I’m feelin Shawarmie: Deconstructed Lamb Saddle Shawarma, aka Lebanese Lamb Burritos

Warning: Purists will be pissed off!  This is an upscale expensive version of what commonly is a street food in the Middle East.

Warning # 2: I do not have a tower and I did not use a vertical spit…  I used my traditional spit and basted frequently.

OK, now that I have clarified things I hope to have kept the hate mail to a minimum.  I work at a great Mediterranean restaurant in the middle of Southern California’s desert called Figue.  With temperatures soaring in the mid 110’s to 120’s this time of year I got to thinking what do other hot cultures eat this time of year.  My overheated brain wandered past cool bowls of gazpacho and cucumber soups drizzled with Greek yogurt to the Middle East, specifically shawarma.  Even with the heat I still want real food… that shocked me.  I really thought this time of year I would wither away nibbling on frozen popsicles and salads.  Part of the problem is my friend and boss, Lee Morcus, owner of Figue Mediterranean, absolutely LOVES food too and we talk a lot.  We share texts about food, emails about food, face to face conversations about food. Pretty much every single time we are together food comes up. Lee has to be credited with getting me to put shawarma on the menu recently.  I can’t remember if it was his mouth drooling description of eating shawarma at some point in his life or the fact that he is of Lebanese decent and that triggered my mind.  However it came to be, here is how I have been making it lately.  I apologize to cooks who need exact recipes, this is not one of them.  The first thing is starting with high quality lamb.  We buy our from a small cooperative of farms out East called Elysian Fields.  It is a collaborative effort between former lawyer Keith Martin and Chef Thomas Keller and has often been referred to as “Kobe Lamb” because of the unsurpassable quality.  If you want to taste what lamb should taste like please visit Elysian Field’s website and find a way to get some.

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For our shawarma I used the best cut available, a saddle of lamb.  I boned it out leaving both the tenderloin and filet attached.  Then I made a paste from garlic, cilantro and ginger and spread it all over.

IMG_20130727_131019_455 IMG_20130727_131514_517I sprinkled a spice mix tentatively called “Shawarma Lamb Mix” all over the lamb and tied it up.  The spice mix was basically a mixture of black pepper, cardamon, fennel seed, cumin, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, paprika, sumac and smoked Maldon salt.

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Then I cooked our lamb in our almond wood fired rotisserie and cooked it for six hours basting it frequently with it’s own juices.  Obviously the picture below is chickens (stuffed with herbs and preserved lemons seasoned with Moroccan spices) spinning on our rotisserie…  Sexy, isn’t it?

Figue Training 36We shave the lamb off when it is fully cooked and served it on flatbread we make in house.

Baking Bread 02I top the flatbread with a sauce made from Harissa Paste and Tomatoes, cover with shaved lamb dripping in it’s cooking juices, a salad of cucumbers, red onions and heirloom tomatoes flavored with sumac and parsley and mint, then drizzled with a tahini sauce (tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper, lamb fat and shawarma spice mix)…  WOW is it good!  I sold out both Friday and Saturday nights.  Come soon to taste this dish!

Here is an incredibly bad shot from my camera phone:

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Salumi: How many Chefs have been led astray by this Book?

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Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn…  What an amazing book, absolute food porn for us Chefs and foodies alike.  The problem is two fold, first, it has me curing everything in sight.  I got five Kuni Kuni pigs from Cook Pig the other day.  I normally use them all for Porchetta but got a bug up my ass and decide to make a ton of charcuterie.  I suppose I should back up and mention that I am Chef of Figue Mediterranean in La Quinta, California…  a relatively new restaurant hopefully popping up on the national level soon.  One of the big features of our operation is a charcuterie bar reminiscent of a high end sushi bar.  The intent was always that we would make our own charcuterie but I never had much time till now.  I suppose the whole opening a restaurant thing got in the way.

Figue Training 09So today sous chef extraordinaire Alex Hernandez and myself set about curing everything in sight.  Filetto cured with Aleppo Pepper and Orange; citrus and fennel cured lonzo, pancetta, spicy guanciale and my first attempt at coppa…  I scared our sommelier Celeste because I told her that I would hang my meat in her wine box since the temperature and humidity was perfect.  I think the thought of over 100 pounds of meat hanging next to her great wine selections scared her…

 

Here are photos from the day’s work sprinkled with a few other forays into Charcuterie world:

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Lamb Mortadella made from Elysian Fields lamb…  It tastes so good!  I have been serving it with house made Fig Pickles

IMG_20130712_123929_178Truffled Veal Sausage that I featured for my Bastille Day menu…  The focus was Famous Last Meals from the Bastille.  The Marquis de Sade ate these.

