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NYTimes.com Article: The Asparagus Pedals to Work

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  • rickrise@earthlink.net
    The article below from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by rickrise@earthlink.net. A carfree cuisine jockey pedals round Manhattan on his cargo bike!
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2004
      The article below from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by rickrise@....

      A carfree cuisine jockey pedals round Manhattan on his cargo bike!


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      The Asparagus Pedals to Work

      June 2, 2004

      THREE mornings a week, Peter Hoffman pedals down the side
      streets of Lower Manhattan with his children Theo, 11, and
      Olivia, 7, perched inside the pallet-size basket of his
      unusual bicycle, a tricked-out reverse rickshaw. After he
      drops them off at school, Mr. Hoffman, the chef and owner
      of Savoy in SoHo, rides over to the Greenmarket at Union
      Square to fill his basket with the makings of a restaurant

      He is a popular character at the market. On this balmy
      morning he shook the hands of farmers and old friends,
      swapped recipes, chatted about agricultural literature and
      the rising price of ramps and fielded questions about his
      bicycle, which sports a sticker that reads, "The revolution
      will not be motorized."

      "This is really where my meals begin," Mr. Hoffman said,
      his bike brimming with spiny rhubarb, bunches of asparagus
      and heirloom apples picked upstate. He stopped at Linda
      Hoffmann's stand, where city dwellers fondled gnarly wild
      mushrooms, and told her about an omelet he served his wife
      on Mother's Day. It was perfumed with a few small morels he
      had bought there.

      Mr. Hoffman has been a Greenmarket regular since 1981, so
      he anticipates its seasonal swings and has an eagle eye for
      first sightings. Surrounded by spring's leafy green frenzy
      of early roots, he announced, "Turnips should be in." And
      there they were, tiny white bulbs dangling next to heaps of
      beautifully variegated breakfast radishes. He bagged
      bunches of them both and trailed off in search of something
      else. A dish was in the works.

      This kind of spontaneous recipe creation, impressive as it
      may seem, is not limited to restaurant chefs, Mr. Hoffman
      swears. In most cultures cooks prepare dishes from whatever
      is available on the farm and in the pantry. And that is Mr.
      Hoffman's secret, too: he scours the market for local
      seasonal ingredients, and pairs them with staples in his

      "Bacon, saffron, olives, anchovies - these are the
      counterpoints that give contrast and background to your
      changing canvas of vegetables," he said, zeroing in on the
      turnips and summoning their possible partners. "They're so
      tender and sweet - How would they taste with saffron?
      Wonderful. Or with bacon and white wine? Great as well."

      Later, as he stood in Savoy's second-floor galley kitchen,
      sunlight streaming in and piles of produce all around, a
      decision was made. Mr. Hoffman had planned a riff on
      shellfish bouillabaisse, but his mood had shifted toward an
      aromatic summer stew of root vegetables and morels, topped
      with seared striped bass and flavored with a chunk of bacon
      he had in the refrigerator. The sweet juices from young
      roots, turnips, radishes and spring onions would blend with
      the pork's smoky salinity to create a simple, summery

      "You know, the French have a term for these young
      vegetables," he said, scrubbing flecks of dirt from the
      roots under running water. "They call them les primeurs.
      There's always excitement when the first of anything

      With his vegetables cleaned, he started the chopping.
      "Greens are great to use, but you don't need them all for
      the stew," he said, discarding the radish tops, which were
      mottled yellow and brown, but reserving the crisp turnip
      greens. "Still, it's good to cook them all now, rather than
      forget about them in the refrigerator," he said, outlining
      plans to saut� them for a chilled salad.

      Before slicing the turnips into even wedges, he left a good
      inch attached to the bulb, "just to remind ourselves of
      what they really look like." Then he unwrapped the bacon
      and sliced it into thin lardons. "We usually buy it on the
      ribs from a Ukrainian butcher in the East Village, so we
      can use the bones to throw into a soup." But this is what
      he had on hand, and it would work just fine.

      With his ingredients laid out in piles on the cutting
      board, he lighted a flame under a saucepan containing a
      slab of butter and a splash of water. When the butter
      melted, he added the bacon with a word of caution.

      "This recipe is all about quick, gentle cooking, so nothing
      should get caramelized," he said, stirring the lardons
      until they turned translucent, then mixing in the onions.
      He covered the pot and let it alone.

      When he lifted the lid a few minutes later, the kitchen
      overflowed with the fragrance of warm country breakfasts.
      In went the turnips, radishes and a splash of wine. "The
      wine adds water with sweetness and acidity," he said,
      noting that now would be a good time to add more water, if
      you prefer a lot of broth.

      About the morels, which he pulled from a paper bag in the
      refrigerator: "You know, it's funny, I've been asking the
      Hoffmanns to take me foraging for years," he said, slicing
      the mushrooms he bought from them into thin strips. "I
      guess people are just protective about their mushroom

      By the time he added the mushrooms a few minutes later,
      along with some tarragon leaves, the stew had swelled with
      a fragrant, violet-colored broth. He removed the pot from
      the heat to allow the woodsy flavors of the morels to steep
      under cover and turned his attention to bass fillets, which
      he seasoned with kosher salt and pepper. "A local, seasonal
      and great-tasting fish," he proclaimed, but any fish that
      is not too strong or oily would work fine, like fluke or

      Mr. Hoffman chose to sear the fillets, to give them a nice
      crunch, but said they could just as easily be steamed atop
      the stew. He heated an olive-oil-slicked frying pan over
      high heat, and when the oil went thin, seared the fillets
      skin side down until they threatened to burn. Then he
      carefully flipped them with tongs, browning both sides in a
      matter of minutes.

      "Oh, you know what?" Mr. Hoffman said after he spooned some
      stew into a shallow bowl. "We were supposed to put some
      greens in with the morels, weren't we?" He shrugged, then
      placed a saut� pan with a few spoonfuls of stew broth over
      medium heat to wilt some turnip tops. Then he tucked them
      into the stew and topped it with the bass and chive

      When you create recipes like this on the fly, sometimes
      things go so well that you forget one of your bright ideas.
      And that is just fine. This stew forgives.



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