eat in my kitchen

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Category: MEET IN YOUR KITCHEN

Meet In Your Kitchen I Maria Sinskey’s Culinary Take on Napa Valley

Maria Sinskey

The air is hot and dry in Napa, not the slightest movement, it stands still, wrapping the hills and vines in a magical silence.

We first stopped at a lake, Lake Hennessey, on our way to meet the Sinskeys at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. The scene was too peaceful and beautiful, as perfect as a postcard, the calm water spread out in front of us. A man sat at the sandy bank staring into the bluest sky reflecting on the water’s surface, I walked through the swaying grass and my film team made jokes about unseen alligators. Later, Maria Sinskey told me that there are rattlesnakes in the area – sometimes it’s good not to know the danger around you and enjoy the moment.

I had seen the wines of the Robert Sinskey Vineyards on the menu of some of the best restaurants in San Francisco, friends praised the quality of their reds and whites, so there were enough reasons to pick this particular wine maker in Napa on my culinary trip through California. But what struck me goes beyond an excellent bottle of wine: it’s the Sinskeys’ philosophy of making honest wine, their work ethics oblige them to take care of their team, who also hold shares of the company and have been with the wine making couple for decades. Maria and Robert create an environment of togetherness, they cherish people, nature and its gifts, they live a good life and share it with the ones around them.

Robert Sinskey was a photographer in advertising, he’s an artist, a philosopher, he never went to a wine school, but maybe that’s the reason why he makes good wine. It was a call from his father 25 years ago that changed his life, Sinskey senior needed help at his wine business, and young Rob fell in love with his new obsession for grapes and what you can do with them. He turned the 200 acres of premium vineyards into an organic, biodynamic ecosystem at a time when this step wasn’t as popular as today, he was a pioneer, inspired by Rudolph Steiner’s 1928 “Agriculture” manifesto. Believing that, if you harvest grapes of outstanding quality, you don’t actually have to do much, you can let nature do its thing and trust. In that respect, the Sinskeys feel closer to the European than the American tradition of wine makers. Rob says “wine should not be a quick study, but rather, sneak up on you, seduce you, and evolve in the glass and in the bottle. The goal is to make pure wines of character that pair well with cuisine.” And now, his wonderful wife Maria comes in.

Maria Sinskey is an acclaimed chef and cookbook author from New York, she’s the cooking soul of the winery. She worked at Michelin starred restaurants in France but when Rob won her heart, she moved to Napa and set up her beautiful open Vineyard Kitchen right in the heart of the winery’s rustic stone building, next to the wine tasting room. It’s not a restaurant, you can only book and enjoy her exquisite culinary compositions along with a tasting experience (a visit and reservation is highly recommended). Maria and Rob follow the same credo: nature is good, trust her, treat her well and you’ll be gifted. Organic fruits and vegetables come from the garden, sheep grazing the vineyards provide wool and meat, beehives pollinate the orchards and bring the most delicious honey to Maria’s kitchen.

You could call it a utopia, you could call the Sinskeys dreamers, but decades of creating fantastic wine and food with and not against nature that people praise all over the world, living and working harmoniously in a community with love and passion, and feeling – as a guest – the spark of happiness and dedication jump over, would prove you wrong.

Maria spoilt us like kids with her elegant, deliciously cozy comfort food. Her duck confit was a revelation and her herb marinated rack of lamb with sun-ripened tomato and herb blossom salad tasted just heavenly, thankfully she shared the recipes with us.

Check for visits: robertsinskey.com

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Sinskey11

 

Maria Sinskey

Sun-ripened Tomato and Herb Blossom Salad

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Herb Marinated Rack of Lamb with

Buttered Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, and Lamb Jus

By Maria Sinskey

 

Sun-ripened Tomato and Herb Blossom Salad

Serves 6

Capture the flavor of ripe, just-picked tomatoes at their peak with this simple salad. The sweet tomatoes are gently scented with herb and arugula flowers that provide small bursts of intense flavor. Blossoms can be gathered as herb and arugula plants bolt. If herb blossoms aren’t available use small herb sprigs and leaves instead.

6 ripe garden tomatoes, about 2 pounds, assorted colors and sizes
Extra virgin olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar
Flaked sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup (a handful) mixed herb blossoms – dill, arugula, basil, chive

Core and slice the tomatoes into ¼-inch / ½-cm thick slices and fork-size wedges. Arrange the tomatoes on a serving platter. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with sea salt and grind a few grinds of black pepper over. Scatter the blossoms over the top. Serve with simple crisp flatbread if desired.

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Herb Marinated Rack of Lamb with

Buttered Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, and Lamb Jus

Lamb Jus (to serve with the rack of lamb, can be prepared in advance)

Yield: 2 cups (470ml)

1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 medium shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup (240ml) red wine
4 cups (950ml) lamb stock
1 medium plum tomato, fresh or canned
1 3-inch / 8-cm sprig rosemary
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Wrap garlic in aluminum foil and bake until garlic is aromatic, soft and caramelized, about 45 minutes. Reserve.

Heat a 3-quart / 2.8-l saucepan over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter starts to brown, add the shallot and cook for about 2 minutes until the shallot is wilted and starting to turn golden.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until wine is almost dry, about 10 minutes. Add the lamb stock, roasted garlic head, tomato, and rosemary spring. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until stock is reduced by half. Strain the jus into another pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve at room temperature for up to 4 hours otherwise refrigerate.

To serve: Return sauce to a simmer. Check seasoning, then whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter until emulsified. Serve immediately.

 

Herb Marinated Rack Of Lamb

Serves 8

The herb marinade for the rack really perfumes the meat if it is done a day or two ahead of time. The same marinade can be used for many other cuts as well. It is best to remove as many of the herbs and garlic before roasting as they will burn and create off flavors.

2 lamb racks, 8-9 ribs each
¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoon for roasting the meat
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and crushed
2 4-inch / 10-cm rosemary sprigs, crushed
6 thyme sprigs, crushed
4 rosemary sprigs for garnish
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Clean the rib bones well by scraping off meat and sinew with a small sharp knife. Cut the racks in half so that each has four ribs. Mix together the olive oil, crushed garlic, crushed rosemary and thyme sprigs in a large bowl. Add the lamb and coat well. Grind some coarse black pepper over all. Wrap well and marinate the racks overnight.

The next day prepare the roasted potatoes first, then continue roasting the lamb.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove the lamb from the marinade and scrape off as many herbs as possible.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the lamb well with salt; no additional pepper should be necessary, and sear fat side down until golden, about 7 minutes. Turn over so that the fat side is up and roast in the preheated oven for 17-20 minutes for medium-medium rare (120°F / 50°C internal temperature). Let the rack rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Prepare the beans while the meat is resting.

