5/27/15

UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes



Over the years I have started and stopped, picked up and put down working on a book about my relationship to food, trying to gather and put order to my thoughts and recipes so many times as to be farcical. I have played endlessly with layout software, exploring various page designs, only to find myself disenchanted by the process—probably a ploy on my part to really not get down to business. But I truly have wanted to get down to business compiling thought and recipe and error and discovery in the simple, solitary way I have gone about deepening my relationship to vegetables and the instinctive process involved in cooking them into dishes that tell my palate and taste buds stories.

Perhaps what has been a cog in the wheel has been my "adamant" ways : no glossy pictures, no cups and ounces as measurements, no one looking over my shoulder editing my words… Guess I need my relationship to writing a book of recipes to be as intimate and homespun as the way I teach those same recipes in my cooking classes.

In truth, I mostly shirk at, shrink from the fancy, the sculpted, the trendy, the let-me-entertain-you, the blow-your-mind aspects of what is or has become—to a great extent, it feels to me—the world of food-ing. The swirling onslaught of it all so clouds my thoughts and hampers me—I know, I should just not let in all the clamor. But it seems hard to keep it out; it has so exploded—with such spirit—everywhere. And yes, there is a multitude of wonderful enthusiasm therein.

So what to do? Retreat and quietly write, posting the pages of my book weekly on my blog. I'll follow the seasons in the kitchen and with my pen, and figure it’ll take at least a full season cycle to complete my work. Then I'll finally give it book form.

So here goes! Do hope you'll follow along through the weeks and seasons.



UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes 


INTRODUCTION : a bit about my journey


It all started back one day in 1962 when my mother came home toting a Challenger juicer. Before I knew it I had a glass of fresh carrot juice, almost neon orange, in my hand. Do I remember the initial sensation as I took the first sip? Suffice it to say my mouth was aflame with a tale of tastes and sensations theretofore unknown, and I rapidly became a fan.

Then followed cashew butter and whole wheat bread—out with the Wonder loaf. Butter took the place of Margarine, Crisco disappeared from our chocolate chip cookie dough. As for our breakfast cereal, Swiss muesli—the raw stuff—became a staple. Although I do remember the first time I put a milky spoonful of it in my mouth. I was home sick and, playing up my woeful state, pleaded my mom to bring me a late morning snack of sugary cereal, you know Frosted Flakes, Sugar Pops and the like. She obliged, arrived at my bedside and handed me a bowl, which I greedily took. Looking down I saw something quite unfamiliar and gave her a querying glance. "Muesli,” she said, assuring me it was quite delicious. I almost spit the first spoonful across the room: a sensation of straw or wood chips suddenly filled my mouth and, mind you, it was completely void of that usual “onslaught” of sweetness. I did grow to love that totally raw cereal, still quite artisan at that time: its texture, the subtle yet lingering flavors.

There were also the huge raw salads my mother started preparing: fresh broccoli, carrots, green beans, green onions, cauliflower, apple, surely sunflower oil—not yet extra-virgin—and lemon juice. We’d all pitch in cutting and tossing and before long there’d be a mountain of earthy goodness to dig into.

Why this sudden change in our diet? My mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Now being a born-again Christian who took the words of the Bible at face value—“by my stripes you are healed”—she had elected to let Jesus heal her, and never returned to her gynecologist, who had wanted to schedule an operation. She saw "no reason to cut out those good organs that have served me so well," as she later told me. She had given birth to 6 rambunctious kids.

Through a dear German friend and fellow Christian she was introduced to a physician, Dr. Pfleuger, who had immigrated to the States from Germany and was treating cancer patients in his Los Angeles home with “diet,” convinced, as we're other doctors and medical researchers from across the seas, such as Catherine Kousmine, of the connection between a healthy diet and the remission of cancer.

Whether it was her faith, her will, the carrot juice and raw salads, a slight misdiagnosis, a spontaneous regression, or a mixture of them all, she is alive today and as feisty as ever, not having stepped foot into a doctor’s office again until well into her eighties.

The upshot of this bit of familial history is that my siblings and I, from an early age, became converts of healthy eating. Indelible the impressions of all those brilliant, complex flavors and the stories they tell that impregnated our taste buds and memory. 

Plucking another memory from those sifting, shifting sands of childhood, churning with its endless discoveries. Up until the age of 7, I was simply ignorant of where the vegetables served to me at mealtime came from, city kid that I was. Or I had just never thought about it. Well one day the question bounced into my mind and came straight out of my mouth. My mother's reply came as quite a shock, leaving me teetering as I tried to grasp the fact that all those carrots, onions, potatoes, broccoli, green beans, sweet peas that I ate were grown in dirt, harvested from it. Wasn't dirt dirty? The idea of fertile soil burgeoning with microscopic bacterial life was nowhere in my mental landscape. I remember wandering out to the lawn and positing myself in front of the large landscaped planter gorging with succulents, cactus and the like that lined the facade of our house. And there I had a talk with the dirt. Perhaps our chat reassured me that all was in order, the natural order of things, or it just suddenly didn't seem like such a radical—even disgusting—bit of reality, as I do recall making piece with the concept. I think I even brought a pinch of dirt up to my mouth and tasted it—the beginning of my understanding of "terroir."

