Edward’s first meal after coming home from Arthur Avenue Friday is always the most delicate fish, and this week, he got a hold of Maine sardines. They are at the end of their season, and a real treat: delicate and flavorful, though I found them kind of daunting. I mean, it seems like a very little bit of fish and a very lotta bones. But Ed showed me how easy it is to clean the small ones (bigger sardines get to keep their heads). Simply cut off the head of the fish with a large knife and drag it across the board: the guts will come with! More of a method than a recipe, Edward lays the fish on a broiling platter, sprinkles olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice over, and slips them under the broiler for a few minutes, until golden. He eats them like corn on the cob, gently pulling the tender fish off the bone with his lips. Divine.
Asparagus are just beginning to show up in the market on Arthur Avenue, so Ed has been cooking them: this week, sautéed and served in a salad with boiled cuttlefish and boiled potatoes (Ed slices and boils the cuttlefish until tender on Friday, then adds olive oil, lemon juice. Salt and hot pepper flakes, so he has some fish to work with midweek), and broiled and served with an egg poached on top. His weekly soup, cranberry soup with soy beans that he buys frozen, was repurposed a couple of times: once with tubettini added, and once with wilted spinach added.
Midweek Ed and Ellie planned to be in the city for the memorial service of an old friend of theirs, the developer Bill Zeckendorf. I remember when he was redeveloping Union Square in Manhattan, and at a lunch at my parent’s house a friend I’d brought with me, Sonya Roth, who was a film stylist, gave him a bucket load of shit about displacing the notion stores she depended on for her work. My mother told me after that he’d asked if I could please not bring my friends to luncheons where he was invited. Anyway, they went to the service, and called me from the Pierre Hotel where they were having a coffee. They were pretty embarrassed to discover the service was the week before, and then Ellie’s phone died, and then they disappeared and, after a few panicky moments, I finally tracked them down at the Century Club near Grand Central Station. “Days like this make me feel like we should just stay in the country,” Ed said.
During the week Ed made baccalà two ways, once with Swiss chard and onions, and once with rabe, a dish his mother used to make. He told me he always ate baccalà at Piperno, an elegant restaurant in the Jewish quarter in Rome (it’s still there: 9 Via Monte De Cenci). Their specialty was a dish composed of fried baccalà, fried zucchini flowers (stuffed with anchovies—that’s the Roman way), and fried artichokes (carciofi alla Guidia). Then he digressed into a story about how the painter Amedeo Modigliani (who was Jewish Italian) used to get drunk and wander the streets of Paris reciting the Divine Comedy, and finally, how he’d bought a painting at a junk auction that he was quite sure was by Raoul Dufy, a French Fauvist painter who died in 1953. It took a while for me to understand he’d bought the painting forty or so years ago, but he went on to describe all the experts who said it wasn’t a Dufy, until just recently, when he met an art restorer who said yes, it is, and now Edward is feeling vindicated. Then we went shopping, and Edward bought a beautiful piece of pecorino cheese studded with black truffles. I guess he was feeling flush.
At Randazzo’s fish market we can buy baccalà (dried codfish) that has been soaked and is ready for cooking But if you buy dried codfish, here’s what you do. Soak the codfish in cold water for 4 days, changing the water daily, until the fish is soft and smells mild. The flesh will be about as dense as a flank steak. Edward cooks the fish, then drapes the rabe over the fish and finishes them in the oven together, but I find it is easier to avoid overcooking the fish if I cook the two separately.
1 1/2 lbs rehydrated baccalà, cut into big chunks about 3 inches square
6 tablespoons olive oil
32 dried black olives, pitted
1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic
Salt and hot pepper flakes to taste
1 bunch broccoli rabe (about ½ pound) blanched
1/3 cup white wine