Cool Down With Peter Hoffman’s Summer Dinner Menu
Shared by: Peter Hoffman
Recipe Roots: Nuremberg, Germany and Tenafly, New Jersey > New York City
Two years ago this summer, Back Forty West, a beloved restaurant in New York’s Soho neighborhood, closed sending a twinge through the city’s dining community. It was the last of three restaurants once helmed by chef Peter Hoffman, a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement on the East Coast.
Today, Peter is living only a few blocks away from where the restaurant stood, writing a memoir and, of course, cooking. Earlier this summer, he welcomed us for an early evening meal in his backyard, serving his mother’s German potato salad and his father’s favorite cold and sour sorrel soup, schav. Peter added his own summer bean salad and seared spiced tuna to the menu, and finished the evening with his grandmother’s summer fruit tart. It’s the perfect menu to enjoy when farmers market stands are bursting with the bounty of summer, as they are right now.
Peter knew he wanted to spend his life in the kitchen when he was 16. “One day, there was a photograph of Paul Bocuse on the cover of the New York Times magazine section looking over an incredible array of farmers market [produce],” he recalled. “And I was like: ‘That’s it.’”
His start in the kitchen came before that, though, working alongside his mother Lilo, a German immigrant who came to America in 1934. When he was little, he would set up on a stool to shell peas or clip beans and work alongside her. “We had a galley kitchen and she’d be in front of the stove. That space was hers,” he recalled.
As the two cooked, “we’d talk and it was actually a really special time to just have her attention and be able to talk about things, sometimes hard things, when you don’t necessarily want to look someone in the eye,” he says.
The cooking in Peter’s childhood kitchen wasn’t particularly connected to Jewish tradition. For that, he went to Zabar’s to buy babka and smoked fish. “I grew up in an atheistic family….But, it was very clear that we were Jewish,” he says. “My mom’s story was front and center. When I was 7, we went on a trip to Germany. It was her first time back and I didn’t understand. She was deeply traumatized by it.”
Still, recipes like German potato salad, splashed with vinegar instead of mayonnaise, were part of the family’s summer menu that the pair would make mid-day and pop into the fridge. There was no air conditioner in their house, tucked into the woods of northern New Jersey, but “we had this wonderful outdoor patio, so most of the summer, if the weather was good, dinner was outside,” Peter said.
Schav, a cold, sour, and refreshing soup joined the summer cooking rotation when the family bought a place in the Berkshires. Peter’s father Jules, spotted wild sorrel and suggested making a batch. “It was kind of recapturing his childhood,” explained Peter.
Peter isn’t sure where the recipe came from. His paternal grandmother was the daughter of German immigrants, and his grandfather escaped Russian pogroms, moving to the U.S. in the early 20th century. But, “I don’t think I ever ate it at my paternal grandmother’s house,” Peter said. Still, “it’s a flavor [my dad] had a real lust for…[he] worked outside mowing the pastures, and he would come inside dripping with sweat and drink the schav straight out of the jar in the fridge.”
To round out our meal together, Peter served a bean salad that captures the season with sungolds and fresh herbs, and tuna spiced with anise and coriander. To finish it all, he reached for a muerbeteig, a German tart recipe from his maternal grandmother Leni, who lived nearby in New Jersey when he was growing up. “She would change up the fruit. It could be blueberries, blueberries and peaches, or apricots, whatever was in season,” Peter explained. This evening, he used cherries.
Leni lent him money to open his first restaurant Savoy, and fittingly, Peter served this recipe at the restaurant in her honor. It was at his restaurants that Peter found his way to a new perception of Jewish food and Judaism.
Despite the family’s atheistic leaning, Passover played a poignant role. “We were always connecting the story to the story of liberation of all kinds of people,” Peter explained. The tradition continued at the restaurants where he hosted Seders with recipes from Jewish communities around the world.
“Jewish food is really — or, being Jewish is much broader than how I was brought up,” he said.
Time: 45 minutes
12 red bliss or new potatoes, cut into ½” pieces
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 shallot, roughly chopped
1 ½ bunches sorrel, destemmed and washed, roughly chopped (reserve ½ cup and julienne for garnish)
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Sour cream, for serving
1. In a medium saucepan, cover the potatoes with 2 inches of water, add two big pinches of salt, and bring to a boil. Add the garlic and shallot to the water and cook until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 10-12 minutes.
2. Remove the saucepan from heat and using a hand blender, process lightly until soup is thick and potatoes are just blended (it’s ok if some larger chunks of potatoes remain).
3. Mix in the sorrel and pulse with the hand blender 2-3 more times to combine. There should still be some larger pieces of sorrel. Taste and adjust seasoning.
4. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The colder, the more refreshing! Serve cold with a dollop of sour cream or drink it straight out of the jar from the fridge like Jules.
Lilo's German Potato Salad
Sometimes a recipe is a procedure rather than a set of ingredients. To make this his mom’s way is to dress the potatoes when they are hot with the vinegar - letting the acidity absorb and the vinegar internalize into the potato.
10-12 medium potatoes (fingerling or nicola work well - you want a waxier, denser potato)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
¼ cup lovage, roughly chopped
¼ cup tarragon, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon dill, roughly chopped
Juice from half a lemon
1. In a medium saucepan, boil the potatoes in salted water until easily pierced with a fork, 8-10 minutes.
2. Drain the potatoes. Cool slightly by running under cold water until you can handle. Slice into ¼” rounds and place in a large bowl.
3. While the potatoes are still warm, add the mustard, apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and mix to combine.
4. Add the parsley, lovage, tarragon, and dill and mix to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
5. Let cool to room temperature and serve immediately.
Seared Spiced Tuna
Time: 25 minutes
2 - 1 pound ahi tuna steaks
1 teaspoon anise seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
1. Place the anise seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and salt in a mortar pestle and crush until you have a coarse spice mixture.
2. Coat each side of the tuna steaks generously in the spice rub.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the tuna steaks and sear 2-3 minutes a side until the spices are toasty and brown.
4. Slice the tuna and serve immediately over a bed of potato salad with summer bean salad on the side.
Summer Bean Salad
Time: 20 minutes
1 pound pole beans, mix of colors, trimmed
1 cup sungold or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1-2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, basil, dill)
freshly ground pepper
1. Blanch the beans: cook in boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes until bright green. Drain and place directly in an ice bath.
2. In a medium bowl, toss the beans, tomatoes, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
3. Sprinkle with the herbs and serve immediately.
Leni’s Meurbeteig (Summer Fruit Cake)
Time: 30 minutes active + 40 minutes baking time
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½” squares
1 egg yolk
1 ½ pounds cherries (or any summer fruit!), pitted and drained
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the flour, a ¼ cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed to combine. Add the cold butter and egg yolk. Mix on medium speed for 5-10 seconds until the dough comes together and is the size of small pebbles. Dump out into a 12-13” tart pan and press and shape evenly forming it into the bottom of the pan, unifying the dough. Refrigerate the crust while preparing the fruit.
3. Toss the cherries with the remaining ¼ cup of sugar. Spread the cherries over the prepared crust and arrange evenly.
4. Bake for 40 minutes or until crust is lightly browned.
5. Enjoy al fresco with whipped cream.