Erica DeMane, Fashion Buying and Merchandising ’77
With spring just around the corner, farmers’ markets throughout the city are sprouting with vibrant colors and luring crowds of people eager for all things fresh! On any given day, one can find Erica DeMane (FBM ’77), respected chef and food writer, weaving through the markets with a shop-local mindset and a mental catalogue of the freshest seasonal ingredients.
We asked DeMane, who specializes in Southern Italian cooking, to share some in-season ingredients for a fresh springtime dish. DeMane was happy to talk to us about her favorite local market, her love for fashion and cooking, and offered her wonderful recipe for Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil.
How has the Union Square Greenmarket evolved since your college days?
The Union Square Greenmarket, which began in 1976, with a few worn out hippies selling crates of wilted organic greens and potatoes, was a dreary establishment. When I graduated from FIT in 1977, I moved to University Place and 13th Street, a block from Union Square. I’ve watched the park blossom over the years and it’s now home to the gorgeous food market. I stroll over from my West Village apartment and come home with a ton of stuff and let it spill out onto my counter, thinking about all the great dishes I could create. What a beautiful, inspiring place.
As the author of The Flavors of Southern Italy, Pasta Improvvisata, and Williams-Sonoma Pasta, have you held any cooking demos at the market?
In 1999, I had my first cookbook signing and food demo at the Union Square market–my little booth stacked high with my new book Pasta Improvvisata, and decorated with huge sunflowers and goofy bouquets of string beans, arugula, and tall bunches of basil. This was July, high summer, and the colors and abundance at the market, with me dishing out my orecchietti with zucchini and fresh sage, was thrilling. I remember Geoffrey Beene, the clothing designer, stopping by to sample my dish and purchase one of my books (he was also famous for being a great cook). I’ve since done many Greenmarket signings and food demos there, in all seasons, and even worked on their Greenmarket cookbook.
What should we look out for at the market?
It’s now spring and the market will just be getting into gear. I know the progression of vegetables so well by now that I anticipate their appearance in the stalls weeks before they arrive. First to show are fiddle head ferns, not something that excites me much since I find their taste reminiscent of lawn clippings. But then come ramps, little, wild, locally foraged leeks that are so intense in flavor and so great in salads and fish dishes. A few weeks later is when the market really comes alive, with piles of local asparagus, wild watercress, chives, freshly dug spring garlic with skinny stalks that haven’t even formed cloves yet, and the first of the local strawberries with their perfumey aroma that has at times brought me to tears.
Do you have a favorite farmer?
I always buy local and in season because the flavor and quality are superb. I also want to support my local farmers. I very much like Migliorelli farms since they grow a lot of Italian vegetables such as broccoli rabe, the crazy long zucca lungha zucchini variety with its tendrils that are used by Southern Italians in soups and pasta, and all sorts of eggplants in amazing colors like violet with white stripes, or the huge round, bright purple Sicilian type.
You still have a great love for fashion from your days at FIT. Woud you say there’s a relationship between fashion and cooking?
For me there is a huge connection between fashion and cooking. The technique must be there in both, but the final product must be magical in all aspects. Creation in the kitchen can be sweaty and messy, but when I present a finished recipe that looks so effortless and gorgeous, I’m proud of the entire process. I place a lot of importance on presentation, color and composition in my dishes–very much like my fashion choices, which have always been very bold and distinct.
What is a little-known fact about you?
I’m actually quite shy but since I act flashy and bold, hardly anyone understands this about me. I still wear rather wacky outfits, a lot of red, stripes. Clothes and cooking both have a lot of power. Both are great covers for timidity.
What’s a perfect springtime dish that incorporates seasonal produce?
Spring garlic, one of my most exciting discoveries at Union Square about 15 years ago, is great this time of year. I smash a few of them up and let them steep in good olive oil for a few hours. It’s great brushed over grilled bread, but it’s also an excellent way to add a fancy hit of flavor to a spring soup. I came up with Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil. Try it out and enjoy on a sunny, breezy Spring day!
Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 skinny stalks spring garlic
2 lightly packed cups skinny, spiky-leafed wild-type arugula, stemmed
5 baby leeks, chopped, including some of the tender green part
2 large boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
5 scrapings of fresh nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups homemade or high-quality prepared chicken broth (or use a homemade vegetable stock if you prefer)
Pour about ¾ cup of good olive oil into a small bowl. Chop up the garlic, the entire thing (you’ll probably have garlic with very small underdeveloped bulbs and a tender stalk). Then flatten the garlic pieces with a smack from the side of your knife. Place the garlic in the olive oil, and let it sit to develop flavor for about an hour or so. Strain the oil into a clean bowl, and set aside.
Set up a medium-size pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Add the arugula, and blanch it for a minute. Pull it from the water into an ice bath (or into a strainer and run cold water over it). This will set its bright green color. Drain well.
Now, in a large soup pot, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, and sauté until softened, without letting them brown. Add the potatoes, and season with nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Sauté a few more minutes just to coat the potatoes with flavor. Add the broth. Bring this to a boil, turn the heat down a notch, and then continue cooking at a lively bubble, uncovered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Add the arugula, and let it wilt into the liquid for about 2 or 3 minutes.
Purée the soup in a food processor, and return it to the pot. Taste for a good balance of flavor. You should have a mellowness from the leeks and potato with a slight bitterness from the arugula. The soup shouldn’t be super thick, so add a little more broth or water to thin it if needed. Adjust the seasoning.
When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup gently, and ladle it into bowls. Give each bowl a generous drizzle of the spring garlic oil.
Read more about the Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil dish and check out more delicious recipes on Erica DeMane’s website!