A few years ago, I came across a cookbook called “Carry-Out Cuisine: Recipes from America’s Finest Gourmet Food Shops,” first published in 1982. The forward begins, “Followers of what’s new in food fashions are familiar with names like Dean & DeLuca of New York, San Francisco’s Oakville Grocery, Jamail’s in Houston. These gourmet food shops . . . represent an important trend in convenience food preparation.”
According to the New York Times obituary for Sheila Lukins, a co-founder of the Silver Palate—an archetype of the gourmet food shop, which opened in 1977, on the Upper West Side—that trend arose to accommodate city-dwelling professional women (plus some hapless bachelors) “who were interested in good food but lacked the time to produce it.” At a gourmet food shop, you could buy curried squash soup or lemon chicken to reheat and plate as you wished, and feel almost as if you’d made it yourself.
It may be a stretch to say that “Carry-Out Cuisine” or “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” which was also published in 1982 and has since sold millions of copies, rendered these shops largely obsolete by giving away trade secrets—the recipes, which tend to emphasize Mediterranean rather than French techniques, are not particularly complicated—but they did help usher in a new era of home cooking. They also popularized a style of prepared food and a standard for ingredients that many less specialized supermarkets adopted.
Still, the fantasy of Barefoot Contessa—the shop that launched Ina Garten’s culinary career when she bought it, in 1978—dies hard. During the pandemic, many city-dwelling professionals interested in good food have had too much time to produce it, and have grown weary of shopping and cooking, not to mention takeout. Now there are restaurants to get back to, but who could resist the promise of Harvest Moon Supplies? “NYC’s boutique grocery & prepared foods service,” as the company’s Web site describes it, offers, for weekly delivery, “a curated selection of foods you’ll never find at the store, from the best farmers, artisans and purveyors across the country” ($175-$410).
A “curated box” from another delivery business, Fresh Catskills ($129-$160), supplied me with enough locally sourced produce, meat, eggs, dairy, and pantry items for a week or so. Through its service Stocked (“A New Way to Fill Your Fridge”), Three Owls Market, in the West Village, will drop off three days’ worth of a dealer’s-pick assortment of prepared foods ($220). The ultimate luxury now is not only convenience but also being freed from the tyranny of choice.
If nothing from Stocked left me craving more, it was a relief to see its neatly stacked pints in my refrigerator: maple-banana overnight oats and coconut chia pudding for breakfast; cold salads, including kale massaged in tahini and marinated zucchini, for lunch. Dinner-oriented “mains” included golden-crusted cauliflower Parmesan, layered with jammy tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil, and roast chicken with salsa verde. My Fresh Catskills box required more work, though the quality of the ingredients was so high that preparation was best kept simple: a gorgeous rib eye, grilled; Swiss chard sautéed and tossed with smoked ricotta and rigatoni.
Pools of fruity olive oil rose to the surface of Harvest Moon’s green-chickpea hummus, which came with a crisp, almost paper-thin “lemony cracker,” crusted in flaky salt; the combination could be eaten no way but lustily. A “Niçoise” spuntino (Italian for “snack”) featured tiny steamed potatoes nestled among slick baby-artichoke hearts, crunchy string beans, and Castelvetrano olives, strewn with flowering chive and delicate shavings of breakfast radish, no tuna necessary; there were swordfish steaks, too, to be pan-seared and finished with gremolata. For a spring salad, pea shoots were tangled with both English and sugar-snap peas, plus blanched asparagus, segments of blood orange, ricotta salata, and capers. It was so beautiful I would have painted it, had I artistic inclination. It was so delicious I forgot to even take a picture. ♦