Stride forward a few years to when I was 18 and had just moved into my first apartment, a little studio with windows round like those of a ship's, beautiful wooden paneling from floor to ceiling, like a captain's quarters, an open kitchen and the waves of the Pacific just across the lane and a slight strand of ocean sand called Sunset Beach that snuggled up to Santa Monica.

After moving in I dutifully went to the supermarket for a big shopping then got to stirring up my very first dinner on my own. I remember frying up a choice cut of meat I had chosen to inaugurate this propitious moment.  Sitting down to dig in I put the first bite into my mouth. Ohhh, the sudden swell of blood!

Now I don't recall my mind—or palate—having ever questioned the practice of eating meat at home around the table with my 5 siblings and mother. In fact I was most often the one doing the cooking. Was it family ritual, the scents and flavors of food underpinning it; the already braying commotion of life together and not wanting to rock the boat; the being one of a unit and wanting to do my part to hold it together that had never brought to my senses the slightest questioning of eating meat? I imagine so.

But that night on my own something seemed suddenly awry. I put my fork down and that was for the most part the end of my life as a carnivore. It was also the end of supermarkets on the whole—I thank my mother's influence for that! I began shopping at the small "hippie" health food stores scattered here and there around the beachfront—when organic was still a “suspicious” word—and eating organically and I've never stopped.

Now all this healthy eating was wonderful, but it was also that summer that I decided to "go on a diet” though there was absolutely no need for any such regime. I was one skinny lady, having been blessed with quite a fiery metabolism, and I could—and did—eat large amounts of food without gaining an ounce. My "diet" was actually something more psychological: anorexia would be the term. It consisted of a couple three peaches a day, a program I faithfully followed for a couple weeks, quite proud of my willpower and accomplishment. Preening in front of the mirror, I was more than pleased at what I saw—or imagined I saw.

It was then I went off on a weekend to the Russian River with friends. There was an 8-mm camera among the bunch of us and a short film was shot of our frolicking, which was screened the following week in my apartment. Gathered around the portable screen (or was it a hung white sheet) the lights went out and the film filled our vision. I was having a great laugh with the others at our cavorting until suddenly there I appeared, center screen. I was so taken by aback, stunned, completely aghast at the image of myself: emaciated, almost skeletal. I hadn’t prepared for such a viewing in my mind’s eye and it was a stark wake up call. So stark that any further intent at anorexic behavior was  expelled from my being.

Not that I was over the hump regarding my sense of self—or lack thereof—which surely was at the bottom of my behavior, and thus the relationship to my body and self image, and likewise to food. Emotional wounds run deep. I simply shifted from one eating disorder to another: bulimia. And I found myself increasingly caught up in an impelling cycle of binging and purging that lasted into my early thirties.

I’ll never forget the day I finally triumphed over it. That morning I woke up deeply frustrated, utterly distressed at my inability to control the impulse to stuff my belly, my body, my “self.” It was shopping day, time to stock the fridge for the week. Well this time I was determined not to fall prey to binging, as was the case after each big excursion to the market; once I’d put everything away, I’d start right in gorging.

As I crawled out of bed I made a pact with myself: I resolved this time to control myself, to overcome the intensity of the urge to eat. I got dressed for the day and off I went to Mrs. Gooch’s, my natural food store of predilection, joyously filling my cart with fresh produce, my favorite dairy items, honey, nut butter and the like.
Back home, I attentively emptied my shopping bags, consciously placing each item in its place. But no sooner had I finished than I crumbled, overpowered, as by a powerful tide, by the “need” to gorge. Before I knew it I was licking almond butter from a knife, ripping open a package of crackers, lifting the lid off of the cottage cheese. Then a spring broke: boing! A fury flooded me. My voice flew from my chest in hurling, blood-curdling screams. I began to dance a bestial dance of trance, flinging cottage cheese on wall and carpet, frenetically smearing it on my my body, lathering my hair with it, honey, almond butter, any food substance at hand. Crushed crackers flew through the air, falling like pattering rain to the ground. And I stomped and I howled and I “burned the house down.” I have no idea how long this went on, thirty seconds, a minute, two at most, though it seemed like an eternity. Time had disappeared; I had entered a vortex.

When I came back to my senses, I was purged—yes—and haggard, dizzy, trembling, sobbing. The house looked as though it had been through a cataclysm, as did I dressed in a lather of sticky, oily, greasy foods. It's a wonder no one called the police; it must have sounded like someone was being murdered. Perhaps in a sense that is what went on. But what was murdered—or exorcised—was a force that had held me prisoner for so long.

It took time to weave together a healthy relationship with food, with eating, with nourishing myself. That's where France comes in the picture. In 1980 I took off for the City of Lights, my guitar in stow. Over the months I lived there I “discovered” a culture of food and table that would bit by bit become a precious aid in my learning how to eat, how to savor what was on my plate—not difficult given the amazing fresh produce and artisan products of French cuisine back then—how to sensibly nourish my body and spirit, and take away from the table a sensation of healing satiety. What a blessing!

