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Defunct Philly eateries linger in form of ‘Frog/Commissary’ recipes |

Defunct Philly eateries linger in form of ‘Frog/Commissary’ recipes

Lisa Clark
| Sunday, March 3, 2002 12:00 a.m

Often I find myself walking out of a restaurant wishing I knew the recipe for a particularly memorable appetizer or dessert to take home along with my doggy bag.

Philadelphians surely felt that way about a group of restaurants that were popular in their city during the 1970s and ’80s, because the cookbook developed by the operators of The Frog and The Commissary restaurants has sold more than 100,000 copies and is in its second printing.

No wonder. Not only does the book have simple yet tasteful recipes, it also includes no-nonsense tips and techniques that help cooks bring the restaurant look and taste home.

When Steven Poses opened The Frog in 1973, he wanted it to be a comfortable neighborhood establishment where people could come together, enjoy good food and discuss the issues of the day. “The Frog/Commissary Cookbook,” a 7- by 10-inch two-color paperback, has the same feel. Co-author Becky Roller’s unique, entertaining illustrations and calligraphy make tips stand out in the margins — everything from folding a spring roll to assembling a cheese board. (The restaurants have closed since the book’s first printing in 1985, but Frog/Commissary Catering is still serving guests.)

Chapters in the 288-page book are organized by meal course. This recipe is listed with Pasta Entrees, but has many other uses (see “Pesto possibilities”). During seasons when fresh basil is scarce, try this version of pesto using spinach.

Spinach-Walnut Pesto

  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag fresh spinach, washed and stemmed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and lightly toast the walnuts on a baking sheet for 7 minutes. Let cool. Whiz the nuts until fine in a food processor. Remove to a bowl.

Put the spinach, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in the food processor and whiz until just smooth. Add the cheese and nuts, and whiz just to combine. To serve, toss with hot cooked pasta over low heat. Add a little stock or water if the sauce is too thick to combine evenly with the pasta. The pesto can be covered with a thin layer of olive oil and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Makes 2 cups, enough for 2 pounds of fresh pasta.

Tomato, Sausage and
Eggplant Soup

This soup was so popular with patrons of The Commissary that cooks made it in 180-quart batches. With this recipe, you can make it at home — in smaller quantities, of course.

  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 1/2 cups unpeeled eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fennel or celery, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground or crushed fennel seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, with casing removed
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 (29-ounce) can heavy tomato puree
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped

Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a 4- to 5-quart saucepan. Add the eggplant and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes or until just tender. Transfer the eggplant to a bowl. In the same pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions, fennel or celery, garlic, fennel seed, pepper, bay leaves, the remaining teaspoon of salt, basil and thyme. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the sausage and saute for 5 to 6 minutes, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a spoon. Add the chicken stock, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes with their juice and the eggplant. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. If the soup seems too thick, add more chicken stock. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

Makes 3 quarts.

Pesto possibilities

There are a lot of uses — and variations — for pesto. Try these, from “The Frog/Commissary Cookbook”:

  • Toss with orzo for a hot side dish.
  • Toss with boiled new potatoes.
  • Spread on a pizza shell.
  • Mix into butter and serve with corn on the cob, grilled steak or veal chops.
  • Make pesto bread instead of garlic bread.
  • Add to a simple vinaigrette to serve with sliced tomatoes or mixed vegetable salad.
  • Smear on hamburgers and top with mozzarella and tomato slices.
  • Try different nuts and greens in pesto, such as pistachios or mint.
  • Swirl into mayonnaise and use for crudites, potato salad or cold roast chicken, beef or fish.
  • Dab onto scrambled eggs or drizzle onto an omelet, and add grated fontina.

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