What in the World-Eats??

Events
Why so quiet on Aroma Cucina? We’re celebrating because we’ve been nursing a new baby: World-Eats!

What is this World-Eats anyway?

From food policy and advocacy, to food art, to living la vida local, World-Eats seeks out the best intel on the planet and we share it with you. World-Eats is your food and drink hub. It’s about connecting and communicating. And maybe about world peace. Or world peach, but only if it’s in season.We are a startup non-profit org that wants food-centric people to share and we’re working on ways to make that happen. Salmon-swimming-9989W-E Digest will be our quarterly online magazine dedicated to a single topic. Our inaugural issue, “Swimming with the Fishes”,  will launch on June 21, but we’re open for article pitches and proposals right now. More  info  on W-E Digest here. (Deadline Feb. 1 for Fish article proposals.)

 If you know someone who knows about fish or the health of the oceans, or the best fly fisherman ever (as if they really catch fish…I’m sure it’s a myth!) then pass along the info! We’re on the prowl for writers, photographers, fine arts, video, media and editorial cartoonists (because who doesn’t love a cartoon??). Submission Guidelines

Carrick in a GlassLiving La Vida Local is all about life on the local level and we even have local Ambassadors who share their insider insights of their ‘hood. You know Airbnb? Well, take a look at our post on Vizeats, if you are traveling, they can hook you up with a host who will make you dinner. It doesn’t get more local or connected than that!

Poke around on World-Eats and let us know what you think. Get on our mailing list, share on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or whatever rocks your boat, because the more people at our table, the merrier the conversation!

 And there will always be an Aroma Cucina, for when we are feeling the need to share all things Italian with our friends. Table Setting

We’ll Always Have Paris

 


Revisiting an old love can be dangerous. You want the object of your love to be the same as when you last saw her, but you know that isn’t possible. More than ten years have passed since we’ve been to Paris, and the Paris we loved has changed.

We wanted to revisit our old haunts, to see if Café Gamin was still in the Marais serving the quintessential steak tartare. No. It’s gone. Replaced by a Maje clothing shop. I walked in hoping to see even one spec of the old candle wax drippings, or some ghost of the small plates of dried sausage with radishes and butter. But no, the shop gleams with international chain store blandness, nestled between other chain stores that could be found anywhere.

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We came to Paris wanting to eat a buttery croissant that would leave crumbs everywhere. We wanted entrecote with endless frites, garlicky frogs legs, oysters and maybe a plateau of seafood. We wanted to sit at a sidewalk café, sip something and watch the world go by. We did manage to do most of this, although there were no frog legs to be had and we never did find the time for the entrecote and fries.

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We came armed with a list of restaurants to try, some from our intrepid eater friend Mitch and recommendations from chefs I had met at #Mad4 in Copenhagen. Mitch had warned us that Paris was in danger of being Brooklyn on the Seine. 

But, I’ll take this one step further.  The bare wood tables, the simple place settings (with maybe a lovely bespoke serving piece), and the oh-so-casual service, have become the food world’s international style. We could have been in Portland, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Williamsburg or Paris. The linen tablecloth, snotty sommelier and white-jacketed waiters are all relegated to your grandmother’s closet; now we can perch on backless stools at a rough-hewn counter and only wish there was decent service.

As the unique shops of Paris are vanishing, being replaced by international chains, so the design ethics of the restaurants have become homogenized. That’s not to say you won’t eat well, even magnificently, in Paris, but good service and tablecloths have become relics of a bygone era.

We did manage to eat magnificently and have excellent service at Restaurant David Toutain and Septime.

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Septime, with its one Michelin star, is a friendly, laid back, open-kitchen affair. We opted for the 6 course tasting menu, because …well, because we were in Paris!  

We tasted our savory way through a veal tartare dish that got its smoky flavor from a codfish cream emulsion, a single oyster floating in a pool of mushroom broth, a divine crispy rouget fish filet that sat next to a silky watercress puree, crackling-skinned baby chicken in a tiny puddle of fragrant black pepper broth.  But why stop there when a cheese course has been offered? The thinnest shavings of feta cheese with salt, pepper and bright green olive oil was a perfect finish to the savory courses. Now, onto the sweet: a fragrant vanilla cream with fruit and then a verbena/thyme gelato with crispy apple museli. (Septime Photos Here.)

  IMG_1737It was a lovely meal that left us full, and a bit sleepy. True confession: we took a restorative nap on the lawn of the Place de Vosges; one of our very favorite places on the planet.

The next day, we were off to lunch at David Toutain. Not quite three days in Paris means we must be strong and eat until we cannot eat no more!

Whereas Septime’s decor was channeling lower Manhattan meets Brooklyn, David Toutain’s is zen and sparse, more midtown than downtown, but with a pleasant, approachable atmosphere.We opted for the surprise and delight menu because…well, you know, we were in Paris!

Toutain’s dishes were a mystery of mastery. Beautiful to look at, with their clever serving plates that never veered into ridiculous or theatrical, each dish was an elegant composition of flavors and textures.   IMG_1765

The amuse was a roasted stalk of salsify root perched on an artistic pile of branches. It looked scary, tough and chewy but the root was soft, yielding and unctuous when dipped into the accompanying parsnip and white chocolate cream.

