Why Small Farms are Important: Support National Eat Local Food Day September 22nd.

“The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth.”

Antoine de Saint Exupery

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It has been said that food can be either the greatest form of medicine or the slowest form of poison depending on it’s pedigree.  Where our food comes from and how it gets there is important, but It’s deeper than that, family farms are good for the American psyche and our local economy.  Family farms are generally defined as small operations run and worked by family members.  Small organic farms tend to operate more sustainably, both economically and environmentally, than their corporate counterparts. Family farms support and enhance local economies while corporate farms remove wealth and destroy the earth with their overuse of harmful chemicals and disastrous farming practices.

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“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

– Wendell Berry

There are five million less farms in America now than there was after the Depression.  In 1900, 32% of Americans worked on farms now less than 2% do.  Industrial farming has taken over.  75% of agricultural product is produced by 6% of the farms.  Part of the blame lays on our Federal governments economic policies governing not only prices set for products but in it’s relentless support of corporations by instituting ridiculous conditions to which small farmers must adhere.

“The passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared food, confronts inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any part of any creature that ever lived. The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.”

– Wendell Berry

Family farms shorten the food chain and bring us closer to healthful and diverse food supply.  We develop relationships with the farmers, foragers and fishermen that feed our family’s.  We become a community, together.  Organic whole foods are unprocessed, natural foods in their original form which are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber as well as all of the hundreds of phytonutrients that work together in the proper amounts to give our body exactly what it needs to be healthy. Unlike processed food, they do not contain added flavors, colors or preservatives.

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My wife Lisa and two year old Beaumont have been eating whole foods for the last eight years almost exclusively.  90% of our diet comes from small farmer’s like De La Ranch, Bautista Creek Farm or Johnny’s Garden that we buy from at the Palm Springs Farmer’s Market.  Our weekly menu is decided on what we find that is in season rather than what a magazine tells me to eat.  As Michael Pollan once said “at home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.”  Our Sundays are saved to enjoy the bounty of small organic farms as a family.  My son Beaumont sits on the corner and helps cook, or at least his toy pig ‘Baby’ does.

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Some small farms have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.  Michael Pollan says “C.S.A. reconnects you as an eater with the source of your food, offering a vivid reminder that, whatever we eat, we eat by the grace of farms and farmers, of the land, the weather and the season — not supermarkets. The C.S.A. means I also eat in the knowledge that I’m doing my small bit to defend a gorgeous patch of bottomland along Cache Creek outside the tiny town of Guinda from the oncoming wave of sprawl that threatens to engulf California’s entire Central Valley into one big, wall-to-wall housing development.”

At Figue Mediterranean, located in La Quinta (California) where I am employed as Executive Chef I buy from several small producers.  Every week I get a listing of products from dozens of farmers at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.  I actively support the Palm Springs Farmer’s market and have several people who bring me bags of oranges, lemons and figs from their gardens that they cannot use.  My pork comes from the absolutely best pig farmer’s in the country CookPig.  We even forage for wild dates and other items we can use on our menus.  Food provides a soul satisfying and healthy connection between the Earth and ourselves.  Like St. Exupery said, we hold communion with distant farms by simply drinking our fair trade coffees and teas.  It offers our guests a very seasonal and fun way to dine that is a bit more spontaneous.  Last week I came up with seven dishes based on walking through my farmer’s market.  Our guests are sophisticated and demand healthful food.  They realize the link between whole, unengineered foods.  Here are my specials:

“Find the Shortest, Simplest way between Earth, the Hands and the Mouth”

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata Caprese $16

Slow cooked Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto, Sicilian Organic Citrus Oil

House Pickled Currant Tomatoes, Fig Vincotto and Di Stefano Burrata

Maman’s Provencal Salad $12

Bautista Creek’s simply gorgeous French Yellow and Green Beans, Fingerling Potatoes

and Tomatoes lightly flavored with Basil and organic Vallée des Baux Olive Oil

Karniyarik $14

Johnny’s Farm Eggplant stuffed with Elysian Fields Lamb, Sweet Onions and Pinenuts

drizzled with Tahini Sauce, Harissa Sauce

Diver Scallop, Piquillo pepper granite and Lime Crudo $16

Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette

Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta with Uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto

Calamari and Octopus Salad $18

plancha fired Calamari and Spanish Octopus, baby wild Arugula,
Shiitake Mushrooms, aged Guisti 12 Year Balsamic, ‘Mother’s Milk’ Olive Oil

