Tag Archive | "Della Femina"

Bringing Local Produce to the Restaurant Table

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As a child growing up in Hampton Bays, Michael Rozzi enjoyed the pastoral life many children on the East End experience. He fished, shucked local oysters and drove with his grandfather to The Milk Pail Country Store in Water Mill to pick up bags of local apples, jars of cider and the coveted apple cider donuts the Halsey family has produced for generations.

“That is where my connection to local food really began,” Rozzi said last week, sitting on an apple crate at the Halsey family farm and orchard next to Mecox Bay. “Growing up here, it was a no-brainer as a chef to connect with local farmers to get more local produce on restaurant tables.”

For over a decade, Rozzi, the executive chef at East Hampton’s Della Femina restaurant, has crafted a culinary tradition focused on seasonal, local food. Through that commitment, he has developed a lasting relationship with Jennifer Halsey-Dupree, a 12th generation member of the Halsey family who along with her sister Amy, father John and mother Evelyn, run The Milk Pail Country Store, Farm Stand and Orchard – a family farming tradition that began in 1640.

For both Halsey-Dupree and Rozzi, observing the Slow Food movement take root on the East End over the last decade has been like watching food culture come full circle, as dinner tables now boast the same local fare they grew up enjoying. The popularity of Slow Food has given local farmers the ability to expand their breadth of offerings, with chefs using local fruit and produce to craft culinary delicacies that offer visitors and residents alike a taste of the East End.

“If pears are in season, we do pears. If cranberry beans and spinach are here, that is what we are using in the restaurant,” said Rozzi. “Right now, it is a lot of cabbage, potatoes, and root vegetables. You have to cook what they grow and you have to be brave enough to cross that line.”

While The Milk Pail has recently started delivering to East Hampton, Rozzi’s wife, Holly Dove, the pastry chef at Della Femina, often finds herself at The Milk Pail Orchard, picking up fruit for the restaurant. Rozzi believes that kind of interaction creates a closer connection to the food.

“And it’s kind of fun,” he added. “It’s the finger on the pulse kind of thing. We see what is going on at the farm, you see the operation, how they run things here. I have learned so much about seasons and farming and weather, what grows when, and people are amazed when you can take them to that next level.”

“But while I am a chef, I also grew up out here, so this is a part of me,” he continued. “It is for all of us. We know when the strawberries are in season and when to eat squash. For me, I have always enjoyed being in touch with what people are doing on this side of the industry. It’s also about patronizing local businesses – it’s a cycle. Jen comes to dinner at the restaurant, I buy her apples, she tells people about the restaurant, I tell people about her fruit. There is a reciprocity to it all.”

Halsey-Dupree admitted Della Femina is a special place for her family to dine, mostly because as someone who grew up eating chickens and beef from her own family farm, she trusts the quality of product used at the restaurant, knowing much of it is locally sourced, and all menu options are carefully selected.

It is rare for the menu at Della Femina to not boast an offering from The Milk Pail, and Halsey-Dupree’s apples, peaches, blueberries, pears and cherries are not just reserved for dessert.

The restaurant regularly serves crisps and cobblers with Halsey fruit, but also uses them for savory dishes, like its staple seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, accompanied with a variety of fruit compotes and sauces throughout the year, changing with the seasons. Rozzi said he also enjoys pairing the fruits with pork.

“I think the thing you hear the most about is the apples and the peaches,” said Rozzi. “That stuff is great and is a mainstay on our menu, but personally I love their cherries.”

Rozzi uses Milk Pail cherries in a roasted oyster mushroom salad with Mecox Bay Dairy Gruyere cheese, apples and summer truffle vinaigrette. He also uses the cherries in a Foie Gras preparation, employing a cherry basil salad to offset the savory delicacy with sweetness and acidity.

“It beats the heck out of a raisin and it is fresh, not out of the box,” said Rozzi. “And it is marketable. Bridgehampton Milk Pail Cherries – you could put that on a slice of pizza and probably sell it.”

At a Paumanok Vineyards Harvest Wine Dinner held at Della Femina in early November, Rozzi took a step further with Milk Pail product, using peach wood cut at the orchard to smoke local stripped bass for a stripped bass, local scallop terrine, resulting in a seafood sausage-like dish with a smoky, savory and sweet flavor. He uses the same technique for the restaurant’s house cured smoked salmon, which is served at Sunday brunch.

