April 13, 2014
ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French fondation, from Latin fundatio(n-), from fundare 'to lay a base for'
We are making progress! The foundation for our new entrance was poured late last week, and since the cement trucks have come and gone, I have been reflecting on what it takes to create a strong and sound restaurant. You design a space that is welcoming to the guests and at the same time well thought out for the staff. You craft a menu that is true to your sensibilities and alluring to your guests. You train the cooks to make these dishes their own and underscore the importance of consistency, pride and passion. You teach the service staff about the ingredients in each dish, and with repeated tastings, inspire them to spread their knowledge to our patrons. You work with your wine vendors to select appropriate varietals and vintages to match your cuisine and then taste them with the staff to gauge their response and ability to explain them to their guests. These are just a few of the many, many things that go into opening a new restaurant.
But the foundation of any restaurant is its cuisine. I assert that the menu for every good restaurant has some sort of common thread running through it whether it be French, Seafood, Modernist or whatever. The cuisine is the soul of the restaurant, that lifeblood that connects, informs and gives life to the menu.
Almost everyone I run into asks, “What kind of food will be on Simone’s dinner menu?” And my response is always a bit jaded. “Old world meets New World,” “Italian Informed,” and “Mediterranean -Rhode Island” have all slipped off my tongue, but none of these really make the grade. After opening several restaurants I have come to believe in and love the idea that the cuisine of a good restaurant is a moving target ultimately informed by season and what I feel my guests want to eat. I consider myself primarily a Mediterranean cook (or really an Olive Oil cook if that makes sense) but also love to pickle vegetables in rice wine vinegar. Plus I think I make a passable fish taco and crabcake—certainly not Mediterranean dishes. My personal cuisine of course has developed over years spent cooking in other chef’s kitchens, traveling and learning about other cultures and reading cookbooks and trying out recipes that call my name. I cannot underscore the importance of culture and tradition in my cooking.
The idea of “foundational recipes” is not new. Veal, chicken and vegetable stock recipes as well as basic tomato sauce, vinaigrette and balsamella all will form the basis of Simone’s cuisine. Another underpinning will be a variation on Puttanesca Sauce, taught to me many years ago by Paula Wolfert who learned this recipe from a home cook in Sicily. It has nothing to do with the Americanized version of Puttanesca; more of a “pesto” this is a delicious and versatile condiment that I just love. Yes it makes a delicious sauce for pasta but also is great spread on toasted bread, incredible on roasted fish or fowl, and beguiling as a secret ingredient for Polpetti di Lupo (literally “Wolf Meatballs”—these are meatless bread meatballs deep fried in olive oil). Please enjoy my version of “Puttanesca Sauce,” one of the many tasty foundations of Simone’s cooking.
Timing Update: We are on track for an early June soft opening. Details and update coming regularly.
Based on a recipe by Paula Wolfert
2 cups golden raisins
1⁄4 cup chopped garlic—about 5 large cloves, to taste
1⁄4 cup chopped anchovies (rinsed and dried first)—about 6 anchovies, to taste
1 cup pine nuts or almonds 1 cup pitted and chopped olives—I usually use a blend of green and kalamata olives
1 cup sun dried tomatoes chopped
1⁄4 cup chopped parsley leaves
4-6 serrano chiles seeded and finely chopped, to taste (wear gloves when working with hot chile peppers!)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil to cover—about 2 cups.
Add all ingredients except olive oil to a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to a non-reactive, coverable container and add enough olive oil to cover by 1/2 inch. Stir gently to combine and then store in the fridge for up to 2 months. If the olive oil ever dips below the other ingredients simply top it off—you want to keep everything submerged.
Pasta alla Puttanesca
1 1/2 cups Puttanesca sauce
1 pound Pasta—I like to serve Decca Angel Hair with this
Salt to taste
Additional olive oil as needed
Parmigiano or Pecorino-Romano and crushed chile peppers for the table
1.Bring a large pot of cold water to the boil. !2. Add the Puttanesca sauce to a large skillet and set over med-low heat. Cook until the sauce is warm and fragrant but do not allow it to sizzle and scorch.
3. Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta according to the maker’s directions. Before draining the pasta reserve a cup of the pasta water.
4. Add about half a cup of pasta water to the puttanesca and then add the drained pasta. Stir to combine and cook one -two minutes to meld the flavors, adding additional olive oil and/or pasta water as needed.
5. Taste for seasoning and then serve hot or room temperature with the grated cheese and crushed chiles passed separately.
N.B.—you could sauté pieces of chicken, or scallops or chunks of fresh (local and line- caught) Swordfish as an addition. Or add steamed vegetables…..you are limited purely by your imagination.