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We recently shared nostalgic posters of the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival, and asked for your memories. In response, reader Sherrie Allan shared her copy of the Ninth Avenue Festival Cookbook from 1974. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to take some of those Hell’s Kitchen recipes and see if they could be recreated! Step up to the plate, Mackenzie Murray, who toiled in the kitchen in the hope of cooking up some history.
When I first read “Torta” as the title for the recipe, I immediately assumed I would be making a Mexican sandwich. Whoops. However, I then researched the meaning of “torta” and was fascinated to find that it can also refer to omelets, cakes, and pies, and can vary from cuisine to cuisine. This old family recipe comes from Genoa, Italy, and is as follows:
To begin, there are a lot of mini steps that all lead up to putting the dish together, such as half-cooking the rice, finely chopping the spinach, and bringing the cream cheese to room temperature (the temperature isn’t even mentioned, but it has to be mixed in some how!)
For sauteing the onions and garlic, make sure your pan is on low heat with about 1-2 tablespoons of butter. To get them soft and translucent will take about 5-6 minutes. Trust me, you don’t want crunchy onions in your torta. I then sautéed the spinach separately in a large pan in 2 batches. The spinach will break down, but this is a LOT of spinach, so you don’t overcrowd your pan if you want to avoid a mess. When it comes to mixing it all together, let the onions, garlic and spinach cool first. If you throw in the eggs while the mixture is hot, they will scramble! Add in lots of salt, pepper and any additional herbs, like basil or perse (mixing this is oddly satisfying).
Once it’s all combined, lightly oil a 9” or 10” baking dish. I recommend a 9” for a thicker torta. Put it in the dish, brush a beaten egg on top and cook for probably more than the suggested 25 minutes, unless you like an undercooked egg. When I took it out, I was reminded of a rectangular, extremely thin quiche. Allow it to slightly cool to stabilize, slice, and enjoy your torta!
Overall, making this torta was a smooth process. I would definitely recommend adding additional herbs and vegetables because I personally get overwhelmed by too much spinach, and it’s A LOT of spinach. Adding more substance will also thicken your torta, because the recipe yields an incredibly thin result. I think the coolest thing about this recipe is how versatile it can be, and it is a true foundational recipe for creating the perfect torta!
More about the NINTH Avenue International Food Festival
This recipe was from Maria Gardini, who was a co-founder of the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival along with Lili Fable. The pair were also the editors and coordinators of this cookbook. Fable told us: “When all of this started, Maria and I — young mothers, each helping our husbands in their stores — went around going into each and every store to say, ‘We are having this festival. We’re here to celebrate what we’re all about — are you interested in joining? You can’t believe how many people said, ‘Oh no, no. We’re not interested.’”
Gardini and her husband Albert ran Alps Drug Co on 9th Avenue and W42nd Street until it closed in 2002. The New York Times said of the closure: “Alps brought a welcome whiff of European elegance to Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood once known more for its longshoremen than for lavender soap.”
Locals sorely mourned the Gardinis’ departure from Hell’s Kitchen — said Jean-Claude Baker, owner of Chez Josephine to the Times: “My heart is bleeding. We are losing an institution in the neighborhood.”
But the Gardinis — looking for a slower pace of life after nearly a half-century of service to the neighborhood — were proud of the store’s legacy and happy to end its tenure on their own terms.
”I did not want to sell to another independent and not be able to maintain the quality of the store that my father and I realized,” said Mr Gardini to the Times. ”We felt this was the best way to do it, to close.”
”I can’t think of a richer way of living one’s life,” said Mrs Gardini, ”than helping people and yet having fun.”
Mackenzie Murray graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in July of 2021. Following her time at culinary school, she worked as a pasta line cook at the Michelin-starred Rezdôra. She now works as the Culinary Assistant and Digital Media Coordinator for Gail Simmons.