Chef Jody Williams recalls meeting Rita Sodi after being encouraged by friends to visit her West Village restaurant. Charmed by the handwritten and spring card with its five asparagus. “It was so Italian – the energy, everything, I was in love,” she says. The women ended up opening Via Carota together on Grove Street which, with its signature vegetarian menu, has become a neighborhood mainstay.
“We wanted all the contorni to be central to the menu,” Williams says, “because when we went out, we gravitated around that little nook of sides that kind of got overlooked.” Their compilation of diner mecca recipes is “Via Carota: A Celebration of Seasonal Cuisine from Greenwich Village’s Beloved Restaurant: An Italian Cookbook.”
Zucchini in Agrodolce
Marinated squash with onions and currants
A number of squash varieties work well in this unique Venetian marinade. Butternut is soft and silky texture, while red kuri has dense flesh and a subtle chestnut flavor with a edible skin. Arrange in a single layer so that the marinade and spices flavor each slice.
- 1 small butternut squash or red kuri (1¼ pounds/570 grams)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup sliced)
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup/120ml aged sherry vinegar
- 1/2 cup/120ml water
- 1/4 cup/about 30 grams currants
- 1 tablespoon / 12 grams of sugar
- 3 tablespoons/30 grams pine nuts, lightly toasted
- Preheat the oven to 400oF/200oC. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Rub the squash halves with olive oil, salt them well and place them on a baking sheet. Roast until squash halves are puffy in spots and tender, 35 to 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scrape out the seeds with a spoon.
- Place a medium skillet over medium-low heat and lightly coat the bottom with olive oil (about 1 tablespoon). Add onions, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Cook until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar, water, currants, sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons/4 grams of salt. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the pine nuts. Slice the squash about 2 inches/5 cm thick and arrange on a platter.
- Pour the marinade over the squash, scattering the onions, currants and pine nuts over the slices. Let stand at least 15 minutes or refrigerate up to 24 hours. Remember to prepare it in advance so that the flavors blend. Serve at room temperature.
Porri al Cenere
Charred leeks with sheep’s cheese
The outer layer of these leeks is completely blackened and the inside is steamed until tender and creamy. If you don’t have a grill or grill pan, you can grill them over the flames of your stove. in this case, hold one leek at a time with tongs and gently turn it until it is completely blackened. Be sure to turn off your smoke detector first.
“Cenere” translates to ashes in Italian. In this application, chefs Jody Miller and Rita Sodi char leeks, resulting in a darkened outer layer with a creamy, sweet center. Photo by Gentl & Hyers.
- 4 large leeks
- extra virgin olive oil
- about 3 tbsp/45ml water 3 tbsp/45ml Via Carota Vinaigrette (page 340)
- 2 ounces / 55 grams of sweet sheep’s milk feta
- Slice the leeks about an inch above the point at which they turn green and begin to branch off. Cut into 5 to 6 inch/13 to 15 cm lengths.
- To wash them, peel off the outer layer and soak the leeks twice in a bowl of warm water; remove after each soak and repeat with new water. Follow with a cold rinse, checking ends for any remaining soil; drain and pat dry.
- Preheat a grill or skillet over medium heat. At the same time, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Grill the leeks, turning occasionally, until the surface is completely charred, about 20 minutes.
- Place a large sheet of parchment paper or newspaper on a baking sheet and arrange the leeks in the center. Season the leeks with salt and a drizzle of olive oil, then drizzle with water. Fold the paper over the leeks to create a sealed packet, tucking the ends under to prevent it from opening. Place the pan in the oven until the leeks are very tender when pressed (or test with the tip of a knife), about 30 minutes.
- Open package to cool slightly. Cut a slit lengthwise in the middle of each leek. Press the ends to open each leek a little. Season the inside lightly with salt and a little dressing and crumble the cheese on top.
Via Carota Salad Dressing
Makes about 1 cup/2 40ml, enough for 8 salads
It’s a favorite. Enough said.
- 1 shallot, very finely chopped (¼ cup)
- 1 clove garlic, finely grated (about ½ teaspoon)
- ¾ teaspoon/2 grams of sugar
- ½ teaspoon/1.5 grams of salt
- 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
- ¼ cup/60ml aged sherry vinegar
- 2 tsp/10ml lukewarm water
- ¾ cup/180ml extra virgin olive oil
- Place the shallots in a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cold water. Drain them and transfer them to a small bowl with the garlic, sugar and salt.
- Strip the thyme leaves from the stems and finely chop the leaves (for about 1 teaspoon of thyme); stir in bowl. Stir in vinegar and water. Pour the olive oil into the bowl in a slow stream, whisking all the time until it is emulsified.
*The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
From Via Carota: A Celebration of Beloved Greenwich Village Restaurant’s Seasonal Cuisine by Jody Williams and Rita Sodi, with Anna Kovel. Copyright ©2022 by Jody Williams and Rita Sodi. Excerpted with permission from Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without the written permission of the publisher.