For the next course, we were presented with an egg-shaped bowl containing a lurid red tube resting on a bed of seedy grains. Hmmmm…  We were instructed, more than once, that this was to be consumed in one bite. It looked big for one bite, but what the hell. Jeff went first and the look on his face made me grab for mine. A thin tube of beet root glass shattered at the first bite, and released a pillowy soft cream that had an earthy essence along with a smoky hint of acid.  When the lovely woman came over to remove the plates, I begged for more…forget the rest of the meal, just let me eat beets! She laughed and then came back with two more of these exquisite morsels. I love that woman! IMG_1766

The various plates used flavor combinations that sound precious, but were actually harmonious, leading your tongue into new territory. Mackerel and coffee, caramel and egg, carrot nestled next to verbena cream, black sesame with apple all worked in ways that reminded me of Shola Olunloyo’s Studio Kitchen in Philadelphia. 

The sweets were a bit of a mystery to me. I thought perhaps another chef was responsible for the deserts as the combinations were not as fluid. Cauliflower cream didn’t quite meld with the coconut ice cream (But they witheld the chocolate on my portion because I can’t eat chocolate so that may be the reason it didn’t quite work…but then don’t serve the dish if it’s missing the bridge, right?).  Then there was a crème brule’ with whimsical tuiles, but lurking underneath the crème was an aggressively hand soap flavored ice cream that destroyed the crème delicacy.  Jeff didn’t object to the sweets as much as I did, but that could be because he was having a moment with his buried chocolate truffle. (David Toutain photos here.)

 On one point, we have to disagree with Mitch. There are not a lot of cocktail bars or a vibrant cocktail scene. Sure, there are places that say cocktail on the door, but they don’t really mean it. And what’s with mojitos being the default cocktail? Don’t they belong at the beach on a hot day, not overcast, chilly Paris?  Le Mary Celeste will satisfy your cocktail cravings, but you’d best keep the craving to a minimum.

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All in all, it was great to be in Paris for a few days, but as always, it’s fun to come home! 

David Toutain Address: 29 Rue Surcouf, 75007 Paris Phone:+33 1 45 50 11 10

Septime Address: 80 Rue Charonne, Paris, 11 Phone: +33 01 43 67 38 29

Le Mary Celeste Address: 1 Rue Commines, 75003 Paris, France  Phone:+33 9 80 72 98 83

 

 

 

You say Vermouth, I say Vermut

Did your parents have a bottle of vermouth? Somewhere in the back of the liquor cabinet, the label was yellowed and the bottle was dusty? Maybe they even left it to you in their will. Dust off the bottle and throw it in the recycle. Now, get thee to the store and buy a fresh bottle of red vermouth.

VermouthCocktail
Did your parents have a bottle of vermouth? Somewhere in the back of the liquor cabinet, the label was yellowed and the bottle was dusty? Maybe they even left it to you in their will. Dust off the bottle and throw it in the recycle.

IMG_4573Now, get thee to the store and buy a fresh bottle of red vermouth. If we have a choice, we usually try to get Antica Formula Carpano. Around Montone, we have no choice and have to settle for Martini. (Not that Martini is a bad product, but it’s dumbed down for the masses; it doesn’t have the alluring eccentricites you find in smaller batch vermouths.) I know. It’s a rough life here in Umbria.

But wait a minute.

“What exactly is Vermouth?, you ask.

It’s aromatized, fortified wine. 

“Yeah, but what is it?, you ask again.

Antonio Carpano is given credit as the creator of vermouth, back in 1786 in Turin Italy. It gets its name from the German word “wermut” or wormwood. (Yes, the same stuff that is supposed to give you hallucinations in absinthe, just makes you happy when it’s in vermouth.)

To make vermouth, you need a base of a simple white wine. Make a ‘tea’ of various herbs (wormwood, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, cardamom, angelica) steeped in a neutral alcohol. Various recipes will have anywhere from 22 to 50 botanicals used to flavor the vermouth and the exact amounts are kept top secret. Some vermouths use caramel to sweeten the wine and frequently the vermouths will be barrel aged.

This is on our To Do list as soon as I can track down the necessary botanicals, which is not easy in this part of Italy.

Our Vermouth affair started with Manhattans. Once you go down the road to finding your most desired version of a Manhattan, you are sure to start experimenting with your vermouth.

Thomaso (1)Then we went to Barcelona where vermouth becomes vermut. There is a well-established vermut culture in Spain; there are barrels of the stuff at various wine shops and you come in with your jug and fill up. Street side cafe tables are set up with bottles of spritz so you can mix your vermut as you like it. Here is where we fell in love with the Vermut cocktail; it’s light, refreshing, mysterious and complex.

But perhaps, San Sebastian is where you need to go to truly fall in love with vermut? In an altered universe, say in Brooklyn, this would a hipster thing. Guys with gravity-defying moustaches would be making their artisanal vermouth in the back of their tattoo parlor, whilst thinking up esoteric names like Verboten Wermut and hiring graphic artists to create a unique and ironic label.

 In San Sebastian, it’s a pretty girl who runs the Vermut  Society, and sardonic is not in her nature. She just loves vermut and wants to share the love. Things are simpler, and joy is to be shared.  She was happy to pour us a tasting and we had a long discussion about the merits of the various vermuts. Things like: when to drink it neat, when a cold spritz makes it come alive, and should we buy only 1 bottle and which one? IMG_1460

The fine shop where she works sent us to Bar Txurrut to sample their vermut cocktail which uses their house-made vermut.

