When I read the NY Times story “A Lunchroom Called Capitol Hill,” I couldn’t help but wonder about the dining preferences of my own representative, Rush Holt. (You may have encountered the bumper sticker for him that reads My congressman IS a rocket scientist!)
So I contacted his office for a bit of what passes with me as investigative journalism. Here’s his reply:
“If by favorite you mean where I eat most often, it would be my desk. Eating out, it would be the Chinese restaurant on Pennsylvania SE.”
Well played, Congressman. Not only does this indicate how hard Holt works on our behalf, but also the restaurant to which he refers is Hunan Dynasty, an inexpensive, standard-issue, neighborhood Chinese joint. His constituency can rest assured that he’s working hard on our behalf, not wasting our tax dollars at effete watering holes, and does not participate in the one-upmanship described in the Times piece.
By the way, that story included a secret that my DC-dwelling daughter passed along to me a while ago: the best cafeteria food on the National Mall is to be had at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Acclaimed Food Memoirists and Chefs to Discuss “Food, Writing, Intimacy” at Princeton University
On Tuesday, March 26 the latest in a series of talks labeled Critical Encounters will feature Frank Bruni of the New York Times (“Born Round“), Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in NYC (“Blood, Bones, and Butter“), Anita Lo of Annisa in NYC (“Cooking without Borders“), Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra in Kingston, and Professor Leonard Barkan of Princeton (“Satyr Square“).
Girl Scouts Cook Up a ‘Slow’ Meal for Farmers, Friends & Family at Tre Piani Restaurant
I don’t know who was braver, the 6 teenage Scouts who wielded 12-inch chef knives and skirted the huge blue flames of the restaurant’s professional stoves or owner/chef Jim Weaver who invited the girls to cook a meal at his Forrestal Village restaurant. It was all part of an advanced Scouting project, Sow What?, that focuses on sustainability, farming, and nutrition.
The girls shopped for local ingredients at the Slow Food Winter Farmers Market that took place at the restaurant earlier in the day and then, with Chef Jim, devised a menu. Here’s what they cooked up:
Salad of baby lettuces, Tre Piani’s own fresh mozzarella, local hothouse tomatoes, and croutons made with bread from Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, one of the day’s many vendors.
Penne Bolognese made with local grass-fed beef and sausage, mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, and fresh ricotta from Fulper Farms.
The girls had made ahead of time and brought with them avocado chocolate mousse – a recipe of Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis.
Shoppers at the annual Winter Slow Food Farmers Market held at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village last month may have noticed an unusual sight: a group of six teenage girls in t-shirts and jeans bouncing from table to table, debating which meats, cheeses, breads, vegetables, and other comestibles to select – and then gathering up enough to feed a small army. Well, at least the 25 people they were having over for dinner that night. At the restaurant.
The girls – Hannah Barrett, Olivia Killian, Gabrielle Longchamp, Julia McDonald, Olivia Rios, and Emily Schalk – are all members of Girl Scout Troop 80925 in Flemington, and their Tre Piani experience was but one leg in a group journey called Sow What? In Girl Scout lingo, a “journey” is a group of activities and accomplishments for older Scouts that, along with accumulating badges, culminates in a Gold Award – the equivalent of Eagle Scout for boys.
Cathy Schalk, one of the troop leaders and mother to Emily, explained that the Sow What? journey “encompasses sustainable farming, Slow Food, and the nutritional importance of food to our health.” The girls began working on the project last summer: visiting area farms and meeting with agriculture specialists and leaders of the Slow Food movement, including Jim Weaver who founded and heads up the Central New Jersey chapter.
“They contacted me last summer,” recalls Weaver, chef/owner of Tre Piani. “They said they were touring farms, doing the whole Jersey Fresh thing. They came to the restaurant and I did a little tasting and talk with them.” To thank him, the girls decided they would cook a dinner for the chef, in February. “But it occurred to me,” Weaver says, “that we could piggyback on the farmers market held here each February. I thought, why don’t we shop, cook, and sit down and eat together instead.”
That’s how the scouts – five sophomores and one freshman at Hunterdon Central Regional High, several of whom have known each other since second grade – came to be shopping at the Slow Food market and, afterwards, donning aprons and wielding twelve-inch chef’s knives in the restaurant’s kitchen. “The girls shopped pretty much by themselves and decided on the menu,” said Weaver, as he had them busily chopping onions and carrots. When these were sautéing, along with garlic, over huge blue flames in massive sauté pans, he sprinkled in dried chili flakes, telling the girls, “A little pepperoncini adds another element/dimension. It helps excite your palate a little bit.”
As the scouts worked, their adult troop leaders talked about the effect the Sow What? journey has had on the girls and their families. Cathy Shalk said, “At home, I now think twice when I go to serve an ‘emergency’ dinner on paper plates.” Michele Levasseur, Gabrielle’s mother, laughed and added, “After they read all the nutrition info about fast food, like McDonald’s, they’re now telling me what to eat!” But, she added, “because of this project, my daughter and I regularly ride bikes through the community. We see local farms and we stop and talk to the farmers.”
Some of these farmers were among the 25 friends and family members the troop had invited to share their Tre Piani dinner, among them a soils expert from Rutgers University and a Flemington school nurse who had founded a school garden. After everyone had tasted the pasta, Jim Weaver proclaimed, “This dish just may have to go on the menu here at Tre Piani. We’ll call it ‘Pasta 80925.’ The only thing is, customers will expect Girl Scout cookies afterwards!”
Later, many of the girls agreed that cooking had been their favorite part of the day. Gabrielle Longchamp said of the overall experience, “It went more smoothly in the kitchen than I had anticipated.” Olivia Rios admitted that she was “scared to death” of the cooking, but managed to enjoyed it. “But I also liked choosing the ingredients, too,” she added.
The recipe below includes in parentheses the vendors at the Slow Food Farmers Market who provided ingredients for the Girl Scout’s feast.
TROUP 80925 BOLOGNESE SAUCE
(developed with Jim Weaver, Tre Piani)
2 pounds fresh wild mushroom mix (such as Davidson’s or Shibumi Farms)
4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
2 onions, peeled and chopped
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon chili pepper flakes
1 package (about 1 pound) pork sausage (such as Beech Tree Farm), removed from casing, if any
2 pounds ground beef (such as WoodsEdge Wool Farm)
2 cans (28 ounces each) plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cups beef stock, or 1 cup stock and 1 cup red wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pint fresh ricotta (such as Fulper Family Farms)
2 pounds dried pasta, such as penne
1. Clean the mushrooms by wiping with a damp paper towel. (Do not rinse: mushrooms soak up water like a sponge.) Chop mushrooms. Saute over high heat in small batches with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a little salt. The liquid released from the mushrooms should have enough room in the pan to evaporate and let the mushrooms develop a golden-brown color. Set aside.
2. Heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion and some salt, and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Then add carrots, garlic, chili flakes, and a little salt. Cook for another 5 minutes.
3. Add the sausage and ground beef. Cook, breaking down the lumps with a fork, until the meat is cooked through. Add tomatoes, olive oil, and stock. Add salt and pepper to taste (not too much; the sauce will reduce and intensify). Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or, better yet, an hour.
4. Add sauteed mushrooms and stir until heated through. Serve or refrigerate. The sauce tastes even better the next day. If you make it ahead of time reheat over low heat while the pasta is cooking. Just before serving take the sauce off the heat and mix in the ricotta.
5. When ready to serve, cook the pasta according to package instructions then mix with the Bolognese sauce.
Serves 8 to 12.