Finally came a trip to Italy a year or so later. Genoa to be exact. I don't know what it was in the air, in the landscape, in the Genoese attitude and manners, but I couldn't get away from this image of dirt under each person's fingernails, embedded in the lines of their hands. Something so earthy, so robust, so simple inhabited their culture. Perhaps because Italian culture is so connected to its regional and rustic cuisines and thus to the humble earth and its greens and roots, bulbs and fruits...

Invited for dinner to the home of my Italian friend one evening, I stood in the kitchen talking with his mother and watching her make a salad. Mounds of succulent lettuce leaves she dressed by simply drizzling them with olive oil—that excellent Ligurian stuff—gently tossing to coat them before adding a splash of good wine vinegar and a sprinkle of salt. It was simply exquisite! Simply humble. Simply dressed—or was it simply undressed.

Which brings me to the present and my simply wanting to undress vegetables, to give them their noble, humble nakedness. Let them tell their story unadorned. What better way to nourish the body, to nourish a connectedness with the earth, to nourish the spirit.

See you next week!

1/27/15

bay area cooking class, berkeley, march 8 — plus "zuppa di ceci e farro" recipe

Interested in stirring up some scrumptious seasonal vegetable dishes? In Berkeley, CA? On March 8? Would love to have you join in! Flyer below...

Now at my Berkeley class we won't be stirring up this lovely and rustic and simple zuppa di ceci e farro [chickpea 'n farro soup], whose recipe and "stunning" photo you'll find down below. But no reason you can't scramble out into your kitchen and stir it up on your own one of these yet dusky evenings still harboring winter's breath.

And leave it to those clever and resourceful Italian contadine to have thought to marry the humble likes of pulses and grains, beans and pasta—for the sake of necessity—tuning their union into wonderfully nourishing, satiating-to-your-belly, and "story-telling"-on-your-palate dishes.

Of course it all starts with il soffritto [if you prefer, mirepoix in French]: a mixture of finely diced carrots, onion and celery, in its simplest form, gently sautéed for a spat of time. Gentle being the secret here so as to coax from the vegetables their innermost fragrance, all the while persuading them to surrender to translucence and tenderness. Therein lies the fragrant foundation to many an Italian dish. The big no no in Italian kitchens is to let your soffritto start browning... that brings pouts and the end of any sweet fragrance.




zuppa di ceci e farro

ZUPPA di CECI e FARRO ::  serves 4 - 6
variation on una ricetta shared by Maurizio Tuliani [specialist of medieval history]

200 gr | 7 oz dried chickpeas [garbanzo beans]
150 gr | 5.25 oz farro [einkorn—triticum monococcum, if possible, otherwise emmer—triticum dicoccum]
8 - 10 gr | 0.3 oz kombu [edible kelp]
60 gr | 2 oz red onion, finely diced
60 gr | 2 oz carrot, finely diced
60 gr | 2 oz celery with a few tender leaves, finely diced
2 - 3 garlic cloves, cut in half, sprout removed, very coarsely chopped
300 gr sweet green cabbage [pointed cabbage, Loirent cabbage—exquisite, savory cabbage, chou de Pointoise], the ribs removed, the leaves thinly sliced lengthwise
7 tasty black pepper corns, very coarsely ground [best done with a mortar 'n pestle]
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh sage
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt
Ground cinnamon

||| Soak the chickpeas over night. Rinse, generously cover with fresh water in a large pan, cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add the  bay leaf and cook covered anywhere from 40 - 90 minutes or more, depending on your chickpeas. Add the kombu approx 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time and, with the lid a bit ajar, continue to cook at a very slight simmer, until the chickpeas are quite soft. Add more water if needed, you'll be in need of that cooking water. Remove the kombu and set aside. Add a few generous pinches of sea salt to  the chickpeas and set aside in their cooking water.

||| Soak the farro, if not pearled, for 8 hours. Rinse, bring to a boil in water to slightly cover and cook for approx 30 minutes—the grains should be al dente. Season with sea salt to taste and set aside in the cooking water. [If your farro is pearled, follow the directions on the package.]

||| Pat the kombu dry and cut into bite-sized pieces.

||| Sauté the onion, carrot and celery [il soffritto], along with the sprigs of rosemary and sage in a generous couple drizzles of olive oil over medium-low heat for 10 - 15 minutes, until the onion is translucent, stirring frequently—so as not to let the onions burn. Add half of the chopped garlic for the last couple of minutes. Discard the rosemary and sage sprigs and transfer to a plate.

||| Drain the chickpeas, returning the cooking water to the pan. Set one third of the chickpeas aside whole. Pass the other two thirds through a food mill and return to the cooking water [or use an immersion blender directly in the cooking water]. Add il soffritto, the whole chick peas, farro, ground pepper and cook at a low simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Add a ladle or two or three of water or vegetable broth if the mixture seems dry—you're looking for a creamy consistency here. Add a pinch or two more of salt if needed.