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota $32

shaved 2 year Iberico Ham served with Tomato Olive Focaccia, Fig Jam

14 month Mahon Sheep Cheese, house Pickled Okra

BIG PLATES

Pici with lamb Sugu $28

hand shaped rustic Pici noodles topped with slow cooked Lamb and Tomato Sugo

Roast Loup de Mer Rivieria Style – $38

Sea Bass, Swiss Chard, Reggiano Parmesan, Tomato and Garlic Confit, Saffron Jus

SWEETS

Sticky Toffee and Date Cake $9

uber moist locally foraged Date cake, Sticky Toffee Sauce

On September 22nd, Figue is proudly taking part of National Eat Local Day, a collaboration started by Chef Sarah Stegner and PR maven Cindy Kurman.  “Our hope is that leading chefs across the country can work together to raise awareness of the importance of supporting our local sustainable farms. We hope to increase the flow of local sustainable food to the restaurant tables across the country in order to protect our farm lands and to ensure their success so future generations have access, said Stegner.

Joining the two in their efforts are restaurateur Alice Waters and her chef Jérôme Waag at Chez Panesse (Berkeley, CA), Alison Price Becker (Alison Eighteen, New York City), Stephanie Pearl Kimmel (Marché, Eugene OR), Francois de Melogue (Figue Mediterranean, La Quinta CA), Mark Grosz (Oceanique, Evanston IL), Paul Fehribach (Big Jones, Chicago IL), Jamie Leeds (Hank’s Oyster Bar and Lounge, Washington DC), Nora Pouillon (Restaurant Nora, Washington DC), Norman Van Aken  (Miami, FL) and Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris (Prairie Grass Café, Northbrook, IL) and Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill and Topolobampo). The list is growing rapidly.

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE VISIT THE WEB SITE: http://nationaleatlocalday.com/

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Figue is preparing our Diver Scallop, Piquillo pepper granite and Lime Crudo.  Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette, topped with Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil.

Chef Francois de Melogue…  I support local farm to table so much I even had my VW Westfalia tattooed

The Magic Bus

“Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.”

– Wendell Berry

Here are some pictures from two of my favorite farmer’s markets, UC Davis’s and the X Street Market in Sacramento:

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Sunday Family Day Part Deux, Apples, Pear Tart and Hard Cider

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“It was definitely a Sunday tart, gazed at with admiration and eaten with relish on those Sunday noons, with the narrow street outside on the same level as the room and the sky purplish-blue when the weather was stormy, or aflicker with gold when the sun was shining.” – Proust

How could I not make it?  We began the day with the chief goal of not leaving the house and enjoying the bounty of foods bought from small farmer’s and ranchers at the Palm Springs Farmer’s Market the day before.  By eight a.m. we were dunking slabs of Phillippe’s rustic boule slathered in hand-beaten French butter into our plate of Oeufs a la Coque, made from De La Ranch eggs cooked precisely three minutes.  Beaumont was intent on copying our actions verbatim, deliberately piercing the runny yolk with his bread spear splashing saffron hued eggs onto his fingers and plate.  He seemed like a miniature gourmand trapped inside a small child’s body frustrated by the new bodies inability to follow the old minds thought.  For a flashing moment I saw Beau as an old man deliberately enjoying his meal.

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I looked over to the wall of books in our dining room and “Dining with Proust” just caught my attention as if it were meant to be.  I flipped through the pages and immediately stopped on this line:

“The chief reason for going to the farm when they felt the need of a little refreshment was a wish to see her and to be in her home, much as some people frequent certain restaurants, though the reason they give may be that the cider is better there than elsewhere or the cheese particularly good.”

That line set about a catalyst of food dreams inspired by books needing to become realities.  The first food dream manifested itself as apples bought from the Asian woman at the market stuffed with a mixture of leeks, creme fraiche and goat cheese.  Lisa and I both read Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis.  Rue Tatin is the kind of book that is so graphically written that you feel like you are there eating with her at her home in Normandy.Ultimately Lisa, Beau and I will live in France and this book accelerates the process.

Baked Apples stuffed with Leeks and Goat Cheese (paraphrased from Susan Loomis)

4 Apples, I used Fuji – peel and core creating a large cavity to stuff

5.5 ounces fresh Goat Cheese

2 T. Creme Fraiche

2 Leeks – use mostly just the white part.  I cut into large dice and soaked in salted water to remove dirt and grit that hides in the layers

4 T Butter

2 cups hard Cider

Directions:

Saute washed leeks in two tablespoons of butter till super tender.  You want to cook the leeks slow so they do not color.  Mix with goat cheese and creme fraiche.  Pour into apple cavity.  Top with remaining butter.  Put into baking dish with cider and cook for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.  Enjoy with a beautiful green salad.

