Cooking: Ocean & Farm to Table

By Dean Neff

A story of how a classic Italian dish was inspired by coastal NC ingredients.

    Before we officially opened PinPoint Restaurant, people would ask us about the style of the food and often times I would find myself struggling for an answer. “Farm to Table” has been so overused to this point, that I don’t associate it with anything meaningful anymore. I knew that we would be working with a network of local farmers, and our ingredient-driven food would be created around their ever-changing availability lists. The next best way to describe our restaurant was a “seasonal, community restaurant” that pays attention to tradition and refinement of techniques. This is still very vague, but implies that we cannot be anything without the support of our local community. We look to our community for our workforce, guests, and food suppliers and I know that we will always work to cook within the season both with ingredients and techniques.

    Season determines our availability of local seafood every bit as much as it does our local produce. While the effects of seasonality at our local grocery stores can be convoluted by complex issues of supply and demand in our food system, we can choose to pay attention to the origin of our food. Once we begin to pay attention to sourcing our ingredients locally, not only do we begin to create new relationships with people in our communities, but the food that we prepare tastes better too. By shopping in local fish shops and farmer’s markets we build meaningful relationships with local people, and create demand on a local scale.

    Living in low-country coastal communities, such as Wilmington, definitely has its perks in the bounty of the ocean, intra-coastal waterways, and all of the fishermen who work to bring local seafood to consumers

    In early July, we had been eagerly awaiting the opening of the local shrimp season here in Wilmington, NC. We heard first from Pete Mairs, owner of Barbary Fish Company via email, about the first harvest of 26-30 count brown shrimp from the local area. A few days later our PinPoint crew was touring the farm of our good friends and extraordinary growers Joe and Nicholl of Wholesome Greens. Joe told us about two friends and local crabbers by the name of Scott and Patty Rader who
were sourcing soft shell crabs from the Figure 8 Island area. Joe put us in contact and a few days later we had 40 beautiful soft-shells at our restaurant. Joe and Nicholl have been providing us with the most beautiful tomatoes, herbs, and garlic for some time now, and as we started brainstorming a possible new menu based on all of these local ingredients. The idea of NC pasta Puttanesca just made sense. Cooking is a direct extension of life and the relationships with the local people who cultivate ingredients. Without the networks/friendships between people in the community around us our food would be not as not as exciting to say the least. Once Farmers bring us their availability lists THEN we are able to make our food. By knowing the people who farm your food and how much they put into it, you think more seriously about the best way to prepare it.

A classic Italian Dish that is almost entirely made up of the freshest summer ingredients from the North Carolina Coast.

Coastal NC Pasta alla Puttanesca

We serve this with NC Clams and brown shrimp that have been grilled and cornmeal crusted fried
soft-shell crab from figure 8 Island. You can serve this with any variation of local seafood that
may be available. Always season with salt and finish with the fresh leafy herbs just before serving.

Serve this dish family style or plate up individual portions…

For the sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 white or yellow onion minced
1 whole head of garlic slow roasted (in foil with salt pepper and olive oil 350°F oven) until totally
soft and fragrant
1 tablespoon finely grated carrot (for best results use a microplane)
¼ cup pitted lightly chopped assorted Greek olives
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons minced anchovies
½ teaspoon Chile flake
½ teaspoon fennel seed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 ½ cup tomato juice
1-2 cups Low sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock for thinning the sauce as needed.
2 Tablespoons cold butter

2 tablespoons grated parmesan reggiano

1 cup assorted cherry tomatoes

Fresh basil Whole leaves ¼ pound
Fresh oregano leaves 1/8 pound

1 tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley

In a large nonreactive (not aluminum) pot over medium heat, add the olive oil. Next add the minced onion, garlic paste, shredded carrot, and cook gently for 5-10 minutes until just before browning begins. Add the olives, capers, anchovies, Chile flake, fennel seed, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme and cook for 2-3 minutes while stirring. Next add the fresh tomatoes, tomato juice, and 1 cup of the low sodium stock of your choice. Turn the heat very low and allow to gently simmer. Season lightly with salt (this will help break down the
fresh tomatoes) and cook for 15 minutes or until the sauce has reached the consistency of red pasta sauce. Turn the heat off and add the cold butter, the Parmesan Reggiano, the cherry tomatoes, the fresh basil and oregano, and the minced flat leaf parsley and stir. Hold warm while finishing up your pasta. Cook the pasta until one minute before it is done, and transfer into the pot with the sauce. Turn on low heat and adjust the consistency as needed with the remaining stock.

Cooking pasta
You can use any variety of pasta you like for this. I prefer spaghetti. Just make sure to cook whichever pasta you choose in salted water that is at a rolling boil. Stir your pasta frequently to prevent sticking and burning, and finally transfer your pasta directly from the pasta water to the pot that contains your sauce. Taste and season as needed.

Preparing and Frying Soft-shell Crabs
When preparing soft-shell crabs I have found that freezing immediately upon catching is a good way to go. When cleaning soft shells you will need to remove the gills and snip off the face before submerging in buttermilk. This is seems to be more humane way to butcher your softies. Remove from the buttermilk and submerge into seasoned cornmeal. Fry at 325°F for 5 minutes or until the thickest part of the crab has reached 165°F internally. Be careful as they sometimes pop and spatter hot oil as they are cooking.

Pair this with Tintero “Grangia Rosato” NV Sparkling Rose Italian Wine

Here is a list of the people who inspired this recipe through their procurement of local ingredients.

Joe Choi and Nicholl Gleason Wholesome Greens LLC (All of our fresh herbs, tomatoes, and garlic)
Pete Mairs Barbary Fish Co (NC Littleneck clams, Local 26-30 head on brown shrimp)
Scott and Patty Rader (soft-shell crabs from Figure 8 Island)

Executive Chef/Owner – Dean Neff
In the kitchen, Dean puts art and skill to bear on a refined touch to traditional methods of cooking
as well as providing an innovative and endlessly interesting palette. Dean’s farm-to-table approach to
fine dining attracts a growing number of customers and brings a sophisticated appreciation for
seasonality and creativity with local foods.

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