I have come to know Anthony Sasso as an extremely versatile and thoughtful chef. He has an eye for quality and a sharp palate that is aided by an incredible memory for detail. I was thrilled to spend a morning with him at the Union Square Green Market and follow him to his tiny New York City apartment. There, he cooked me lunch and mixed a couple of Absolut cocktails to pair.

Having lived and cooked in Spain for a year, Sasso’s menu at the restaurant in which he works focuses primarily on the hearty flavors of the Mediterranean. But, when he’s not at work, Sasso loves to explore culinary traditions from around the world. So, in my day of shopping, cooking, eating, and drinking with him, we skirted the rim of the Mediterranean, with which he is so familiar, and also took a quick dip to South America.

Like a kid in a candy shop, Sasso took me from stall to stall at the Union Square Green Market, with his wagon in tow, to say hello to all of his purveyors. By the time we left the market, the wagon was moaning under the weight of a precariously stacked assortment of squashes, herbs, fruit, dairy, tomatoes, juices, meats, eggs, and more. I asked him how many dishes he planned to cook for lunch. Without missing a beat, “5 dishes. 2 cocktails. A pot of coffee. Piece of cake.”

Sasso pulled me over to his favorite fishmonger at the Union Square Green Market. I marveled at the buckets of fresh seafood set into wooden troughs filled with crushed ice. All of it was covered with hinged, glass-panels that allowed customers to see the products, just like any grocery store seafood display case. All of the seafood at this stand came from local waters. Sasso picked out some nice, large scallops.

And, as promised, the first order of business when we got to Sasso’s studio: a pot of strong coffee.

“I’ve always wondered how they get the anchovies lined up so neatly in the jar like that,” I wondered aloud as I watched Sasso pull the thin, delicate filets out with the small pick that came with the packaging.

“They pack them by hand,” he said. The anchovies went into the mortar and pestle, along with some parsley and a generous stream of extra virgin olive oil for a crude bagna cauda.

“I’m making you pasta carbonara,” Sasso said as he picked up a nest of freshly-made egg pasta at the market. “We’ll need some eggs, some cheese, and a bit of pancetta too.” Later, when he was finishing the pasta in his apartment, I noticed he didn’t add any black pepper. “I don’t keep black pepper. I don’t like cooking with it; I think there are far more interesting ways to spice things up. So, this carbonara isn’t traditional. I call it carbonara Sasso.”

Sasso’s studio was very small. The two of us could barely fit into the kitchen together. “Let’s eat in the little garden outside; there will be more room and better light out there. There’s no access to it from my building though – or from any building. So, we’ll have to climb out the window.” Thankfully, he lives on the ground floor.

Roasted peppers with ribbons of shaved cheese.

Sauteed eggplant and late-harvest baby zucchini, finished with a crude bagna cauda.

Recently back from a trip to Peru, Sasso was inspired to make two ceviche dishes. In one, he put raw strips of sea bass in a milky “leche de tigre” broth with sour watermelon gerkins. In the other, he cut up raw scallops and tossed them with last-of-the-season strawberries, tomatoes, tart gooseberries (also known as ground cherries), and olive oil. He garnished this ceviche with peppery cress. Both ceviches were surprisingly spicy with chili heat.

Using items found at the market, Sasso made two cocktails. For one cocktail, Sasso steeped fresh mint and black English breakfast tea in a pan of hot water. After cooling the infusion, he added plum juice to give the drink a little sweetness and acidity and chopped ginger for a little spice. He topped off the cocktail with the Absolut Vodka. This light cocktail, with its slightly numbing, gingery heat, paired especially well with the bright, fruit-forward ceviches.

New York City apartments don’t allow for excessive kitchen gadgetry. So, most of Sasso’s utensils and kitchenware had to perform multiple functions. For a second cocktail, Sasso smashed whole, Concord grapes in a French press with grape and apple juices that he had found at the market.

To the grape smash, Sasso added some coconut water and Absolut. Beyond the robust, grapey flavor of the juice, the coconut water contributed a unique savory finish to this drink. It paired especially well with the eggplant bagna cauda and some buttered toast that Sasso had topped with shaved ham and celery leaves.

True to his word, Sasso finished lunch within an hour and a half, leaving us a nice, long afternoon to chat and linger over food and drink. The only thing missing was that piece of cake.

Bonjwing Lee

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