Figue Mediterranean’s Italian Cooking Class

Figue Mediterranean

lente 25

It is said, the Mediterranean Ends

Where the Greeks stopped planting Olive Trees.

Figue, Where the Olive Trees End

and the Tradition lives on!

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The menu of Figue is the story of the Mediterranean. It is the shared history of conquest, immigration and exploration, each wave bringing far off ingredients, cooking techniques and a cultural melding of the peoples. Savor sensations inspired by the ancient Romans who shared the art of salting and curing meats and fish, to the Moors who spread the habit of sharing many small dishes to the modern cuisines of France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Greece and the Middle East. Each culture shared their knowledge, wisdom and cultural preferences to create the world’s first fusion cuisine.

Today’s class is focusing on Italy and Italian inspired cuisine.  The traditions of antipasti, which translates to “before the meal’, and primi piatti have their origins in Italy’s long and colorful history.  Waves of invasion spanned over 3,000 years with the Greeks, Etruscans and Arabs all leaving their indelible mark on Italy. The Greeks brought wheat and olive trees.  They showed Italians how to make wine and honey and introduced spit roasting.  The Etruscans brought early forms of polenta and the Arab Moors brought rice, nuts, saffron, flaky pastries, couscous and citrus.

The first pasta makers in southern Europe were the Greeks.  The Greek word itria is the oldest recorded word for pasta in the Mediterranean and was quickly adopted by Arabs (as itriyah) and then appeared in Spain in the 8th or 9th century known as alatria.  It appeared in the very first known Catalan cookbook written in 1324.

Pizzas originated in ancient Greece and spread throughout the Mediterranean, in particular Italy.  Prior to the discovery of the New World, almost everything we associate with a pizza today did not exist.  Pizzas were made with dough, vegetable and rarely cheese.  Tomatoes had not been discovered until the 16th century along with coffee, peppers, squashes and beans.

Northern Italy is well irrigated, lush and fairly prosperous.  Creams, eggs, butter, prosciutto, Parmesan, pancetta, balsamic, gorgonzola, basil, Umbrian olive oil, beef, truffles and other ingredients abound.  Southern Italy is more rugged and poor.  Crushed red pepper appears in the food because in former times the price of black pepper skyrocketed and the industrious Southerners substituted red pepper flakes.  Pasta, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes reign.

A very, very short history of some ingredients we are using today:

Anchovies:

Anchovies have been an important part of cooking since the days of the Greeks and Romans.  Anchovies were the key ingredient in Garum, an early forerunner to Anchoiade.  Anchoiade, Bagna Cauda, Pissaladière, and Pissalat (an anchovy seasoning) are among the more popular uses.

Cherries:

Cherries originated in Asia and became well loved by the ancient Greeks first appearing in print in 300 BC in the writings of Theophrastus.  By the first century AD, Pliny the Elder had listed eight different varieties under cultivation, some grown in the far off parts of the Roman Empire like Britain.

Fennel:

Fennel has been a common ingredient in Gaul long before the Romans came.  Every bit of fennel is used, the seeds as a seasoning, leaves are added to a salad, the bulb cooked in a variety of vegetable preparations and the stalks are dried and used as a fuel to cook whole fish over.

Garlic:

Garlic figures prominently into the palates of Provence and Southern Italy because of both their early influences from the Greeks. As one of the more popular uses for garlic in Provence, Aioli (Ail means garlic; Oli means oil) has to stand out as the favorite.  It is sometimes referred to as the butter of Provence.  Other popular dishes include: Aigo Boulido (garlic soup), Rouille (the rust colored sauce for Bouillabaisse) and roasted Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic.

Olives and Olive Oil:                   

The Greeks spread olive all over the Mediterranean.  Highly flavorful oils are saved for raw dishes and as a last minute seasoning while second and third pressings are used for cooking.

Peppers:                  

Christopher Columbus’s journal gives us the first mentions of chilies.  The Spanish and Portuguese brought it back to the old world. Europeans didn’t care for it as much as the Asians, Africans and Arabians. The Abbé J. F. Rozier’s “Cours complet d’agriculture”, published in the late 1700’s, says that it was the usual breakfast of people in Provence.

Pistachio:

Pistachios are native to Western Asia and the Levant between Turkey and Afghanistan.  The earliest traces of pistachios being eaten is 7,000 BC in Turkey, and cultivated and introduced into Europe by the Romans in 1st century AD. 