And now things were getting interesting. There were skeptics in our group; one of us was channeling memories of that old bottle in the back of the cabinet and was just being polite to play along with the gang. However, one sip led to a 100% conversion rate of the gang. Everyone loved this gorgeous, balanced, rich cocktail that won’t knock you on your butt. We actually started scheduling vermut time into our dally routine.

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Eventually we got the bar keep to share his recipe with us and now we’ll share it with you:

 

Txurrut Vermut Cocktail

Vermut

Sparkling Water

Elixir

 *The exact proportions are up to you. As strong or light as you like

The Elixir:

2 parts Compari

1 part gin

1 part Ramazotti (or a similar amaro)

1 part Angostura bitters

Ice the cocktail glasses, then remove the ice when the glass is good and cold. Drop a Spanish olive into the bottom of the glass. Start tapping your foot in time to your favorite flamenco tune.

Fill the bottom of the glass with vermut, add a small measure of the elixir, a spritz of sparkling water and then, if there is room in the glass, add a bit more vermut.

Rub a bit of orange peel on the edge of the glass, drop the peel into the glass, put a rose between your teeth and serve immediately. Now, drink responsibly. But, dance with abandon! IMG_4755

 

 

Secrets and Seduction in San Sebastian!

t’s easy to fall in love with San Sebastian; we were seduced within moments of watching what was happening on the streets. Guys in suits were standing at the corner next to barefoot dudes heading to the beach. Kids were coming back from gym class, holding their surf boards.Stern matriarchal women stopped to listen to street musicians, and every restaurant and bar begs to be explored.

IMG_1464Surprise! For months Jeff has been sweetly plotting a surprise trip for my birthday. Finally, our bags were packed and we were off to the mystery destination…San Sebastian, Spain! Woo-hoo!! This has been tops on my Food Mecca Pilgrimage list for quite some time.

No DogsIt’s not easy to get to from Montone. Drive to Pisa, fly to Barcelona, stay overnight at the Barcelona Airport Hotel (not bad, but wins the prize for worst acoustics in a hotel bar) Then, at last, a crack of dawn flight to San Sebastian.

First reality check: what-the-hell language is on the signposts? What gibberish is Ms. Google Maps speaking? This isn’t Spanish! No, dear, that's because you are in the Basque or Euskal Herria country. Why does San Sebastian have two names? Because Donastia means Sans Sebastian. The Basque language looks like a Scrabble board that’s been upended and has an over abundance of x’s and y’s.

 

We follow Ms. Map’s directions into town, and frankly I’m getting nervous. It’s looking like a very well manicured suburbia. Then we come around the bend and it is jaw droppingly gorgeous. The city has its arms wrapped around the Baie de La Concha like a protective mother. There is a white tiled walkway as far as the eye can see that separates the beach from the city, people are swimming and paddling around, and most of the buildings are stunning Beaux Arts beauties.

  IMG_4393As it is too early to get into our apartment, we start walking around the old part of town until it’s lunchtime.

It’s easy to fall in love with San Sebastian; we were seduced within moments of watching what was happening on the streets. Guys in suits were standing at the corner next to barefoot dudes heading to the beach. Kids were coming back from gym class, holding their surf boards.Stern matriarchal women stopped to listen to street musicians, and every restaurant and bar begs to be explored.

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We choose El Caserio as our first restaurant, because it’s old school and thought this might give us some grounding in the local cuisine. Within moments, the restaurant filled up with regulars, except for one large table of French people and us. Jeff had a mildly flavored, but meltingly tender and homey tasting oxtail. I had the traditional baked spider crab, where all the edible meat from a crab is mixed with a roux and baked. The dish is incredibly rich and tasting of the sea.  At this moment, we realize we know absolutely nothing about Basque cooking and like grasping for a life-jacket, we need to get a grip as quickly as possible.

Baked Spider Crab
Eventually we wander back to the apartment and lo! And behold! There is another surprise… our siblings and spouses are all there to celebrate with us. They’ve been decorating the apartment while we were lunching and they are hungry!! But we have become The Magnificent Seven and the celebration begins in earnest!

 Mag 7We are a family that takes its food seriously, so San Sebastian was like being on one of the best treasure hunts you could imagine.  In San Sebastian you do something called a txikiteo or a pintxos crawl.  (I told you it was a crazy language!)  Pintxos are like tapas, only they are bits of food artistry skewered by a pick to a piece of bread. (Pintxos literally means stake or spear.)  The txikiteo is what you do when you go from bar to bar sampling pintxos. It is a fine, fine way to eat, even if you do have to do it standing up. Not to worry, the counters and tables are all chest high, so you can lean and eat.

Atari Pintxos

The advantage of having seven people in your entourage is that you can taste a lot of dishes. The disadvantage is that you usually only get a single bite, and just going silent and hoping no one will notice the dish you are trying to devour does not work with this group. It’s a tough group!

San Sebastian has the highest concentration of Michelin stars per capita. That means there are some extremely good restaurants to tempt you, although this wasn’t the trip for a Michelin exploration. Frankly, I didn’t feel that I knew enough about the basics of Basque cuisine to understand what the top chefs were achieving. This is also my way of making sure we go back.

