Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category
One of the things I assumed I would miss most when switching careers from journalist to cooking school owner was meeting interesting characters and walking into scenes you never dreamed you’d find yourself in, like walking up the steps of City Hall and interviewing Mayor Ed Koch during an election bid in 1981 at the ripe old age of 18.
But over the last two years, I realized my fears were completely and delightfully unfounded. If you really love to cook you can end up doing the same kind of research and probing as any journalist – you should see my library of cookbooks and magazine clippings! Now, instead of hunting down subjects for a story, I’m hunting down ingredients and sharing recipes with people, from farmer’s markets to subway platforms. People always have a recipe to share, just like they had great leads to tell me in the past.
Of course you probably wonder how this relates to recipes and cooking, so I’ll step off memory lane and get to the point. Recently we started a new series of cooking classes called Spice Market, where we teach how to blend spices and herbs for exotic cuisines. Our first class took us to India, Morocco and Turkey, and we had to learn about ingredients even we rarely, if ever, used before, like asafoetida, preserved lemons and rosewater. Where do you get such ingredients? Some you can make yourself (come back soon and you’ll see a post on preserved lemons), but others, like rosewater, you may have to hunt for.
I googled preserved lemons and rosewater and was lucky enough to find a store called Sayad International specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, not far from our house. The store was filled with exotically flavored ingredients, such as pickled wild cucumbers, Moroccan sardines, and dried hibiscus flowers. The store, which smells like Persian tea, dried fruits and spices was cramped and dark but full of discoveries. It’s the kind of place you say, “I hope I remember this place next time I’m looking for [blank].” I can’t imagine we’d ever need Moroccan sardines, but I was thrilled to know that I wouldn’t have to travel long distances (or pay high shipping charges) if I did.
We’ve all passed over recipes because we don’t want to deal with finding a weird ingredient or an odd kitchen gizmo. Take these moments as opportunities for adventure. You can always order these things online, but your life will be so much richer if you jump in the car and track them down yourselves.
In honor of these adventures, I’m going to share a recipe inspired by the research I did for our first Spice Market class. The rosewater and mint really makes the watermelon come alive, and it’s the perfect, refreshing way to end a highly flavorful meal. So bring this tiny adventure into your home, and try to find mini food adventures where you live. You are almost guaranteed to have a great story to tell and maybe even a new recipe when you return.
My roommate this year had a pair of purple Crocs that followed me everywhere. If I was at my desk, the Crocs were underneath, if I was by my bed, they were under my ladder, and if I was walking across the floor, I could be sure that the Crocs would be right smack dab in the middle. I think most people would be annoyed, or creeped out, if a pair of shoes were stalking them. But I’m a big believer in fate (one day I’ll tell you the story of how my parents met, and you’ll understand), so I knew it must be a sign of… something.
So it made perfect sense when, in March, I got an email from John Moore, who works with none other than Mario Batali, asking me to write a post on one of Mario’s recipes. At the time I was still in New York – so close to Eataly but so far from my kitchen – but I hurriedly immersed myself in the vibrant Babbo Cookbook so I could get cooking as soon as I got home.
Picking a recipe was next to impossible. Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Orange and Fennel Pollen sounded so decadent, but then again homemade Gnocchi with Oxtail Ragù was reminiscent of the first meal I ate out in New York. I read about Duck with Chicory, Preserved Lemons and Kumquat Vinaigrette, Asparagus Vinaigrette with Black Pepper Pecorino Zabaglione, and even a Saffron Panna Cotta that sounded perfectly indulgent. It wasn’t actually until I got home that I could even make a decision. But when late May came around, and the sun began to shine, and the thermometer hit 90, and I got out my shorts and skirts and began to spend my days building fairy houses in the backyard with Francesca and Isabella, the answer was clear. “This weather clearly calls for a Peach Crostata with Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if Mario has a recipe for anything like that…”
And you can imagine my utter shock when Mario had a recipe for exactly that…
(Just kidding) (I fudged the details of that story a bit)
I ran out to pick up some beautiful Georgia peaches, turned on Andrea Bocelli Radio (which is the only thing you can listen to while making Italian food, or really just while making food) and got to work baking. And I should warn you – making all the parts of this recipe will take you a good part of the day. But I can promise that it is ridiculously worth it. And even if you can’t, for example, make the gelato because you haven’t got the time (or the gelato maker), please make the Crostata. It is the perfect Italian twist on Peach Pie (or to use Mario’s words, what happened when “the perfect summer pie happened to take a little ride uptown”) and it brings summer wherever you are.
