Cooks on an Island

As a proprietor of Gourmet Garage, the upscale no-frills grocery with a flagship on Mercer and Broome, Andy Arons has supplied countless downtown dinner parties – not to mention many of the city’s top restaurants. The notion of chefs coming in to poke the tomatoes and pluck at the spinach is an integral part of the store’s mythology, though nowadays, the city’s top chefs are as likely to be Arons’s friends as his customers.

For his own dinners, Arons uses his store as an enormous pantry, bringing everything back to the West Village townhouse he shares with his wife, Elyce Arons, Kate Spade’s partner. The idea is communal cooking, Friends with whisks. Everyone chips in.

A couple of weeks ago, Arons invited a few friends – this time, mostly chefs – to a seasonal dinner. It started, of course, at Gourmet Garage. The butcher prepared a spectacular crown roast of veal. Union Pacific’s brilliant young chef, Rocco DiSpirito, planned to season it with a subtle mixture of Asian spices and stuff it with scallops and black-trumpet mushrooms. DiSpirito also wanted to make popovers, which he loves because “you never know how they’re going to turn out.” Mina Newman of Dylan Prime improvised on a fall classic: pears, spiced walnuts, Maytag blue cheese, and Bibb lettuce. Gerry Hayden, the chef de cuisine at Aureole, trolled the aisles, filling his basket with greens, beets, and butternut squash, to be served with a pomegranate molasses. In keeping with the meal’s do-it-yourself spirit, Claudia Fleming of Gramercy Tavern bought fruit as well as mascarpone and the ingredients for pastry shells, so the guests could make their own tarts.

It was a full kitchen, with Newman toasting walnuts, Fleming poaching quinces, and DiSpirito working on his roast. But “too many cooks” is an old wives’ tale. Arons served Belon oysters and caviar as the chefs put finishing touches on their dishes, washed down with Wolffer champagne (brought by vintners Susan Wine and Robert Ransom of Vintage New York). For these friends, cooking itself is a great party – and dinner is even better.


Bibb-Lettuce Salad With Blue Cheese, Pears, and Walnuts

Spiced walnuts:
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 cups whole walnuts

3/4 cup minced shallots
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup melted bacon fat (optional; 1/4 cup olive oil may be substituted)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 Bosc or Bartlett firm pears
Juice of 1 lemon
1 and 1/2 to 2 pounds Bibb or butterhead lettuce, tough outer leaves discarded, remaining leaves separated and left whole
10 ounces Maytag blue cheese, in large crumble

Spiced walnuts: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the canola oil, cayenne pepper, and sugar in a bowl until smooth. Toss in the walnuts, and stir until they are coated. Spread the walnuts out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and roast in the oven until a deep brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool and crisp.

Vinaigrette: Add the shallots, mustard, and vinegar to a bowl and mix together. Slowly whisk in the bacon fat and oil until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper (do not refrigerate).

Salad: Core the pears, but do not peel. Cut them into thin lengthwise slices, and toss in a bowl with lemon juice. Add the lettuce, cheese, walnuts, and pears to a large bowl, and toss together with the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Make a high stack of lettuce leaves on each plate, starting with medium leaves and going to smaller ones; sprinkle with walnuts and cheese and top with the sliced pears.

Scallop-Stuffed Crown Roast of Veal With Parsnips and Popovers

Grated zest of 6 lemons
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
4 cloves of garlic
15 dried prunes
2 sprigs of thyme
Dash of sansho pepper (optional; available in Asian supermarkets)
2 7-rib whole racks of free-range veal (ask your butcher to prepare the racks for a crown roast, reserving scraps for stuffing)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion
3 egg whites
2 whole eggs
2 pounds veal trimmings from rack (coarse-ground from butcher)
1 pound fresh black-trumpet mushrooms, stems removed, torn into large pieces
1 and 1/2 pounds bay scallops
Salt and freshly ground pepper
20 small parsnips, peeled, thin ends trimmed

1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup grapefruit juice
1 cup prune juice
2 cups chicken broth
1 and 1/2 teaspoons chopped Thai basil (regular basil or tarragon can be substituted)
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon sansho pepper

The day before cooking, prepare the rub for the veal. Put the lemon zest, oil, spices, garlic, ginger, prunes, and thyme in a blender, and purée until smooth. Coat the veal entirely with the rub and set in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, to marinate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wipe excess rub from veal with a paper towel, and wrap bones in foil. Generously season the meat with salt and pepper, place an onion in the center of the crown to keep a space for the stuffing, and set in a large roasting pan. Roast in the oven for 1 hour or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 110 degrees.