To serve, cut each lamb rack half into 2 equal pieces, two bones per chop, and serve on individual plates or a platter with the roasted potatoes, beans, and lamb jus.

 

Olive Oil and Sea Salt Roasted Potatoes

Serves 8

2 pounds yellow potatoes, Yukon Gold or similar
Sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Peel the potatoes and cut into ½-inch / 1.25-cm pieces. Reserve in a bowl of cold water to keep from browning.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, season well with salt. Add the potatoes and boil for 7 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Drain the potatoes into a colander. Make sure they are very dry.

Place the well-drained potatoes in a large sauté pan and toss them with the olive and butter and additional salt to taste. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes until the potatoes are golden and crispy on the edges. Keep them warm.

 

Buttered Green Beans

½ pound freshly picked green beans or haricot vert
Salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Trim the stem off of the beans but leave the slender pointed tips. Reserve.

Ready a medium bowl of ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt until the water tastes of the sea. Add the beans and cook until tender about 3-4 minutes. The thinner and fresher the beans the faster they will cook. Remove the beans from the pot with a pair of tongs or skimmer and plunge into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When beans are cool, remove from the ice bath and let rest in a strainer or colander to drain.

To serve: melt the butter in a large sauté pan and add ¼ cup (60ml) water. Bring to a boil to emulsify, season with salt to taste. Add the beans and toss until heated through. Remove with tongs to a serving plate. Serve immediately.

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Watch my interview with Maria in Napa in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Maria!

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

Meet In Your Kitchen | Jessica Koslow’s Sqirl in LA & the Magic of Sorrel Pesto Rice

Jessica Koslow

It’s captivating to watch a craftswoman concentrating on her material, a carpenter choosing the right piece of wood, a tailor feeling the fabrics, or a chef taking about a new recipe and picking the right ingredients. Jessica Koslow is a craftswoman, but she’s equally an artist gifted with a huge sense for freedom and creativity and this shines through every single one of her creations. She’s also a scientist who critically re-thinks all the single components of a dish until the final result is complete, until the textures and flavors feel aligned, until it looks deliciously tempting. This woman is so much, which makes her one of the leading figures of a new powerful movement of female chefs in California, but also in the rest of the world.

Sqirl is located just around the corner from Vermont Avenue that leads straight to Griffith Park, the restaurant is almost unspectacular, pleasantly unpretentious and casual, but the dishes that come out of the kitchen can easily compete with Michelin starred restaurants. The open kitchen works smoothly, peacefully, every chef seems to deeply enjoy the part they have in the Sqirl universe, it’s a bit like friends cooking, just more precise. Like the Sorrel Pesto Rice, inspired by Pierre Troisgros, the father of the nouvelle cuisine movement, that blew my mind: Kokuho rose brown rice, sorrel pesto, preserved meyer lemon, lacto-fermented hot sauce, watermelon radish, French sheep feta, and a perfectly poached egg spreading its shiny liquid yolk all over this vibrant composition. And the Sqirl Chicken Salad with Marin Sun chicken, bok choy, dehydrated citrus and root vegetables, grated carrots, and black garlic vinaigrette balances crunch and tenderness, sweetness and bitterness, it’s a dish that excites and satisfies.

Jessica comes across as very relaxed, she laughs a lot, but when you ask her a question she pauses and takes her time to think, to answer with the same precision you can find in her dishes, in the same way that she designed her restaurant, and how she put her first cookbook together, Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking. There is a vision that only she can see that seems to guide her in the right direction. She used to be a competitive figure skater which explains her discipline and dedication, and when she stopped at 19, she channeled her obsession into something new: food.

From then on it was all about cooking, eating, and tasting. She was fascinated by the moment when you put the first bite into your mouth and you’re overwhelmed. That’s the experience she wants to create at her restaurant and she knows that she only has this first second to reach and convince her guests’ taste buds. She and her team are gifted with outstanding produce, which she honors in her creations and that she receives from farmers who are friends and part of her community. This is the foundation of her work: “Raw produce defines a season, it’s the passing of times and in California, thankfully, it’s such a delicious marker of time. Our produce is an exciting time stamp and a building block from there.” The Sqirl world is about dishes that feel familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, they create comfort and inquisitiveness, it’s about different layers and textures, using the raw natural produce, but also playing with it, fermenting, pickling, or dehydrating it. As exciting as it is to eat this woman’s food, it’s a pure pleasure listing to her words.

Sqirl is a breakfast and lunch spot only, but in 2018 Jessica will open a dinner place for all her begging, hungry fans, called Tel – keep your eyes and ears open!

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Jessica Koslow

 

Jessica Koslow

Jessica Koslow’s Sorrel Pesto Rice

Serves 6

3 cups (600 g) medium-grain brown rice, preferably Kokuho Rose
Fine sea salt
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons (130 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (25 g) lightly packed kale leaves (stems removed)
2 cups (50 g) lightly packed chopped sorrel leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more for serving
1 Preserved Meyer Lemon, flesh removed, peel finely chopped
2-4 small watermelon radishes, very thinly sliced
¼ cup (60 ml) Fermented Jalapeño Hot Sauce
¾ cup (85 g) crumbled sheep’s-milk feta

6 poached eggs
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground black pepper

Boil the rice in plenty of salted water until it’s tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Drain and let cool.
Meanwhile, make the sorrel pesto: In a blender or food processor, combine ½ cup (120 ml) of the oil, kale, sorrel, and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Blend until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed. Season with salt to taste.

In a large bowl, toss the rice with the dill, preserved lemon peel, 1 table­spoon of the lemon juice, and the pesto. Taste and add a bit more salt, if needed.

In a small bowl, toss the radish with the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, the remaining 2 teaspoons oil, and a pinch of salt. Set aside to marinate for a few minutes, until the radish is pliable and tender.

To serve, divide the rice among six bowls. Spoon a line of hot sauce across the rice. Arrange a little clump of feta on one side and a rosette of radish slices on the other side. Set a poached egg in the mid­dle of each bowl and season it with fleur de sel and black pepper. Gar­nish with a tiny sprig or two of dill.

Jessica Koslow

 

Jessica Koslow

 

Watch my interview with Jessica in LA in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Jessica! 

 

Jessica Koslow

 

Jessica Koslow

 

Jessica Koslow

 

Jessica Koslow

 

Jessica Koslow

 

Jessica Koslow

 

Jessica Koslow

Meet In Your Kitchen | Urban Farming and a Garden Salad at LA’s Farm Lot 59

Farm Lot 59

A 1-hour drive, leaving the skyline and the buzz of Downtown LA behind, and you’re in Long Beach, still LA county, yet a totally different scene. As we left California Avenue in the south and drove our bulky van down a dusty road for a new Meet In Your Kitchen feature together with Zwilling, the inspiring urban farmer Sasha Kanno welcomed us with a big smile in front of the gate of her green oasis, Farm Lot 59 .

