful, filling, and flavorful.
After a Saturday morning stroll though the Union Square Green Market, Mark came over Sunday afternoon with his boyfriend Jeffery and a bottle of Prosecco. He proceeded to take us through a classic and insanely simple rustic Italian dish - Pappa al Pomodoro, or stale bread and tomato stew. The stew highlights one of our favorite secret weapons for getting through the winter - canned tomatoes. After making a thick tomato stew from our can of choice (we just love the local Jersey Farms Crushed Tomatoes) we threw in big chunks of perfectly golden, just-toasted stale bread and let the magic happen. For an added kick, we topped the stew with a single raw Flying Pigs egg yolk - a yummy addition, but certainly optional for hard-core vegetarians. To fill out the meal, Mark slowly cooked some Cayuga Pure Organics Polenta with homemade vegetable stock, topped with Cowgirl Crème fraîche, Two Guys micro-scallions, and roasted mushrooms and, to cut the heaviness, a light green salad with celery and Parmesan.
Huge thanks to Mark for cooking such a perfect winter meal. We can't wait to have you and Jeffery back!
+ 1 loaf rustic white bread (fresh or day-old)
+ 1 28-oz. can crushed tomato
+ 1 small red onion, finally diced
+ garlic (8-10 cloves)
+ 1/2 tsp pepperoncino (red pepper flakes)
+ very good olive oil
+ a bay leaf
+ a saucepan of hot stock
1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
2. Slice the loaf into approximately 1-in./2-cm cubes. Discard any pieces that are too crusty. (You should have about 5-6 cups of cubes.)
3. Toss the bread with lots of peeled and halved garlic cloves in olive oil on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake until golden brown, but before garlic scorches.
4. In a large saucepan or sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid, add the diced red onion and pepperoncino to a couple tablespoons of olive oil, cover, and poach the onions over very low heat.
5. When the onions are soft and just beginning to color, add the entire can of tomatoes with a few ladlefuls of stock and a bay leaf. Season with salt to taste. Stir frequently, simmering the sauce over medium low heat.
6. Add the croutons to the tomato mixture, stirring frequently. Add stock as the bread absorbs it to maintain the stew's consistency.
7. Keep stirring and adding stock as necessary until the croutons soften and break apart - about 15 minutes.
8. You may leave the stew as is, or remove the bay leaf and purée it totally or part way with a foodmill or immersion blender.
9. To plate, ladle a generous portion into a shallow bowl, and drizzle with olive oil. You may top it with shaved cheese, chiffonade of basil, or an egg yolk, e.g.