 

Here’s some of our picks:

Atari MenuAtari

Calle Mayor | Nagusia Kalea

Yeah, it’s touristy, but it’s also a “Pintxos Palace”. As I’m wandering the length of the long bar admiring the beauty of the pintxos, the bartender laughs at me and says, “Welcome to Atari!” in a way that meant, of course they are gorgeous, you are in Atari.  Then he explained the system. You take a few pintxos from the bar, onto your plate. Then you catch the eye of the bartender who mysteriously adds them up and starts running a tab. Now, bear in mind, there are seven of us wandering up to the pintxos offerings, and somehow they kept track. If you want kitchen items then order those at the bar and these are the really good stuff. Dishes like a perfectly seared piece of steak, with a light smear of teriyaki sauce, set on a bright orange puddle of tangy pumpkin sauce, with a swirl of vivid green olive oil. Or small bits of perfectly cured salmon accented with a vanilla cream. Artistry on a plate.

 

Borda Berri

Calle Fermin Calbeton 12

 

Come with a group. Order everything you can. This was my favorite: super crispy salty crunchy pigs ear. The exterior was brown and crunchy, the interior was molten and you swabbed your bite in a slightly sweet sauce that played rock n roll with the rich meat. (I’m using the word meat, but it’s really melted cartilage, but if I say that, you’ll never try it and you won’t know what you are missing.)  Balance the richness of the pig ear with a pleasantly refreshing gazpacho. They do lovely things with foie gras, so be sure to try that as well. And remember to hang on to your fork because if they clean up the plates, you won’t be getting a second one. BordaBerri

 

Casa Valles

Calle de los Reyes Católicos, 10

 Casa Valles is one of the oldest bars in town, near the cathedral on a pedestrian side street. You’ll recognize it by all the hams hanging from the ceiling. Order the jamon (cured ham). Order a large plate of the jamon. It literally melts in your mouth, no chewing required. Casa Valles

I’m also an anchovy addict. I admit it and have no desire to overcome my addiction. They serve the plumpest marinated anchovies I’ve ever had. It’s as if they did a foie thing and pumped them up before they caught them. The fried anchovies, covered in garlic chips, also brought tears to my eyes. Not tears of joy, but of frustration. I had to share the damn anchovies with my Magnificent 7.

Gandarias Jatetxea

C/ 31 de Agosta, 23, 20003 San Sebastian – Donostia, Spain

This taberna is another old-time pintxos bar and restaurant known for its aged steak.  The steak was the perfect combination of aged funk and char. Only word of caution, is to be cautious. The steaks look so good you are tempted to over order.

 Blue Glasses But what about the cocktails you ask?

Bar Txurrut

Plaza De La Constitución, 9

Located in the grand Constitution Plaza, Txurrut is the place to go for vermouth cocktails. House-made artisanal vermouth combined with their ‘secret elixir’ will make you a very happy visitor.

Txurrut vermouth cocktailAnd if you are into artisanal vermouth (and if you’re not….why not??) be sure to look up “The International Society for Preservation and Enjoyment of Vermut.” They hold monthly vermouth tasting parties and you can find someone who knows about the society at Pantori, a lovely food shop dedicated to all things local and delicious. They’re still working on their website, but there’s enough there for you to find them. Vermut Lady


In the digestive category, give Patxaran a try. It’s a mildly sweet, raisin tasting wine that goes down very easy at the end of a meal.

Patxaran
More than anything, San Sebastian is a place to wander and explore. Try not to go with a set list of places to see and do things, leave plenty of time for serendipity.

Wall Climb
We also highly recommend Go Local San Sebastian for a great tour of the city. They offer pay-what-you-want walking tours, or very reasonably priced bike tours. (Go on the bike tour! Our guide Inigo was outstanding, informed, enthusiastic and willing to scale tall walls in search of the last of the season’s blackberries.) Ask Inigo where to go for the best croquettes and cider. It’s way off the tourist track, but worth the short bike ride. GoLocalSanSebastian.com.

Cider PourLooking forward to our next trip to this warm and welcoming part of the world. Thank you Jeff and thank you Steve, Chris, Rhona, Nancy and Peter for making this one outstanding birthday!! IMG_4476

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

Chris Cosenting came to #MAD4 to tell us about his nose-holding job. Turns out making a deal with the devil that is ‘reality’ TV can almost kill you.
Chris Cosentino, first and foremost is a respected chef, from the recently closed Incanto to his about to open Cockscomb restaurant in San Francisco. He is a champion of seducing people to love offal. And a bona fide celebrity thanks to “Chef v. City” and “Top Chef Masters”.

Did you ever have a job that you absolutely hated?  But you needed the job, so you held your nose and did the work? One summer, I worked for an ‘allergist’, or that’s what doctor called himself. He was a racist crackpot, who was probably scamming Medicaid. Every person who walked in to that office got the same diagnosis and treatment. Maybe something else was being sold behind his closed office door. I didn’t know, didn’t care, I just desperately needed that paycheck.

Chris Cosenting came to #MAD4 to tell us about his nose-holding job. Turns out making a deal with the devil that is 'reality' TV can almost kill you.

Chris Cosentino, first and foremost is a respected chef, from the recently closed Incanto to his about to open Cockscomb restaurant in San Francisco. He is a champion of seducing people to love offal. And a bona fide celebrity thanks to “Chef v. City” and “Top Chef Masters”.

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In what sounds like a chef's wet dream, he won Top Chef Masters Season 4, and then signed on with the Food Network to do a season of Chef v. City.

[Disclaimer: I know nothing about “reality” food tv. I had to do a marathon watch to be able to write this post responsibly, and now I don’t know how to clear those images from my mind. People were wildly cheering as the four chef contestants choke down the most junk-laden hot dogs on the planet. Who wants to watch chefs eat like this? Clearly, there are plenty of people, and that’s their choice. It’s cooking as entertainment and that’s that.]

