I’ve worked off and on as a guest artist in a public school in the Belmont Neighborhood of the Bronx for the last 15 years. I love the school and I love the neighborhood. Belmont, in particular the stretch along Arthur Avenue, is the last real little Italy in NYC. It has one of those indoor markets that Mayor Laguardia built in the 1950s to get all the food vendors off the seats where you can buy beautiful vegetables, meat, cheese, imported Italian delicacies and cigars. I liked to go there after school and have a snack. The market has skylights, and it’s lovely to be cozy and well fed while basking in the afternoon light. Most importantly, the people who run the shops, who buy the groceries who nibble on antipasti at long communal tables in the market all talk to each other. New York City can be a very lonely place, but even as an interloper on Arthur Avenue I always felt like I was a part of a community. It’s like stepping back in time to an era where human interaction in a place of commerce was valued. It turns out that I won’t be returning to that job this year, but I intend to continue making the nearly two-hour trip up to Arthur Avenue at a few times a year. The truth is that I can get beautiful gourmet ingredients without traveling so far, but that human interaction and neighborhood feel is sadly rare and well worth seeking out. This photo looks like it’s from long ago, but I took a couple of years ago after school and I assure you that, if are you that if you are reading this during business hours, grannies are buying sausages in Arthur Avenue as you read.These photos are from a lovely Spring afternoon when my husband and I ventured up to Belmont just for fun. An outing I plan to repeat as soon as possible. We ate raw oysters from a bar set up on the sidewalk outside of the fish shop. My husband bought and ate freshly filled cannolis from the bakery and declared them the very best he’d ever had. We picked up Chinotto (a delicious bitter orange cola), green olives and cured meats. In the Arthur Avenue Market, we ate a very delicious appetizer of Burrata and crispy speck on radicchio, drizzled with a bit of reduced balsamic vinegar. It is supposed to be eaten on a little piece of Italian bread studded with sesame seeds, but if you can’t eat gluten (like me), you can skip the bread and just sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. We bought all of the ingredients to take home so that we could make it again. It is the simplest thing in the world and so satisfying.
Before the recipe, here is a little gallery of photos from the Bronx. The giant mushroom was waiting to be set up for a street carnival in Belmont. Some were taken on the very long walk from Belmont to my subway train station all the way over past Grand Concourse. Some were taken by me and some were taken by my husband, Chris Green.
As the weather finally gets warmer, I encourage you to find a day to visit Arthur Avenue. New York is changing fast. Before you know it everything of interest might have turned into luxury apartment buildings and chain stores. Let’s all slow that change down by giving some time and money to the neighborhoods and businesses that still make New York special. While you are there, buy the ingredients to make this dish!
RADICCHIO AND BURRATA APPETIZER
- 1 small head nice looking radicchio
- 1 or 2 burrata (about 8 oz each)
- A few drizzles of balsamic reduction (1/2 cup good balsamic if you are making the reduction yourself)
- 1 or 2 Tablespoon sesame seeds
- about 1/4 lb speck
- Without tearing them, carefully separate the leaves from the radicchio head. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
- If you are reducing the balsamic yourself, put it in a small non-reactive sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until it coats the back of a spoon, then remove from the heat. Keep an eye on it. It will go from reduced to burnt very quickly
- Heat a frying pan and dry roast the sesame seeds until they are golden. Remove them to a bowl to cool and return the pan to the heat. Crisp the speck up in the hot pan.
- Choose the 8 prettiest radicchio leaves and scoop a little bit of the buratta in to each one. Get a bit of the solid outside and creamy inside in each leaf. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic, sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and serve. I like it on a warm spring day with a bottle of chin otto. I always go back and make seconds with the ugly leaves and the extra burrata.
MORE FOOD TO MAKE WITH INGREDIENTS FROM ARTHUR AVENUE…