Chef’s Picnic: Sara Jenkins

City Room asked a few of our city’s most talented chefs to design a creative and portable picnic basket for a sunny Fourth of July meal. Previous submissions came from Marcus Samuelsson, of Red Rooster Harlem, and Vincent Visceglia, of Karloff. Don’t forget to share your own homemade baskets in the comments.

Sara Jenkins, Porsena and Porchetta

When I was growing up in the Mediterranean, sometimes it seemed like picnics in the countryside were all my family ever did. From daylong trips to epic Roman ruins in the Lebanese hills, or days at the beach where Venus was rumored to have been born in Cyprus, or simple afternoon hikes to the wooden bridge by our farm in Tuscany, we never left the house without an ample supply of simple, finger-friendly food, mostly put together by my mother, to enjoy at whatever gorgeous destination we were headed. Inspired by those childhood romps into the deeply perfumed Mediterranean maquis, I would pack a picnic basket with:

Spanish tortilla

This was a classic of my mother’s. Living in an impoverished Madrid in the late 1960s, she cooked the classic: onions and boiled potatoes, just barely bound with beaten egg and fried in extra virgin olive oil. It remains the cornerstone of any picnic I create today: simple, delicious and perfect hot from the pan, cold from the fridge, or at room temperature after a long, hot walk under the sun.

Radishes, washed and cut with a cup of labne, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar

Radishes make for great picnic food, as they are hearty and resilient. I love the Lebanese style of dipping them in thickened yogurt, olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar (a spice mix). It’s also really easy to put together.

Tabbouleh with lots of herbs and lemon

This was a family staple growing up, made in the Lebanese style with a smidgen of cracked bulgur soaked directly in lemon juice to soften it, and then mixed with so much flat-leaf parsley that it became more greens than grains.

Mechouia

This Tunisian variation on Sicilian caponata (or Provençal ratatouille) uses grilled vegetables instead of fried, chopped together with cilantro and lime juice. It is wonderfully smoky and perfect as a side salad or vegetable.

Umbrian lentil salad with celery hearts and salt cod

My friend and fellow chef Salvatore Dennaro makes this for our lunches in the olive groves. He tosses lightly blanched little green lentils with lots of chopped celery hearts, a little red onion, and poached salt cod. Dress with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and some lemon juice. It’s a perfect hearty dish to keep one’s energy going, whether hiking or picking olives.

Prosciutto and melon butter on brioche rolls

Prosciutto and melon is the quintessential appetizer to eat in a hot Italian summer, but you don’t want to fiddle with sloppy pieces of melon bouncing around in a basket. I whip cantaloupe melon with an equal amount of sweet butter and fill a roll generously. Complement with thin-sliced prosciutto di Parma, jamón Serrano, or even one of the many quality air-dried or lightly smoked American hams coming out of the South.

Watermelon cubes with lime juice and chili

I learned this combination of sweet fruit, salt and acid from the many Mexican cooks I have worked with. It might seem odd at first, but I find the combination extremely refreshing and bright.


Sara Jenkins is the chef and owner of Porsena, 21 East Seventh Street at Third Avenue, East Village, (212) 228-4923, and Porchetta, 110 East Seventh Street at First Avenue, East Village, (212) 777-2151. Follow her on Twitter at @porchettanyc.

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Election Math: Ballots + New York = @#&*?!

To err, as you know, is human. To err repeatedly is this city’s voting system.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Wouldn’t it be nice if just once we could have an election that didn’t end up in a shambles, with no doubts about the validity of the results and the integrity of the entire process? Is that really asking for the moon?

Apparently, yes.

The situation seemed simple enough a week ago in the 13th Congressional District, taking in parts of Manhattan and the Bronx. Representative Charles B. Rangel didn’t do brilliantly in his quest for a 22nd term, but he did well enough. With most votes counted, he appeared to be about six percentage points ahead of State Senator Adriano D. Espaillat, his main rival in a five-person Democratic primary. Mr. Rangel claimed victory. Mr. Espaillat conceded. And that, as they say, was all she wrote.

Until it wasn’t.

Mr. Espaillat has effectively withdrawn his concession, much like Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race. For all anyone now knows, he actually beat Mr. Rangel. Few people would bet their life savings on that being the case. But closer scrutiny shows that the Rangel lead has shriveled to a mere two percentage points, with a couple of thousand ballots still to be counted. Mathematically, anything is possible.

On Monday, the Espaillat camp turned to a state judge to help sort things out. Though nothing happened, anytime the courts are roped into the electoral process, you have a mess. And all such messes land squarely in the laps of (1) the city’s Board of Elections, and (2) a political class that has shown scant interest in correcting the system so that it functions properly.

Everything about voting here seems designed to make things as complicated and error-prone as possible.

On election night, poll workers don’t bother with the memory drives in vote scanners that could provide instant and accurate counts. Instead, they print the tallies on strips of paper. Those strips are then cut into sections by election district. Each candidate’s total is inscribed on other pieces of paper called canvass sheets. Those sheets are then carried by police officers to their station houses. There, the results are entered by hand into Police Department computers. That computerized record finally makes its way to The Associated Press, which relays the results to the rest of us.

Are you following all this?

The potential for error at any of several points along the way is obvious. In this primary, the police recorded the vote totals in dozens of election precincts as having been zero, zip or nada. That was not credible. Somebody, or a bunch of somebodies, fouled up big time, though it’s not clear if blame lies with poll workers or with the police.

(And why, one might ask, are the police so deeply involved in the electoral process in the first place? Is responsibility for safeguarding a presidential election given to the Army?)

Now, with only 802 votes separating Messrs. Rangel and Espaillat out of more than 40,000 cast, at least 2,000 ballots remain to be counted — submitted by people who voted absentee or who challenged their exclusion, for whatever reason, from the voter rolls. That tally won’t begin till Thursday. State law requires the delay, a spokeswoman for the Elections Board said.

It is astonishing, though, how much time it can take in this city to tote up a relatively small number of votes. This happens in election after election. In India, they count hundreds of millions of paper ballots in a matter of days. Here, performing this simple arithmetic task with just a few thousand ballots at stake has been known to take months.

As tempting as it often is to blame the Board of Elections for all ills, the politicians who design the rules show little interest in making things easy for voters.

Here’s but one example: Because of dithering and political gamesmanship in Albany, New Yorkers are being asked to go to the polls four times this year: in April for a presidential primary, in June for Congressional primaries, in September for state primary races and in November for the general election. You couldn’t create a finer recipe for confusion and voter fatigue. Many in the city weren’t aware that last Tuesday was Primary Day. You can be sure few will show up in September.

But even with small turnouts, the vote-counting all too often turns into an ordeal, with the results shrouded in doubt.

In December, when Russia held parliamentary elections whose results were suspect, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was blunt. “The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted,” she said.

Maybe Mrs. Clinton, as our former senator, should now speak up for New Yorkers. Don’t we, too, deserve to have our votes counted, fair and square?

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