Of all the restaurants in the Hamptons, none is more reliably celebrity-packed than Nick and Toni’s (136 North Main St. East Hampton, New York 11937 Phone: 631-324-3550). But unlike so many haunts of the rich and famous, Nick and Toni’s has spectacular food. So between servings of Alec Baldwin or Christie Brinkley or Steven Spielberg, you can be certain of delicious, fresh food beautifully conceived by Chef Joe Realmuto. There may be one small problem with the restaurant; the likelihood of getting a table on one of its nights of a thousand stars. Make that a dozen stars but you get the picture.
On the other hand, you can sample the food that’s fit for the famous at the city branch of Nick and Toni’s (100 West 67th St. New York, NY 10023 Phone: 212-496-4000.) In this far less high voltage setting, we’ve even managed to snag a table on a Saturday night without a reservation. The place is almost neighborly in feel. The wood-burning oven provides the majority of offerings and in common with its country cousin, the restaurant promotes farm-to-table offerings and sources its ingredients from the green markets that now dot New York year ‘round. I must confess that I deviated from that fresh market focus when I made this wonderful, light and delicious pasta dish. In the depths of autumn, fresh cherry tomatoes combined with baby arugula capture the height of summer flavor. Where I changed things up was in the crab meat.
I actually had some fresh lump meat Crab in the fridge. But I was sent a sample of Miller Select Crab meat to try. And it came, hold your breath, in a can. Scoff if you must, but the stuff was absolutely delicious. And I was amazed at the lump meat. It was flawless as you can see in these photographs. Miller Select is hardly a locavore product. It comes from Thailand and the blue crabs of the Gulf of Siam. The Miller family has been working those waters since the 1970s. Miller Select is hardly inexpensive. In fact, it retails for about $12.00 a tin. That price is still a savings over so-called “fresh” crabmeat. I put “fresh” in parentheses because the “fresh” crabmeat I just bought has an expiration date of November 2012, fully a year from when it was purchased.
But canned or fresh crabmeat, this recipe is a keeper. It takes about 45 minutes start to finish. The bread crumbs and garlic give it a wonderful flavor. The fresh oregano adds both color and taste. And, Florence Fabricant, who first published this in her Pairings column in the New York Times, says it is a perfect complement to a glass of dry Alsatian Reisling. Here is the recipe:
Recipe for Spaghetti with Crab Meat, Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula
Courtesy of Florence Fabricant and Nick and Toni’s Café in NYC
1 cup loosely packed country bread diced into 1 inch pieces
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 pints cherry tomatoes (about 50)
1/4 cup sliced garlic (5 or 6 cloves)
Leaves from 6 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
1 bunch arugula, heavy stems removed (about 2 cups).
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the bread cubes with 2 tablespoons oil and the chopped garlic. Spread in a small baking pan and bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes, tossing from time to time. Let cool.
2. Turn heat up to 450 degrees. Place the tomatoes in a bowl, add 1 tablespoon of the sliced garlic, 2 tablespoons oil, a pinch of chopped oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread in a baking pan and roast about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes start to burst. Remove from the oven.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti until al dente. Meanwhile, grind the bread cubes in a blender to make crumbs. Heat the remaining oil and the butter in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the remaining garlic and cook until lightly colored. Add the roasted tomatoes and their juices, reduce heat to low and cook for a few minutes. Fold in the crab meat and remaining oregano.
4. When the spaghetti is done, remove a cup of the water and add to the tomatoes. Drain the spaghetti and add it to the pan. Adjust seasoning. Fold in the arugula, toss the spaghetti well, transfer to a large warm bowl or individual plates, dust with the bread crumbs and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.