I began a bit scared because I have very little experience in tart doughs. But this one, to my shock, took about 10 minutes, and it smells and tastes, like an amazing cookie. I kept on calling my family over to smell it while I was making it. Which is a weird thing to do with a tart dough. But it really smelled that good. And, in fact, I actually made cookies out of the extra dough, and filled them with spekuloos (although in the spirit of Italy, I’d actually recommend using Nutella instead). They’re a bit tougher in texture than the tart shell, since you have to knead them and roll them out again, but it’s so much better than letting the dough go to waste.
There are just a few important things to remember. First of all, freeze your butter after you dice it so that your crust will be nice and flaky. It’ll only take a few minutes, but it makes a big difference. Second of all, if your refrigerator has a tendency to freeze things, as ours did the day I made this, then only chill the dough for three-four hours, rather than overnight, so it doesn’t have a chance to freeze. Otherwise you will have a very interesting time trying to roll it out. If it does for some reason, freeze, you have little choice but to let it thaw a bit, so just be careful to make sure the thawed dough doesn’t stick to your work surface. Put down a little flour underneath when you roll it out, but if it does still stick, carefully run the blunt end of a chef’s knife underneath the dough to separate it from the countertop. Then just pick it by draping it over your rolling pin, and lay in the tart pan.
With the crust behind me I moved on to the filling and the gelato. Everything went off delightfully without a hitch. The almond filling is about as simple as a buttercream (and the process is very similar), and the peaches just need to be tossed with a few things to accentuate their flavor and texture. And as for the gelato, just remember – making gelato is quite a bit like making a creme brulée, or a creme anglaise – it’s very important to temper your eggs by whisking in a little bit (1/3 cup or so) of your cream, before slowly pouring the yolks into the cream, whisking all the while. That’s the best way to avoid fancy scrambled eggs (unless you like that kind of thing). But that’s the hardest part of the recipe, and it’s really not as scary as it sounds. Then just freeze the gelato in a better gelato maker than my $30 disaster (there are horror stories, but you don’t need to hear them… they involve cursing and a kitchenaid), and you’re done!
I hate to say it, but I always expect to have to change something when I use a restaurant cookbook, because professionals often don’t measure when they cook, making their recipes difficult to transcribe. So you can imagine my actual surprise (as distinct from the fake surprise of before) when everything came out the first time, without editing anything. This recipe translates beautifully from restaurant kitchen to home kitchen, which I think is one of it’s chief successes. The other thing I love, is that while there are many steps, none of them are too difficult, which perfectly illustrates the Fig philosophy, that a recipe doesn’t need to involve ridiculous techniques and liquid nitrogen to be absolutely perfect. The essence of good cuisine lies in knowing the best way to accentuate an ingredient, or in understanding how to blend flavors, which this recipe does perfectly. So whether your summer is here, or right around the corner, this Crostata is the perfect way to welcome it in. Serve it warm, or chilled, with a scoop of gelato and a drizzle of honey butter. Put on your favorite pair of Crocs, turn up Andrea Bocelli, and love your life. If you can get local fruit, even better – I can’t wait to make this after the first time I go peach picking. But even if you can’t, this quintessential, sophisticated summer dessert is tutto delicioso e tutto perfetto. Buon Appetito!
Peach Crostata with Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato
Reprinted with permission from Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook
1 recipe Tart Dough (see below), chilled
1 1/2 cups blanched, sliced, almonds
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched, sliced Almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 medium ripe peaches
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 pints Honey Vanilla Gelato (see below)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Roll the chilled Tart Dough into a 12-inch circle, large enough to line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough into the sides and trim the top so that the dough is flush with the tart pan. Place the pastry shell in the refrigerator and chill until completely firm, about 30 minutes.