Sasha is a woman with a strong vision and principles, she believes in honest food, available not only for herself, but also for the community that she lives in. She took over the land surrounded by urban industrial buildings in 2010 and turned it into a non-profit organic farm, practicing biodynamics and following the Waldorf School philosophy. The farmer who’s fascinated by rare and heirloom varieties and who gets many of her seeds from a 100-year old seed company in Honolulu, is famous and loved by locals and chefs for her outstanding lettuce and herb mixtures. All year round, she puts an exciting seasonal bouquet together, of arugula, lemony blood sorrel, giant red-leaf mustard lettuce, basil (with a rough surface), huacatay (black mint), cilantro, fennel, tarragon, thyme, chocolate mint, and many more. Her edible flowers, such as pensi, dahlia, dianthus, calendula, lavender chamomile flowers, are a feast for the eye and an explosion of flavors for the palate.

However, as much as she loves to share the produce from her garden with other passionate lovers of natural, healthy fruits and vegetables, Sasha felt that there was more for her to do. She started an educational program of cooking and gardening classes, she wanted to bring the basics back to the table of our children: her tomatoes, beans, eggplants, pumpkins, squash (I learnt that you can even eat its leaves cooked like a vegetable), peppers, snake melon, and artichokes. She wanted them to smell again and listen to the sounds of the woods and fields, and taste pure unprocessed food. She saw city kids who were totally overwhelmed by this experience, being confronted by nature, even stressed some of them. Some of the most common fruits and vegetables had never been in the hands of these children before. It’s an essential experience, if not a right to have access to food in its original form. Sasha takes responsibility to teach them about our fragile ecosystem, so that future generations adjust the way that we deal with ourselves, our food, and our environment.

The doors of Farm Lot 59 are open almost every day and it’s worth visiting this green paradise framed by apple, stone fruit, and guava trees. You can buy the handpicked produce and humanely sourced meats, dairy products, and eggs from friends and other farmers at the farm’s market stand at the street, the Farmstand 59. And then you go home and prepare the beautiful salad that Sasha made for us in her outdoor farm kitchen: a colorful tomato salad with the farmer’s delicious basil vinaigrette featuring the pure taste and beauty of this sweet fruit and fragrant herb!

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

Sasha Kanno’s Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Serves 4

For the dressing

1 cup (240ml) olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 red onion, roughly chopped
2 cups fresh Tuscan basil
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon haberno salt (haberno peppers mixed with sea salt)

For the salad

8-12 green, red and yellow ripe tomatoes (of various sizes), sliced
2 large handfuls mixed young lettuce greens
1 small handful edible flower petals

For the dressing, purée the ingredients in a blender until smooth and season to taste with salt. Add more oil if the dressing is too thick.

Spread the lettuce greens and tomatoes in a large bowl, sprinkle with the dressing and flower petals and serve immediately.

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Watch my interview with Alana in LA in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Sasha!

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

FarmLot5913

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

Meet In Your Kitchen | Heather and Emily celebrate LA’s vegetables at Botanica

Botanica

One of the kitchens that I visited on my trip to LA – the first stop of my new adventure together with Zwilling – was at Botanica, a stunningly beautiful restaurant founded by the wonderful Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer. Both women had been working in the food industry as editors on the East coast for more than a decade, but they were hungry for more. They chose LA to bring a project to life, giving it all their love, passion, and honest determination. An old run-down liquor store in Silverlake looked less than promising when they first saw it, but Heather and Emily knew from the start that this would be the right place to give their vision a home. They gutted it and after a year of sweat and work you can’t even imagine how this gorgeous bright and airy space looked before the renovations. A tall wall touched up in a soft Tuscan pink holds the old wooden beams above the restaurant’s rustic wooden tables and the little market where you can buy the products and produce used in Botanica‘s kitchen.

The two ladies also started an online magazine, a collection of the recipes used at their restaurant to complete their customers hungry needs: you can eat a dish at Botanica, fall in love with it so much that you want to cook it at home, buy the ingredients right away, grab the recipe from the magazine, and go straight to your own kitchen and cook it again.

Sitting at this restaurant feels a bit like being in Heather and Emily’s home and this was an important aspect for them when they first started thinking about their restaurant baby. The design, the menu they put together, the way they work together with their employees, this all shows a philosophy of working and living together in a community. They have strong connections with the other restaurants in their neighborhood, many of which are also run by women, and together they put the spotlight back onto LA’s culinary scene (like “Kismet” that I wrote about last week and Jessica Koslow’s “Sqirl”, which will be featured here on the blog in 2 weeks). They not only share the same work ethics, but also their farmers and suppliers.

And they all have one more thing in common, all these restaurants celebrate vegetables. Heather and Emily manage to turn a potato, cauliflower, squash, or carrot into a vibrant feast. They shift the traditional focus from meat and seafood centric dishes to roots, cabbages, and legumes. Botanica is not a vegetarian restaurant, but ribs, steaks, or fillets aren’t the star of the meal anymore, they can be a part of a greater composition, add flavor, be a luxurious treat of outstanding quality, but they aren’t essential anymore. And the two women’s recipes are so fantastic that you won’t even miss it, you just indulge in a dish like their seared vegetables with romesco (recipe below), which is so rich, balanced, and exciting that you don’t ever think of anything but tasty vegetables. And apart from this more than satisfying pleasure for the taste buds, you can be sure that you just enjoyed food that is good for your body, locally sourced in a strong community that works with and not against nature and our environment.

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Botanica

 

Botanica

Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer’s Seared Vegetables with Romesco

Serves 4

For the romesco

4 red bell peppers
1 jalapeño, seeds removed
2 medium cloves garlic
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 small lemon, zest and juice
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
1 cup (140g) toasted almonds
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves (about ¼ cup chopped)
Sea salt

For the vegetables

20 tiny potatoes (preferably purple), boiled in salted water until just tender, drained and cooled
Olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Spanish smoked paprika
Broccolini, summer squash, romanesco, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower (or a mix)
3 leeks, white and light green part only, cut in half lengthwise

For the topping

About ½ lemon, zest and juice
1 small handful fresh cilantro flowers (or cilantro leaves)

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).

To make the romesco: Roast the bell peppers until blistered and fully soft. Transfer to a large bowl and let them cool for a few minutes. Remove and discard the seeds and stems, collect the thick juices that run off the peppers. Peel the skin and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the roasted peppers and their skin, the jalapeño, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest and juice, smoked paprika, almonds, cilantro, and a splash of the liquid from the peppers. Blend until fully incorporated, but not fully uniform; some texture is ideal here. Add more sherry vinegar, salt, olive oil, and cilantro to taste.