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After a long walk in the Desert with Lucy we rested and prepared for round two.

Proust’s Pear Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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Ingredients for one nine inch tart

One sheet Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Sheets

Four Pears

2 ounces Butter

1 c. Powdered Sugar

Directions

Roll puff pastry sheet out slightly larger on a floured surface.  It should drape over your tart tin by two inches.  Fold over edge and crimp with fingers.  Quarter pears and remove core with paring knife.  Cut each quarter in half and arrange in a circular pattern in tart shell.  Brush pears with melted butter and sprinkle with half of the powdered sugar.  Bake at 400 till tart is brown and pears are lightly browned.  Cool slightly, sprinkle with remaining sugar and serve with powdered sugar.

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Barlata: My Spanish Tapas Diner

I love Barlata.  I am not sure exactly what tickles my fancy about the place.  I have eaten better tapas, had better service and seen better decor but yet something still pulls me to the place.  The last time I was there was a few short Image

hours after gorging at Cotogna.  I decided on Barlata as I can sit outside with my dog and my two year old son can run around without offending any serious diners.  Lisa and I were meeting dear old friend Jim Laffer and hopefully Cindi and Jackson.  We were the first there and immediately commenced ordering food and two bottles of Spanish wine.  We plowed through the menu of familiar dishes and laughed with Jim.  I love going to Barlata because it feels like putting on an old comfortable well worn shoe.  No surprises – you know exactly what to expect.  A perfect place to enjoy being.

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One of my favorite category of dishes there are their Latas.  They use old tin cans as serving dishes.  It is a novel concept in our country where everything is disposable and we certainly dispose of it.Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 164After stuffing ourselves for a second time we headed to our car completely sated… I chuckled at the Beer is Good sign and thought of all my beer making buddies who would raise a pint at such a sentiment!

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Barlata is located at 4901 Telegraph in Oakland.  Reservations can be made at: 510.450.o678 and you can see their menu at: http://www.barlata.com/index.html

Cotogna: SF’s Rustic Italian Eatery

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I have wanted to eat at Cotogna for a long, long while. The seed was planted by Lee, our fearless leader at Figue, when he mentioned dining there and seeing the rotisserie of his dreams. He was so moved by the experience that he bought a similar model for our restaurant Figue  in La Quinta.  For the first few months, I waited and waited for it to be delivered, dreaming of spit roasting rabbit porchettas, lambs, pigs and chickens.  Rotisseries give food a flavor not matched by roasting or sauteing and a super crispy exterior.

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our Universo Tuscany 180 Rotisserie with Jidori Chickens Spinning!

“I’ve always divided human beings into two categories:
those who resemble a courtyard and suffocate you between their walls-
Then there are those who resemble a garden, where you can walk and be silent, and breathe.”

– Antoine de St. Exupery

Lisa, Beau and I had dropped off our VW bus for routine maintenance at Van Cafe in Santa Cruz in the morning.  The drive to the Bay was punctuated with lively conversation about seeing old friends we hadn’t seen in a long time and the impending eating marathon.  Our friend Peter, with whom I completed the Appalachian Trail with in 2000 would be there with his new wife Eileen and dear friend Gina and her three handsome boys.  We were looking forward to this for weeks.  Luckily we found a spot in front and shaded as Lucy the wunderhound had to stay there. Peter and his lovely wife Eileen showed up  Just as we pulled up.  Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 123 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 124

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All of us at the table doing what we all do best!

Gina had phoned to say she was running late so we started the onslaught of dishes.  The first few dishes were rustic as promised with great depth of flavor.  We started with Leek Sformato with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Pate di Campagna and Terra Firma Farm Tomatoes and Burrata.Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 128 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 129 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 127 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 126 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 136 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 141

We plowed through three bottles of a Sardinian red that on it’s own wasn’t the most interesting wine ever but coupled with the food danced.  The next courses brought Ravioli di Ricotta with a Farm Egg and Brown Butter, Heger Farm Corn Triangoli, Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu, Octopus with Pole Beans, and Heritage Red Wattle Pork.  The thing I loved the most about the pork was that the Chef did not feel the need to tell you what came with it… you simply ate it.  I think Americans are too scared of food in whole to do that with regularity across the country.  I loved it.  I did not notice anyone freaking out that all the secondi were presented that way.

