If you ever find yourself in downtown Brooklyn, please do yourself a favor and do check out Gersi. It’s a cozy neighborhood restaurant that specializes in northern Italian fare. I’ll let you in on a secret: they have one of those idyllic little backyards that are secretly tucked away in nooks and crannies around south Brooklyn, perfect for summer nights and fair weather evenings.
This past friday night, we ate a late dinner indoors where it’s warm and intimate and you can observe the bustling kitchen through a large window that opens up into the candlelit dining room. Over cocktails, we watched the chefs busily prepare our meals and the expert waiters dart around. The vibes are good but the pastas are even better. We made the spectacular decision to dine on not one, not two, but four different spaghettis because…why not, but also because I have awesome friends who love to eat.
This wasn’t monotonous at all. Each pasta was so different and delicious in its own way. There was a bright and rich spaghetti a limon, crowd pleasing and deceptively simple. The cacio e pepe was decadent and deftly seasoned heavy handedly with black pepper. We also got the chicken parmesan, which was pounded thinly and served with a side of noodles smothered in red sauce. My favorite though, was the Spaghetti alla bottarga. Apparently people call Bottarga the poor man’s caviar, which I find a bit disparaging because its so tasty. It’s especially tasty in this spaghetti, where the salted cured fish roe is both infused in the sauce and shaved generously on top to garnish. Mmmm I’m in the mood for spaghetti again now.
Aside from our spaghetti feast, what really stood out to us were the simple, fresh appetizers. The bread is served with a complimentary garlicky white-bean salad, which tastes even better cause it’s “free”. We got a black kale pazanella, tossed with parmesan and soft hand torn croutons made of lightly toasted day-old bread (I could probably eat this every day.) We also ordered a lemony salad of shaved raw mushroom and fennel. It was so fresh and simple, I knew I had to try to make it myself.
This salad was listed on Gersi’s seasonal/special menu, so if you won’t be able to make it to Cobble Hill to visit them anytime soon (you should) or if it’s not available, here’s a the version I tried at home today.
Shaved Mushroom and Fennel Salad
This makes a big bowl of salad – enough to serve 4. It’s best to mix the dressing in 15 minutes before serving so the vegetables soften and absorb the dressing but are still crisp.
for the salad
12 cremini mushrooms
1 bulb fennel + its inner leafy fronds
for the dressing
juice and rind of 1 lemon (plus more to taste)
2 tbs dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
splash of water
In a big bowl, combine the juice of one big lemon and approximately 2 tbs of dijon mustard (to taste). Add a splash of water and whisk in 1/4 cup of olive oil to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.
Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth to clean them and and remove their stems (save these to make veggie stock!) With a sharp knife or mandolin, slice them thinly.
Remove the fennel stem from the bulb. I like to cut the bulb in half vertically and then core it. Slice the halves thinly like the mushrooms and place both into the bowl with the dressing. Mix well with your hands and let the shavings soften and absorb the dressing. Chop up the parsley and tear the spindly fronds from the fennel stems and toss with the vegetables.
Now taste – does it need more lemon juice? More salt and pepper? Maybe you want to use chives instead of the parsley, or do a Mexican spin with lime, cilantro and chili powder. I added ribbons of parmesan and lemon zest in mine.
Gersi, 316 Court Street, Cobble Hill – Brooklyn