||| While the soup is simmering, heat a drizzle of olive oil—in a cast iron skillet if possible. Add the kombu and cook over medium heat until turning crisp, 10 or so minutes. Add the other half of the chopped garlic a couple minutes before the end; it should also crisp up. Season with a pinch of sea salt. At the same time, sauté the cabbage leaves in a generous drizzle or two of olive oil and a couple splashes of cold water over medium-high heat until lightly browning, 7 or so minutes. Immediately season with sea salt.

||| Place a couple ladles of soup in each bowl. Give a very light sprinkle of ground cinnamon. Garnish with the cabbage then the kombu-garlic mixture. Give a generous drizzle or two of olive oil to each bowl of soup and serve.

note : no need to discard the cabbage-leaf ribs, cook 'em up nice and soft in water to cover, pass 'em through a food mill and return to the cooking water. Season with a slight pinch of sea salt and a drop or two of olive oil, and sip it on down—just to keep your motor nicely running.

soffritto

9/17/14

zaleti—or gialletti—according to Artusi

Now here's a favorite sweet little recipe of mine: zaleti or zalleti or zaletti or zaèti... even gialletti, as named by Pellegrino Artusi's in his "manual" La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiar Bene: a joyous compilation of recipes from the many regions of Italy published by Artusi himself in 1891, having found no takers in the publishing world. Of course today it can be found in just about every Italian kitchen.

Zaleti is one of those innumerable simple, scrumptious Italian dolcetti. Chocked full of cornmeal, this quite antique recipe hails from the Veneto region (they love their polenta up there) and is traditionally served during Carnavale, a glass of Prosecco della Valdobbiadene quite often within reach. Not for the light hearted: they are rich, intense and quite yellow (giallo).

Speaking of cornmeal—or polenta or farina di mais or farina di grano turco—there are Italian artisan offerings that are beautifully whole grain and stone milled, made from Marano,  a cultivar of corn with reddish-orange cobsknown for its distinctive "polenta" flavor, aroma and texture: hearty, deep and creamy—that hails from the same Veneto region, selectively breed back in the early 1900s. I've grown quite partial to cooking with these whole-grain Italian farina di mais, bringing them back from Italy on my not-often-enough trips there or stocking up on them here in Paris at my favorite Italian épicérie.

There's whole-grain farina di mais "bramata"—a fine cornmeal—full of lovely reddish-brown speckles. I bought a bunch of it from Azienda Agricola Lorentoni in Spoleto on my last visit. Then there's whole-grain farina di mais "rustica"—a much coarser cornmeal—also full of lovely reddish-brown speckles, from Tenuta Castello in the provence of Vercelli, Piedmonte, which Alessandra stocks on the shelves of her wonderful—and my favorite—Italian épicérie RAP in Paris' 9th arrondissement though you'd think you'd just stumbled into it off a winding narrow cobblestone street in some remote Italian village.

In the States, Bob's Red Mill carries a whole-grain cornmeal, though probably not ground from Marano corn. And here's a list from Gourmet of Italian markets in NY that might carry something akin. Perhaps also Eataly, though on their website I found only a polenta with mushrooms and truffles in the mix.Tenuta Castello seems to have a shop on line option. Tibiona is another site in Italy that sells lovely farina di mais. Perhaps Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.... and I'm sure with a bit of sleuthing, there are many more possibilities.

A little side here... for anyone of French persuasion, here's a petition that truly deserves to be signed: pour un nouveau statut juridique de l'animal.

And now without further ado...la ricetta.

— zaleti made with fine whole-grain stone milled corn flour
 — zaleti made with coarse whole-grain stone milled corn flour
— farina di mais rustica from Tenuta Castello


ZALETI alla “Artusi” - makes 15 - 20
adapted from on a recipe in: la Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene by Pellegrino Artusi (one of  many variations on the subject)

300 gr || 10.5 oz fine, medium or coarse ground corn meal (depending on the crunch you want)
150 gr ||  5.3 oz unbleached white flour (in France, I use T65 or T80—see below  ||  or substitute brown rice flour for a gluten-free version)
150 gr ||  5.3 oz blond cane sugar (if you wish it a bit less sweet, try 125 gr)
200 gr ||  7 oz unsalted butter, just out of the refrigerator (or 100 gr butter + 75 ml extra-virgin olive oil, or 165 ml olive oil)
100 gr ||  3.5 oz Sultana raisins
Grappa (or white rum)
2 eggs
50 gr || 1.75 oz almonds, blanched and slivered lengthwise
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt

|||  Soften the raisins in a bit of Grappa for 30 minutes. Strain and squeeze the raisins dry.
|||  Preheat the oven to 180 ˚C (375 ˚F)
|||  Mix together the two flours along with a pinch of salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and incorporate completely into the flour with your hands, rubbing the mixture between them until "sandy". If using olive oil, start by stirring it in then let your hands take over, always striving for that sandy texture, not clumped together.
|||  Whisk together the egg and sugar until turning pale yellow and fluffing a bit. Stir into the flour mixture. Add the raisins, lemon zest and almond slivers.
|||  Form into small balls (the size of a golf ball or smaller if you wish) and flatten out slightly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, giving a bit of breathing room between each ball—they don't spread much.
|||  Bake in the oven approx 15 minutes, until turning golden. Gently transfer to a rack to cool. Can be kept in a glass jar for a week... maybe a bit more.