Striving to create new dishes and combinations using local products is one of Rozzi’s passions as a chef, and taking time to open up the culinary minds of his patrons, say by explaining that combining varieties of apples in a crisp will bring out layers of flavor not found in the traditional, Granny Smith style dessert, is at the forefront of his mission.

“We throw in a few Fuji for sweetness, a Granny Smith to keep it tart,” said Rozzi. “People like to be told things like that – their eyes light up.”

“And people enjoy that we take the time to do that,” agreed Halsey-Dupree. “That is why I go to your restaurant. I like variety, and I am more apt to try something new because I trust the product. That is the type of business you and I are in – it has always been about the quality.”

Local Milk Pail Flemish Pear Crisp

Recipe by Holly Dove, pastry chef at Della Femina

Crumb Topping:

5 ½ cups                  All-purpose flour

1 cup                           Brown sugar

1/3 c                            Granulated sugar

3 c                           Quick oats

½ tsp                           Salt

1 and ¾ pounds        Unsalted Butter, diced and chilled

Crisp Filling:

6 Cups                  Pears-Peeled, cored, diced (about 5 pounds)

1 cup                   Brown Sugar

2 tablespoons         All Purpose flour

1/2 tsp                   Ground Cinnamon

½ tsp                           Salt

1 tablespoon         Lemon juice

1 tsp                           vanilla extract

¾ cup                  currants/raisins (optional)

In mixer mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients for crumb topping and mix on low with paddle attachment. Add chilled butter and separate into smaller pieces. On low speed, cut in butter until mixture is combined and there are small clusters of dough. Break up and large pieces, place crumb topping in separate bowl cover and chill. The crumb topping may be made a day or two ahead.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, combine diced pears, brown sugar, all-purpose flour, cinnamon, salt, vanilla extract and lemon juice and mix well. Spoon mixture into greased dish or Brulèe ramekins into heaping mounds. Generously spoon crumb topping on top and place into oven on baking sheet. Bake for 45minutes to one hour, until topping is golden brown and pears are slightly bubbling.

Fine Dining Born Out of East End Traditions

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Michael Rozzi grew up on Shinnecock Bay and as a boy embraced the East End traditions of fishing, hunting and enjoying the bounty of produce cultivated on East End farms – local traditions that have taken root on both the North and South Forks as the “slow food” movement has grown in popularity.

“Growing up out here we have been living by slow food ways long before it became popular,” Rozzi said during an interview at Della Femina, the East Hampton restaurant where he serves as executive chef. “We grew up eating at farm stands, we fished, we hunted. This is what Hamptons food has always been about, going back to the Bonackers – it’s what people have been doing here for centuries.”

Many local families enjoy venison late into winter following the close of deer hunting season in late January. Because of federal regulations, though, restaurants are prohibited from serving locally hunted venison. Chefs at restaurants like Della Femina, The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, Fresno in East Hampton and its sister restaurant Red Bar in Southampton still follow the tradition and feature venison in winter on seasonal menus.

Venison, a lean, tender game that is hunted locally, has history in the End End culinary tradition. Once the venison is butchered, preparations are numerous and often simple, depending on the cut. Venison stew or chili, barbeque, sausage and grilled or roasted steaks and chops are the most common preparations.

Most restaurants serve free-range venison, said Rozzi, often grass or hay-fed, and devoid of steroids or growth hormones. Rozzi said the use of grass or hay, rather than feed or corn, lends itself to flavors more likely to mirror wild venison.

“You are what you ate,” he said.

Venison, tender and flavorful when prepared correctly, is low in fat and rich in iron and high in B-vitamins and zinc. A three-and-a-half ounce portion of venison has only a fifth of the fat as a similar portion of beef, Rozzi said, making it an ideal protein for those craving a hearty winter stew or Bolognese, but also looking for a red-meat substitute.

Both Rozzi and David Loewenberg, the co-owner of Sag Harbor’s Beacon, East Hampton’s Fresno and Southampton’s Red Bar, said they prefer to serve venison loin chops, roasted or grilled.

“From a selling standpoint, I think the chop is a very pretty presentation,” said Rozzi, adding that the chop is less demanding to prepare. For tougher cuts, he suggested braising or stewing the meat.