IMG_20130727_160925_333 IMG_20130727_144426_338cures and a rather tattered kitchen notebook dating back to 2003

IMG_20130727_145246_158 IMG_20130727_144354_346 IMG_20130727_142702_887All in all we cured 100 pounds of freshly butchered pork.  We used the salt box method which essentially is rubbing every single crevice of meat in coarse sea salt, vacuum packing everything then letting it sit refrigerated for a few days.  The basic procedure for all whole muscle meats is the same.  What varied and will vary is the seasoning in the final curing.  Since my palate of flavors includes France, Italy Spain, Basque region, Lebanon, Greece, Morocco and anywhere else in the Mediterranean I have a lot of historical flavor combinations to pull from, not too mention the mixing of cultures.  In six weeks we will have a tasty selection of house meats for our charcuterie bar.

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Tarte Tatin: Memories of My Maman

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Tarte Tatin has been popular worldwide since its birth at Jean Tatin hotel since its creation in the late 1800’s.   Jean Tatin opened his hotel (l’Hotel Tatin) in the 1800’s.  In 1888 his two daughters Caroline and Stéphanie took over when he passed away.  Caroline managed the books while Stéphanie cooked.  From morning to night, she worked in her kitchen.  She was a great and gifted cook but not the brightest of people. Her specialty was an apple tart, served perfectly crusty, caramelized and which melted in the mouth.

The sisters were always busy during hunting season and their restaurant was exceedingly popular. One day, Stéphanie, running late because she had been flirting with a handsome hunter, rushed into the kitchen, threw the apples, butter and sugar in a pan and then rushed out to help with the other duties. The odor of caramel filled the kitchen, Stéphanie realized she’d forgotten the apple tart, but what could she do now? She decides to put the pàte brisée on top of the apples, pops the pan in the stove to brown a bit more and then turns it upside down to serve. Raves of delight emanate from the dining room. The story continues a bit from that first day. Curnonsky, the famous gastronome of the time, hears about the Tarte and declares it a marvel. Word of this new gastronomic delight reaches Paris. Maxim’s owner hears about it and he decides he must have the recipe.  He supposedly sent a cook/spy, disguised as a gardener, to Lamotte-Beuvron to discover the secret. The spy is successful, brings the recipe back to Maxim’s, and it has been on the menu of that famous restaurant ever since.  Our version features fresh California figs which currently are in season.

Figue Tarte Tatin│ Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Chef François de Mélogue

 Yield: 10” tart

ingredients:

¾ c.                Sugar

¼ c.                Butter

15                    Figs cut in half

1                      Orange, zested

1 pinch          Cinnamon

1 recipe         Tarte Tatin Dough

Directions:

In a heavy gauged pan, preferably a 10” cast iron pan, caramelize sugar and butter.  Add zested orange and cinnamon.  Arrange fig halves in pan.  Top with dough, tuck in edges around the sides and then bake in a 500˚ oven till the dough is golden brown, about ten to fifteen minutes.  Let cool slightly then flip over onto plate, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Tarte Tatin Dough

 Ingredients:

12 oz.             All Purpose Flour

¾ t.                  Salt

1 t.                   Baking Powder

½ pound       unsalted Butter

½ c.                ice cold Water

 

Directions:

Mix the flour, salt and baking powder together.  Cut the butter into small cubes and mix into the flour mixture.  You’ll know it’s mixed in correctly when it looks like coarse corn meal.  Add just enough ice cold water to make a dough.  You want to be very careful NOT to over mix the dough or else it will be tough.  Flour develops gluten which acts very similarly to a muscle.  It’s what gives our bread and pastries structure.  Let the dough rest for one full hour, or overnight.  Roll the dough out to a 12” circle.