- To make the filling: spread the almonds evenly on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Allow to cool completely, then place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not powdery.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and the confectioners’ sugar until very smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla and the salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Thoroughly beat in the ground almonds. Set aside.
- To make the streusel: Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Place the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the melted butter and pulse to form pea-size crumbs. Spread the streusel out onto a cookie sheet and chill briefly.
- Peel the peaches and cut into 1/4-inch wedges. In a large bowl, toss the peach wedges with the lemon juice, vanilla, flour and sugar. Spread enough of the almond filling on the bottom of the tart to completely cover it, and arrange the peach slices densely on top. Sprinkle the streusel crumbs over the tart. Place the tart on a baking sheet to catch any juices and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust and streusel are nicely browned and the juices are bubbling. Allow to cool completely before removing the tart from the pan.
- To make the honey butter: In a small saucepan, combine the honey and the insides of the split vanilla bean. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the hone is reduced by 2 thirds. Whisk in the butter until it is completely incorporated.
- Serve with a scoop of the Honey Vanilla Gelato and drizzle with the honey butter.
2 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small cubes
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons heavy cream
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and orange zest. Add hte cold butter cubes and toss lightly to coat. Pulse until the butter is the size of small peas.
In a separate bowl, combine the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and heavy cream, and add it to the flour-butter mixture. Pulse to moisten the dough, then pulse until it begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of heavy cream. Shape into a small disk, wrap, and chill thoroughly for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
9 egg yolks (*note from Gabrielle – save the whites, we’re going to do something with them in an upcoming post)
1/2 cup honey
pinch of kosher salt
2 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 plump vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons sugar
- Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk together with the honey and salt.
- Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the milk and cream come to a rolling boil, quickly whisk some of the boiling milk into the egg yolk mixture, then return the egg yolk mixture back tot he pot. Whisk well to combine the rest of the milk with the egg yolk mixture. Strain through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer and save the vanilla bean for future use.
- Chill the custard completely, then freeze in a gelato maker according the the manufacturer’s instructions.
As a cooking instructor, I love Ballymaloe for their genius educational philosophy, for their respect for the environment, and for the care they put into each aspect of a meal. But, as we all know, none of that means much if the food isn’t good.
But of course, the food at Ballymaloe is incredible. The recipes were cleverly divided into clusters, each centered on a core ingredient. For example, Rory created many dishes based on Irish Smoked Salmon.
First, he paired it with sweet cucumber salad, potato wafers (fresh chips), and horseradish cream…
…then he made a Salmon Roulade with cream cheese and dill…
…and finally a beautiful Salmon-Trout Pâté.
For our main course, he made a breathtaking Pork en Croute (tenderloin in puff pastry) with Duxelle (mushroom) stuffing. He served this with a simple but delicious brambley apple sauce and gratin dauphinoise, a spectacular and versatile potato gratin which is cooked almost completely in cream and milk in a saucepan and then baked for only 10-15 minutes. It was just amazing. I can’t wait to make it myself!
Dessert was the most spectacular part of the meal. Here, Rory used ice cream as his core ingredient. He made several, including chocolate, cappuccino, coffee, vanilla and praline flavors. And being a genius food stylist as well as chef, he came up with endless plating styles!
He made parfaits with hot chocolate sauce, an ice cream bombe made with coffee, chocolate and praline ice cream…
… and cappuccino ice cream served with chocolate curls in beautiful coffee cups…
… but the best things he made, without a doubt, were the iced chocolate oranges. This recipe is simple brilliance at its finest. He simply hollowed an orange, filled it with mousse, froze it and garnished with orange flavored cream and a tiny bay leaf. So beautiful, so delicious.
In three short hours, Rory even taught us how to delicately make tiny chocolate cases. It takes a lot of patience, but other than that all you need is cupcake wrappers, melted chocolate (50-70% cocoa) at room temperature and a spoon. You carefully spread the chocolate along the sides of the paper, taking great caution to spread the chocolate evenly in a thin layer. Refrigerate for at least an hour and then gently peel the paper away.