Polenta:

Polenta’s name was originally derived from the Roman staple puls, or pulmentum. Pulmentum also was the Roman’s soldiers’ primary food.  The soldiers were issued grain which they toasted on hot stones and either made into a porridge or baked into crude breads.

Polenta was originally made from millet, spelt or chickpeas, only when corn came from the New World in the 1600’s did polenta’s turn into a cornmeal porridge we know and love.

Saffron:

Saffron has been an important spice in cooking since the days of the Romans.  Saffron growing came to Europe from the Moors occupying Spain in the 8th thru 10th centuries. The French began growing saffron in the 14th century in the Comtat Venaisson.  It contributed greatly to the increase in wealth in that region.  Saffron was believed to lengthen your life. At the Papal Court in Avignon, saffron was added to many of their dishes. Tripe simmered in saffron was very popular in Aix and Marseilles.  Saffron remains an important ingredient in Provencal cooking, mainly appearing in Bouillabaisse, Rouille and other regional dishes.  Other typical uses in the Mediterranean include Paella (Spain), Tagine (Morocco), Shish-Kebobs (Oriental), and many other dishes. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. It is the dried stigma of crocus flowers. Each flower produces just three strands of saffron.

Silk Road:

The Silk Road was a series of paths and trade routes connecting the Mediterranean to Eastern Asia.  The famous camel routes brought cinnamon, nutmeg and other fantastic flavors into the Mediterranean melting pot. 

Tomatoes:

Tomatoes, while originally from Mexico and Central America, have figured very prominently in the cuisine of the Mediterranean since the 16th  century.  It was by the way of Naples, a Spanish possession, that the tomato entered Italian cuisine.  Tomatoes reached Provence via Genoa and Nice.  It came just in time, for the traditional produce of the South of France were going through a crisis.  Tomatoes are so associated with Provencal cooking that it is hard to imagine what they ate prior to the tomatoes arrival in France.  They are stuffed, air cured (an old Provençal method of preservation), used in Ratatouille, made into sauces, roasted with sweetmeats and served as desserts.

1

Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Piquillo Sorbet, Parmesan Tuile

Chef François de Mélogue

Figue Mediterranean Restaurant

 

Ingredients for Four Servings

1 small                         Watermelon, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick, cut into circles

1 each                         Yellow Tomatoes, peeled, sliced ½ inch thick, cut into circles

1 each                         Red Tomatoes, peeled, sliced ½ inch thick, cut into circles

1 each                         Green or Black Tomatoes, sliced ½ inch thick, cut into circles

2 T.                               fruity Olive Oil

1 T.                               Balsamic Vinegar

1 c.                              Reggiano Parmesan, finely grated

Piquillo Sorbet

1 T.                               Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 each                         Shallots, rough sliced

28 oz. can                  Piquillo Peppers

1 cup                           Simple Syrup

1 t.                               Fleur de Sel

1 T.                               Aleppo Pepper, or Espelette Pepper

1 each                         Lemon, juiced and zested

1 T.                               fresh Thyme, chopped

 

Mise en Place (before your party)

 

  1. Sauté shallots in olive oil.
  2. Mix shallots, Piquillo peppers, simple syrup, fleur de sel, Aleppo pepper, lemon juice and fresh thyme and puree in a blender.
  3. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Reserve.
  4. Put small mounds of parmesan on a sil baking sheet and bake till melted, bubbly and lightly brown.  Let cool for a few seconds, then pick up and lay over a wine bottle.  Allow to cool fully retaining a rounded tile shape.
  5. Cut watermelon and tomatoes.
  6. Arrange tomato and watermelon circles on chilled plates.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill till you are ready to eat.

 

Fire (when your guests are seated)

Drizzle with fruity olive oil, balsamic vinegar and season with fleur de sel and black pepper.  Put a scoop of pipérade sorbet in the center and top with a parmesan tuile.

Chef Notes

Nature is the perfect Chef. Things that grow in the same region, in the same season tend to go well together, especially fruits.  The watermelon and tomato combo may sound odd but it will be an epicurean epiphany once you try it.  It is so refreshing and easy to make and perfect for your next Desert dinner party.

Try adding fresh mozzarella and basil or creamy Feta cheese.  They go amazingly well with watermelon and tomato.  Next time you make gazpacho add watermelon!