Meanwhile, prepare the forcemeat: Combine the egg whites, eggs, and ground veal in a large bowl, then stir in the mushrooms and scallops. Season to taste with sansho, salt, and pepper. Set aside, covered, at room temperature.

Remove the roast from the oven. Scrape the blackened pieces from the bottom of the pan with a spatula and discard. Surround the roast with parsnips and a little of the remaining oil from the rub. Remove the onion from the center, and fill the crown with the stuffing. Increase the temperature to 425 degrees, and return to the oven. Continue cooking for another 45 minutes or until internal temperature of veal reaches 135 degrees, stirring the parsnips occasionally. If the stuffing starts to brown, cover it with foil. Set the veal on a large serving platter, and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes while the popovers cook (recipe below). Remove the parsnips, and keep warm. Drain the fat from the roasting pan and deglaze, first with wine, then with grapefruit juice, then with prune juice, and finally with stock, allowing each addition to reduce by half before adding the next. Remove from heat, stir in the basil and butter, and season with sansho pepper. Pour into a sauce boat, and keep warm.

Makes about fourteen.
5 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup beef suet, lard, or corn oil

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until they’re frothy. Stir in the salt. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Slowly add the flour mixture to eggs while continuously whisking. Stir in the milk and 1/2 cup water. Set aside to rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour. About 40 minutes after you’ve set it aside to rest, place the heavy muffin pans in the oven. When they are very hot, pour about a tablespoon of the suet, lard, or oil in each muffin cup. Return to the oven and heat to the smoking point. Carefully half-fill the muffin tins with the batter, and place in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the popovers are puffy and brown. Remove from oven and serve with veal.

Autumn Squash in Maple, Vanilla, and Pomegranate Molasses

5 to 6 acorn or sweet-dumpling squash,
1 pound apiece
1/2 cup corn or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon coriander, toasted and ground
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped with the point of a knife
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, softened
1 pomegranate, seeds removed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the squash and cut into 1-inch rings, leaving the skin intact. Scoop out the seeds; rinse and pat dry. Toss seeds in 1 tablespoon of oil, and season with coriander, salt, and pepper. Spread out the seeds evenly on a nonstick baking pan, and toast in the oven until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the squash rings, 3 to 4 pieces at a time, until they are golden brown. Repeat with remaining squash, adding more oil as necessary. Place the sautéed squash in a large ovenproof dish. Remove excess oil from pan, and add maple syrup, molasses, and vanilla. When syrup reaches a boil, whisk in the butter, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon syrup mixture over each squash ring until all are evenly coated. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for about 30 minutes or until flesh is tender when pierced with a knife.

Remove squash from the baking dish and arrange on a large serving platter. Pour remaining liquid from baking dish into a small saucepan; bring to a boil, and whisk in the pomegranate seeds. Spoon the sauce over the baked squash rings and garnish with the toasted seeds.

Braised Winter Greens With Roasted Beets and Cipollini Onions

3 bunches purple kale
1 bunch red Swiss chard
2 bunches mustard greens
2 bunches small golden beets, with tops
2 bunches small red beets, with tops
2 bunches small chiogga beets, with tops
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
24 cipollini onions, peeled
4 ounces (1 stick) salted butter
3 shallots, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons chives, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Submerge the kale, chard, mustard greens, and beet greens in water, and agitate to remove any dirt. Drain greens; cut out large ribs, and tear leaves into large pieces.

Wash the beets and place in an ovenproof dish, coat with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the dish with foil and roast for about 11/2 hours or until the beets give no resistance when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven, and let cool. Peel and quarter the beets, keeping each variety separate. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy-bottomed ovenproof pan, add onions, and sauté over medium-high heat until both sides are golden brown. Place pan in oven and cook until onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve. (Recipe may be prepared to this point one day in advance.)