The key, he added, was using an acidic element, like wine to help tenderize the meat.

“You start with something hard to work with and end up with something really beautiful at the end of the day,” said Rozzi.

Loewenberg stressed the key to cooking venison was to understand each cut of meat. While chops tend to be pan roasted or seared, the tougher cuts, he agreed, are best served after a slow braise.

Braising is cooking tough meat, like venison rump, in a small amount of liquid – usually wine – over low heat over several hours until the collagen and fat begin to break down. Loewenberg sears the meat in a Dutch oven after seasoning it with salt and pepper, then adds aromatics like carrots, onions and garlic and any additional ingredients that add flavor as the venison cooks for two to three hours.

The technique keeps the meat moist when served as a stew or over accompaniments like polenta or potatoes with the braising liquid spooned over as is or enhanced by the addition of rich beef stock.

“There is a richness to venison that is wonderful,” said Loewenberg.”

Loewenberg said he likes to top quickly seared loin chops with a simple, light sauce, often using berries and a demi-glace bordelaise. Creating a trio of dishes of locally inspired game is another popular presentation, he added, with condiments suited to the season – parsnip purees, chestnuts – flavors that highlight an autumnal flavor of venison. Rozzi also adorns his venison chop with Halsey farm apples and crisp, almost sweet, Brussels sprout leaves aimed to compliment the parsnip puree.

“What grows together, goes together,” Rozzi said.

Michael Rozzi’s Venison Bolognese

Serves eight to 10

Heat ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 1 medium onion, fine dice, 1 medium carrot, fine dice; 1 medium celery rib, fine dice; 2 ounces Pancetta, fine dice; 2 large garlic cloves, chopped; Cook until soft. Remove from saucepan into bowl. Add 2 pounds venison to the same saucepan, brown. Add ¾ cup white wine and put cooked vegetables back in the saucepan. Add 30 ounces tomato sauce, ½ teaspoon thyme, 1 bay leaf and simmer for 40 minutes on low heat. Add ¼ cup heavy cream, season with salt and pepper to taste and toss with two pounds of fresh, cooked penne rigate. Top with grated Parmesan.

Kate Plumb

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web Kate Plum

The Sag Harbor resident, former owner of the health food store Provisions, member of Slow Food Long Island and organizer of the East Hampton Farmers’ Market talks about why she thinks the East End is poised to return to its sustainable roots.

Where was your interest in local farming and food culture born?

I was thinking about that and I actually think my first experience with health food was in 1968. I was living in Vermont in an unheated log cabin near Goddard and one of the fellows would buy buckwheat groats, cashews, almonds and such for the commune we were living in. It was the first time in my life I distinctly remember eating that way. I came from baloney sandwiches and fish sticks. My parents both worked with five kids in the city and would have our monthly delivery of frozen meats, so that was what we ate –that and fish sticks. But in Vermont we ate this other way, eating rice, buckwheat, nuts, dates and things like that. One day someone brought a chocolate cake in and I had not had sugar in my system for so long I got violently ill. I think that awakened my interest in eating and how important food is. Since then, I have always been interested in food, which I think is healing. It really landed full square in 1982 when I lived in Sag Harbor in a rented room with Linda Sherry and Linley Pennebaker (Whelan) asked me to join her in buying Provisions, which was where D.J. Hart is now … In those days, health food was nothing. Don Katz said to me years later that he bet his wife $100 we would not make it. The oatmeal craze, to lower cholesterol was the first big hit we had and it just sort of took off. People came in looking to buy one item and bought more. It was effective, and that was that.

Farmers’ markets on the East End have grown in popularity in the last five years. When did you see this trend take hold and why is it so popular to eat locally?

In 2004, Brian Halweil got onto the village Harbor Committee after he and his wife Sara bought their home in Sag Harbor after summering here for a number of years. As trends move from west to east, he suggested we have a Farmer’s Market in Sag Harbor as a part of HarborFest and the girls at Dockside allowed us to use their lawn. It was suppose to be a one-day event, but we finished out the month of September and went through October. I was involved with that market as a founding member of the EECO [East End Community Organic] Farm, which I was on the board of and whose farm stand I helped run for a number of years. There were about six of us that Brian got together to compose the first Sag Harbor’s Farmer’s Market.

