Archive for January, 2013

Strawberries

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

The temperature is warmer today in NYC, and the fruit and vegetable vendors have returned to the streets. That’s excellent news because I need strawberries. These vendors have multiplied in recent years; and they can now be found all over Manhattan.

Fruit Vendor in NYC

I was spoiled when I lived in Santa Barbara because the strawberries were grown locally and always tasted delicious. In NYC, supermarkets dominate the produce landscape; and they all promote one brand of strawberries – Driscoll’s. I think they are overpriced and tasteless. I am going to continue to buy my strawberries from the street vendor. He typically offers better quality at a bargain price.

Why strawberries in January? I eat them daily for breakfast, but why not serve them for dessert with an aged balsamic vinegar.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Pistachios

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The other day I made a Pumpkin Ravioli with a butter sage sauce. An easy dish that’s made with ravioli, butter, sage, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. This simple dish is in dozens of cookbooks, so I won’t bore you.

But did you ever think that one more ingredient could make a great dish extraordinary? I believe in “less is more”, but I don’t think we are over doing things if we add 5 ingredients rather than 4. When I was buying Pumpkin Ravioli the other day from Rana Pastificio in Chelsea Market in NYC, my wife Nora suggested I add the pistachio nuts that we had in the pantry.  Brilliant.

Pumpkin Ravioli

I was amazed how adding a little nutty crunch transformed this dish into something special. What’s lurking in your pantry that could transform tonight’s meal?

Buon Appetito.

Iceboats on Mecox Bay

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

It’s wintertime and the cold weather has arrived. Although last winter was quite mild, I am sure many of you can recollect those prior years when January was frigid. I remember when I was in high school and we cherished that deep freeze. All my friends would gather at the local golf course and go ice skating. In New York where I grew up, most of the skaters were not very talented, but everyone had fun.

A few years ago in Bridgehampton I went to see if Mecox Bay had frozen over. It certainly had; but instead of skaters there were Ice Boats. These colorful contraptions are a cross between a sled and a sailboat.

Colorful Iceboats

Mecox Bay is a small body of water between Bridgehampton and Water Mill. It’s a very picturesque setting that abuts the beach on the Atlantic Ocean with the periphery dotted with magnificent homes.

The Blade Runner

You would think that these boats were gearing up for the National championships with the fanciest of equipment. But no, it was just a cold day and people were showing off their toys.

Iceboat Fan

Even though the weather was freezing, plenty of people came out to enjoy the spectacle. Although many fans were enthusiastic, the “best fan” goes to the chap above in the red plaid jacket.

Enjoy winter!

 

Provence – a Few Gems in the Luberon

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A friend asked me the other day what he should see on his upcoming trip to Provence. Looking back on my 6 weeks there, my fondest memories were not the typical Top 10 attractions listed in guide books, but were a few unique and charming experiences that reflected the local color and everyday life. I would certainly recommend…

Lunch at Le Bistrot du Paradou is a must; it’s located about 15 minutes south of St. Remy. The first time I drove up to this restaurant I could smell the lamb chops before getting out of the car; but I didn’t have a reservation. But I returned and fell instantly in love. The restaurant has a casual atmosphere with a fixed menu; like eating in somebody’s home. You get three extraordinary courses plus a never ending cheese course. I think the waiter brought the cheese platter by 3 times; and yes it’s that good. You will be there most of the afternoon, and mostly likely make friends with everyone seated around you.

Lourmarin was the town I kept returning to for its farmers’ market, restaurants and  boutiques. The farmers’ market was held every Friday morning, and I went every week. The truck selling olives and tapenade was spectacular.  We also got to know the woman selling raspberries; they were always perfect.

Truck selling Tapenades

Cheese was another highlight of the market. You can buy some excellent goat cheese in NYC, but they pale in comparison to those sold here. I have never seen such an extensive selection. In fact the market sells just about anything you would need for dinner: vegetables, herbs, chicken, sausage, wine, and even flowers for the table. But the vendor that really caught my attention was the one selling tomato tarts with the flakiest pastry crust…delicious. After the market I enjoyed lunch at L’Oustalet; their soups were a standout. Although Lourmarin is a small town, you won’t be disappointed with their boutiques.

Oppede-le-Vieux (not Oppede le village) is a historic village with a mix of a few very fashionable residences (Ridley Scott lives here) and crumbling ruins.

Notre Dame d’Alidon

This village has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. In 1274 the Popes took control of the town followed by the Barons d’Oppede in the 16th Century. In 1793 an earthquake decimated the town, but you can still see the remains of the spectacular chateau. Notre Dame d’Alidon,  a Romanesque church, is still however surprisingly intact. The setting is breathtaking. You will be able to enjoy the scenery, soak up the history, but not have to share it with the tour buses.

My favorite experience in the Luberon was lunch at Castelas, a working goat farm at the top of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. It is located up a dirt road outside the town of Silvergues, miles from civilization. Although I hear they serve dinner, we went for Sunday lunch. As we entered the stone gates I saw picnic tables set up and goats roaming everywhere.

Tables at the Goat Farm

Actually later in the afternoon the pigs were let out, so I hope you like animals. Plastic pitchers of wine were set on the table and the platters of food just kept coming. Waiters brought grilled vegetables, meats, sausages, and of course cheese. You feel like you are on the top of the Alps with true “farm to table” cooking – amazing.

Goats

Provence is a place that exudes quaintness and color. Visit a few of the smaller hill towns like Menerbes, Bonnieux, and Saignon and wander the cobblestone streets.

House in Saignon

The local architecture is gorgeous. Many homes are made of stone with terracotta roofs. In contrast, their doors and window shutters are often painted in pastels. These greens, blues, and yellows will catch your eye, and hopefully warm your heart.

Farro Vegetable Soup

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Umbria is a lesser known region of Italy just east of its more famous cousin Tuscany. Just as beautiful, but less crowded and more rustic. In October the warm sunny days of summer are gone, and the air is chilly. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that almost every restaurant I visited for lunch was featuring a farro vegetable soup. This classic dish is hearty and robust; but interestingly it was slightly different in almost every restaurant. I have made this soup many times, and in the spirit of a peasant dish, I also modify the ingredients to reflect what I have in my pantry.

Farro

Farro is a grain with a nutty flavor and a toothsome texture. I use it in many recipes as an alternative to rice or orzo; not just in soups but also in salads and risotto. Farro is readily available in Italian specialty stores or online.

When I make this soup I would always add onion, carrot and celery. Today’s version also includes leek and turnip. If you look at the Mise-en-Place below, you will also notice a little pancetta. In Umbria, either pancetta or a ham bone is included to add depth of flavor. I prefer pancetta.

Mise-en-Place

Recipe for 4 Servings:

2/3 cup farro, chopped                                            1 leek, diced

1 onion, diced                                                             1 small turnip, diced

2 carrots, diced                                                           1/4 cup pancetta, diced

2 celery, diced                                                             1/4 tsp tomato paste

pinch oregano                                                             pinch parsley flakes

1 qt. vegetable broth                                                  2 cans chicken broth

Parmigiana Reggiano cheese, grated                     salt & pepper

First, saute the pancetta till brown, then remove it from the pan. Next I use a knife to rough chop the farro, which I believe  produces a thicker consistency. Now add the vegetables to the pan and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes (add a little olive oil is needed). Add the farro into the pan with the vegetables and toast the farro for about a minute. Finally add the other ingredients (except the cheese) and cook for about 30 minutes. You can test the farro just like you would risotto, the grain should be cooked, firm but not mushy.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and grate Parmigiana Reggiano cheese on top.

Farro Soup

Buon Appetito!