notes:
— If substituting brown rice flour and using butter add an extra 20 gr || 0,7 oz. If using olive oil add an extra 10 ml.
— If substituting olive oil, let the final mixture sit for 15 minutes so the cornmeal can soak it up, which it will, making a firmer "ball-rolling" dough. 
— I never buy blanched almonds; it's really quite easy to blanch them yourself. inevitably they'll be fresher and tastier. Here's how to proceed: Drop into a pan of boiling water for 1 minute seconds. Drain and let cool just long enough to be able to handle. Squeeze the fat end of each almond between your fingers, holding the palm of your other hand out in front to catch it.
flour:
— In France there are many flour "types," each determined by the ash or mineral content (or amount of bran) in the flour. T45 is white-white pastry flour—found in all your favorite croissants; T55 is all purpose flour—in all those "airy" white French baguettes; T65 is just slightly dark (or "grey") and is used in the baguette tradition; T80 is a bit darker and could be called "half-wheat" flour; T110 is darker yet, and finally T150 is wholemeal or whole wheat flour. The higher numbered flour types are traditionally used for specialty breads.

6/30/14

upcoming "come get some dirt under your nails" workshops


On the heels of our April 2014, first edition "Come Get Some Dirt Under Your Nails"  cooking workshop in Provence, Giuseppina of Venice in Provence Cooking School in Goult and myself of la Cucina di TerrESa in Paris are putting together a new series of culinary workshops at Giuseppina's cooking school in Goult, in Provence over the coming seasons.

We'll be wandering again in nature, learning more about wildcrafting, forever admiring the flowers and wild herbs. Foraging for ever more wild edibles and turning all their earthy goodness into yet more amazing meals. And we'd love for you to  join us and "come get some dirt under your nails" during one of our workshops!

 — Saturday, October 11 - Friday, October 17, 2014
Baskets of wild mushrooms, autumn squash, roots and chicories

 — Saturday, 29 November - Friday, December 5, 2014
Nosing for truffles

Tuesday, January 20 - Saturday, January 24, 2015
Olive harvest, "new" olive oil

Saturday, March 21 - Friday, March 27, 2015
Gathering wild spring edibles: leaf and flower and stem

Our cooking classes are centered around wildcrafting and local seasonal produce, featuring seasonal dishes that "celebrate the vegetable kingdom”—though classes are not strictly vegetarian: upon request a simple meat or fish dish can be included in mealtime menus, but will not be part of the recipes taught. All dishes taught are inspired by Provençal and regional Italian cuisine, as well as our own creative seasonal additions.

Please scroll down for information on the school, teachers, what's included, prices and payment, etc.

For more information on specific workshops, as well as for bookings, please contact Giuseppina or Terresa.



The Venice in Provence cooking school is located in the village of Goult. Perched on the top of the hill, it offers a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains and villages. It comes complete with an authentic Provençal garden and meandering olive grove. Goult is a charming village situated between Gordes, Menerbes and Bonnieux, in the centre of what is known as the “Golden Triangle.”

A bit off the beaten path, it has managed to preserve its authentic village life. The Café de la Poste, just off the town square, is where locals and visitors alike meet. English newsprint is on sale inside. The main street, rue de la Republique, is lined with small boutiques: a brocante, wine shop, corner food store, butcher, baker…

I'll be teaching these workshops with Giuseppina Mabilia, at her cooking school in Goult. Here's a bit about her, in her own words :

"I was born near Venice: my roots, my culture, everything I am comes from there. I stumbled on Provence some years ago, fell in love with the land and I decided to stay. That brought on a real change to my life.
My greatest passion has always been cooking. One day someone asked if I could cook for them during their holidays. That’s how my story began. Today I'm a well-known personal chef in the Luberon and I’d love to share with you everything I’ve learned and experimented through these years: cooking delicious, elegant and tasteful recipes that highlight the gorgeous ingredients of the region with a touch of Italian lifestyle. I’m also very engaged in using local ingredients. My primary sources for food are local farmers, les marchés paysans, and what I call “my supernatural market:” wildcrafting in nature.

As for me, Terresa, I'm always on a mission to undress vegetables, which I've been doing since 2008 during my vegetable cooking classes in my cozy kitchen in Paris, where wanderlust brought me many a year ago.
If you've been following my blog, you know that for me it's all about coaxing the sublime flavors from the local produce I procure from marketplaces across the city and mingling them with other artisan ingredients—as close to their pristine selves as possible—to create delightful dishes of layered textures, savors and colors that will sing on the plate and palate. Nothing too fancy, as “down-to-earth” is my touchstone, reflected in the inspiration I draw from the inventive flare of Italy's rustic regional cuisine and its many medieval recipes that I've gleaned over the years.