For the vegetables: Lightly crush each potato with the side of a knife. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan over medium heat and sauté the potatoes on one side until just starting to crisp, then flip and crisp up the other side. Remove from oil and season well with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

While the potatoes are crisping, prepare the remaining vegetables: Cut the vegetables into bite size pieces (except the leeks) and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then grill or sear until al dente, with nice char in spots. In a large pan, cook the leeks, cut-side down, until they get a touch of caramelized char, then flip and cook for a few minutes on the other side, until soft through. Cut in two-inch lengths, season, and set aside.

Mound the romesco in the center of a large plate and arrange the potatoes, leeks and vegetables in a ring around the purée. Garnish with a good drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, lemon zest, a sprinkle of salt, and the cilantro flowers and serve immediately.

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Watch my interview with Heather and Emily in LA in September 2017:

“I think that for many women in the industry they are very aware that this is a moment in time when they can be actively involved in changing the culture of the restaurant world.”

 

 

Thank you, Heather and Emily!

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

Meet In Your Kitchen | Kismet LA’s Persian Cucumbers, Melon & Rosewater Labneh

Kismet

White brushed walls, pale wood, and strong geometric lines turn Kismet into a minimalist spot of casual elegance right on LA’s sunny Hollywood Boulevard. Sitting on the wooden bench at the wide window, the fleshy leaves of a tall banyan tree playing with the light, I felt immediately captured by the restaurant’s laid-back vibe and exciting Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-style menu.

Sarah Hymanson and her partner Sara Kramer created a beautiful place to enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a group of friends – following their philosophy that food tastes best when you share it. Kismet is a neighborhood hub where you can fill your table with plates full of colorful vegetable focused delicacies and indulge in the pleasures of wonderful treats such as Little Gem Lettuce with Plums, Sprouted Lentils and Tarragon, Freekeh Polenta with Lamb, Green Chili, Greens and Poached Egg, or the wonderful Persian Cucumbers with Melon, Rosewater Labneh and Parsley Seed Za’atar – this recipe is a feast for the taste buds thankfully shared with us by the two chefs. You just dig in and feel happy, inspired by new flavor combinations focusing on taste and freshness. Or celebrate some precious time just for yourself and a book, have a coffee, and nibble on a Scone with Lemon Cream or Brioche Toast with Date Butter.

“LA is an exciting place to be right now, there’s a lot of young creative energy”, Sarah says. She doesn’t hide that she loves the East coast, she’s from Chicago and worked in New York for years, moving west wasn’t an obvious step for her. In 2015, she met NY native Sara Kramer at Glasserie in New York, Kramer was the opening chef at the acclaimed restaurant and won Eater’s NYC Chef of the Year award for her celebrated way of cooking. Yet the two strong willed chefs and highly creative minds who developed the vision of opening their own place, had to find out that it wasn’t in the East but West, in California, where their first “baby” would open its doors. An organic falafel shop at the lively Grand Central Market in Downtown LA called Madcapra was their testing ground. It became a huge success and so Kismet came next.

Rooted in California through the produce that the Kismet chefs get from their beloved farmers and friends who are such an important part of their community of chefs – “their produce is what makes our food” – yet their style of cooking is very much based on their experiences in the kitchen and their upbringing. Thanks to the similar climate, they can use a lot of fruits and vegetables that are prominent in Middle Eastern cooking, such as pomegranate, dates, olives, and fresh herbs. This is the kind of food that both of them loved all their life, what they grew up with – Sara’s mother is Israeli – it’s the food that fascinates both of them and constantly feeds their inspiration.

LA has always offered a great platform and an excitable open-minded audience to female chefs, like Nancy Silverton, Suzanne Goin, Marie Sue Milliken, and Susan Feniger to name just a few. There’s a history of inspiring women in this city and also in California in general who try alternative ways of producing food, cooking, but also working together. Over the past few years, there have been changes in restaurants all over the US that touch the roots of this industry. Work ethics change, the tone in the kitchen that was very male for decades, changes. “The women today try to challenge these norms by treating people as people. It’s not an easy process, but it’s a responsibility to the industry and the people working in this industry.” Sarah and her partner introduced a 20% service charge on top to improve payments and also even out the gap between front and back of house at their restaurant. It’s not easy, but it’s an important part of the place that they want to create, where it’s about good food, but also about a healthy community, in and outside Kismet.

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey,  for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Kismet

 

Kismet

Persian Cucumbers with Melon, Rosewater Labneh and Parsley Seed Za’atar

By Kimset / Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer

Serves 6

For the Za’atar

2 tablespoons untoasted sesame seed, ground
1 tablespoon whole toasted sesame seeds
¾ cup (about 12g) dried rose petals, broken up
1 ½ teaspoons sumac
1 teaspoon parsley seeds, ground
¼ teaspoon salt

For the rosewater labneh

2 cups (470g) labneh
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of 2 lemons
2 cloves garlic, grated on a Microplane
2 teaspoons honey
¼-1 tablespoon rose water, to taste
Black pepper, finely ground, to taste

For the salad

9-12 Persian cucumbers, rinsed, shaved lengthwise on a mandoline
1 cup (about 160g) melon, cut into oblique pieces
Juice of 2 lemons
Olive oil
Salt, to taste
Fresh chervil, leaves only

For the Za’atar, in a small bowl, combine the untoasted and toasted sesame seeds, rose petals, sumac, parsley seeds, and salt. You can keep the Za’atar in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

For the labneh, in a large bowl, combine the labneh, salt, lemon zest, garlic, honey, and ¼ tablespoon of the rose water and season to taste with pepper and additional rosewater. You can prepare the rose water labneh in advance and keep it in the fridge for 1 day.

For the salad, mix together the cucumbers, melon, lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat and set aside.

Divide the rose water labneh between bowls, arrange the cucumbers and melon on top, and sprinkle each portion with about 1 teaspoon of the Za’atar and a little chervil. Serve immediately.

Kismet

 

Kismet

 

Watch my interview with Sarah in LA in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Sarah!

 

Kismet

 

Kismet

 

Kismet

 

Kismet

 

Kismet

Meet In Your Kitchen | Alana Kysar’s Hawaiian Poke & her sunny life in LA

Alana Kyser

Driving up and down Hollywood’s soft hills is like swinging in a cradle in one of those dreams that you never want to end. Seduced by the sweet city cocktail of warm asphalt and colorful blossoms popping up behind the iron gates of the elegant Spanish-style mansions along the endless streets and boulevards cutting through the city, I had to pinch myself to believe that I finally arrived at the first stop of my culinary trip around the world, an adventure I started together with Zwilling.

These trips will take me to different continents to meet the locals and dive into the secrets and excitements of their cuisines. The cooking of each country, region, or even village is unique, but despite the differences, we have one thing in common wherever we live: we meet in the kitchen, at the table, to eat, drink, and feast together with the ones we love. This has never changed and I don’t believe that this will ever change.

