Panigacci: Ligurian layered Pasta with Pesto

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In my researching interesting dishes for the menu at Figue Mediterranean I came across this dish in Carol Field’s excellent book “In Nonna’s Kitchen”.  I was taken by the rustic simplicity that I had to try it right away.  I made it first for my sous chef Keith Schneider and former manager Frederic Watson.  All of us were consumed by the simple flavors of basil married with tomato married with the soft pasta layers.  I tried finding references in other Italian books and couldn’t really find much.  The only other reference to it was a form of ancient flat bread baked directly in the hot coals of a fire.

Making Panigacci is more like making crepes than rolling pasta.  The first step is making the batter.

9 ounces Flour ( I used all purpose)

pinch Sea Salt

2-1/3 c. filtered Water

Mix the ingredients and strain into a four cup glass measuring cup.  Heat a small amount of oil in a Teflon pan and pour just enough batter to make a “crepe’.  If you have never made crepes google it.  The technique is the same.  The recipe should yield enough crepes for one panigacci.

Next make a simple pesto with basil and pine nuts.  I never measure ingredients and go more on feel and flavor but I will offer these helpful tips.  Do not buy store bought pesto because it sucks.  I start with a small boiled fingerling potato, garlic, Parmesan and olive oil pureed in a food processor.  The addition of a small potato came from an Italian chef.  The potato keeps your basil from turning brown and adds a level of creaminess that is amazing.  If I had to guess quantities I would say one fingerling peeled, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, 1 cup Parmesan (I used Reggiano) and one cup of extra virgin olive oil.  With the motor running I add about one pound of basil leaves that were blanched and shocked and I puree till smooth.  To me pesto should taste creamy, basilly with a hint of garlic.

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Spoon one tablespoon of pesto over each panigacci till you are done.  Roast the whole panigacci in your oven, or wood burning oven as we do.  Cut into wedges and serve on a San Marzano tomato sauce.  Try this immediately.  You will absolutely fall in love with it.  Thank You Carol Field for publishing such a great recipe!  I strongly suggest finding her books and buying them all!

Food Porn: Truffles, Pizzas and Octopus Carpaccio… Pictures from Last Night!

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“The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber, and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord.”

– Alexandre Dumas 

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AMERICAN BERKSHIRE PROSCIUTTO AND BURRATA $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam

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Since we’ve opened I have always treated the charcuterie bat like a sushi bar.  My cooks Michael and Chris kibbitz with guests offering them dishes that aren’t on any menu. It is a beautiful focal point for our restaurant.figue 2013 15 figue 2013 14 figue 2013 13

 

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Basil Aioli, Arugula and Asparagus Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

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The octopus carpaccio is something I wanted to do for ten years now.  Last night was the first experiments.  I kept it fairly classic in liberal sense.  I mean we all know carpaccio Is raw beef drizzled with an olive oil dressing and garnished with shaved cheese. Invented in 1950 by Mr. Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice.  The dish was inspired by the Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo whose doctor had recommended she go on a diet of raw meat.  Mr. Cipriani had visited the art exhibit of the famed Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio, known for his brilliant reds and whites.  Like any legendary dish, it mutates and morphs into something new.  Change always comes whether we want it to or not.  Our character is decided on how we handle it.

Turban of Sea Scallop and Burgundy Truffles $30

Spaghetti, shaved Truffles, Cabbage Salad, Beurre Blanc

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This is one of my favorite Joel Robuchon inspired dishes.  A single strand of spaghetti is wrapped around the interior of a savarin mold, filled with scallop and truffle mousse and big hunks of scallop then steamed.

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Turned out onto a pasta bowl, paired with a cabbage salad, slivers of fresh Burgundy truffles and an old school beurre blanc made with French butter.

figue 2013 06While I had my camera out I took a few more food shots…

figue 2013 38Buckwheat Pasta and Squid Ink Chitarra waiting to be cooked…figue 2013 22

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, Hand Cut Squid Ink Pasta

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Kibbe│ Lebanese Lamb and Bulgur Wheat meatballs, Cucumber salad, Hummus – 14 

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Daube of slow braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

figue 2013 12Sticky Toffee Cake

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Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

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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.

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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.

The Story of ‘How We Came to BE’, The Menu Exploded: A Deeper Look at Our Approach

 

“It’s a simple business: Develop good food

and get it into people’s mouths. The rest sort of takes care of itself.”

~ Richard Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You

I once read an article detailing Richard Melman’s approach to designing a new restaurant concept.  The very first step was to create a storyboard that told the story of the new idea, perhaps written by a person who worked there, and was asked to describe life and service in the restaurant.  Everything, from the menu, wine list, art work to even the paint scheme emanated from it.   The idea struck a chord deep inside because I am a visual and small detail oriented person. Since then I have tried to incorporate it into my approach writing menus.

 

a charcuterie market and a spice merchant’s market in Avignon

 

Lately I have been looking for the perfect Sous Chef and Pastry Chef.  I described to a recent Pastry Chef candidate what I was wanting from her, “What I would love is your expression of what should be on the pastry menu of a Mediterranean Restaurant specializing in French, Spanish and Italian with forays into Morocco, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon.  It is our goal to convey the story, the history of the people, through food.  If somehow you can distill this into pastries than you have gotten what I am attempting.”

I am not trying to be too esoteric; my goal is to take people somewhere, on a three hour adventure from their homes in the California Desert to the shores of the Mediterranean.  I want the experience to be so authentic and real that if you closed your eyes, the flavors, smells and sounds may just well make you believe you are really there.

“The Mediterranean cuisine is one of the most colorful and vibrant in the world, providing sensual dishes flavored with wild herbs gathered from the hillsides; lamb and chicken are often roasted whole over coals; vegetables are abundant and used in a wide variety of soups, bakes and salads.”

 

a whole local pig porchetta straight off the rotisserie

the pig comes from Cookpig in California

 

My inspirations have come from spending a portion of my informative years visiting relatives all over the South of France, to comparative dining to reading a lot online, in books and vicarious trips lived through letters and phone calls of close friends. One of my favorite authors is Colman Andrews.  I recently picked up his book “The Country Cooking of Italy” and came across his recipe for Sguazabarbuz, a variation of pasta e fagioli.  The name intrigued me so much I researched it further.  I came across a web site mentioning the history, “The story tells that on May 29, 1503 Lucrezia Borgia came to Ferrara to marry Alfonso I d’Este and a steward of the Palace, taking inspiration from her golden locks, created this special pasta and passed down the recipe from generation to generation. The pasta is cut into irregular strips, in fact they are called “maltagliati” (cut badly) and if it is cooked in a bean and pork fat broth they are called ‘sguazabarbuz’.”

Another dish making its debut will be a Pistachio, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake served with ‘Spice Road Caravan’ cherries and cherry sorbet.  Individual three ounce cakes made from Sicilian green pistachios, polenta and olive oil batter cooked and served at room temperature garnished with fresh spun cherry sorbet and with what I term Silk Road Caravan spiced cherries.  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.

My cake’s origins lay not in a cultural tradition passed generation to generation by any one culture but rather in my head combining bits and pieces of various experiences and references.

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’s name was originally derived from the Roman staple puls, or pulmentum. Pulmentum also was the Roman’s soldier 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.  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.

In America we have the freedom to combine, mix and mutate without the same restraints my French family would face.  They would never dream to mix as freely as I will.  Noted British Chef Marco Pierre White once said the kitchen was his freedom.  The new, still nameless restaurant is my freedom.

Chef François

ps. Vote on the new restaurant name at my FaceBook Chef Page!