This past weekend I was in Ithaca visiting the Cornell campus and my very good friend Nick. He is a doctoral candidate in the English department and this is the first time I have gone up to visit him despite the relative proximity to New York City by car. As I have mentioned in numerous previous posts Nick is a foodie who is quite skilled in the kitchen. He also happens to be a hip dude that I love spending time with. Valerie and I left the city at a shockingly early hour (6am!) and arrived in Ithaca for a walking tour of the gorgeous campus before sitting down to lunch. My uncle on my mother’s side lives just outside of Ithaca and was another motivation for the weekend road trip. Hitch is a fabulous gardner, wonderful cook, and ebullient personality whom I truly enjoy spending time with. He invited the three of us up to his farmhouse in Trumansberg to have dinner and spend the night which we gratefully accepted knowing that we were in for an uproariously good time. After we had settled in and deposited our baggage Hitch summoned us with a glass of wine and a slice of homemade pork terrine. The pâté was tender and not greasy at all with just the right amount of fat, seasoning, and chopped pistachio paired well with the vegetal aftertaste of the chilled white. Hitch loves to cook and entertain through a modest philosophy that food should highlight natural flavors and not be overly complex. Simplicity through delicious ingredients treated with care and respect is above all showcased in his cooking and our dinner was no exception. Hitch has traveled extensively throughout Europe, particularly Italy and Greece, two food cultures that have heavily influenced his cuisine. The first course was an Italian fennel dish baked with cream and parmesan. He boiled thickly sliced fennel for until just tender and then baked in a buttered earthenware dish topped with heavy cream and coarsely grated parmesan.
When I went back into the kitchen and the open fireplace next to Hitch’s industrial stovetop I was amazed to find a dish of lamb chops. The little meaty jewels had been infused with minced garlic and rosemary pressed into the chops. Hitch then employed a kitchen trick I have often thought about but never tried to employ: he grilled them in the fireplace over hot coals. The fire had died down enough to cook the meat on direct heat without flaring up, burning, or overcooking the tender meat. The whole kitchen erupted in an olfactory blaze of flavor as the meat cooked to a perfect crisp exterior and rosy pink center highly flavored by the smoke and aromatics. There were also little crispy slightly bitter morsels of burnt rosemary that one came across in random bites that added a robust depth of flavor to the grilled lamb. Overall the dish exemplified Hitch’s approach in the kitchen; it was simply prepared and absolutely delicious.
The third course was served after a decent respite during which we cleared our plates and the remaining wine on the table. After we had decided what to drink to accompany them, a plate of boiled new potatoes and a cheeseboard arrived. The potatoes were piping hot and we were invited to dress our spuds with a choice of sweet butter, salt, pepper, or cheese. The four cheeses, clockwise from bottom left, were comté, pecorino, appenzeller, and a local cow’s milk tome. Each cheese had its own thing going on and some were best on their own though the appenzeller and a tiny pad of butter melted over a split potato was a heavenly match. Appenzeller is a hard cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland that has a fruity flavor with slightly herbal tones, one of the three principal cheeses found in classic fondues. We casually sat around the cheeseboard as the potatoes disappeared almost as fast as the wine and relished each other’s company before moving into the kitchen to be nearer to the cozy fire. It was an elegant feast despite its rustic quality where few ingredients were employed to savory ends. We concluded the evening with a thimble of grappa and a dish of thinly sliced oranges, a sort of fruit carpaccio that provided a welcome lightness after a hearty meal. All in all it was a great experience and we all enjoyed the tasty treats and excellent wines to which my uncle treated us. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others.