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The True History of French Cooking: The Italian Myth of Catherine de Médicis Debunked

The True History of French Cooking
The Italian Myth of Catherine de Médicis Debunked

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Catherine de Médicis was born in 1519 to a French mother, Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne, and Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, in Florence, Italy. She was fourteen (1533) at the time she arrived in the French court of Francis I to marry Henry II, future King of France. Twelve ladies in waiting, also her age, numerous cooks, servants and the like accompanied her. The cooks and servants took care of the large group on the ship over to Marseilles and the overland trip to the Francis I court. As Esther B. Aresty states in her lovely book entitled The Exquisite Table – a History of French Cuisine, “But as far as installing cooks at the court of Francis I to serve her own needs – that would have been bringing coals to Newcastle, and unthinkable in any case with a monarch like Francis I. At that time his court was far more elegant than any court in Italy.” Historian Jean Heritier describes his court as “The foremost court in Europe.” There is no doubt that the Italian Renaissance had an effect on France. “… a French Renaissance had been in stride since the fifteenth century. True, the seeds had wafted over from Italy into France, as they had in other countries, but wherever the Renaissance took root, what matured from the semination emerged differently in each country – on canvases, in books, and in architecture.” Francis I brought great Italian artists like Da Vinci to work for him. “Francis adopted the pose of a chivalric King, the first gentleman of his kingdom, although his autocratic statecraft was imbued with a shrewd realism. His patronage of the arts was intended to augment the splendor of his court. He brought Leonardo da Vinci and other great Italian artists to France to design and ornament his châteaux. He employed Guillaume Budé in creating a royal library and in founding professorships of Greek, Latin and Hebrew, which formed the nucleus of the later Collège de France.” When Catherine arrived she was described as being unassuming and undemanding, even the Venetian ambassador labeled her as molto obediente.

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From 1547 – 1559, Catherine reigned as Queen of France. To paraphrase “The Exquisite Table”, it is the misunderstanding of a quote attributed to Michel de Montaigne (1533-92), French essayist and philosopher, which has led some scholars astray. Montaigne was a prominent figure at the court late in Catherine’s reign as Queen. He is often quoted as praising Italian cooks at her court. “One encounter with such a cook, “late in the kitchen of Cardinal Caraffia,” and spoke of that cook’s “magisterial gravity” when discussing his art, “the weighty and important considerations… (in) lofty, magnificent words, the very same we use when we discourse upon the government of an Empire.” In fact he was joking and furthermore it didn’t take place at the court but actually when he was interviewing the cook as a perspective employee. To quote Mrs. Aresty “The conversation struck Montaigne as so hilarious that he was inspired to write an essay on “how to make little things appear big.” He called it On the Vanity of Words. In 1570, when Montaigne traveled to Italy he said, “Provisions are not half so plentiful… and not near so well (prepared).”

“French cuisine had been growing in its own national direction long before Catherine de Medici came to France, and was as fully formed by 1533 as cookery and dining then allowed. At best, all national cuisines were still medieval. Forks were not in general use. Spoon and finger foods were the rule: hashes, stews, potages and meats sliced thin enough to be speared on the point of a knife to be eaten by hand, or laid on a slice of bread and swallowed in a few gulps.” To understand the style of food in vogue in the Aristocratic courts one has to look back at how it came to be. For French references we need to look at the early works of Guillaume Tirel, a.k.a. Taillevent, master Chef to Charles V (1337 – 1380). The earliest known copies of Taillevent’s book date back to 1392. The recipes were organized by ingredients and methods. Le Viander is divided into sections on meat, entrements, fish, sauces, etc. His recipe for Civé de Veau could be considered a very early version of Blanquette de Veau. In the recipe he tells his audience to roast the veal on a spit or grill without overcooking. Then cut up the pieces and cook in fat with onions, mix with stale bread boiled in beef broth and wine, add the normal range of medieval spices that were infused in verjus. Also important to note are two other French books of the same period; Menagier de Paris written for the amateur cook and Chiquart’s masterwork, Du fait de Cuisine, which is considered by scholars as “Europe’s first true cookbook”. All three of these French books were written 100 years before Catherine’s birth. All three books had influences that directly led to the development of modern French cookery. Without trying to sound too corny I have always envisioned the progress of French cooking to be like a torch being passed from one kitchen to another, throughout the generations. Each Chef adding his or her particular spin and dimension to the culinary body. French food did not make gigantic leaps from Carême to Escoffier to Bocuse to today’s crop of great Chefs. There were many small steps in between that history has overlooked.