Prices and payment :
— Tuition is 1850 euros per person. A 40% non-refundable deposit is required at the time of reservation. Classes are limited to 8 students. If we must cancel the program for any reason, we will refund all fees and deposits in full. Related travel costs will not be reimbursed.

— Paypal is our preferred method of payment, as it is both safe, easy to use, and allows for payment in your local currency. A request for payment will be sent to you through Paypal at the time of your registration.

What's included :
— 1 to 2 cooking classes each day.
— Outings each day (wildcrafting, farmers’ markets, artisan cheese producers, natural wine vineyards). We will have a mini-bus at our disposal for these excursions so that we can all travel together.
— All lunches and dinners except for one evening, which will be a free night for participants to do as they wish.
— Café-croissant breakfasts in the local bistrot
— Beverages (mineral water, coffee, tea, herbal tea) during the classes. Natural wine from the Luberon and Ardéche regions with all meals, specifically chosen for each menu.
— Recipes from the classes in PDF form, list of the wines and related links, as well as any information gleaned throughout the week to be sent in a follow-up email to the class.
— Pick up and drop off at the Avignon TGV train station if coming by train from Paris. There will be one pick up and drop off scheduled for each workshop (train information sent upon reservation).
— For those arriving on earlier or later trains, there is bus service from the TGV station to Goult. Tickets are 2 euros (bus information and schedule sent upon request), with pick up at the bus stop in Goult.
— For those preferring to rent a car, there are rental agencies at the TGV train station, as well (driving directions to the cooking school sent upon request).

What’s not included
— Train tickets to the Avignon TGV train station.
— Lodging for the week. Upon reservation, a list of accommodations in the village (B&Bs, hotels, small apartments) will be sent to you, as well as any further information needed to help make booking as simple as possible.

Legal liability
— Students must sign a legal waiver (standard to the industry) upon arrival freeing Giuseppina, Terresa and their staff from any legal liability. We assume no liability for injury, delay, inconvenience, irregularity, loss or damage to person or property or additional cost resulting directly or indirectly from the following causes: fire, acts of government, thefts, delays, cancellations or for any other events over which we have no control.
— No refunds will be given for any excursions or meals a participant misses or decides not to take.

Travel Insurance
:
— We recommend that you purchase separate travel insurance in the event you must cancel your trip, as well as accident and health insurance, baggage and personal effects loss or damage.




6/19/14

wedding fare en Haute Provence

Just back from a wedding en Haute Provence. Weather like you might dream of. Landscape like you might dream of. Love like you might dream of. Old friends, new friends like you might dream of. Bref... a precious celebration of the union of two dear souls.

I arrived, of course, with bags full of kitchen goods and ingredients that were met by crates of freshly picked vegetables from a neighboring farm, and spent a delightful day cooking up many a savory nibble for the reception feast. And this with the indispensable help of a wonderful group of jolly women, hands eager to the tasks I administered—hopefully with gentle sway.

There were mounds of almonds to be blanched, mounds of beet greens to be wilted, mounds of cherry tomatoes to be cut in half, mounds of carrots and zucchini to be diced, mounds of walnuts to be cracked, mounds of garlic to be chopped, mounds of Borlotto beans from Basilicata to be soaked and slowly cooked, mounds of fresh herbs to be leafed, mounds of flour to be rubbed with olive oil, kneaded into a fine dough and rolled out into even finer sheets. Polenta to be stirred and stirred and stirred, Parmigiano-Reggiano to be grated, and so on... 

Last to be called to life was focaccia, which had to be cooked in an oven a few paces up the road just as the guests were arriving from the wedding ceremony. By the time I returned with the first pipping-hot batch, most everything else had literally been inhaled. I'd planned on photographing for posterity the many dishes... In the end I managed snapping a few shots of les restes (the leftovers). Actually I found quite titillating to the eye the concluding haphazard arrangement of the plates and bowls of much devoured nibbles.

I promised to send the gals who rolled up their sleeves with me in the kitchen the various recipes we spun into existence. Thought I'd share them here with you, as well.

recipes in previous posts :

recipes down below :
fresh shell bean salad  ::   polenta squares w/ zucchini-lemon chutney


A word about the Borlotti (also known as cranberry) beans I cooked up. Alessandra, a dear woman with a heart of gold and as generous as is her passion for all things truly earthen, owns and runs a tiny Italian boutique—the type you'd stumble into in an off-the-beaten-path village anywhere in Italy—RAP Paris, stocked from floor to ceiling with the most delectable artisan fare from every region, nook and cranny in that gastronomic country (read David Lebovitz's post on her store.... I took him there one day to indulge in her vision and offerings).