In a large, shallow, heavy-bottomed saucepan, lightly brown the butter over medium-high heat, stir in the minced shallots, and sweat them. Add all the greens to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and stir until all the greens are coated with butter. Cover and reduce heat to medium. After two minutes, remove the lid; the greens will have rendered some of their liquid and wilted. Add the chiogga and red beets to the greens with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and heat the beets. Add the golden beets and cipollini onions next, heat, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the roasted beets and winter greens onto a decorative platter, and garnish with chopped chives.

Assemble-Your-Own Tartlets

Tart crust:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons almond flour (slivered almonds may be ground with several pulses of a clean coffee grinder)
Pinch of salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg. Whisk together the flour, almond flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two batches, with the mixer on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Mix until dough just holds together. Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, and form it into a disk. Chill for at least 1 hour, until firm.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Chill for 1/2 hour. Remove plastic and cut 10 4-inch rounds of dough. Form in 3-inch tartlet pans. Prick the crusts all over with a fork to prevent air bubbles from forming. Bake the shells until they are pale golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. (Shells can be made 8 hours ahead.)

Mascarpone Filling
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup unflavored goat yogurt (organic yogurt may be substituted)
7 ounces heavy cream
1/2 cup plain goat cheese
1/4 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whip attachment, combine the mascarpone, yogurt, cream, goat cheese, and sugar, and beat until stiff. Fold in the zest and Grand Marnier. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Caramel Blood Oranges
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
4 small oranges, preferably a mixture of sweet and blood oranges
In a small heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and salt with 1/4 cup water. Stir the mixture over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then raise the heat to medium-high and cook the caramel, swirling but not stirring, until it turns medium amber in color, about 10 minutes. Immediately turn off the heat. Very carefully add another 1/4 cup water to the pot (stand back – the caramel may splatter or bubble over). Set the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until the caramel dissolves and is smooth, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. When the caramel has cooled, peel the oranges, removing the white membranes around the segments. Pour caramel over segments just before serving.

Spiced Poached Quince
2 large quinces, peeled, cored, and cut into 16 slices
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup white wine
1 clove stuck into a 2-inch strip of orange peel
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 star anise

In a large saucepan, combine the quince, sugar, wine, orange peel, cinnamon, and anise with 3 cups water. Cut a round of parchment paper slightly smaller than the opening of the pot, and lay it on top of the quinces (this will keep the fruit submerged). Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the mixture until the quinces are tender and spongy, about 11/4 hours. Let the quinces cool in the liquid. Drain the quince pieces on layers of paper towel. Reduce poaching liquid until thick. Place slices of quince on mascarpone-filled tart shells and drizzle with reduced poaching syrup.

Roasted Pineapple With Pink Peppercorns
1 cup sugar
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 pieces lengthwise
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped with the point of a knife
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons rum
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon cracked pink peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over low heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and cook, swirling but not stirring, until the mixture is golden brown and caramelized. Add the pineapple and the vanilla bean with its scrapings. Place in center of oven and bake for 50 minutes, basting every 10 minutes, until pineapple is tender and translucent. Remove pineapple and set aside; when cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges.

Whisk in the butter, rum, and salt until sauce is smooth. Pour over roasted pineapple; garnish with pink peppercorns.

Menu For Ten

Wine Selections from Susan Wine and Robert Ransom of Vintage New York

Selection of Oysters and Caviars

1996 Wolffer Champagne
Long Island

Bibb Lettuce with Maytag Blue Cheese, Pears, and Spiced Walnuts

1999 Standing Stone
Gewürztraminer Finger Lakes

Scallop-Stuffed Crown

Roast of Veal with Parsnips and Popovers

Autumn Squash in Maple, Vanilla, and Pomegranate Molasses

Braised Winter Greens With Roasted Beets and Cipollini Onions

1997 Millbrook Proprietor’s Special
Reserve Chardonnay Hudson Valley

1997 Miles Vineyards Pinot Noir
Finger Lakes

Assemble-Your-Own Tartlets

1997 Pellegrini Vineyards
Vintner’s Pride Finale

1998 Johnson Estate
Vidal Ice Wine “Sweet Dreams”

1998 Wagner Vineyards
Riesling Ice Wine

Cooks on an Island