By the time of the 1600’s, the difference in the cuisine of Italy and France was very pronounced as evident by the two major works of that period, Le Vrai Cuisinier François by François Pierre La Varenne (1615 – 1678) and Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi, cuoco secreto di papa Pio Quinto by Bartolomeo Scappi (1540 – 1570) published I believe in 1570 but was still considered the benchmark of Italian cuisine. La Varenne warned his audience “to cook just long enough” while Scappi advocated overcooking. “Scappi presented the noble Maccaronis of Italian cooking in great variety; there were no macaronis in Le Vrai Cuisinier Francois, though present in fifteenth century English cookbooks. The Italian influence was in fact felt more strongly in England, where macaroni (macrow to the English) and spicy forcemeats called “Balles of Italy” appear…” In La Varenne’s works, he classifies preparations considered basic to French cuisine, bouillons, liaisons, roux, farces, etc.

In conclusion, I think it would be foolish to argue which cuisine is better than the other; first and foremost it is a matter of opinion and secondly they both are wonderful, vibrant and different. It is equally foolish to believe that two countries so close didn’t have culinary influences on each other. Both were conquered and occupied by similar peoples. Lastly, I think it is also foolish to believe that one single event defined a countries palate. A palate is a work in progress. Both nations had an established cuisine well before Catherine arrived on the scene.

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Important Culinary Books

in the history of French Gastronomy 1373 to 1651

“Gourmandise is an enormous book, always open to whoever knows how to read it, and whose pages offer a series of moving tableaux, whose horizon spreads as far as the eye can see.”

~ Grimod de la Reynière

It has been suggested that French cuisine was unsophisticated prior to Catherine de Médicis. I suggest that there was a sophisticated national cuisine prior to Catherine that kept with the palate of the times and that while the Italian Renaissance did effect French cooking, it started with Platine in 1505, twenty-eight years prior to Catherine’s arrival in France. Catherine may have brought something with her, but most of what she is accredited in contributing has appeared in writing prior to her existence.

The Grand Masters of French Cuisine starts with the oldest French cookbook written in 1290 entitled Traité où l’on enseigne à faire et appereiller tous boires commes vin, clairet, mouré et autres, ainsi qu’a appareiller et assaisoner toutes viands selon divers usages de divers pays or “Treatise where one is taught to make and dress all drinks such as wine, claret, Mouré and others, as well as how to dress and season all meats according to the diverse countries”. Although other books were probably written, the second oldest French book comes 100 years later, in 1380 entitled Le Grand Cuisinier de toute cuisine, “The Great Cookbook of All Kinds of Cooking”. This book has come to be known as Viandier written by Guillaume Tirel whose nickname was Taillevent. In this cookbook, Taillevent gives us wonderful recipes such as Civé de Veel (an early version of Blanquette de Veau), Poached Mullets with sauce Cameline (a sort of relish), Grilled Mullets, Hochepot de Poullaille (Chicken Casserole), Sutil Brouet d’Engleterre (Chestnut Purée from England), Oeufs rôtis à la broche (spit roast eggs), Pâté d’anguilles (eel pate), and Cretonnée de Pois Nouveaux (Green Pea Puree with Chicken) among others.

On first look the food appears to be ancient compared to what we eat now. As a student of gastronomy I can tell you that Blanquette de Veau is still being prepared, as are grilled Mullet, Chicken Casserole, Chestnut Puree, Eel Pate and pureed Green Peas. One could say that the generous uses of what I term medieval spices are no longer in use today. I agree, but that was the fashion of the time. Spices had a great value and only wealthy people could afford them. Spices did not have the luxury of modern vacuum packing and transportation. Therefore spices lost much of their potency through inefficient packing and lengthy travel times from point of origin to the kitchen in France and Italy. I will admit I am not a scholar on early Italian works; some could even argue I am not a scholar on early French works. Perhaps Riccardo, Rogov, or someone else could help us with what the Italians cooked in the mid to late 1300’s. I am certain the cuisine would be similar.