 

Cosentino’s motivation was simple: he needed to earn a living, or as he put it, “put braces on my kid’s teeth”.  He’d had a taste of celebrity chefdom, so maybe this did seem like a good idea and a way to promote his restaurant and his style of cooking.

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Cosentino hadn’t seen the finished show until it went on the air. To celebrate the airing, he invited some friends to watch along with him. As he watched, his heart sank. “This is not who I am.” He didn’t understand how he’d gotten himself into a situation where he was trashing other chefs. He didn’t understand how he wound up having disgusting food gorging races, where the food is not honored but is just a prop to revolt and entertain the audience. “I’m not a quitter. I had a contract. I had to fulfill the contract.” So, he kept going. Eating massive quantities of chilies until he finally collapsed with third degree alkaline burns in his colon.

He didn’t get rich from TV. He didn’t get more patrons to his restaurant. In fact, his restaurant lost customers because they thought he’d become a sellout.  What did happen, is that he was very sick and it’s taken the better part of year just to be able to eat a tomato again. “I’m an Italian chef and I can’t eat a god damn tomato?”

It’s easy to understand why Cosentino is drawn to TV. He’s good at it. He’s charming, charismatic, enthusiastic, and quick with the comeback.  He did a one episode wonder called “Time Machine Chef” that is so bad, it’s good in an Ed Wood sort of way.  On one hand, you have to wonder; didn’t he read the pilot? Didn’t he have the sense to stay away from the project? But look who is standing there with him on stage…Dave Arnold, Nancy Silverton. These are serious, respected culinary people, so someone was a good a sales person. (Don’t’ get me started on the announcer girl’s outfits. Who dressed her? She looks like Barbie-Gone-Wild meets Annie Oakley.)

Then he made another pilot, called “Chef Unleashed”. It’s as real as it can be. Cosentino goes to Texas and the Broken Arrow Ranch to shoot, field dress and then cook his kill. Anyone who eats meat should watch this. But, it didn’t get picked up. This actually was reality TV and no one could handle it.

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Cosentino’s talk at MAD was raw and emotional. He was telling his peers that he wasn’t a sellout, he’s still a chef, and the reaction was amazing. People were on their feet cheering him on and letting him know he is a very well respected member of the community.

Later that night, at the after-party, Cosentino and his gracious and down to earth wife, Tatiana Graf, sat at our table. He was warm, generous with his beer, and relieved. When I asked his wife how she held it together during that session, she replied that it’s what Chris needed to close that chapter in his life.

Well then. Good on you Chris Cosentino and Tatiana! Everyone is looking forward to the opening of Cockscomb in San Francisco sometime later this year.   And I know he said, “Be careful what you wish for.”  But I bet everyone is wishing this new restaurant will be successful and that’s nothing to be afraid of.

 Thank you Chef Chris Cosentino for sharing your story at #MAD4.

Grappa Grab: Cooking with Grappa

I cook with grappa and I’m proud of it! Drunken quail with garlic chips and crispy saffron rice. Intoxicated mushrooms.

IMG_4362“Oh, how can you drink that stuff?” ask the tourists and the unintiated. Yes, some grappa can be like drinking throat-stripping hi-test fuel oil, but a good grappa has a grab that tickles your palette and warms the innards. Cheap grappa may be nasty as a digestivio, but it's great for cooking as it has an inherent sweetness that plays nicely with a bit of spice.

The other night we were at Enoteca Wine Club in Umbertide, and they had baby chicken marinated in grappa on the menu. Patrick, one of the owners, and an outstanding sommelier, said he was surprised how much people enjoyed the dish. I was surprised too, because when I cook with grappa, I keep it a secret so I don’t have to go through the whole spiel of “I know you don’t like grappa but…” 

 So Patrick has given me the courage to come clean. I cook with grappa and I’m proud of it.

 

Go out and buy a bottle of cheap grappa. Also buy a bottle of good grappa so you can become better acquainted.

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Drunken Quail with Garlic Chips on Crispy Saffron Rice

2 quail per person

Grappa, white wine

½ cup of aborio or bomba rice per person

1 ½ cups warm chicken or vegetable stock per person

2 large cloves of garlic per person

1 cup frozen peas (totally optional!)

Olive oil

Salt, fennel pollen if you can get it, smoked spicy paprika, saffron

The Birds

Marinate the quail in grappa for 4-6 hours. Be generous; drown those birdies in the booze.

When it's roasting time, remove the birds from the grappa and discard the grappa. Using scissors, cut the bird open lay each one flat on a baking sheet. Generously salt the birds, and sprinkle them with fennel pollen. Roast at 350F/180C for 30 minutes.

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The Rice

Use an aborio or bomba variety of rice as these absorb moisture without coming apart like a basmati rice would do. Plan on approximately ½ cup of rice per person, and you’ll need about 1 1/2 cups of stock per ½ cup of rice. Use a vegetable or chicken stock.

 The saffron is optional, but I love saffron so for me, its obligatory. Place a few strands of saffron in a small glass of white wine and let steep while you cook the rice.

Place the rice in a flat-bottomed pan, like a paella pan. I’m hesitant to use the word paella here because people make all different types of paellas and I don’t want to get into a what-is-an-authentic-paella-pissing match, ok? Let’s just call it crispy rice.

