Branzini At 'The Community Table'

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The book reflects its authors' love of farmers markets. Courtesy of the JCC in Manhattan

The very urban Jewish Community Center in Manhattan puts out a farm-forward cookbook.

I want to lunch with Katja Goldman. On a random spring Tuesday she had cold minted pea soup with chopped pea tendrils and grilled chicken breasts with a salad of baby arugula and kale. She lives the way she teaches others to cook. Fresh and locally-sourced ingredients are the hallmarks of her new book, “The Community Table: Recipes & Stories From the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan & Beyond.”

For Goldman, the cookbook was a joyous collaboration with her co-authors Judy Bernstein Bunzl and Lisa Rotmil. “Food brings people together and we wanted it to be a beautiful coffee table book and reflect ... the influences of all the families trying to be seasonal and mindful,” she said in a phone conversation. “It reflects the here and now and what we’re cooking.”

But “The Community Table” belongs on the kitchen counter. Unlike other attractive cookbooks (Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” comes to mind) this one has many easy to follow recipes for anyone with basic kitchen skills. The branzini recipe, perfect for dairy-heavy Shavuot, is a good example. 

There are also helpful hints peppered throughout the book. For instance, if you want to skim the fat from your soup while it’s still warm, wet a paper towel and drag it through the soup pot. The fat will cling to the towel.

Each of the 11 chapters includes descriptions of food, gardening, fitness and other community programs at JCCs across the country. There’s a write up about the Kosher Chili Cookoff in Houston; seniors playing pickleball in Atlanta and honey tasting in San Fransisco. 

“It was a celebration of the JCC, but the friendship, the fun and the creative wonderful time that the three of us had on this food journey comes out in this book,” said Goldman.

The women — foodies, gardeners and farmers market lovers — began by culling recipes from popular cooking classes at the JCC Manhattan, such as Exotic Sephardic Shavuot; Middle Eastern Favorites and Light and Quick Summer Shabbat. 

The JCC Manhattan, for example, held a contest for the best matzah recipe. The winner, Matzah Brei Sri-Lankan Style, is in the vegetables chapter. Several cups of Napa cabbage, red pepper, jalapenos and curry or basil leaves are sautéed in a spice blend of turmeric, and cumin and mustard seeds. That’s Sri Lanka, and the brei part is the matzah and eggs. It’s a delicious way to use up that half eaten box of matzah sitting in your pantry.

The authors also gathered favorites from the broader JCC community and together developed original recipes.  

“We’re hoping this book inspires people to cook and the meditative benefits of pulling meals together and having people come and share food with you at your table,” With these simple and delicious recipes, no one will leave hungry, either.

Servings & Times
Yield:
  • Serves 4
Active Time:
  • 15 min
Total Time:
  • 30 min
Ingredients
Special Equipment Needed:

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet

4 branzini (about 1 pound each) with heads and tails on, scaled and gutted

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 medium fennel bulbs, very thinly sliced, fronds reserved

2 lemons, halved lengthwise, each half cut into eight slices

1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Leaves from 4 thyme sprigs

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing or drizzling

1/2 to 1 cup white wine

Steps
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Wash and dry the fish well. Cut 3 diagonal slits into 1 side of each fish. Season the inside of each fish with salt and pepper. Place 2 to 4 fennel slices and a few whole fronds inside the cavity of each fish. In each slit, insert a lemon wedge, some parsley, and a few leaves of the thyme.
  3. Brush both sides of the fish well with olive oil, then lightly season with salt and pepper.
  4. Preheat one 14-inch ovenproof skillet (or 2 smaller ones, each large enough to hold 2 fish) over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, pour in just enough oil to coat the bottom, 1 to 2 tablespoons. Carefully position the fish in the skillet, slit sides down, alternating head to tail. (If using 2 pans, divide the oil between both and place 2 fish in each.) Leave the fish undisturbed until the skin is nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Carefully turn the fish, using spatulas if necessary. Cook on the other side until browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Remove the skillet(s) from the heat. Add enough of the wine to just cover the bottom of the skillet(s), avoiding the crisped skin as you pour. Transfer from the skillet(s) to the oven to finish cooking, about 5 minutes (the fish will feel crisp to the touch).
  6. Remove the skillet(s) from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve from the skillet(s).