The next book of note to appear on the scene is Le Ménagier de Paris (The Goodman of Paris), written between June of 1392 and September of 1394. Among the recipes, suckling pig stuffed with egg yolks, sausage, chestnuts, cheese, saffron and ginger; Chicken liver and gizzard stew, and eel stew stand out. The middle-aged author wrote the book for the benefit of his 15 year old bride, whom he felt could only give him “petit et ignorant service” without it. Apparently she had begged him to forgive her for her youth and the slight and imperfect service she could render. He wrote the book to quickly educate her on domestic science. The recipes, for the large part, are borrowed from Viandier, but a few new ones did appear.

In 1420, Chiquart Amiczo a book entitled Du Fait de Cuisine (On the Matter of Cookery). He was the Chef to the Duke of Savoy. His book dealt with food preparation as well as planning and arranging enormous feasts that lasted for several days. To quote Early French Cookery, “…staggering logistics involved in preparing for such a feast, even only two days’ duration. In order to allow for something like 57 dishes to be served, the cook must ensure the availability of 100 heads of cattle- to be slaughtered on the spot – along with 130 sheep, 120 pigs, 200 piglets, 200 lambs, 100 calves, 2,000 hens and 12,000 eggs to say nothing of the incredible quantities of wild game and fish, spices, herbs, fruit, sugar, wines, candles, firewood, filter cloth and so forth.” Du Fait de Cuisine gives us valuable information on the royal cuisine of the time.

Maestro Martino whose recipes appeared in the mid 1400’s in “De honesta voluptate et valetudine” (Of Honest Indulgence and Good Health) by Baptiste Platine de Crémone, did have dishes that appear to be more familiar with what we would label as Italian cooking today. In his book he lists dishes like Riso con brood di carne (a forerunner to Risotto Milanese), Ravioli in tempo di carne (ravioli for meat days), and Zucche Fritte (zucchini salad). But upon inspection, I see that medieval spices such as saffron, cinnamon and ginger figure prominently in these preparations. It is interesting to note that Riso con brood di carne is of Arabic origins. But, unlike Risotto Milanese, this dish uses eggs instead of grated cheese. The use of rice is also mentioned in Taillevent’s book. Platine, as the work was commonly known as, first appeared in print in France in 1505 under the name Platine en françois très utile et necessaire pour le corps humain, que traicte de honest volupté et de toutes viands et choses que l’ome mange, quelles vertus ont, et en quoy nuysent ou proffitent au corps humain, et comment se doyvent apprester ou appreiller, et de fair à chascune dicelles viands soit chair ou poysson sa proper saulce et des propriétés et vertus que ont les dites viands. Et du lieu et place convenable à l’ome pour abiter et de plusieurs gentillesses par quoy l’ome se peut maintenir en prospérité et santé sans avoir grant indigence d’avoir aultre médecin sil est homme de rayson or Platine in French, Very useful and necessary for the human body, which treats of honest pleasures and of all meats and things that men eat, what their virtues are, and how they hurt or help the human body, and how they should be prepared and dressed, and how to make for each one of these meats, either flesh or fish, its own sauce, and the properties and virtues that which he can maintain his prosperity and health, with no need to have any doctor, if he be a man of reason. One hell of a title to retype! Platine became very popular in France was published repeatedly for 100 years. The book details all the things eaten in the sixteenth century. He mentions 15 different salad plants. He describes how whale blubber was the fat used by poor people; that porpoise was a noble fish and that one should let it age. That it is better roasted than boiled. And if you are to boil it, it is better in wine than water. He also describes Catalan cookery.

The Italian influence continued with Opera nuova intitolata Dificio de recette, printed in Venice in 1541. The book was translated into French the same year and appeared as Bastiment de recettes (Edifice of Recipes). In 1551, a Parisian bookseller published Manière de faire toutes confitures (Manner of Making all Sorts of Confectionery). There is dispute whether the author was French or an Italian living in Paris. In 1552, Nostradamus published a book, which is most likely the first French pastry book entitled Le Confiturier Français.

Olivier de Serres’s book “Théâtre de l’Agriculture et mesnage des Champs (Theater of Agriculture and Care of the Fields) was printed in 1600 and completely revolutionized agriculture in France. De Serres encouraged their use in cooking and experimented with varieties never grown in France before. He suggested planting rice in Camargue and was the first person to talk about the advantages of the potato as food. Yes, well before Antoine Augustin Parmentier promoted their use in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

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In 1604, Lancelot de Casteau’s Ouverture de cuisine appeared, written in French outside of France by a non-Frenchman. It is one of the first books to list an international collection of recipes for both savory and sweets. Lancelot de Casteau described himself as a native of Mons, near Liège. Lancelot describes the menu of a banquet in 1557 where he served turkey, multi colored gelatins, medieval favorites such as roast swan, peacock pies and bustards. Further in the book he describes Italian specialties: raviolis, Bologna sausage and Parmesan cheese.

