Wednesday, March 17, 2010

River Café’s Tagliatelle with Crème Fraiche and Arugula

Many years ago while flipping through the TV channels, I came across a cooking show that was so beautifully shot – natural lighting, sleek, modern restaurant setting, spectacular looking, rustic food - it stopped me in my tracks. Turns out PBS was running an episode from the British television series called The Italian Kitchen. The chefs were Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of London’s River Café and I instantly became a fan. Since then I have bought several of their books and vowed to someday taste their delicious Italian farmhouse cuisine firsthand at their restaurant on the banks of the River Thames.

Sadly, I heard Rose Gray passed away on February 28th at the age of 71. For twenty-plus years the River Café has helped influence and transform the British food scene. Rose and Ruth, both self-taught chefs, were passionate about sourcing the freshest seasonal ingredients and preparing them simply. They embodied locavorism long before it became fashionable. Like similar-minded American chef Alice Waters and her restaurant, Chez Panisse, many stellar chefs have emerged from the River Cafe kitchen; Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and April Bloomfield all learned and worked under Rose and Ruth.

One of my favorite recipes from the River Cafe is a delicious pasta dish made with lemons, crème fraiche, arugula, and Parmesan. It’s so rich, so creamy, and so easy it’s dangerous!

Tagliatelle with Crème Fraiche and Arugula
Adapted from Italian Easy by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

I was able to source many of the ingredients for this recipe from local New York farms. The crème fraiche came from Columbia County’s Ronnybrook Dairy and the arugula from Windfall Farm in Montgomery, New York. Instead of the dried egg tagliatelle called for in the original recipe I substituted Dutchess County's Knoll Crest Farm’s fresh pasta.

You can play with the ingredient amounts; depending on how you feel about lemon, you can add a little more or a little less. The same is true for the arugula. And tossing in a bit more Parmesan never hurt anything!

1 cup crème fraiche
Finely grated rind and juice from 2 lemons
12 ounces dried egg tagliatelle
5 cups loosely packed arugula, large stems removed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper

Stir together crème fraiche, lemon juice, and zest in a bowl until just combined. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain and return to pot. Add crème fraiche mixture, arugula and half of Parmesan; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and serve pasta with remaining Parmesan on the side.

Serves 4

Sunday, March 7, 2010

People's Garden NYC

As a resident of lower Manhattan, I’ve been closely following the debate over where the 9/11 terror trials will be held. Initially the trials were proposed for the federal courthouse which is very near the subway station I use to go to and from work. While it would be hugely satisfying to see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed meet his justice just blocks from Ground Zero, this part of town would again be subjected to intense security and media coverage, another very sobering daily reminder of what happened almost nine years ago (as if we need reminding).

In one of life’s little ironies, I’m also following another proposed event that would occur down the street from the courthouse at City Hall. In many ways it is the polar opposite to the trials; while September 11th was about discord, destruction, and death, the City Hall project is about new beginnings, nurturing, and bringing people together for the common good. It’s not big news like the trials, but the project has the potential to inspire the whole city towards a healthier, more sustainable future. What is it?

It’s called People’s Garden NYC. This grassroots project would be a teaching garden, planted in raised beds in front of City Hall in an area left open for security reasons and Yankee celebrations (I had to sneak that in!).

The garden would be filled with vegetables, flowers, and herbs and tended to by the city’s public school students. The kids would learn from local farmers how to grow plants organically and their harvest would be donated to a local food pantry. In addition to learning where their food comes from, the kids would get plenty of exercise, learn about healthy eating habits, and discover the many ways a garden is beneficial to the environment.

This is a proposed project, not yet approved. If enough people sign this petition, sending the message to Mayor Bloomberg that New Yorkers care about keeping their food local and improving the quality of life in their neighborhoods, it could become a reality.

Growing up in New Jersey, my family had a vegetable garden and as a result I was familiar with putting my hands in the soil, planting something, watching it grow, and eating what it produced. But that’s not the norm for most kids, especially city kids. Actually, forget about growing their own food – in certain parts of the city, kids don’t even have access to fresh fruit and produce. It's easier and cheaper for them to get a cheeseburger from McDonald's than it is an apple. While People’s Garden NYC wouldn’t change these conditions immediately, it would be a model for what could be in schoolyards, terraces, rooftops, and vacant lots throughout the city.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who launched the People’s Garden initiative, has set a goal of seeing an organic garden at every USDA building throughout the world, the first having been planted in February 2009 at its headquarters in Washington, DC. So far there are 124 People’s Gardens across the USA, not all at USDA buildings. In fact, Secretary Vilsack encourages anyone interested in starting a community garden to contact the department. While People's Garden NYC is not connected to the USDA initiative, David Bowman Simon, the person organizing the petition for People’s Garden NYC, was inspired by what the USDA has accomplished. He is also the co-founder of the influential The WhoFarm (aka The White House Organic Farm Project).

Speaking of the White House, that is the location of the most famous organic community garden of them all. Within 2 ½ months of moving in, the Obama’s broke ground on the first large scale White House vegetable garden since the Roosevelt administration. On a national level no political figure has been more visible in their support of community gardens than our First Lady. The sustainable food movement found a passionate and vocal ambassador in Michelle Obama; in addition to the White House organic garden, she supported the creation of the White House Famers’ Market and recently kicked off a campaign to fight childhood obesity called Let’s Move.

After a particularly cold and snowy winter we’re starting to thaw out just a wee bit in NYC. On my morning walks I hear the birds chirping their springtime songs and see the snowdrops peeking through the ground in the park. The warmer weather also means it's time to start gardening again. With a little bit of luck and many more signatures on this petition, New Yorkers will be able to watch a vegetable garden grow on the steps of City Hall as we go about our days. Please take a minute and lend your support to a great cause and give this part of town and all of New York City something to smile about.