The chef and the farmer
Spontaneity and flexibility mark the selection of side dishes
served by Casa Luca da Fabio Trabocchi, Washington, D.C. “We
let the ingredient choose us,” says executive chef Erin Clarke.
“I’m fortunate enough to have close relationships with all
my growers. The genesis of a great side dish often begins with
a farmer texting or emailing me to let me know the tomatoes
are almost ripe or the persimmon tree had a spectacular year.”
Communication is the key, she says. “By the time the broccoli
rabe is harvested and dropped off at our door, its fate has already
been written into a recipe.”
Clarke says there are always two seasonal side dishes on the
Casa Luca menu. In addition, staff will often prepare special
off-the-menu items that guests request. “Spring is asparagus
season. I start early by ordering the thin organic California
asparagus, but I adore local East Coast asparagus for its firm,
crisp texture and light, sweet flavor.”
Eggplant is a summer “front-runner,” says Clarke. “We prepare
eggplant Parmesan as a weekly special, and we also pickle tiny
fairy tale eggplants that are finished on the grill and served with
our rosemary-marinated lamb shoulder rack.”
In the fall, Casa Luca turns to a variety of squashes, ranging
from butternut to kabocha. “We prepare all of them similarly,”
Clarke says. First, they are split and portioned into half-moons.
Then, they’re roasted with rosemary, honey and olive oil until
golden-brown. Next, leftover bits and pieces are blended with sweet
cream into a rich puree. Finally, the seeds of the squash are cleaned
and toasted in brown butter. During dinner service, each piece of
squash is warmed to order with butter, basil and golden raisins,
and served with the squash puree and toasted squash seeds.
Clarke says the restaurant’s winter focus is on grains and
legumes. “We store these in anticipation of the cold weather,” she
says. “My Amish farmers have the sweetest lima beans that are
available into November.” During January and February, Casa Luca
serves warm pots of polenta with long-cooked housemade ragu.
ALAN RiCHMAN, FORMeR eDi TOR/ASSOCiATe PUBLiSHeR OF WHOLeFOODS MAGAziNe, iS
A Ne W JeRSey-BASeD FReeLANCe WRi TeR FOCUSiNG ON FOOD AND NU TRi TiON.
CON TAC T ARkR@COMCAST.NeT.
Left: Golden beets, as served by Seasons 52, feature a golden/orange flesh that is
firm, earthy and sweet.
Above top: During January and february, Casa Luca serves warm pots of polenta
with its long-cooked housemade ragu.
Above bottom: Smith & Wollensky introduced its creamy corn with manchego as a
specialty for late spring and early summer. Now, customers ask for it as early as April.