The next major work was that of Joseph Du Chesne. Le Pourtraict de la Santé (Portrait of Good Health) was published in 1606. In it he advises that nothing will restore “beaten health” like a leg of lamb with fresh breadcrumbs and lemon juice. He continues by telling us that sardines are best fried in butter and served with lemon juice. My favorite advice has to be that after dinner “everyone should stay at the table, without moving, for a good half hour, chatting agreeably with each other.” AMEN.

In 1607, a book entitled “Thrésor de santé ou mesnage de la vie humaine” (Treasures of Good Health or the Care of Human Life) was published. It is the first book to discuss regional favorite such as Saucisson de Lyon and Andouillettes de Troyes.

And finally, this brings us to “Le Cuisinier François” written in 1651 by Pierre de la Varenne. La Varenne was the founder of classical French cuisine. Dishes like: pumpkin pie, Boeuf a la mode, Oeufs a la neige, omelettes, beignets appear. Dishes like stuffed mushrooms, Chicken casserole with green peas, eel pate en croute, asparagus in cream sauce, and Ragout of rabbit are also included. He went on to write a pastry book as well.

In conclusion, I would like to see specifically how Catherine de Médicis, herself, affected French cuisine. For every chronicle of her feasts I can provide chronicles of feasts with similar lavish presentations. There is no doubt of an Italian effect on French cuisine, but it started before her, in 1505. I haven’t been able to find a book with a reference to her exactly, other than ones written in very recent history. I haven’t seen or heard of a book written by her Chef. I have however, listed many notable books from the French and Italians alike who wrote the books that the influenced the cooks of the time.

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“No rule exists for such compositions;

they are at the mercy of the artist’s genius.”

Grimod de le Reynière

Figue Mediterranean’s Italian Cooking Class

Figue Mediterranean

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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.

Hummus

This recipe comes at the request of my wife Lisa who enjoys hummus in all it’s forms and variations.  The history of Hummus is unclear with a few different nations claiming it as their own.  Chickpeas have been around the Mediterranean since forever though they likely came from Western Asia.  The Phoenicians introduced them to Spain.  Excavations around Languedoc show that wild chickpeas grew there.  Roman vendors used to sell roasted chickpeas at events throughout their Empire.  You can still find chickpea fritters being sold at events in the South of France.  At Figue, we serve Hummus underneath our Lebanese Lamb Meatballs with a refreshing Cucumber Salad.

Chickpea Puree │ Hummus

Chef François de Mélogue

Ingredients:

15 oz              Chickpeas, cooked

½  c.               Tahini

½                     Lemon Juice

Water

EVOO

to taste          Sea Salt/Pepper

 

Mise en Place:

 

  1. Puree till smooth as silk.  Add enough water to achieve this.  Add as much olive oil that suits your taste!

Storming the Bastille, Just NOT during MY Dinner!

“I have lived all my life in the name of good taste.

Now I am to die by the hands of people with bad taste.”

 –          Madame du Barry

download

On 14 July, as they do every year, millions of French men and women will celebrate the fall of the Bastille in 1789. The passing years have shown, however, that the guillotine might have better served as a better symbol of the momentous events now recalled as the French Revolution. The truth is that life in the Bastille was simply not all that difficult. In fact, for many of those residing there, the Bastille may have been one of the best pre-revolutionary restaurants of Paris. During his own stay there, the Marquis de Sade passed his time washing down truffled sausages with fine Bordeaux wines. On the day the Bastille was actually liberated, there were only six “prisoners” in attendance. One, imprisoned for failure to pay his debts, insisted on staying in his three room suite long enough to finish his roast pheasant dinner. Another demanded that the crowd help him carry away the more than 50 bottles of wine that he had set aside for his use.

In fact, when the crowd tore down the Bastille, they were unknowingly carrying out a plan for which Louis XVI had already set aside funds. In what may be another interesting footnote to history, of the six liberated prisoners, three were eventually executed by the same people who freed them, two emigrated to America and one, Andre Dubois, harmless but quite insane, went on to become a member of the French senate.

