A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a few hours on a Friday afternoon for myself. I had no appointments. No lunch date. No errands to run. I decided to head downtown to one of my favorite neighborhoods – Union Square and the Flatiron District. My first stop was the Union Square Farmer’s Market – a maze of stalls full of honey, milk, wine, local meat and seafood along with fresh fruits and vegetables. There are many farmer’s markets in New York City, but this one is the Grand Daddy of all farmer’s markets, and if I am ever anywhere in the area when it is open, I stop by. That day I was hunting for a few items that you are only available a few weeks of the year in the Spring: baby artichokes and ramps (baby leeks). There was not a baby artichoke in sight, but I found some beautiful ramps. I also saw a stall with tons of greens – spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens, but maybe because it was early Spring, they were all smaller and daintier than their typical counterparts. I bought a bunch of flowering baby mustard greens and put them in a vase when I got home. They were so pretty I wasn’t sure I would have the heart to hack them up.
I then headed north, stopping by my favorite New York City Deli – Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop. The waitress saw me with my camera and definitely thought I was a tourist but when I ordered a chocolate cream soda, matzo ball soup, and a pastrami reuben she looked surprised and said ” you ordered all the best things”. I agree. So delicious.
I then walked a little further north to Eataly, but not before stopping at Marimekko, one of my favorite stores for inspiring and colorful design.
After that I headed to Eataly and had a macchiato, bought some salt packed capers and anchovies (so hard to find, but so much more delicious than brined capers or olive oil packed anchovies), and some sausage.
Then I headed to the roof top bar for a glass of wine. This place was packed for 2:30 on a Friday afternoon. I found myself asking “does no one in this City work?”, before realizing at least half the people there were tourists. I found a little spot in the shade that afforded me a view of the tip of the Flatiron Building through the open roof. Although I brought a book to read, I spent the next 45 minutes sipping a delicious (and heavily poured) glass of Sauvignon Blanc while overhearing conversations in at least 6 different languages along with English tinged in various accents. There were families with small children, groups of girls in their early twenties, couples on dates, gorgeous women in high heels, businessmen in suits, and retired couples obviously on vacation. I sat in the middle of this buzzing frenzy reveling in this great City and the attraction it holds for so many of us from so many different walks of life.
On my subway ride home I contemplated what to do with all the stuff I had purchased that day and decided I should do something with the mustard greens and anchovies. In honor of Mario Batali, who is a part-owner of Eataly, I thought I would consult one of his cookbooks. Inspired by two recipes – one for a pasta with anchovies and another for simply sautéed greens- I came up with this. It was totally worth hacking up those mustard greens.
Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions, Anchovies and Toasted Breadcrumbs (and Wilted Greens).
* Adapted from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano cookbook
Serves 4 very hungry people:
1/4 cup plus 3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil;
2 large spanish onions, cut lengthwise in half and then into 1/4 thick half-moons;
5 salt-packed anchovies, filleted and rinsed*
1/2 cup milk
4 cloves garlic
1 tbs. garlic
1 bunch greens (mustard greens, arugula, or Swiss chard would be nice), washed and spun dry, then roughly chopped.
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup roughly chopped italian parsley
1 cup toasted bread crumbs
* For years I used oil packed anchovies, which are just fine. But, man, these salt-packed anchovies are amazing. They smell like the ocean and they actually look like little fish (which they are, but you wouldn’t know it by the anchovies you typically see in our grocery stores). If you are lucky enough to find and purchase these you can store the remaining anchovies indefinitely by adding salt to the space created from removing anchovies.
1. In a 10- to 12- inch sauté pan, combine 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are very soft and gold brown, 20-25 minutes. Remove onions and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Soak the anchovies in the milk for 10 minutes.
3. In same sauté pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat until smoking. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the red pepper flakes are lightly toasted, about 30 seconds. Drain the anchovies, toss them in the pan, and cook, stirring, until they have broken down, 4 to 5 minutes. Add greens and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted – about 5 minutes. Add the cooked onions and lower the heat to a simmer.
4. Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water and cook until just al dente.
5. Drain the pasta and toss into the pan with onion and greens mixture. Add the parsley and stir to coast. Pour into a warmed serving bowl, sprinkle with the bread crumbs, and serve.