Expect some to crumble your hand – Rory says a few always will, its just the nature of this delicious beast – but it is thoroughly worth the effort. Here they are, filled with amazing chocolate ice cream!
Just writing about Ballymaloe, I long to return. I’ll leave you with some other images of my day. Pictured first is the herb garden, of which Susan, a member of Darina’s cheery staff, gave me a lovely private tour as the sun was setting. The focal point of the meticulous garden is the Myrtle bush, in honor of Darina’s mother-in-law, Myrtle, the original Ballymaloe maverick. She was Alice Waters before Alice Waters was. She opened a Ballymaloe’s acclaimed restaurant a little less than 50 years ago and she insisted on changing the menu daily based on what was fresh and seasonal, which was unheard of back in 1964.
Most of these recipes can be found in the glorious food bible, Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course. Reading the book isn’t of course, as cool as being one of those lucky people who gets to spend three months in Ballymaloe heaven, but it’s a treasure of delicious, manageable recipes, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite cookbooks. Please check it out, and let us know if you decide to try anything!
Before we left for Ireland a few weeks ago, a foodie friend told me about Ballymaloe Cookery School in the tiny town of Shanagarry a short distance from the coast in County Cork. I thought it would be great way to spend an afternoon, never really expecting to have an inspirational day. But every once in a while you come across an experience that gives you perfect joy, and that is the kind of the journey I had recently at Ballymaloe.
Ireland is known for ancient castles, for mysterious stone circles dotting the Celtic countryside, and for lush green hills with sheep and picturesque houses.
But recently, Ireland has become packed with exciting restaurants and chefs promoting local, seasonal, and organic versions of traditional Irish cuisine. Yes, mushy peas still unfortunately grace pub menus, but you’re just as likely to find fresh salmon smoked by a local artisan or prawns caught just hours earlier wrapped in phyllo dough.
Mark generously offered to drive 2½ hours from our beautiful seaside house in Dingle, so I could take an afternoon class.
Fortunately there was a wonderful zoo near the school, so Mark, Isabella and Francesca were happy to let me leave.
I had my preconceived notions of what a “cookery” school would be. We’d learn the secrets of brown bread and black pudding, and there would something with bacon in it for sure! I’d leave feeling saying was a pleasant few hours…
Dead wrong. Not even a little right.
As we pulled into the narrow old gates to the Ballymaloe estate, and I entered the school, I knew instantly that I just entered Irish gastro-heaven. The aroma from lunch students just finished wafted so intoxicatingly. A beautiful clay bowl of floating flowers and a sumptuous basket of delicious fresh foccacia baked with superb black olives welcomed visitors.
Darina Allen along with her brilliant brother Rory founded Ballymaloe in 1983. Since then, they have created a nationwide movement from their sprawling estate in the Irish countryside; 400 acres of organic vegetable and herb gardens, cottages, and cow pastures. They are collectively the Alice Waters of Ireland (in fact Rory helped Waters at Chez Panisse in the ’70s).
At Ballymaloe, there is a love for the all aspects of a great meal, going beyond ingredients and encompassing the earth, the community (Darina founded the first modern day farmers markets in Ireland), and even the seasons. Darina and Rory bring respect, passion and infectious joy not only to the food, but also to each person they teach. You see so many happy people at Ballymaloe, despite the long hours they work, because they see cooking as an opportunity to share the gospel of great food.
I’m not sure many chefs or schools in the United States can boast that virtually all the ingredients are local, organic fresh and self-sustaining as much as we all believe these ideals. It helps that Ballymaloe devotes more than 100 acres, a quarter of their land, to organic gardening. There are 50 varieties of tomatoes, and every herb and root vegetable imaginable. The neighbors provide, the hens, ducks and additional produce when theirs runs out, and the fish in caught in the nearby village of Ballycotton. Students not only get to experience this first hand, but learn to prepare food that is very well seasoned, beautiful and utterly delicious. The earth, says Darina, is an essential component of great food. She’s been preaching this for decades, long before Whole Foods made it fashionable. On day one, for example, students are introduced to Eileen and Kay, the head gardeners, and Darina herself (who describes herself as an eccentric, grey-haired hippie woman on a mission) shows them a barrow full of rich soil. After running her hands through it, she tells them, “Remember, this is where it all starts, in the good earth, and if you don’t have clean fertile soil, you won’t have good food or pure food.” Then they get their first recipe; how to make compost!