French gastronomes of all classes were concerned with the influence of the revolution on their dining habits. Grimod de la Reyniere, a well known banker and gastronome of the ancien regime considered the Revolution little more than “an unpleasant interlude when austerity had to be simulated and chefs given their notice. If it had lasted”, he wrote, “France might have actually lost the recipe for fricasseed chicken.” One of his chefs, Antoine Broissard took it a bit more seriously. When Broissard discovered that he could not locate any Nantes ducklings to serve for dinner one evening, he hung himself in his kitchen. One of the problems that Reyniere did not dwell upon was that many of France’s most devoted gourmets ended both their revolutionary zeal and their gastronomic endeavors by a meeting with the falling blade of the guillotine.

It may be of some historic interest to know just what many of these people ate just before keeping their appointment with the Widow, as the guillotine was known. Danton, surely the most charming of the revolutionaries and a great gourmet dined on stuffed squab, fresh asparagus and raspberry sorbet before his execution. Robespierre, Danton’s rival but not a man who specially appreciated good food, supped on a thick lentil soup just before his own moment of truth. The Duke of Burgundy dined elegantly on salmon mousse and apple pie and Armond, the Prince of Conde had a light snack of salmon in mousseline sauce. As to the women, the only form of equality between the sexes that the legislators of the revolution believed in was the guillotine which decapitated members of either sex with equal dispatch. Marie Antoinette, Madame Roland and Charlotte Corday, the three most eminent women of the revolution were among its victims.
Marie Antoinette, executed as much for her rudeness to her jailers as for her royal position, sipped Champagne and ate truffled pate de foie gras before she was taken off for her final humiliation. The twenty five year old Charlotte Corday, who had slain the revolutionary leader Marat, declined a final dinner but nibbled on a chocolate éclair while standing on the platform of the guillotine, annoying the executioner somewhat because of what he considered an unnecessary delay in carrying out his duty. Madame Roland, the feminist of the group, dined simply on poached eggs, a small wedge of Brie cheese and an apple. Madame du Barry, the last great courtesan of the royal days, and a woman of elevated taste in food as well as in lovers, is said to have dined on raspberries with fresh cream before being carted off to the guillotine. Du Barry’s final words were: “I have lived all my life in the name of good taste. Now I am to die by the hands of people with bad taste.”

At Figue Mediterranean, http://www.EatFigue.com, we are celebrating Bastille Day by serving our interpretations of famous last meals from the Bastille.  Among the dishes being served tonight and tomorrow are the Marquis de Sade’s Truffled sausages.  We are serving them with potato puree and sauteed apples.

The Marquis de Sade’s Truffled Sausages

26 ounces

lean Veal

9 ounces

pork fatback

18 grams

fine salt

2 grams

ground white pepper

1 gram

ground nutmeg

about 5 feet

medium hog casing

1.

Cut the meat and fat into pieces small enough to pass through grinder. Partially freeze.

2.

Grind the veal using a disk with 3/8″ (10 mm) diameter holes. Grind the fat using a disk with 3/16″ (5 mm) diameter holes.

3.

Combine the meat and fat with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Chill thoroughly.  Add as much chopped truffles as your budget will allow.

4.

Soak the casings in cold water until soft. Thoroughly rinse the casing inside and out.

5.

Set up a sausage stuffer. Fill the bowl of the stuffer with the forcemeat. Be careful not to leave any air pockets in the mixture.

6.

Slide the casing on the fill tube. Tie a knot at the end of the casing after it is fully on the fill tube.

7.

Fill the casing with the forcemeat. Do not overfill the casings. Guide the casing along the work surface as it fills.

8.

Tie a knot at the other end of the filled casing that comes off the stuffing tube. “Massage” the sausage to ensure that it is filled evenly. Twist the filled casing to make 5″ long sausages.

9.

Place the sausages on a rack and dry for a couple of hours in a refrigerator. Using a fine skewer or needle, puncture the skin over any visible air bubbles and puncture evenly along the length of the sausages.

10.

Use within a couple of days or wrap tightly and freeze.

 

Note: To cook the sausage, poach in 180 °F (82 °C) water until the interior temperature reaches 160 °F (71 °C). Drain and fry briefly in a hot pan to crisp the skin.