Much as you would with a risotto, add a glug of olive oil, turn on the heat to medium and toast the rice. That means roll it around in the oil until everything gets hot and toasty, but don’t brown the rice.Start adding the warm stock to the rice, enough stock to cover the pan and float the rice.

Keep adding stock and stirring the rice as the pan dries out. You want the rice to be about ¾’s cooked. (How to tell if the rice is nearly done: taste a few grains, they should be soft almost halfway through, with still a bit of hard crunch in the middle.) This should take about 10-12 minutes.

 Add the white wine and saffron and the remaining stock to the pan, stir in the frozen peas if you are using them and put the pan in the oven on a rack above the quail.  The liquid will evaporate and the rice will become brown and crispy on top.

The Garlic Chips

Peel 3 to 4 large cloves of garlic. Using a mandolin, thinly slice the garlic. (I use the 2.0mm setting on my mandolin.)

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In a small pan, add enough olive oil to form a shallow pool to fry the garlic. They need to be able to float in the oil. Heat the oil to 350F/180C (use a thermometer when you fry things, its hard to do this by eye or feel).  Add the garlic slices and fry for 1-2 minutes until they just start to turn golden. Remove the slices from the oil and drain.  Turn the oil off, but don’t discard it because you are going to fry the garlic slices one more time right before serving.

Assembly Time

Remove the quail from the oven and liberally dust with the spicy smoked paprika.

Turn the oven on to broil and broil the surface of the rice. Not too close to the broiler coils; but close enough to give the rice an extra crispy finish.

Reheat the oil to 350F/180C or even a bit hotter. Add the garlic chips and fry again until golden, about 30-45 seconds. Drain the chips and discard the oil.

Remove the rice from oven, arrange the quail on top of the rice, cover with the garlic chips, open a nice bottle of chilled white wine, and now eat! IMG_4346

Great! Now you’ve got one grappa recipe and a mostly full bottle of industrial strength grappa. Mushrooms to the rescue. 

IMG_4350

Intoxicated Mushrooms

Fresh mushrooms, whatever kind you can find or that you like

Grappa

Olive Oil, Butter

Shallot, Garlic, Lemon Juice, Salt and a lot of Pepper

Roughly chop the cleaned mushrooms. Finely chop the shallot. Place both in a large sauté pan (big enough so the mushrooms have room to dance around the pot), add a glug of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, turn the heat onto medium high and cover the pot.  When the mushrooms start to give up their moisture, add a good size glug of grappa to the pan, cover the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, then uncover the pan and let all of the moisture evaporate. Swimming mushrooms

When the pan is dry and sizzling, turn off the heat, swirl in a knob of butter, add a generous sprinkle of pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Eat while they are mad hot!

 

The mushrooms are so quick, easy and delicious, you’ll use up that bottle of grappa in no time.

 

Now, as for the good grappa? Look for a golden color grappa, that means it’s been in oak and is a softer, warmer flavored grappa. Enjoy a small amount after dinner as a digestivo. Enjoy a large amount after dinner and you risk a magnificent headache in the morning. Always respect the grappa!

Learn to love Ugly Fruit

Let’s say you have 3 kids. One is very tall, one is short and fat and one is absolutely medium in every way. Would you throw out the tall and short ones and just keep the medium one? Probably not. Besides there are laws about throwing your children into the trash just because they aren’t standard size.

Now, let’s say you have 3 ripe tomatoes, but they don’t look alike. In many countries, if you are a vegetable seller, you are required to throw out odd shaped tomato and only keep the standard tomato. Because after all, when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, conformity matters more than waste or taste.

Fruta TomatoLet’s say you have 3 kids. One is very tall, one is short and fat and one is absolutely medium in every way. Would you throw out the tall and short ones and just keep the medium one? Probably not. Besides there are laws about throwing your children into the trash just because they aren’t standard size.

Now, let’s say you have 3 ripe tomatoes, but they don't look alike.  In many countries, if you are a vegetable seller, you are required to throw out the odd shaped tomato and only keep the standard tomato. Because after all, when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, conformity matters more than waste or taste.  

Sound silly or sinful? Sound outrageous? It is just this sense of outrage that prompted Isabel Soares to start “Fruta Feia” (Ugly Fruit) in Lisbon, Portugal.  Soares came to the MAD chef symposium in Copenhagen to tell us her story.

  Fruta LimesWhile European rules on food conformity are partly to blame, so are supermarkets that insist on standardized sizes and shapes. Shippers have their say as they insist on uniformity to make it easier to pack and ship the fresh produce. In turn, the consumer has been trained to expect to see ‘perfect’ fruits and vegetables, so anything sub-standard is rejected.

The goal of Ugly Fruit is to rescue locally grown non-standardized fruits and vegetables and distribute them to it’s members, much like how a food cooperative or CSA operates. Ugly Fruit is also dedicated to broadening the consumer’s mind about what is acceptable and normal. Soares’s project got its initial startup money as one of three winners of the  Ideias de Origem Portuguesa entrepreneurship prize. This recognition was crucial in raising the additional funds through PPL, a crowd sourcing website.

While the idea of rescuing perfectly good food sounds uplifting and romantic, the reality is a lot of hard work and heavy lifting. Early in Ugly Fruit’s history, they had a supremely bad morning when their produce pick-up van caught fire and literally burned to ashes. A friend rescued them on the side of the road with another vehicle and they were able to pick up their daily round of food from the growers, but they were very behind schedule. Normally it would take 3 hours to break down the food and set up the individual crates for their clients. News of the van’s demise spread throughout the Ugly Fruit community and by the time they returned to their warehouse, there was a crew of willing volunteers to help break down the food in 45 minutes. As Soares told the story, it was at this moment, with everyone pitching in, that she knew this project would succeed.

