Written for Edible Santa Barbara - Spring 2019
Twenty years ago, not long after I moved to Santa Barbara, I toyed with, well actually seriously contemplated, wading into the turbulent waters of restaurant ownership. I blithely envisioned a chic bistro, complete with Chez Panissesque daily changing menus, yet the more I analyzed this potential venture and the enormous commitment it would take, the more I realized, sadly, that it was not to be. So, if not a restaurant, I chose to do, what was for me, the next best thing. Teaching people how to cook. Ideally, as though friends were coming over to dinner we would all cook together and the menu would change with every class. Little did I know what this would lead to! Now, after two decades, hundreds and hundreds of events and classes, and eight cookbooks later, I can see, in the catalogs of menus in my office, the evolution of my cooking, my tastes and what has become my food. What struck me the most as I leafed through the pages was the very real sense of terroir that the recipes reflected.
From the French word terre (earth), meaning ‘from the earth’ or ‘a sense of place’, terroir also imbues that which grows, and is cultivated in a particular region with distinctive characteristics. Like a wave rippling out from its epicenter, I saw that my culinary repertoire had expanded from the lush green fields of Normandie and the planes of Provence, to all the shores of the Mediterranean, lapping up the scented and earthy foods of the Maghreb and the fragrant, perfumed palettes of Levantine and Ottoman cooking, and to gastronomic forays into the spice infused foods of the Indian subcontinent, and herb filled delicacies of South East Asia. All this from seasonal explorations of farmer’s markets across Europe to those I found here in California.
Nourished by these forays, I discovered foods I had never tasted before: daikon and watermelon radishes, Thai basil and fresh Za’atar, Chinese long beans and sprouted black eyed peas, microgreens and blistered almonds, Jerusalem artichokes and Romanesco broccoli, tomatillos and jicama, Meyer lemons, pluots and apriums to name but a few; vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices that reflected the myriad communities and migrant farmers that nurtured and cultivated the land around us.
The farmers I have come to know locally come from Ojai, Los Alamos and the Central Valley and as far away as Mexico, Laos and Thailand. Collectively they farm the rich soil in fields and valleys dotted throughout this county, and plant their heritage into the ground. From their roots, I now understand, the food I cook has literally changed to encompass my new terroir. I realized, with a deep sense of gratitude, that I had put down my own roots, tapping into their extraordinary bounty. If Brillat-Savarin, now said to me ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are,’ he would find a French-Mediterranean-Californian hybrid, delighting in the cross-cultural mélange of produce that I pick up at the market every week. Over time this food has changed me and the way I cook.
The very first class I taught, in the Spring of 1999, was classic French cuisine, a combination of Provencal staples and dishes I grew up with. My French bistro ideal channeled into the food I showed people how to make. Individual onion tarts with a fresh garden herb salad, followed by stuffed filet mignons with Roquefort and rosemary, served with braised endives, and for dessert an apricot clafoutis. I felt at home in this cuisine and transplanted it to the American Riviera. In my first decade of teaching nearly every menu included beef or lamb or pork, salmon, trout or seabass, centered around regional French and Italian cooking, with the odd excursion into Spanish delicacies. In the Spring of 2009, I penned a story for the inaugural issue of Edible Santa Barbara about a different culinary journey, one taken through a spring garden, trumpeting the delights of (and providing the recipes for) asparagus, both green and white, fava beans and pastoral lamb. Re-reading this, a decade later, I can see that this was the turning point, the start of a more vegetable based cooking. I rarely taught a vegetarian class before then. Oh, how that has changed! Now, more often than not, the meals I prepare, teach and write about are often plant based, celebrating and reveling in the colorful, succulent array of produce found in our near-daily farmers markets.
Much to my chagrin I have tried and failed to grow vegetables. I can just about manage herbs. Every time I see farmers picking crops as I crisscross the countryside, I send out a silent prayer of gratitude for their skills and look forward to discovering new varieties of vegetables and fruit as I walk through their farm stands. They have nourished my imagination, and in turn my recipes. Who knew, for example, that cauliflower, tomatoes, beets, radishes and carrots come in a palette of rainbow-like colors with nuances in texture and flavor? I never saw them when I first came to California, now they are showcased in local restaurants up and down the coast, and splashed across food media. Lest I thought this was California foodie phenomenon, I was surprised, pleasantly so, when on my last trip back to Provence, to find some of the very same vegetables being grown there. Food trends it seems are quickly transcontinental. I decided to make what my French cousin referred to as ‘Californian food’ showcasing these fruits and vegetables. I had a distinct sensation that the ripple effect of my culinary migrations had come full circle, cooking Provencale-Mediterranean food, albeit with a new West Coast twist. I made them a donut peach salad with feta and lemon basil, slow roasted citrus salmon with heirloom tomatoes, and a salad of shaved asparagus with endives. The ingredients were familiar to them, the combinations new.
Some things never change though. My mantra has always been eat with the seasons and eat local. That Spring, in markets on both sides of the Atlantic, I found apricots, the one fruit that is for me the harbinger of the season. As soon as I saw them, I made, as I do every year, an apricot clafoutis. I await the first harvest this year with great anticipation, although who knows, perhaps I’ll make a cherry-apricot-pluot version, a new twist on a classic.