 

Ahi Tuna Flatbread│ Greek Aetopita, Ahi Tuna, Tomato Confite, Feta and Olives

Ahi Tuna Flatbread│ Greek Aetopita, Ahi Tuna, Tomato Confite, Feta and Olives

Chef François de Mélogue

Greek Flatbread 

Ingredients for one servings:

¼ c.                Olive Oil

4 oz                Seared Ahi, sliced into four pieces

1 t                    Fennel Pollen

1 t                    dried Orange Zest

1 ball              Greek Flatbread

2                      Plum Tomatoes, sliced and dried in oven

3 oz                Feta Cheese, diced

10                    Olives, pitted, halved

1 oz                Frisée Lettuce

 

 

Mise en Place:

 

  1. Marinate Ahi in olive oil, fennel pollen and dried orange zest for at least four hours.

 

To Order:

 

  1. Arrange tomatoes, feta and olives over flatbread.
  2. Bake till done.
  3. Arrange tuna on top and garnish with frisée.

Bourride… Bouillabaisse’s Troubled Cousin

Chicago Social 04

 

Ah, I am going to piss off family members and bouillabaisse purists with this one.  Bourride is bouillabaisse’s troubled cousin.  Try referencing food dictionaries and you’ll see as many different versions as there are books.  Some claim the only true Bourride is made solely with monkfish in a white creamy sauce, possibly flavored with crushed fish liver and others add saffron and orange.  I once had a prominent French Chef taste my bourride and tell me it was good, but not a true bourride.  I started making Bourride at the behest of a lawyer/book dealer friend of mine at ‘le Margaux’ way back in 1993.  He told me it was one of his favorite dishes and asked if I ever made it.  I don’t know why I lied, but I did.  I said with utmost confidence that it was a specialty of mine and of course, I would be delighted to make it for him whenever he could get in, hoping that day would be far off enough for me to make it a few times.  He made a reservation for the next night and was bringing twelve of his closest friends to indulge.  Panic snuck in as I combed through various cook books trying to find at least two books corroborating the recipe.  When I failed in that I figured the oldest book I had probably was the closest to a true Bourride.  I settled on the version written in 1938 in the first edition of the Larousse Gastronomique.  I followed the three paragraph recipe with my mother’s indifference to measurement and impressed the twelve top.  Over the years I have continued to make Bourride and think of my friend every time.  If you want to try my saffron and orange version come on out to Figue Mediterranean in La Quinta, California and I’ll be happy to make it for you!

Bourride 1995

 

Bourride│ Provencal Seafood Stew, St. Pierre, Scallops, Mussels, Clams, Saffron Orange Brodo, Rouille

Chef François de Mélogue

 

Ingredients for four servings:

12                                Cockles

12                                Mussels

4                                  Scallops

1 #                              St. Pierre

½  head                    Fennel

1 large                       Onion

1 large                       Carrot

1 large                       Tomatoes

2 T.                              Pernod

loads of                     Garlic

2 c.                             White Wine

1 quart                      Shellfish Stock

1 c.                             Orange Juice

2 t.                               Saffron threads

1 c.                             Olive Oil

1                                  fresh Bay Leaf

2 T.                              fresh Thyme

1/4 c.                         fresh Basil

2                                  Egg Yolks

to taste                      Sea Salt

to taste                      White Pepper

4 large                       Potatoes

8                                  Garlic Croutons

1 c.                             Rouille

 

Mise en Place

  1. Carefully wash the cockles and mussels to remove any sand or grit. De – beard mussels.  Place all your seafood into a non-reactive pan.  Chop fennel tops and spread over seafood.  Add 3/4 c. olive oil, 1 T. Pernod, pinch of saffron, and lots of chopped garlic.  Marinate for six hours.
  2. Julienne fennel bulb, onion, carrots, and tomato, then sauté in olive oil.
  3. Add remaining Pernod and white wine.
  4. When it starts to simmer, add shellfish stock, more garlic, orange oil, saffron, bay leaf, basil, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil.

 

To Order

  1. Add seafood; cook till they are just done.
  2. Put seafood into a serving terrine.  Whisk yolks and one cup of Rouille into cooking liquid, and then pour over fish.
  3. Serve with boiled potatoes, garlic crouton, and Rouille.

Bourride from Chicago Magazine 2004