Elise Collins had already started a market in Westhampton Beach, but there were not many before 2004. Certainly since then it has grown. Montauk just started its market on Thursdays and Southampton Village has opened theirs. We have another at Hayground in Bridgehampton on Fridays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. that is just wrapping up and Friday mornings we have the East Hampton market at Nick and Toni’s, and of course, there is Sag Harbor on Saturdays.

I think they are popular for a number of reasons, perhaps the most overarching one being what happens to you when you shop at a local farmer’s market – the emotional quotient of seeing your neighbors, talking to the person who is producing your food – it becomes a fun place to shop. There is that side, and of course, the taste of the food because it was just harvested that morning, not shipped over the last week from California or Florida. But most importantly, the farmers’ market has become a community center, which is how it traditionally has been in Europe and Central America. They are the center of a village. They also enable young farmers to sell to their customers and get the most return. This will in the long run help local farmers like the Wesnofske Brothers in East Hampton, a third generation Polish farming family, that will be able to continue farming because of opportunities like this. It is a way of making a living as a farmer once more.

What is your hope for the future for local farmer’s markets?

I think there should be one in every village and hamlet. I hope they get bigger. I encourage more people to produce, catch and make their own products. It would be great to find a building year round for the markets. It would help farmers’ grow year round, which is possible. We need a building – that would be the wave of the future.

Amagansett does not have a traditional farmers’ market, although the Peconic Land Trust did purchase the Main Street farmers’ market and has leased it to Eli Zabar of Manhattan. Would that kind of space suit a year round farmers’ market?

I think that would be fine, although the space is not heated so whether it could be used year round would require some investigation. Someone has suggested the Polish Hall in Southampton and I do not know what Southampton Town has planned for the old Marders Building once the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton has completed construction [and moves out of the Marders Building]. It would be great to have a year round farmers’ market with a commercial kitchen in it, opening the space up to allowing people to make prepared foods and teach classes.

As a member of the local chapter of Slow Foods, what are some of the initiatives you would like that organization to tackle locally?

I am so happy that Josh Viertel is now the president of Slow Food USA. They have taken on this whole real food in schools initiative because Congress is getting ready to re-authorize the Child Nutrition Act in the fall and the money government reimburses to our schools mostly is for transportation, hard costs, not for food. Slow Foods strongly wants to ask Congress, and Labor Day is a national day of action, to up the ante and add one dollar in reimbursements per child so schools can have local foods in their cafeterias. We will locally host an Eat In at the Bridgehampton School from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Labor Day. There will be 250 of these events nationwide.

What are some of your favorite local farm stands?

I go to the farmers’ markets a lot, but when I go to farm stands it is usually what is on the way. I go to Marilee Foster and Pike Farms because that is on my way to Sagg Main Beach. When the apples come into season, I will go to the Milk Pail.

What chefs on the East End do you think embrace sustainable food culture?

Ted Conklin of The American Hotel was a pioneer because he was a farmer before he was a restaurateur. Also, Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton has been on the forefront. Like Ted, they have a garden at their restaurant. When [former owner] Jeff Salaway was alive he and Joe Realmuto and Mark Smith showed a deep commitment to local food, which Joe and Mark continue today. It’s a very special place. Talking to Balsam Farms is a good way to see what chefs are using local products because they know who is buying it. I know James Carpenter at The Living Room at The Maidstone Arms is focused on it and I hear Rugosa is as well, although I have yet to eat there. When I worked with the EECO Farm I delivered to Della Femina, and I know Yama-Q is very conscientious. Our farmers’ markets have a lot of chefs placing orders with the vendors.

Given the wealth of local food products at the end of the summer, what is your ideal Labor Day menu at home?

Eric Braun of East Hampton Farmers’ Market, one of the last of the dying breed of bay men, his fish and his scallops are divine. He also smokes his own bluefish. I would get corn from Balsam Farm and tomatoes from Marilee. I would get peaches from Wesnofske Brothers and blueberries from Pikes. Melons are just delicious right now. Balsam also has some wonderful fingerling potatoes and Sang Lee Farms has wonderful greens for a salad. And then there are pickles … I could just go on and on. I can’t think of anything better than all these different foods. The fruit pies are heaven right now. We are really so blessed with everything that is available to us right now. I feel very grateful.