LA wins me over in an instant, always, whenever I go there. There seems to be freedom in the air, no boundaries, but opportunities. Palm trees gracefully grow into the endless blue sky, and even the Pacific hitting the long beaches of Venice and Malibu with its wild waves seem to mellow down as it touches the city’s golden sand. LA just puts a smile on your face, you can’t help it, it makes you focus on what’s possible rather than the obstacles. It’s magical and this might be the reason why so many people from all over the country working in the food scene come together in this beautiful spot in California, to work together, to create, and to let their visions come alive.

This, and the fact that the state’s unbelievably pleasing weather lets the produce grow so lusciously that it turns the land into a Garden of Eden. Whoever I met in LA, praised the gift of having the best fruits and vegetables at hand almost all year round. All the chefs, home cooks, and farmers who I met in California, who often came from far-flung places and left their home town or country behind, were pulled and inspired by the ingredients that California brings to their kitchens.

Alana Kyser

This woman has the sweetest smile and the cutest sausage dog and I don’t remember what hit me first when I met Alana Kysar in the hall of her elegant home in LA. The blogger and soon to be cookbook author lights up a room with her positive attitude and aura and makes you want to just sit in her kitchen and chat – and that’s what I did.

I had been following Alana’s work on her food blog, Fix Feast Flairand on Instagram for years and she successfully made me curious to learn more about the cuisine of her roots. Born and raised in Hawaii, she has an inspiring cooking heritage that shines through most of the creations that come out of the kitchen in her new hometown LA. Her poke recipe in particular roused my appetite just by the look of the pictures on her blog and to finally cook this dish together with her in her minimalist kitchen perfectly equipped with a knife collection that would make every chef jealous, felt just right. We stood at the long counter, attentively watched by her sausage dog, LA’s skyline sparkling right behind us, cutting tender tuna fillets that felt like butter. I can honestly say that I considered moving to California in that moment and becoming my host’s sous-chef.

According to Alana, it’s best to enjoy a bowl of poke on the beach, with a six pack of beer and a bunch of friends after work. It’s a Hawaiian classic, slightly similar to Peruvian ceviche, however, the fish stays raw, it’s not cured in citrus juices as in the South-American version. It’s a very minimal dish that impresses with its simplicity and ingredients of outstanding quality. The spotlight is on the ahi (yellowfin tuna), cut into cubes and tossed in sesame oil, soy sauce, and Hawaiian salt, then you add some onions, nuts, and seaweed, the result is unbelievably tender and tasty. It’s usually served with rice, which points to the fact that the roots of Hawaiian cooking are versatile but strongly connected to Asia. Japan, Korea, the Philippines, all these countries left a mark on the cooking of America’s 50th state, but the Hawaiians adapted it to the produce that their islands offer: mainly fish, fruit, and vegetables – and lots of sugar.

Alana was born in Kona and raised in Kula on the island of Maui, surrounded by a family of true food lovers who also brought a great portion of humor into her life. Her father often cooked with young Alana and established a judging system for her creations: she’d get points for ingredients, creativity, and presentation. Her mother introduced her to the local cuisine, laid back dishes, she’s a master in the kitchen who Alana admiringly describes with the words: she’s all that I want to be in the kitchen. One of her chicken recipes must be so good, that the daughter is still trying to beat it.

However, you shouldn’t be deceived by a beautiful woman’s smile, the soon to be author describes herself as a dictator at the cooker. She knows how she wants everything chopped and done and doesn’t accept compromises, even when it comes to her mom who had the honor – and pleasure – to test all the recipes in Alana’s new book. The feedback was content from both sides, so I guess Alana Kysar isn’t that far away from fitting in her kitchen idol’s footsteps.

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures when I’m too busy chatting and laughing!

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

Alana Kysar’s Ahi Poke Bowl

Serves 2

1 pound fresh ahi steak (yellowfin tuna), sashimi grade, cut into cubed, bite size pieces
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more to taste
¼ cup thinly sliced sweet Maui onion (or sweet yellow onion)
¼ cup chopped green onions
½ teaspoon Hawaiian salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) or chili pepper flakes
2 teaspoons finely chopped toasted macadamia nuts
1 teaspoon toasted white or black sesame seeds
1 handful fresh chopped ogo/ limu/ edible sea moss (optional)
Shredded nori (dried seaweed) or furikake (dried seaweed seasoning), for the topping
Cooked white rice (optional)

Place the ahi in a bowl.

Start by adding one tablespoon of sesame oil, soy sauce, the sweet onions, green onions, Hawaiian salt, shichimi togarashi or chili flakes, toasted macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, and the ogo/ limu (if using). Using your hands or wooden spoons, gently toss together and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Divide the rice between 2 bowls. Arrange the poke on top of the rice and sprinkle with shredded nori or furikake, serve immediately.

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Watch my interview with Alana in LA in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Alana!

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kysar

Meet In Your Kitchen | Deb Perelman – Smitten Kitchen’s Berry Ricotta Galette

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

Last week I went to New York and I had three wishes on my mind:

1. I wanted to win the James Beard Award (I had strong doubts that that would happen).
2. I wanted to eat oysters at April Blumfield’s The John Dory.
3. I was hoping that Deb Perelman would open the doors to her famous Smitten Kitchen for a Meet In Your Kitchen feature.

And what can I say, I was a lucky girl. I won the award, I had a fantastic pre-award oyster treat just for myself (if you like oysters, book a table at April’s restaurant next time you visit NYC!) – and I met and baked together with Deb!

Smitten Kitchen was the only blog I knew about when I started Eat In My Kitchen in November 2013. I discovered many more in the past three years, but not many managed to keep my attention with such persistence as Deb’s. She knows how to entertain, impress, and inspire me with calm ease. Her love for food jumps out of all of her recipes, out of every picture she takes and every line she writes. She’s a perfectionist, but she knows how to hide it. She’s a charmer.

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

Deb’s blog is a staple in the blog world. She started in 2003 writing about her life in general and focussing on recipes since 2006. When you ask yourself how a single person can build up such a successful food platform on her own and keep it running like a smooth motor, you just have to meet her and you’ll know why. Deb is full of life and energy, at the same time down to earth and humble. She’s not interested in the blunt surface, in superficial attention, she wants to explore a recipe in depth and present it in all its glory. And here lies her secret: all her recipes make sense, from a cook (or baker) and an eater’s point of you. She calls herself a fussy eater, picky like her children, she doesn’t mind baking the same cake 14 times until it’s just right. This leads to a habit of excessive note taking whenever she’s at the cooker. To learn, to improve, and to develop the right formula that she and her readers can totally trust. This trust is what a food blog is built on. Mrs. Perelman takes this task quite easily as she loves what she does, she only cooks the food that she craves herself and that she’s curious about. She’s like a passionate scientist, working late at night, while everyone else is already in bed, and she’s still there, solving culinary problems.