L'épicerie RAP is just down the hill from Montmartre in the 9th arrondissement, and as I was in search of fresh shell beans for my spring/summer wedding salad, I paid her a visit thinking she might have a tip or two as to where I could find a few kilos—it not yet quite being shell-bean season. Alas, she could point me nowhere, but, it so happens, she did have a producer from Basilicata who had recently contacted her and was sending her off a few kilos of lovingly dried fagiolo borlotto from last year's harvest, still plump with moisture, and in tow a small bag of fagiolo tondino nero, a compact black heirloom bean bursting with flavor. If they arrived in time, she wanted me to take them down south the following week and test them for her. Well they did arrive on time, and I did take them down south, and I did test them for her, and they were absolutely marvelous. So fresh in their dried form that not one bean fell apart during cooking—which I did at a "heat-diffused" simmer and yet which took no time at all: the fresher the dried bean, the more moisture it contains, and the quicker it cooks—tout simplement.

The salad was of course a great success, each bean giving a burst of crunchy texture and creamy depth. I thank Alessandra from the bottom of my heart for her lovely gift!
 

FRESH SHELL-BEAN SALAD — serves 6 to 8

700 | 25 oz fresh shell beans, in shell : Borlotti, Michelet, Paimpol, or other… (or 400 gr | 14 oz dried beans)
1 FRESH bay leaf
1 garlic clove, slightly crushed
1 lemon
4 – 5 sprigs flat parsley
20 cherry tomatoes
1 celery heart, with light green leaves
1 small red onion
1 - 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves
Unrefined coarse and fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings for garnish

|||  Shuck the beans (best to soak in cold water for 4 – 6 hours). Drain and place in a large pan with water to cover by 3 cm | 1 inch. Add the garlic clove and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil then cook covered over low heat, at a light simmer, until nicely al dente, 15 – 25 minutes depending on the bean. Test at 15 minutes—they should have a “crunch” to them. Remove from the heat and add a couple pinches of coarse sea salt. Let sit for a minute, test for seasoning, add a bit more salt if necessary and let sit for another minute. Drain, remove the bay leaf and garlic then transfer to a large bowl. Add a couple generous drizzles of olive oil and gently stir. Add a couple squeezes of lemon juice and gently stir again. Let cool to room temperature. (If using dried beans, soak over night. Drain, rinse and transfer to the pan with water to cover by  6 cm | 2 inches. Add the garlic clove and bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil. Cook over very low heat (even using a heat diffuser), with the lid ajar, until al dente—check the directions on the package for an idea of the cooking time, though cooking with a heat diffuser will increase the time. Let stand in their cooking water for a good 10 minutes before draining.)

|||  While the beans are cooking, zest the lemon. Chop the celery heart crosswise into thin slices, and the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Very thinly slice the red onion lengthwise. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise. Coarsely chop the parsley. Add the vegetables, lemon zest and basil leaves to the beans when cool, and gently stir. Taste for seasoning, adding a bit more salt and/or lemon juice and/or olive oil if desired. Let sit for 30 minutes for the flavors to infuse.  

|||  Garnish with Parmigiano shavings, if desired. Give a few generous twists of the black pepper grinder and serve.


POLENTA SQUARES w/ ZUCCHINI-LEMON CHUTNEY — makes approx. 50 squares

note : This recipe uses traditional, not instant, polenta. I find the texture of the cooked traditional polenta to be far superior. If using the instant stuff, follow the cooking instructions on the package.

for the polenta :
200 gr | 7 oz traditional polenta (not instant)
800 ml cold water
Generous handful Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
2.5 gr | 1/3 tsp unrefined sea salt
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 sprig fresh thyme, leafed (flowering, if in spring or early summer)

for the "chutney" :
175 gr | 6 oz Gorgonzola
1 smallish zucchini (approx 175 gr | 6 oz) cut into small dice
50 gr | 1.75 oz walnuts o|oz (best if freshly cracked), coarsely chopped
1 lemon for curlicues
1 sprig fresh thyme, leafed (flowering, if in spring or early summer)
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

|||  Scrub and dry the lemon. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest lengthwise in long strips. With a sharp paring knife, cut off any pith from the zest then slice lengthwise into very thin strips. (Feel free to use a citrus peeler.) Spread out in/on a thick- bottomed baking recipient and bake in the oven preheated to 100 ˚C (200 ˚ F), the door ajar, until the lemon strips begin to curl, 10 - 15 minutes. Shake the pan from time to time and keep a close eye… you don’t want them to begin to brown or dry out, they should remain soft. Cut each curlicue in half or thirds. (You can also cut the lemon strips the night before and just leave them spread out on a plate until morning. They will curl beautifully. Cover until ready to use later in the day. Can be kept in an airtight glass jar for 3 - 4 days.) Watch my youtube video...

|||  Bring the 800 ml of cold water to a boil in a covered pan. Add the coarse sea salt and a slight drizzle of olive oil. Add the polenta in a slow, continuous stream, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent lumps from forming. When the polenta returns to a boil, turn the heat to VERY low (best to use a heat diffuser over a small flame) and cook uncovered for 40 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to keep a crust from forming on top, but avoid scraping up the bottom of the pan. If the polenta becomes too dry, add a small glass of hot water. At the end, add a drizzle of olive oil, the lemon zest, thyme leaves, and a generous handful of grated Parmigiano, if using. Stir well.