Arugula, Radish, Date and Pistachio Salad
I had a little radish frenzy at the market recently. I found some long, tapered radishes and was captivated by their shapes and hues. One variety was called Cincinnati Red, another, pale cream in color, was a type of Japanese radish, akin to a thin daikon. There were also some stunning watermelon radishes and I piled some of them into my basket as well. Once home, I chopped and sliced and peeled them every which way, a delightful confetti of radish curls and ‘petals’ falling on my kitchen table. The ‘roses’ came about as I played with my food! They were so pretty that I had to make a salad with them, showcasing all their peppery delights.
Serves 8 people
For the salad:
8 oz baby arugula
4-5 long radishes, sometimes known as Japanese radishes, they can be white or red, peeled lengthwise to create long thin strips
3 medium-sized watermelon radishes — peeled and then very thinly sliced, on a mandolin if possible, creating thin ‘petal-like’ slices
8 medjool dates — cut into small piece
1/3 cup pistachios
For the vinaigrette:
¼ cup basil olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar (flavored with pomegranates if possible) otherwise a good aged balsamic will work too
Pinch of coarse sea salt
4-5 grinds black pepper
1. Place the arugula in a medium-sized salad bowl.
2. Roll up half the radish strips so they resemble rose buds that are just opening and nestle them into the arugula. Roll up the remaining radish strips in the same fashion and then wrap them with overlapping slices of watermelon radish ‘petals’. Nestle each radish ‘rose’ in the arugula. (Nestling them helps them stay together.)
3. Sprinkle the date pieces and pistachios over the salad.
4. In a small bowl whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients to form an emulsion. When ready to serve pour the vinaigrette over the salad and serve, taking care to keep the ‘roses’ whole.
Spring Pea, Fava Bean and Roasted Tomato Tart
When I re-read the recipes in my article for the Spring 2009 issue of Edible it included one for a spring pea and fava bean salad to be served alongside a rack of lamb. I am surprised to say that I cannot remember the last time I cooked lamb. Now, contemplating a spring dinner, I’d plum for a tart such as this one for the main course with its riot of spring peas that burst in your mouth.
Serves 8 people
For the tart shell:
9 oz (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 ½ oz (11 tablespoons) butter — chilled, cut into small pieces
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
Pinch of salt
For the filling:
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
½ pint cherry tomatoes
2 shallots — peeled, halved and thinly sliced
½ lb snap peas — cut on a bias
1 lb fava beans
½ lb shelled English peas
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 oz feta cheese – crumbled
½ cup ricotta
Pinch of salt
4-5 grinds pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
½ cup small mint leaves
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 12-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
2. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Use longer pulses until the dough forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. (You can make the dough ahead of time and remove it from the fridge approximately 20 minutes before using.) On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to a 14-inch circle. Line the tart pan with the dough. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and then prick the dough with a fork. Cut a hole in the center by running a sharp knife around the edge of a water glass. Remove the circle of dough and reserve for another use. (Note: I love the touch of whimsy, but you can just as easily make the tart without the cut out.
3. Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.
4. Bake the tart shell for 15 minutes until it is a pale golden color, then carefully remove the parchment paper and weights. Return the tart to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more until golden brown. Remove the tart shell from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
5. Place the cherry tomatoes in a small oven proof dish. Drizzle with olive oil, add a pinch of salt, a little pepper and the Herbes de Provence. Shake the pan back and forth a few times to coat the tomatoes. Place in the same oven as the tart dough. Roast for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave in the pan.
6. Shell the fava beans. Slit open the pods and remove the beans. Boil them in heavily salted water for 1 minute. Drain and immediately plunge the beans into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the bright color. Tear the tough skin at the rounded end and squeeze out the bean.
7. Heat a little oil in a medium skillet. Sauté the shallots for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the snap peas, a pinch of salt and some pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Finally, add the fava beans and English peas and cook 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
8. In a small bowl, using a fork, mix together the yogurt, feta, ricotta, pinch of salt, black pepper and chives.
9. Place the cooked tart shell on a platter. Spread the yogurt-feta mixture over the tart base. Layer the pea-fava bean mixture on top. Dot with the tomatoes and tuck the mint leaves in amongst the peas. Serve warm.
Stone Fruit Clafoutis
If there is one fruit that heralds Spring for me, it’s an apricot. This is the first dish I make when I spy these beautiful golden orbs at the market. This dessert is like a rich, creamy pudding. If there’s any left it’s fantastic, served alongside a cup of coffee, for breakfast too!
Note: It’s also scrumptious made with cherries or a mix of any stone fruit.
Serves 8 people
3 cups milk
8 oz sugar (1 and 1/8 cups)
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (2/3 cup)
5 large eggs
1 lb cherries or nectarines — cherries pitted and/or nectarines quartered and pitted
1 lb apricots — quartered and pitted
Zest of 2 lemons
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1. In a medium sized saucepan heat the milk with the sugar and the vanilla bean or vanilla extract. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat.
2. Place the flour in a large bowl and then vigorously whisk in one egg at a time. You should have a completely smooth batter. Slowly whisk in the warm milk mixture. The batter will be very liquid and should be free of any lumps.
3. Place the fruit in a shallow (1-inch deep) 12-inch round or oval baking dish. Place the fruit-filled dishes on a baking sheet. Pour the batter over the fruit.
4. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. The clafoutis is done when you giggle the pan and it is set. The top should appear golden brown. Serve at room temperature.