When “Modern Mediterranean” landed on our desk, we were just as enamored by the bright, happy colors and gorgeous photographs of chef Melia Marden’s stylish recipes and eclectic home as we were by her fairy-tale backstory.
Each summer, Marden’s parents, New York artists Brice and Helen Marden, whisked their kids off to the family’s vacation home on the idyllic Greek island of Hydra. It was there, feasting on dishes such as just-caught charred whole fish and ripe vine tomatoes with tangy feta, that Marden developed her culinary ethos. Then in 2008, with very little restaurant experience, the French Culinary Institute grad became the executive chef at New York hot spot The Smile, where she serves “Manhattan Mediterranean.”
“It’s not pure Mediterranean food,” she says. “It’s all the different versions of the cuisine converged with NYC — like the Greek restaurants in Astoria.” Now the 32-year-old shares her story, along with her love for simple, flavorful dishes, in her new cookbook.
“When you eat something that’s really heavy and has lots of different ingredients, you feel weighed down,” explains Marden. “Mediterranean cooking is light and healthy. The flavors are bright and fresh, you can taste every ingredient that’s in the dish — and it makes you feel good afterwards.”
“My decorating style is definitely a collaboration with my husband. He’s been collecting toys his whole life, so it’s become a mashed-up version of our styles. I’m a little more romantic and I like antiques, but he likes more pop-y colors and pop culture so it’s kind of melded together. We go to a lot of antique fairs and find things we think are striking, and then we build these little collections."
Recipe: Penne with sugar snap peas and ricotta
1 pound (455 grams) sugar snap peas, strings removed
1 pound (455 grams) penne rigate
3 tablespoons (45 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pasta
2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (250 grams) fresh ricotta at room temperature
¼ cup (25 grams) finely chopped fresh mint
¼ cup (25 grams) finely chopped fresh parsley
1. Cut the snap peas crosswise on a bias into pieces 1/4 inch (6 millimeters) thick. Set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne rigate and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1 cup (240 milliliters) of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta, place in a large bowl, and toss with a little olive oil.
3. Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the 3 tablespoons (45 milliliters) oil. Heat for 30 seconds, then add the shallots. Cook until softened but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Add the snap peas, D⁄e teaspoon salt, the chili flakes, and black pepper to taste. Cook, stirring often, until the snap peas are tender but still bright green and slightly crunchy, 3 to 5 minutes.
5. Add the pasta, ricotta, and reserved cooking water to the pot and stir well to combine. Cook until the pasta is warmed through and well coated by the other ingredients. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add most of the mint and parsley and mix well.
6. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining herbs and some more black pepper. Serve immediately.