|||  Line the large jelly roll pans (two should be enough) you'll be using for the polenta with parchment paper, brushing a smidge of olive oil underneath the paper to hold it in place. Pour in enough hot polenta to attain a heighth of 1 cm / 1/4 inch when spread out evenly—best done by brushing the top with olive oil. Set aside to cool for a good couple of hours, even over night in the refrigerator, just take out 2 hours before continuing the recipe.

|||  Turn on the oven broiler.
|||  Cut into 3,5-cm | 1.5-inch squares (a pizza cutter makes this step easy). Place a knob of Gorgonzola in the center of each square.  Top with a four-finger pinch of the zucchini “chutney.” Broil on an oven rack placed 7 cm | 6 – 8 inches from the broiler, until the Gorgonzola is melting and the chutney golden-tipped, 5 – 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and season immediately with sea salt to taste. Let cool slightly then garnish with freshly ground black pepper, and perhaps a tiny pinch of sea salt, before serving.



5/19/14

time for tops : spring green tops

If there's a time for tops—green tops : beet, turnip, radish, carrot and the like tops—it is spring ! The producers I frequent at my favorite marketplaces always see me coming and fill my bag with top from the fresh bunches of turnips, beets, etc. that most of their clients ask then to chop off. Into the trash they normally go—such a shame—when I am dearly fond of them ! So out of the trash they come and home with me to become erbazzone, soup, pesto... The very baby ones might get tossed into a salad.

Most recently I've been making something called rocciata, which I discovered while visiting a friend in Umbria. This traditional rustic recipe comes in two flavors: sweet and savory (both easily vegan). I'm sharing the savory one with you today; next week the sweet one. All rolled up inside a tender pastry dough, your spring green tops are right at home.

I find the concentrated taste of all those chlorophyll filled greens are wonderfully accompanied by a nice natural rosé wine, such as Jean-François Chéné's (la Coulée d'Ambrosia) Panier de fruits or Jean-Luc and Isabelle's (Domaine Jolly-Ferriol) Joly Rosé.

I recently read this article by Dan Barber, co-owner of Blue Hill, in the opinion pages of the NYTimes about "engaging in the nuts and bolts of true agricultural sustainability." Quite generous, eye-opening, humbling and inspiring...


ROCIATTA con l'ERBE – 4 to 8 persons
an adaptation...

dough :
200 gr unbleached pastry flour (or a mixture or unbleached and wholewheat)
45 ml extra virgin olive oil
100 ml warm water
10 gr Parmigiano, freshly grated (optional)

filling :
500 gr greens (any and all tops, Swiss chard, spinach, tender kale, dandelion, mustard... make up a seasonal mixture if you like)
1 lemon for zest
3 - 4 sprigs flat parsley, coarsely chopped
2 sprigs fresh mint, coarsely chopped (or wild fennel, cilantro, or whatever else might be in season and inspires you)
20 gr Parmigiano, freshly grated (optional)
1 small garlic clove (optional), cut in half, the sprout removed and coarsely chopped
Tiny pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional) 
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt

|||  Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Add the Parmigiano, if using. Work the olive oil into the flour mixture. Add the warm water and stir to combine. (if not using Parmigiano, start with a bit less water, say 90 ml). The dough should be just shy of sticky. Pour out onto a floured surface and knead for a couple three minutes, until the dough is pliable and bounces back when you press your finger into it. Cover with a glass bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.

|||  Wash your greens and shake them off a bit. Transfer to a large skillet, add a splash of water if needed—just enough to wet the bottom of the skillet. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until just wilted, 2 - 4 minutes, depending on the green, and turning the whole bunch once. (You'll probably need to do this in two batches.) Transfer to a calendar to drain then spread out to cool. When cool enough squeeze out any excess water and chop finely. (I never throw the drained or squeezed cooking water out... make for a great glass of "water" if you're thirsty, or as part of a broth.)

|||  Preheat the oven to 180 ˚C (375 ˚F).
Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in the skillet used for wilting the greens, rinsed out and dried. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes if using. Add the greens and cook over medium heat for a minute. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano, if using, parsley, herbs, and a generous pinch of lemon zest. (If not using Parmigiano, add a good drizzle of olive oil to the mixture.)
Season with sea salt to taste. Stir to combine. Set aside.

|||  Give the dough a couple kneads on a floured surface then roll out into a rectangle quite thin. (You can also cut the dough in half and make two rolls.) Spread the filling evenly over the surface, keeping it a bit in from the side edges and from one end. Gently roll up (not too tightly) keeping the overlapping end underneath. Pinch the side edges together and place the roll on a baking sheet (lined with a piece of parchment paper if you wish). Bake in the oven for approx 25 minutes, until turning lightly golden.

|||  Let cool before slicing up. Garnish with freshly ground pepper. Pour a glass of natural rosé wine and enjoy !