One of the challenges of writing a food column for a New York audience is that most of you don’t cook. Now, I’d like to believe that a recipe or two has caught your eye, enticing you to break out your limited selection of pots and pans and explore your pantry, but I’m not betting the farm on it. Many New Yorkers come home from long workdays and are almost always so beat they’d rather order in than cook.
I have a friend who works in PR, and let’s just say she’s far from a cuisinaire. She called me the other day to explain that she was having a dinner party and needed advice about where to shop for ingredients and how to feed people without actually cooking. I sent her to some of the finest food shops in my Brooklyn neighborhood, of which there are many, and suggested some cheeses, cuts of meat, cured olives, pickled vegetables and other items that could be enjoyed without the application of heat. The night of the party, I showed up early to help, but she seemed to have things completely under control. On the coffee table was a beautiful display of meats, cheeses, artisanal breads, spreads, olives and other tidily consumed snacks. The guests all commented on the food’s deliciousness and my friend looked self-assured.
What I’m getting at here is that you don’t need to be a chef to feed people. A little thoughtful preparation goes a long way, and people won’t write you off as a city stiff with no domestic inclination whatsoever. The recipe below requires assembly only. It uses cured octopus, which many people shy away from. But if you eat calamari, fried or what have you, there is absolutely no reason to denounce octopus. It’s the meat of the sea, and avoiding it is just plain silly. On a side note, I found all of these ingredients at Los Paisanos, an Italian butcher on Smith
Street, save the fennel and parsley.
Marinated Octopus, Fava Beans, Cured Olives, Fennel, Parsley and Lemon (Serves 4) 1 pound octopus marinated in olive oil
1 bulb fennel, heart removed and thinly sliced, plus fronds
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup pitted, salt-cured black olives
1/2 cup cooked, canned fava beans
Juice from half a lemon
Red wine vinegar
Fleur de Sel and fresh ground pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Toss gently with a pair of tongs. Serve on small plates, giving the dish height. Sprinkle each serving with a touch of Fleur de Sel and garnish with a lemon slice.