Ramped Up Tapas with Casa Mono’s Andy Nusser and Anthony Sasso

Posted on April 28, 2014 06:55 pm

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This guest blog post comes to us from food blogger Layla Khoury-Hanold of Glass of Rosé. Follow her adventures in eating, cooking and drinking on Twitter @glassofrose and Instagram @theglassofrose.

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When you taste the cooking of chefs who are disciples of Mario Batali, you expect the food to be consistently delicious and the ingredients to be of the highest caliber. What you don’t expect is just how much fun the chefs have with cooking. And that fun was on full display during Andy Nusser and Anthony Sasso's class; it was treat for not only the class, but the chefs as well.

You see, Andy has been busy growing a mini pizza empire called Tarry Lodge across Connecticut and Westchseter, so it was a rare treat for him to be behind the stove cooking with Anthony, a seven year veteran of Casa Mono, the last five of which has seen the restaurant earn a Michelin star.

The pair reunited to serve up Casa Mono’s unique twist on tapas; it’s Spanish at its core, but the dishes draw influence from sources as disparate as New York’s Chinatown to Ibiza. Here’s a play by play of the tag team effort, featuring some of their greatest hits made uber seasonal by incorprating one of spring’s most coveted ingredients, ramps.

In case you’re not drooling by the end of this post (and making a reservation at Casa Mono, stat), the lovely lady next to me, who has been attending classes at De Gustibus for 15 years, said this was the most amazing meal she had ever had.

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Local Fluke Crudo with Ramp Ash, Purple Potato Chips, Meyer Lemon

This playful and refined take on fish and chips featured raw local fluke dressed with Meyer lemon juice and olive oil and finished with super thin fried slices of Peruvian potatoes and chopped pickled ramps, for a one-two texture punch. The white part of the ramp, a wild leek, is more garlicky than the green, so it’s great for pickling – you can even put pickled ramps in martinis, or so he says. And because Andy likes to “keep things simple but doesn’t know how to stop”, the dish is finished with Meyer lemon zest, ramp ash and ramp oil. The flavor combination made for a perfect harmony of spring flavors and is a dish I could see eating well into the warmer months.

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Burrata “Ibizan Lifeguard Style”, Spanish Anchovy, Ramp Pesto, black Olive Crisp

Burrata, a luxurious, uber creamy mozzarella cheese, is one of my favorite foods, but I’m pretty sure that neither I nor the burrata have ever had it so good. This dish is a great example of the rule bending that the chefs take – one wouldn’t typically pair fish with cheese, and it might even be frowned upon. But when you take local burrata (from John Fazio Farms), drape it with Don Bocarte’s oil-packed Spanish anchovies (deemed the best in the world by many, and likely the most expensive at $100 wholesale per tin!), and dress it with the mild onion-flavored pesto and the briny “Ibizan” puttanesca-style sauce, it adds up to something exquisite and out of this world delicious.  A tip on serving burrata: Anthony advises waiting to cut it until right before serving, so you don’t let any of the creamy goodness escape.

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Quail and Cocks Combs, Ramp Jus, Black Fermented Garlic Puree, Grilled Ramps

Andy discovered Cocks Combs, the crest on top of chickens’ heads, in Barcelona and he knew he wanted to put it on the menu (though it’s since been bumped in favor of other dishes). He rediscovered them in Chinatown with his son (who I don’t think knew what he was eating!) and finds them to be an underrated ingredient. Because they’re all gelatin and no bone, he cooks them long and slow until they become tender, like sautéed mushrooms.  It’s a great complement to the quail, which has a gaminess that chicken doesn’t have, along with the earthy notes of the fermented black garlic and the grilled ramps. Another reason Andy likes quail? “You can eat more and more, they’re so tiny!”

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Ramp Stuffed Lamb Belly with Buttermilk Ramp Puree and Blood Orange Radicchio

This dish was the piece de resistance. This is an ambitious project for any home cook; while I would kill to have this dish again, for me it’s best left to the pros. At Casa Mono they employ whole animal butchery to make the most of the whole goats, pigs and lambs that grace their kitchen. While they leave nothing to waste, lamb belly in particular needs a lot of attention. Anthony explained, “Lamb fat is scary, it’s not as delicious as pig fat. You need to do a lot of trimming. And you need to cook it a long time.” After a quick sear in the pan, the belly gets stuffed with a sautéed mixture of onions, ramps, golden raisins and tomato paste (deglazed with Sherry), then tightly rolled and tied into a roast. After a couple hours in the oven, it’s ready to serve with wilted radicchio tempered with blood orange juice, blood orange segments and a buttermilk ramp puree, which lends a sour note to tie all of the components together.

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Spanish Olive Oil Cake, Olive Oil Ice Cream, Rhubarb Marm and Blood Orange Crema

Diego Moya, Casa Mono’s doubly talented pastry chef and right hand cook, whipped up this tender cake using La Vallé olive oil, an Italian olive oil from Spain (how fitting!). “Olive oil makes cake really tender,” explained Diego, “it helps retain moisture even if you accidentally over whip.” Plated with olive oil ice cream (made by the talented Meredith Kurtzman at Otto),  rhubarb marm (similar to a compote) and a blood orange crema, it was the perfect cloud of heaven that dessert should always aspire to be. What to do if you make these cakes and should somehow find yourself with leftovers? Diego suggests making French toast with it. Hear that? It’s the sound of my mind being blown.

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