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To finish it off we ordered three Pizze…  Artichoke, Stracchino Cheese and Black Olives; Gypsy Pepper. Nepitella and Flor di Latte Mozzarella; and Happy Boy Farm San Marzano Tomato, Nettle and Sausage Pizze.

Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 142 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 140 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 135Thoroughly sated with indulged with Olive Oil Cake with Strawberries and their Dark Chocolate Budino with Cake Crumble.  Overall I thought the restaurant was fun to eat at.  I would definitely go back… it was great to see old and new friends…

Cotogna is located at 490 Pacific Avenue and can be reached at 415.775.8508, http://www.Cotognasf.com

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California Dreamin’ in a VW Bus

Mine Shaft Camp Site 11500 Feet 03Three more days of work than I am off for two weeks of camping with my beautiful wife Lisa, Beaumont and doggy Lucy.  Two solid weeks of great meals in the hinterlands along the ocean and high in the mountains in the Sierras.  Three days.

 

Tarte Tatin: Memories of My Maman

apple tart

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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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.

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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!

Preservation Kitchen: One of the Best Cook Books I Read This Year!

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Paul Virant’s book explores in depth different pickling techniques and recipes that are so easy to add to your repertoire.  I had done small amounts of pickling prior to picking this book up, now I am pickling everything.  At Figue we have made Sake Pickled Summer Tomatoes, Pickled Okra, Charred Spring Onion Pickles, Moroccan Pickled Baby Carrots and more…  Preserving goes hand and hand with the concept of our charcuterie bar.

Figue Training 09

Moroccan Pickled Carrots

Moroccan Pickled Carrots│ Basic Prep
Chef François de Mélogue
Quantity Unit Ingredient
3 Quart 24 Quarts
4 32 cups Water
2.25 18 cups White Wine Vinegar
0.50 4 cups Sugar
28 224 grams Sea Salt
3 24 teaspoon Coriander Seeds
3 24 teaspoon Fennel Seeds
3 24 teaspoon Black Peppercorns
3 24 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
51 408 ounces Baby Carrots, peel, blanched
Mise en Place:
1. Boil all ingredients, except carrots.
2.  Stuff carrots in jars2(a). Add 2 teaspoons Harissa Powder to each jar
3.  Seal jars, boil 20 minutes
4.  Let sit for a few weeks.

Figue Night Two 01

Tagliatelle al Pancetta e Fichi│ Hand Rolled Tagliatelle, Pancetta, Conserved Figs, EVOO

Thank God fig season is back!  French author George Blond once quipped the fig was “the manna of the Mediterranean countries.”  Especially if we take the dictionary definition literally, ‘Spiritual nourishment of divine origin.’ Figs have been cultivated since the dawn of time.  Assyria used figs as a natural sweetener; figs were grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon; they were important to the Phoenician economy; baskets of figs were buried with Egyptian rulers in the great tombs; they were the favorite fruit of the Greeks.  Figs first appeared in America in the 1600’s brought over by the Spaniards.  They were planted in California and known as Mission Figs.  90 % of USA production is in California.  Figs appear with great frequency on our menu at Figue Mediterranean (www.EatFigue.com).  One of our more popular fig dishes is our tagliatelli of figs and pancetta.

Tagliatelle al Pancetta e Fichi│ Hand Rolled Tagliatelle, Pancetta, Conserved Figs, EVOO

Chef François de Mélogue

 

tagliatelle 02

Ingredients for four orders:

400 g                          Semi Dried Figs, sliced

160 ml                        Olive Oil

80 ml                          Balsamic Vinegar

to taste                      Sea Salt and Black Pepper

5 sprigs                      Marjoram

3 cloves                     Garlic, crushed

3 thick slices             Pancetta, diced

2 small                       Leeks, diced

30 ml                          White Wine

2 T                               grated Reggiano Parmesan

 

Mise en Place:

 

  1. Marinate figs in balsamic, olive oil, s/p, marjoram and garlic for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat olive oil and sauté pancetta and leeks for eight minutes, or until leeks are soft and pancetta is crunchy.
  3. Add figs and marinade and white wine.

 

To Order:

 

  1. Cook tagliatelli.
  2. Heat sauce.
  3. Toss together, top with grated parmesan and olive oil.