Their teaching method is very clever. The professional students watch a three-hour demonstration every afternoon, which is the class I took. Afterwards, there is a tasting so they know what how each dish should taste and students get ideas for presentation. The next morning, they cook the same exact menu and at lunchtime everyone (students and instructors) has a family meal and enjoys the fruits of their hard work.
Perhaps the real reason I fell so in love with this place is that their philosophy about food is so similar to my own. No foams, weird vapors or dumb food combinations. I can’t stand it when chefs offer things like fried watermelon with wilted dandelion greens. (I’m serious. I had this once at a restaurant considered one of the best in the country. It was of, course, dreadful). The food prepared here is innovative, delicious and beautiful, but doesn’t involve Herculean effort to prepare. And of course, it was perfectly seasoned. A great chef knows that the above all else, the food must be well seasoned or it won’t taste good. It seems obvious, but this makes the difference between a good meal and a great one.
The demo featured more than 20 great, clever and versatile recipes featuring fish, meats, vegetable dishes and desserts with ingredients that were perfectly fresh and beautifully presented. Stay tuned for the highlights!
The culinary world is quite confused right now. Between the organic locavore movement and the liquid nitrogen movement, it’s hard to say where food is going. Who are the true innovators? That’s a question I’d been trying to answer for weeks, especially as more and more famous chefs combine the two. But, last Friday afternoon, by sheer, last minute luck, my friend Theresa barged into my room and informed me, “There’s a French man giving a speech on food at the Maison Française at four.” And that, somewhat indirectly, is how I found the answer.
The French man in question was renowned French food author Benedict Beaugé, who was on his way to speak at the James Beard Foundation (fancy, I know). M. Beaugé has the thickest, most wonderful, most perfectly French accent I have ever heard. But while he might sound a bit, dare I say, like Inspector Jacques Clouseau, he actually has all the simple, sensible answers we need.
To understand innovation today we need to have a little history lesson. You see, the innovations today are directly connected to innovations of the past. And unsurprisingly, they all originated in France. This all began in 1651, with the publication of what Beaugé calls “the first book of French modern cuisine.” Le Cuisinier François was written by Pierre François La Varenne, as a way of departing from the “spectacular” cuisine of the Middle Ages. “People are not so fond of spices now and they try to find the real taste of the produce,” explains Beaugé of the Renaissance attitude. Food became fresher and tastier – they didn’t have to do weird things to it to make it taste edible – and so La Varenne called for chefs to highlight le goût naturel – the natural taste of the ingredients they used. Three years later, Nicolas de Bonnefons wrote Les Délices de la Campagne, a book with the same principle, meant not for the aristocracy but the bourgeoisie. “If it is cabbage soup, it must taste cabbage, when you have turnip soup, it must taste turnip, and that’s something really new,” says Beaugé. This is where the true innovation in cooking was then, and, at least as a starting point, where it is today.
While Molecular gastronomy has a place in the kitchen, it is destined to become another technique chefs use to express natural flavor. Molecular gastronomy itself is not particularly innovative. In fact, it’s really just backtracking. “it is quite similar with the cuisine of the Middle Ages or of antiquity, of the Romans, or something like that,” Beaugé says. “Really it’s much more the appearance which is important than the taste.” “I don’t think molecular gastronomy is the future of cuisine,” he continues, “it’s something which will be integrated with cuisine in a general way, as every new technique is integrated into cuisine – those of 18th century, those of 19th century. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to cook with nitrogen.”
His message is helpful and optimistic. Chefs like René Redzepi and Ferran Adrià will be the most inventive, expressing goût naturel through molecular tools, but to a degree we all have an opportunity to be innovators here. With the rise of farmers markets, and the near constant availability of fresh produce, we can all highlight our weekly finds when we cook. I’ve included these pictures from the local farmers market as inspiration. These are the flavors we want to preserve. If we want to be innovative we are so lucky, because even as home chefs we have everything we need.