Her journey into and in the kitchen was influenced by her work at a bakery as a teenage girl, by her family with roots in Germany and Russia, Jewish baking, and American cooking. Her mother’s cookbook by Julia Child added some French extravagance to the palate and sparked her interest. When you read Deb’s blog, you can see that she has a weak spot for comfort food. She might be a fussy eater but she’s not into fussy cooking.

After hundreds of recipes developed by herself and shared online, it was time, in 2012, to turn this treasure into a physical publication. When Deb’s first cookbook – The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook – entered the book shops, it happened anything but quietly. It was a success that screamed for a follow up book. A second child (the cutest baby girl!) and obsessive recipe tasting caused a few delays in the schedule, however, Deb’s confident that it’s going to happen this year. Her new book will come out soon, including more global influences than in the predecessor’s recipes. It’s a collection that represents how we cook and eat today. Different cultures from all over the world inspired Deb to experiment with ingredients that are relatively new to our kitchens. The frame, however, is Deb, her style, and her love for American comfort cooking.

We baked the most wonderful berry ricotta galette together, it tasted divine, and the fact that Deb baked it for me made it taste even better.

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

Deb also made a couple small galettes (as you can see in the picture above), but if you aim for the star-shape it’s easier to make one large galette. The smaller ones opened in the oven.

Berry Ricotta Galette

Recipe by Deb Perelman / Smitten Kitchen

Leakage is almost inevitable when making galettes but you shouldn’t sweat it because I’m convinced that it’s more distressing for the baker (who knows exactly how much jammy deliciousness has been lost) than anyone eating a wedge (it will taste like nothing is missing at all).

Here’s the PDF template I made to help you form a star shape, if desired. As should be abundantly evident, I’m no graphic designer, but it will hopefully give you a start.

Makes one 7.5 to 8-inch (19-20cm) galette

For the pastry

1 1/4 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Zest of half a lemon
8 tablespoons (4 ounces or 113 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup (60g) ricotta, yogurt or sour cream
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water

For the filling

2 cups raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries
3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar (use the lower amount if your fruit is especially sweet)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Juice of half a lemon
Pinch of salt

For the glaze

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1 heaped teaspoon turbinado or coarse sugar for sprinkling

For the dough, whisk the flour, salt, sugar and zest together in the bottom of a large bowl. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. Stir ricotta and 3 tablespoons water together in a small dish and pour into butter-flour mixture. Stir together with a flexible spatula as best as you can, then use your hands to knead the mixture into a rough, craggy ball. Wrap in plastic and flatten into a disc. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 48 hours, or you can quick-firm this in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

On a floured counter, roll the dough out into a large round-ish shape, about 14 to 15 inches (36-38cm) across. If you’d like to form your galette into a star, as shown, use the red dashed outline of the PDF template mentioned above. It will print smaller on an 8.5×11-inch (DIN A4) piece of paper than you need, but you can use it as a rough guide to cut as large of a pentagon shape as your dough will allow.

Transfer round or pentagon-shaped dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet; I like to fold my dough gently, without creasing, in quarters then unfold it onto the baking pan. If you’re making a star, cut a 1-inch (2.5cm) notch in the center of each side, angling it toward the center, as shown in the blue dashed lines of the template.

Stir together all of the filling ingredients and spread them in the center of the dough, leaving a 2-inch (5cm) border. If you’re making a round galette, fold the border over the filling, pleating the edge to make it fit. If you’re making a star shape, fold each of the 5 corners into the center, along the green dotted lines of the template. Pinch the outer corners closed, to seal in the filling and the shape (see 6th and 10th picture).

Whisk egg yolk and water together and brush over exposed crust. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes, or golden all over. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature, preferably with vanilla ice cream.

https://smittenkitchen.com/2016/06/the-consummate-chocolate-chip-cookie-revisited/

The ever-growing number of Smitten Kitchen’s followers has now trusted you for over a decade. What’s your secret?

I have no idea how I got so lucky with this. When I got started food blogging in 2006, there was no such thing as turning it into a career so it wasn’t even in the remotest corner of my mind. All I wanted to do was create a collection of recipes I considered perfect so once I got a dish the way I liked it, I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I was hungry for it. I still feel exactly this way. Having an audience makes it way more fun, but I often wonder if I’d still be doing this in a vacuum because I will always want to cook new things and get them right.

You call yourself a perfectionist, do you feel the drive to perfection just in the kitchen or also in other fields of life? Does the perfect recipe really exist, when do you know you have to stop?

I think near-perfect recipes exist. I don’t think every recipe is going to work with every set of ingredients, in every kitchen, at every altitude, at all times but I think when the recipe is very strong, it withstands these variations well. If I think a small thing will throw a recipe immeasurably off though, I won’t publish it because I’ve found in 10+ years of comments that if something can go wrong with a recipe, it sooner than later will for someone.

As you’ve seen my fridge and freezer (since cleaned, but only under duress), I think you know my perfectionism does not extend everywhere in my life. But I do want things the way I want them and I hear from my parents I have been this way from the beginning (sorry guys).

Which of your recipes do you love the most? Which one does your husband and two kids love the most? 

We all love the Leite’s Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookie, especially now that I’ve updated them in a way that I can make them more often (I like to stash them in the freezer, bake whenever we remember). And not to be too much of a tease but because this is something I’ve been working endlessly on for the last couple years, there’s a grandma-style chicken noodle soup and a crumb cake in my next cookbook that everyone is nuts for. They never go to waste.

Where do you find inspiration for new recipes?

Oddly, never inside the kitchen. The kitchen is where I test out ideas and pay close attention to what happens, but it’s not where new ideas come to me. They come to me when I’m on a train or in a car going somewhere far enough that my mind wanders off, or at a restaurant when I like the flavor intersection of ingredients and want to apply it to something else at home.

How do your family’s roots in Germany and Russia influence your cooking and your personal culinary journey?

From my husband’s Russian family (he was born there but doesn’t remember it), an appreciate of garlic, pickles, sour cream, dill, wafer-y cakes, syrniki (cottage cheese pancakes), as well as the value of a freezer full of pelmeni, vareniki (filled dumplings), and at least one bottle of vodka. From my mom’s German side, spaetzle, schnitzel, bretzel, bienenstich (popular German cake), and every type of almond paste/marzipan confection you can dream up.

What do you enjoy about writing a cookbook and what do you hate about this project? Do you prefer working on your blog or on a book?

