Published: May 20, 2009
Category: Food and Wine
“This is your world, I'm just temporary.” So said the waiter at Mario's on Saturday night, misquoting the old line about Sinatra (“It's Frank's world, we're just living in it”) as we settled in to a corner booth. We were with two four-and-a-half year-old girls who were capable of timing out at any moment. Not a promising group. Then we remembered: Mario's is family-friendly. And our guilt at taking up valuable table space on a Saturday night melted quickly away.
But then, we weren't in New York City.
There is a Little Italy in Manhattan, and we have been there. So have you, if you've ever been a tourist in New York and have already crossed Times Square off your list. That Little Italy is noisy and friendly and mildly amusing, and if you are lucky enough to pick a restaurant that doesn't get its red sauce from some central pipeline, you can get a decent meal there.
But it doesn't compare to Arthur Avenue.
Arthur Avenue is in the Bronx, near Fordham University and the Zoo. For a Manhattanite, it's a field trip that not many undertake. For the neighborhood's shopkeepers and restaurateurs, it's home --- probably for three generations. And that makes all the difference.
They filmed scenes from “The Godfather” on Arthur Avenue. More recently, “The Sopranos” dropped by. George Bush, Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki shared a pizza here. It's time travel to come to Arthur Avenue: waiters in tuxedos, valet parking and presents --- like “silver” bracelets --- for the kiddies.
Ann Volkwein visited the mom-and-pop shops. She ate in the restaurants. And she talked to everyone. Her book is essentially a profile of a small town in Southern Italy, where businesses stay in families and you look out for your neighbor and there's no better reason to get together than a meal.
Volkwein's profiles, accompanied by Vegar Abelsnes's evocative photgraphs, are a delight; you'll meet great characters. More to the point, you'll learn about the restaurants and the shops so, when you visit, you can have a personal exchange.
But most to the point: the recipes. This is Southern Italian cooking, It lacks the “refinement” of Marcella Hazan's Northern cuisine. And although there are lovely photos of vegetables and a side order of eggplant at any restaurant here will be the size of a flying saucer, you won't find many vegetable recipes in these pages. The buzz words are “hearty” and “authentic” and “carbohydrates.”
What recipe to serve up? What else than meat sauce? But imagine it served by a waiter who is not also an actor, a waiter who's going to be wearing that tuxedo for decades. Enjoy!
BOLOGNESE-STYLE MEAT SAUCE
Makes 4 servings
1/2 cup olive oil
2 ounces diced panchetta
1 finely chopped garlic clove
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1 pound ground lean beef
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup light cream
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups beef broth OR 1 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup frozen peas
2 ounces butter
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, heat the oil.
Saute the panchetta until light brown (about 5 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the garlic and saute until golden brown (about 5 minutes).
Add the onion and cook until translucent (about 5 to 7 minutes).
Add the carrot and celery and cook until they soften and begin to change color (about 6 to 7 minutes).
Add the ground beef and cook until browned (about 8 to l0 minutes).
Pout in the wine, raise the heat to high, and stir as you bring to a simmer. Pour in the cream and bring to a boil for 3 minutes.
In a medium bowl, dilute the tomato paste in the beef broth and add to the saucepan.
Add the peas, and simmer for 45 minutes.
Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir well and simmer for 15 minutes more.
Serve over spaghetti or other long pasta.
To buy “The Arthur Avenue Cookbook” from Amazon.com, click here.