Wine Notes

Dry rosés pair unusually well with summer produce. Rosés usually have wonderful watermelon flavors that do nothing but complement the flavors in the salad.  I would suggest a more robust rosé or perhaps a chilled light bodied red wine, such as a Gamay Noir.

 2

Gauzzetto of Wild Salmon, Mussels and Shrimp

Light Tuscan Seafood Stew

Chef François de Mélogue

Figue Mediterranean Restaurant

 

Ingredients for Four Servings

2 oz.                             Olive Oil

2 medium                    Carrots, peeled, sliced

1 each                         Leek, cleaned, diced

1 rib                             Celery, peeled, diced

2 cloves                       Garlic, mashed

Pinch                           Saffron

2 t.                               fresh Thyme Leaves

1 T.                               Flour

1 c.                              White Wine

4 cups                          Fish Stock

1 each                         Tomato, diced

½ c.                             Tomato Sauce

Four – 4 oz. pieces        Wild Salmon

24 each                       Mussels

12 each                       Shrimp

4 sliced                        Crostini

1 T.                               chopped Parsley

Mise en Place (before your party)

 

  1. Sauté carrots, leeks and celery in olive oil for about five minutes, or until tender.
  2. Add garlic and saffron and continue cooking till the aroma permeates the air and causes you to drool.
  3. Sprinkle flour and thyme and stir into vegetables.
  4. Deglaze with white wine and fish stock.  Bring to a boil and let simmer.
  5. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Check seasoning.  Chill.  Reserve.

Fire (when your guests are seated)

Bring Gauzzetto to a boil.  Add seafood.  Cook about five minutes, or until seafood is cooked.  Spoon into four warmed bowls, garnish with chopped parsley and a crostini then enjoy!

Chef Notes

Leave the flour out if you are gluten intolerant.  The flour simply adds a bit of body.  Try adding a touch of chopped anchovy instead of salt.  The anchovies give it a more authentic flavor.  Try finishing with a splash of brandy.  Most importantly, use whatever seafood is absolutely freshest.  Remember recipes are simply guidelines rather than firm unbendable laws.  Cooking for family and friends is one of the best ways to express love and friendship.

‘Whoever receives friends and does not participate

in the preparation of their meal does not deserve to have friends.’

 

– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Wine Notes

 

Ah, the age old question, white or red with fish?  Old wisdom would dictate a white but I think a light bodied red would work as well.  For white wines I would suggest a Viognier, Gewurztraminer or any other white varietal that has a touch of residual sugar to counterbalance the acidity in tomatoes and spice in the broth.  For reds, try a light Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sangiovese or Grenache.  Salmon and Pinot is always a fantastic combination.  If you can’t decide then default to Champagne.  Champagne goes with everything!

3 

Pistachio, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake

Vanilla Ice Cream, Silk Road Cherries

Chef François de Mélogue

Figue Mediterranean Restaurant

 

 

 

Ingredients for Four Servings

50 grams                      fine Polenta

200 grams                    ground Pistachios

50 grams                      Flour

1 t.                               Baking Powder

125 ml.                         Extra Virgin Olive Oil

100 grams                    Butter, melted and cooled

3 each                         Eggs

200 grams                    Sugar

1 each                         Lemon, zested

1 each                         Orange, juiced

Silk Road Cherries

 

250 grams                    Cherries, pitted

25 grams                      Butter

75 grams                      Sugar

25 grams                      Pistachios, ground

1 stick                           Cinnamon

Pinch                           Nutmeg

1each                          Vanilla Bean, split and scraped

 

Mise en Place (before your party)

 

  1. Mix polenta, pistachio flour, flour and baking powder together.
  2. Mix extra virgin olive oil and melted butter.
  3. Beat eggs and sugar till pale.
  4. Mix eggs into olive oil.
  5. Add wet to dry.
  6. Add lemon zest and orange juice.
  7. Butter and paper four – 4 ounce ramekins.
  8. Pour batter in and bake at 300 degrees till done, about ten minutes.  Reserve.
  9. Melt sugar and butter together.  Cook to light caramel.
  10. Add spices, vanilla, pistachio and cherries.  Cook till liquid again. Reserve.

 

Fire (when your guests are seated)

Unmold a pistachio cake unto a ten inch plate.  Top with cherries, drizzle sauce around and garnish with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chef Notes

 

You will have extra everything in this recipe.  It is so good you probably won’t mind that fact.  The batter for the pistachio cakes is better made one or two days ahead.

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