I love both for different reasons; the blog is my favorite place to be, to try out ideas, chat with people in the comments, field questions and more. The speed of output and feedback is faster, it lends itself well to cooking whims and streaks; it makes me very happy. Books are less balanced. You spend years (5 years, even!) working through recipes and ideas behind the scenes with an additional layer of design — I don’t know how your book experience was, but I seem to always go 20 rounds with the cover, 45 rounds with the title, 10 rounds with page layouts, and am making recipe swaps until the day I’m cut off, like being at a bar at 2am — all to yield one (hopefully) wonderful thing that you hope people will want to take home and read and cook from but you have no idea and so, perhaps, the stress is also much greater. But so are the rewards (or is it relief?) should people be as excited about it as you were. I loved getting to book tour last time, and hope to do more this fall.

You have a large cookbook selection in your apartment, what makes a good cookbook in your eyes?

So many things. While I love, like anyone with eyes, looking at beautiful pictures, it’s never made a just-okay cookbook a great one. What I love even more is feeling like I’m stepping into a story, a world, with recipes. I love a funny anecdote about how a recipe came to be or a small tidbit I wouldn’t have known about a dish. I want the recipes to be airtight, even though I know how hard this is, but to me this is the baseline of a cookbook. And I’m always hoping to see something I hadn’t seen before; to feel the creativity bursting from the page.

Do you enjoy being cooked for? On a special night, do you prefer to eat at home or dive into New York’s vibrant food scene?

I love being cooked for! I love going out; we used to do it so freely before kids and I do miss it, it’s just more complicated with noisy people with early bedtimes. I get so inspired going somewhere teeming with fresh ideas, and it makes me want to come home and cook immediately, so eating out fuels eating in.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?

I’ve always enjoyed Julia Child’s tenacity, Marion Cunningham’s defense of home cooking against drudgery, and Gabrielle Hamilton’s unapologetic embrace of her food vision.

When it comes to school events or a friend’s party, do you get requests to bring a dish or are people shy to ask Deb from Smitten Kitchen to bring a birthday cake or sandwiches?

Absolutely not.

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

Brownies, I think. Not very different from My Favorite Brownies on my site, but I’d forgotten to add the flour. They were a little burnt at the edges and very mushy in the middle and yes, we still ate them. They weren’t even bad, but I never heard the end of it.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in New York? 

Union Square Greenmarket for vegetables and fruit and everything; Murray’s or Saxelby for cheese, Kalustyan’s for spices and around-the-world ingredients, Buon Italia in Chelsea Market, mostly to load up on the Setaro pasta, Faicco’s for spiral sausages for grilling weather, which are always a huge hit, can I go on and on? I could go on and on.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

I think my kids should wake up early to make me pancakes this weekend for a change. (I am joking, of course. They are 1 and 7 and our apartment would be in ashes.)

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

Spaghetti with clams or mussels and fries or assemble-your-own steak salads with a side of roasted potatoes.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

Solo if I’m working on a new recipe or one I haven’t ironed out yet, because I want to be able to pay attention and take notes and make tweaks. If I’m throwing together the above meal for 10 friends, they better be hanging out in the kitchen and drinking wine with me.

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

Improvised; I like the challenge. 

Which meal would you never cook again?

Anything where I’ve ended up cooking things individually over a stove for many people; I have bad memories of making Fake Shack Burgers for 10 people (so much hamburger grease from head to toe when I was done) as well as an early brunch party where I made French toast for everyone as they trickled in.

Thank you Deb!

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

 

Smitten Kitchen's Berry Ricotta Galette

meet in your kitchen | The Temples of Agrigento and Sicilian Caponata

villaathenasicily1_dd

We went to Sicily and it was heavenly – as always in Sicily. But what makes this place so special? Is it the magical light, the outstanding food, the heart warming people? Was it the endless Scala dei Turchi beach, or the breathtaking temples of Juno and Concordia that happened to be right in front of our hotel room? Why did it feel like being close to the Gods when we stayed at the stunning Hotel Villa Athena in the lush, green valley of Agrigento?

Our hotel was luxurious and in a more than fortunate position. The old villa once owned by a noble principessa in the 18th century, is situated in the fascinating Archeological Park and Unesco World Heritage Vale dei Templi. Thanks to the efforts of archaeologist Domenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta, the Duke of Serradifalco, we can admire the stunning remains of Akragas, one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily. Founded in 581 BC, this ancient city was spread over 1300 hectares laying graciously on top of two soft hills. Today many traces of its history and rich culture are still present, most spectacularly in the form of a group of temples dating back to the 5th century BC. Best preserved are the Temple of Concordia, the Doric style building is in a surprisingly good state thanks to its transformation into a Christian Basilica in the 6th century AC, and Juno. And this temple literally took my breath away. The Temple of Juno is magical, the atmosphere, the light, the setting, it’s mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off its sturdy columns, glowing golden in the afternoon sun. The light seemed unreal, dimmed and dramatic. You can see it in the first picture, it looks like a painting, but it’s a photograph.

Villa Athena Sicily

I came to Agrigento to cook together with Hotel Villa Athena‘s renowned chef Salvatore Gambuzzo. Thanks to his verve and dedication, the hotel’s restaurant, La Terrazza Degli Dei, is mentioned in the Michelin guide and the first star doesn’t seem too far away. Salvatore is deeply connected with Sicily and the region of Agrigento, he was born just a few hills away from his restaurant, in Porto Empedocle. He loves his island, he adores its original produce and culinary traditions. Salvatore is a true Sicilian at heart. Inspired by his nonno Giuseppe, a fisherman, and his mamma Giuseppina, he always felt passionate about his home island’s food. Becoming a chef was a wise choice made at the young age of 14. Working in Piemonte and Monte Carlo, and then later, becoming the executive chef of the prestigious Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea in Taormina, made him gather fruitful experiences. But it also made him realize how close he feels to the soil where he was born, so he moved back and joined the team at Villa Athena.

Salvatore loves experimenting with new recipes, using the freshest fish from the sea right in front of his door step and the meat from the butchers who he’s known for years. In the warmer months of the year he can pick the fruits and vegetables right from the villa’s garden, he has absolute control over the produce and products that he uses in his kitchen. Local or regional, mainly organic, and in accordance with the island’s inspiring culinary traditions. He feels the duty to protect his culture and pass it on to future generations. As the president of the Associazione Cuochi Agrigento he’s an ambassador for his country’s regional treasures. We need people like Salvatore to keep our traditions and food culture alive, all over the world.

The chef also has another, quite impressive passion: Savatore falls for food art and creates spectacular sculptures made of potatoes (and other food) preserved with salt and turned into rock-hard everlasting pieces of art. It’s unbelievable, he manages to make potatoes look like marble! With pride in his voice, he told me that he brought home eight gold medals from world wide competitions. The preparation takes weeks, but when you hear him talk about it – especially in Italian – it sounds like he’s talking about a woman.