  Fruta PeppersThe estimates vary on exactly how much food is wasted, but the general consensus is about 50% of food is wasted at some point in the growth-to-table-to-trash cycle.

An additional obstacle the group faced was opposition, or call it suspicion on the part of the growers. As Soares explains, the farmers thought she might have been an under cover agent for the sanitary department. But, if you’re throwing away 25% of your crop because it doesn’t conform, eventually you are going to welcome the arrival of the Ugly Fruit van. It’s not just the waste at the consumer level, but think about the water and soil resources that are also being wasted.

 From startup in November 2013, to just a few months later in late spring of 2014, Ugly Fruit had sold 21 tons of fruit and now has a waiting list of over 1,000 people. That’s a lot of food in a short amount of time. It looks like people have no problem with mis-shapen lemons after all.  Soares has plans to expand to other cities outside of Lisbon, and if goes all as planned, maybe her idea will spread to other countries as well. 

Isabel Soares, thank you for sharing your story at #MAD4.

IMG_4315

Addicted to Love & Eggplant

TeenBrideWe have a plant in our orto that I call our “Teen Bride”. She keeps having babies, is totally unsupported, and when you pluck a fruit from her, she shudders as if to say, “Thank you!”. Then she stands a little straighter, brazenly sprouting even more fruit.

I like eggplant, don’t get me wrong. I just didn’t LOVE eggplant, until recently. Now, we’re addicted. But this eggplant dip is the cause of our addiction.

TeenBrideWe have a plant in our orto that I call our “Teen Bride”.  She keeps having babies, is totally unsupported, and when you pluck a fruit from her, she shudders as if to say, “Thank you!”. Then she stands a little straighter, brazenly sprouting even more fruit.

Meet Teen Bride.

 I like eggplant, don’t get me wrong. I just didn’t LOVE eggplant, until recently. Now, we’re addicted. We tried the eggplant parm (I’ve got a great summer recipe.).  But this eggplant dip is the cause of our addiction.

  IMG_3958

Charred Eggplant Dip

1 eggplant (bigger eggplant, more dip…just make what you need because it tastes better warm and fresh)

Extra virgin olive oil (because only a virgin will do)

Sea salt

Lemon juice (fresh, don’t even think about anything else)

Garlic

Cumin, Smoked Picante Paprika, Sesame Seeds

 There are no measurements here. This is cooking by eye and taste. Get used to using your senses; you’ll thank me in the long run.

 You’re going to need a blender; a robust one, like a Vita Mix. An average strength blender or food processor will certainly do, but you won’t be able to get the super creamy texture.

  Long narrow

1)   Char the eggplant. Start by piercing the eggplant with the tip of a knife to make steam holes. (If you follow me on Facebook, then you know I blew up the first eggplant in my oven. It made an incredible stringy, hanging-from-the-walls mess).

Broil the eggplant until the insides are soft and the skin of the eggplant is crackling and brittle. Turn the eggplant once or twice to get an even char. This usually takes 7-10 minutes with a medium size, more narrow eggplant.

2)   In a blender, add a good amount of olive oil, starting with a healthy glug. Add a pinch of sea salt, a clove of garlic, and some of the juice from half a lemon. Remember, you can always add more of an ingredient, but it would be a bitch to remove too much salt or lemon juice!

  Scraoe it close

3)   While the eggplant is still hot, make a slit from one end to the other and open the eggplant. Using a spoon, scrape the meat from the fruit and add to the blender. Scrape it close to the skin because that’s where the char flavor comes from.  Blend until creamy. Now taste. More lemon? More salt? More garlic? If it isn’t feeling really creamy in your mouth, add another glug of olive oil.

 IMG_4007

Garnish with a sprinkle of cumin, a good amount of picante smoked paprika and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve with some warm flat bread.

 No matter how much I make, we lick the bowl clean and fight over the last drops. Honestly, two grown people fighting over eggplant? That’s ridiculous and undignified. It must be love….and addiction. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. IMG_4015

 

 

 

What is cooking in a mad, mad, mad, mad world?

What happens when Rene Redzepi and his merry band of pranksters bring together a gaggle of chefs and culinary people to talk about “What Is Cooking”? It becomes a MAD affair!

MAD Bale
What happens when Rene Redzepi and his merry band of pranksters bring together a gaggle of chefs and culinary people to talk about “What Is Cooking”? It becomes a MAD affair!

MAD is a  community of thoughtful people who care about food and the impact the restaurant community can have on how we eat. Every summer they erect a giant red circus tent and hold an annual conference in Copenhagen. This year, I got to go and it was inspiring, whimsical, heart wrenching and good fun.

I also have to confess; I have a complete crush on Rene Redzepi. He’s completely human, humble and approachable. I imagine he’s quite intense in the Noma kitchen, but this is as it should be when you have the number one restaurant in the world. On the second morning, he greeted every single attendee with a good morning kiss and a hug and that gets my vote for keeping it real.

Picture this opening moment: lots of people riding high on the excellent coffee that was served in the breakfast tent. It's a cacophony of conversations, photos, greetings and meetings all going on at top volume. And then we’re told to head to the main tent. Coffee Pour

You shuffle into one of the entrances and now you try to find a seat on the bleachers but it’s really dark and your brain is being blasted by LOUD heart thumping rock music. It’s the kind of music that tattoos your brain for the rest of the day.  On your seat is a tote bag that has the program of the day’s speakers, but it’s too dark to read it, so you’re still wondering what’s going on. (Note: To keep us all speculating, the list of speakers was kept top secret.)

And then the music stops. The crowd settles in and grows quiet.

A man and a woman in a kimono walk onto the stage.

Without saying a word, the man pours flour into a shallow red bowl. He adds water. He begins to knead the dough with the familiarity of someone who knows how to listen with his hands.

In absolute silence. 

Within moments, he’s got a viable ball of dough and he moves to a table-top where he rolls out the dough.

In absolute silence.

He picks up a knife and lovingly slices the noodles. (And here there is a collective gasp of knife-envy from the audience because it’s the most beautiful noodle knife cutter we’ve ever seen.) The noodles are dropped into boiling water, then tossed in cool water, drained and finally arranged on a plate that rests on a serving tray. 

In absolute silence.

The beautiful woman in the kimono glides forward into the audience and offers an audience member the tray to taste the noodles. She returns to the stage, retrieves the other tray and again offers the noodles.

In absolute silence.

 It was a moment of pure, peaceful, prayerful zen. A moment that encapsulated all that is cooking: the prep, the saving of every scrap of left over flour, the attention to detail and finally the offering of food. This was a chef’s way of saying grace. Thank you Chef Rai. (Restaurant Sobatei Rakuici in Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan).

 Then our leader, Chef Redzepi, steps out into the spotlight and the tent goes MAD. [Update: Link to MADfeed's video of soba master Tatsuru Rai.]

 Mad Flags

I’ve always cared about cooking; it’s who I am, but I struggle to find the words. The people who spoke at this festival found their words and told their stories.

It’s my honor to share with you some of their tales over the next few weeks. Today I’ll leave you with this nugget of wisdom  given to us by Chef Jeremiah Tower.  Here's what Elizabeth Taylor told him,  “When the going gets rough, put on your lipstick, pour a cocktail and get on with it.” Lipstick

 Amen, sister. #MAD4

 

Never Forgotten: Locanda al Gambero Rosso

It was a bittersweet dinner at Locanda al Gambero Rosso. A restaurant we’ve loved, that we’ve called our favorite in the whole world, will shut the lights and shutter their doors at the end of August. Our hearts are broken, but we are looking forward to the next chapters in the lives of Giuliana, Moreno, Michela and Paolo.

AGR
 It was a bittersweet dinner at Locanda al Gambero Rosso. A restaurant we’ve loved, that we’ve called our favorite in the whole world, will shut the lights and shutter their doors at the end of August. Our hearts are broken, but we are looking forward to the next chapters in the lives of Giuliana, Moreno, Michela and Paolo.

Being in the kitchen, for very long hours, day after day, will take its toll on anyone and Giuliana and Moreno have chosen to take a well-deserved break from the demands of running a restaurant.

We were honored that Moreno sat and talked with us throughout our dinner. We’ve always felt a strong connection to this delicious man who is so tied to the history and flavors of his area.

Moreno is a master forager, whose knowledge of the fields and woods in his area is unsurpassed. What Giuliana knows about how to finesse every bit of flavor out of these foraged bits makes her truly a Master Chef. Osterie

Long before terroir and foraging became trendy, people were combing the steep, rugged hills around San Piero in Bagno looking for something edible. It was survival foraging, not an enhancement to a plate, but something to keep going for another day.

Now, the term ‘cucina povera’ conjures up images of warm bean soups lovingly ladled into big soup bowls. The reality was much, much harsher. A daily diet of hoarded beans or chickpeas, the foraged greens and maybe a speck of precious meat grows monotonous day after day after day. Its not romantic, its sustenence.

And now, one of our most treasured links to this history is about to change.

Of course we asked, why are you closing? Can’t someone continue in the tradition of Gambero Rosso?  Moreno shook his head and said, “Italians don’t care anymore.”  This is something we’ve heard him say before, but this time it was said with such sadness and resignation that we asked him to explain.

 He said  ‘cucina povera’ is something that people want to forget, they are embarrassed by this history. In a parallel fashion, it’s something we, as first or second generation Amercians, can understand. Our grandparents emigrated to the US and wanted their children to assimilate, so out of embarrassment they chose not to teach them their native language, but let them speak only English. And so, subsequent generations lost a significant chunk of their culture.  

Moreno, we think things are more positive than you imagine. The pendulum is swinging back as more and more people are looking to cherish and honor their roots.

People are encouraging Giuliana and Moreno to publish a cookbook. We say YES! We want a way to hold onto what you’ve painstakingly learned; we want a record of all the flavors, the history and the love you put into every dish you served.  I’ll never make the famous zuppe dell’erbe the way you do, but every time I do make my version of it, I honor you.

Great opportunities await. Michela and Paolo will lend their fine sensibilities and sense of discovery to a new venture in Forli, with Giuliana and Moreno consulting…when they feel like it!

As the diners left and the night grew late, the feeling in this joyous restaurant was a determination to keep the spirit of Gambero Rosso alive. The battle cry as everyone was leaving was the same, “A Forli!", so we will travel to Forli to see the new adventure. In bocca al lupo!

 

 

 

 

Where home cooking is always in season.