It was relatively warm and the Sicilian sun was still strong during our stay just a few days before Christmas. The branches of the citrus trees in the beautiful gardens were lusciously filled with plump lemons, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit. And as Salvatore showed me his own ‘little‘ garden, I couldn’t help but feel envious. Bushes of mint, rosemary, green and violet sage, marjoram, oregano, various kinds of thyme (including thymo alpino), borage, sorrel, basil – it’s an orchestra of flavours, always at hand to refine (almost) every creation that leaves his kitchen.

Villa Athena Sicily

We enjoyed three dinners and two lunches prepared by Salvatore and his team, all of which were rich in aromas and creative in style, never forced or pretentious, and most importantly always heavenly delicious. The chef shows great respect for nature’s creations in his recipes, he works with nature’s gifts, but never tries to distract from their original taste and quality. The first dish on my plate was Sicilian Caponata, one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to dig my fork into. It was fruity, sweet, and juicy, so thick and chunky that it stood on the plate like a dome. Caponata is a Mediterranean classic, zucchini, eggplant, and pepper, tomatoes and vinegar, it’s a simple dish, but this one was so good that I asked Salvatore to share the recipe with me so that I could share it with you. The addition of celery is great and the topping of sugary-sweet dehydrated date tomatoes makes it irresistible. My humble chef was so kind to also share the trick that turns the tomatoes into little addictive bites (see the recipes below).

To give you a little idea of our unashamed feasting, these are some of the dishes we had on our plates:

Insalata di Mare (so simple, divine, I had to eat it twice!), Herb Risotto with Prawns, Spaghetti in Salsa di Cozze e Vongole, Sicilian Cannoli (of course), Mackerel with Citrus and Clams, Taglierini Pasta with Lobster, Belgian Endive and Sheep Ricotta, Spinach Dumplings with Rosemary Squid Ragout, Sicilian Stuffed Red Mullet, Bean Soup with Gragnano Pasta, Lamp Chops in Honey with Sweet and Sour Pumpkin, Sweet Variations of Prickly Pear, Swordfish alla Messinese, Panelle (golden fried Sicilian chickpea fritters)…

And the wine! I must say I’m quite lucky – most of the time – when it comes to picking local treasures from the wine menu, even without guidance. But this time I knew we were in good hands, sommelier and maître d’ Salvatore Di Carlo took great care of us and introduced us to one of his favourites, the fantastic Planeta Chardonnay from the territory of Menfi close to Agrigento. We fell in love with this golden, lush wine, so much so that we had to order it again on our last night. And once in a while Salvatore Di Carlo would stop by at our table, just to smell the aroma, and he’d smile. Our red favourite was the dark Baglio del Cristo di Campobello Lusirà Syrah, also a precious local find.

I’m a huge fan of good bread, I call it my favourite food for a reason, so despite all the culinary highlights that caressed my taste buds, I’ll never forget the bread served at the villa at lunch and dinner time. Still warm and cut into thick slices, generously sprinkled with the villa’s own olive oil, accompanied by a glass of Prosecco and a good chat with our Salvatores – it couldn’t get any better. The bread is made of the indigenous Russello durum wheat semolina. This Sicilian grain is dark, golden, and almost red in colour, like the soil around Agrigento. The baked loaf has a beautiful crust, a light crumb, and its nutritious value is much higher than that of wheat. For a sweeter version, we spread it – thicker than necessary – with the hotel’s scrumptious pistachio paste, one bite and you’ll never ask for chocolate spread at the breakfast table again. I want to work on a recipe to share with you, one of my 2017 kitchen projects.

Villa Athena Sicily

We met so many lovely Salvatores at Villa Athena, which is not a surprise, as we learnt it’s one of Sicily’s favourite names. If you go there, it’s most likely that this will be the first name you either hear or see engraved in the rocks on a beach (it happened to us). All our beloved Salvatores, be it the chef, the sommelier, or the kind and caring waiters, they were all the reason that we left the villa in sadness – we didn’t want our paths to separate. We laughed so much together, they all did everything possible to make us feel fantastic. We can’t thank you enough for giving us an insight into your culture and cuisine, for making this wonderful stay at your hotel unforgettable, and for spoiling us so much. Thank you Salavatore (s), Roberto, and Claudia!

Hotel Villa Athena is a member of the group of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it’s the right place to treat yourself under the Mediterranean sun for a couple nights. I find that the colder time of the year is best to enjoy the hotel’s extravagant comfort and amenities, it’s all quiet and peaceful in the low season. Even the Vale dei Templi was all for us, we were almost the only visitors, however, the hotel offers an exclusive entrance to the Archeological Park, which means you can skip the long line of tourists even in the summer months.

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

Salvatore Gambuzza’s Sicilian Caponata

Serves 10

eggplants 10
vegetable oil, for cooking the eggplants
celery 800g / 1 3/4 pounds
olive oil
onion, cut in half and sliced, 1.1 kg / 2 1/2 pounds
green olives, pitted and chopped, 300g / 2/3 pounds
capers, rinsed and drained, 200g / 7 ounces
fresh tomato sauce 1.2kg / 2 2/3 pounds
tomato paste 200g / 7 ounces
salt and pepper
vinegar 200ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
granulated sugar 180g/ 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons

Rinse the eggplants and remove the stems and the ends. Peel the eggplants (optional), cut off the skin as thinly as possible. Cut the eggplants into large cubes and cook them in a generous amount of hot vegetable oil until golden and soft. Transfer to kitchen paper to remove excess oil and set aside.

Trim the celery and remove all the leaves and discard them. Cut the celery into small pieces and blanch in salted water until tender.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, heavy pan and cook the onions until golden and soft. Add the celery, olives, and capers, cook for a few minutes, then add the tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat. When it’s all soft and thick, add the eggplant to the sauce and simmer until soft and mushy.

In a medium saucepan, add the sugar and vinegar and let the sugar dissolve over medium heat, then pour the vinegar over the caponata. Let it simmer until the mixture is thick.

This dish is best eaten cold, topped with candied cherry tomatoes:

Candied Cherry Tomates

(for the topping)

cherry tomates 20
fresh marjoram 5g / 1/4 ounce
fresh thyme 5g / 1/4 ounce
fresh oregano 5g / 1/4 ounce
icing sugar 200g / 2 cups

Preheat the oven to 100°C / 200°F.

Fill a large bowl with cold water and a handful of ice cubes.

In a saucepan, bring water to the boil, add the tomatoes, and immediately transfer them to the bowl with the ice water. Using your fingers, remove the skin, then cut the tops off and discard.

Spread the tomatoes and the remaining ingredients in a large baking dish, mix well, and dehydrate in the oven for 2 hours until the tomatoes are soft and a little shriveled.

Once cool, keep the tomatoes in a jar filled to the top with olive oil.

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

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