Articles By Pascale Beale


As many of you know I am passionate about cookbooks. I have been collecting them for more than forty years, and yes, lugged many of them across the pond when I moved to California. I would like to share some of these tasty tomes with you.

The Cookbook Review is now part of every newsletter which features one or two newly released books and delves into some of the favorites on my shelves. These are books reviewed in 2022. 

December 2022
Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors
 by Diana Henry
Simply by Sabrina Ghayour
Spice / a cook's companion by Mark Diacono

October-November 2022

Breadsong: How Baking Changed Our Lives
by Kitty Tait, Al Tait 
Lulu's Provencal Table: The exuberant food and wine from the Domaine Tempier vineyard by Richard Olney
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen Shelf Love
by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi

From the December 2022 Newsletter
This month the books I have chosen all pack a flavorful punch, layered textures and full of spices. They are a feast for the eyes and will delight your taste buds.

Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors by Diana Henry
Published in 2016 by Mitchell Beazley

Diana Henry is one of the UK’s best-loved food writers, known for her weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph and her broadcasts on BBC Radio. She is the author of 12 spectacular award-winning cookbooks, each more delicious than the next. I am a huge fan of her work, having cooked my way through many of her books. She has a deft hand when it comes to combining flavors and writes with style, a sense of humor and aplomb. 

One of my favorite books of hers is Simple. The recipes are just that, yet marvelously nuanced as well. Think of her style as Ottolenghi meets the ethic of Alice Waters. It's Mediterranean cuisine with her flare. As the New York Times wrote in one of their reviews: It's the kind of prose that makes you want to run immediately into the kitchen to have your way with some figs. And when you get there, you discover that none of her recipes are fussy, and all of them work. To be accessible, reliable and still thrilling is a very rare achievement indeed.

She excels at turning the ordinary into something very special, such a roast chicken transformed with oranges and an olive gremolata, eggplants packed with flavor as they're roasted with cumin, chickpeas, walnuts and dates, or sweet potatoes transformed with a yogurt and cilantro chili sauce. They are all mouthwatering, easy to make, uncomplicated and usually not too time consuming. Simple is such a treat and judging by the number of food-splattered bits of paper wedged between the pages, one I return to time and again. Do you have a favorite Diana Henry book?
Simply by Sabrina Ghayour
Published in 2020 by Mitchell Beazley

British-Iranian Chef and food writer Sabrina Ghayour is a multi-award winning, best-selling author of the very popular Persiana, who made her name hosting the hugely popular ‘Sabrina’s Kitchen’ supper club in London, specializing in Persian and Middle Eastern flavors. Her eye-catching books are the product of all those fragrant meals.

Simply, very much in keeping with the premise of Diana Henry's book Simple, in transforming sometimes complex dishes into easy to make flavor bombs. The book is organized into five sections, including one called Traditions with a Twist, which opens with her spin on Maast-o-esfenaj (spinach with yogurt and walnuts). It's completely luscious. I'm happy as a clam with a bowl of this and some warm flatbread, the Green Hummus (made with chickpeas, parsley, cilantro and tarragon) and her Fennel salad with spinach, cashew and coriander seed dressing, the three dishes making up an oh so satisfying mezze plate. There's a plethora of desserts I want to dig into, and highly recommend the stuffed dates and the pistachio cake. 

If you want to cook Middle Eastern food but have been afraid to try, this book is a delicious way to dig into this cuisine with uncomplicated, fragrant recipes that are easy to follow and reliable. Ms. Ghayour also has a wonderful Instagram feed where she shares her colorful culinary journey with the huge fanbase. 

Spice / a cook's companion by Mark Diacono
Published ‏by Quadrille Books in 2022

Mark Diacono new book just came out. It is my most recent cookbook purchase. He runs Otter Farm, the UK's only climate change farm. As well as planting and maintaining the farm's vineyards, forest garden and vegetable patch, he also leads the Garden Team at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage.  He's a food writer and contributor to some of the UK's major publications including The Guardian.

Spice, the follow up to his beautiful book Herb: A Cook's Companion, is THE book to turn to when you open your spice cabinet/drawer, find Achiote, Anardana, Kokum, or Wattleseed, items you purchased because they looked so interesting but then never used. It's also the book to delve into when you want fragrant recipes that explore the use of Allspice, Anise Seed, Cardamom (black and green), Fenugreek and Verbena Beans to name a few.

But honestly, one the best things about this book is Mark Diacono's writing. Who can resist sentences like this? "This is my default shortbread recipe - it's shorter than my old man's patience - and while the dough may pretend it doesn't want to come together, have faith. It is promiscuously adaptable to other spices, but wattleseed just might take the biscuit. Its chocolate-hazelnut-coffee flavour is so very good here, especially if you have it with coffee." Now, as I don't have wattleseed in my spice cupboard, I HAVE to get some and make this shortbread straight away! There's also a recipe for an apple crumble, topped with Krupnik (Polish spiced honey vodka) laced mincemeat (no, mincemeat does NOT have meat in it - it is basically boozy dried fruit used to make Christmas pudding and mince pies amongst other things). I HAVE to make this as well, and the Paradise Cauliflower Soup, the Caraway Dressing, the Juniper Brined Roast Chicken and so many more. 

As many of you know I cook with and write about A LOT of herbs. After reading this beautifully illustrated book and salivating over the recipes I have a feeling that many more spices will be featured in my food too.

From the October-November 2022 Newsletter
Breadsong: How Baking Changed Our Lives
by Kitty Tait, Al Tait 
Released in 2022 by Bloomsbury Publishing.

As you watch videos of Kitty Tait making bread and talking about baking, her sunny personality literally beams at you. Her love of all baked goods is contagious. I feel myself reaching for a mixing bowl after I watch one of jaunty romps through her kitchen on Instagram. It wasn't always this way though. In the space of a few short months Kitty went from happy bouncy fourteen-year-old, to being caught in the maws of a frightening depression that left her unable to leave the house. Breadsong is the story of what happened next. Told, alternately between Kitty and her father Al, they recount their journey from desperation to discovery to jubilation, all through the power of baking bread. Their story is moving, poignant and ultimately delicious. Watching her father make a loaf of bread transformed her life. He asked her if she would like to try baking too. She did. A metamorphosis followed. The more she baked, the better she felt. She started giving her neighbors bread. They asked for more. She started selling her bread and sold out every time. They crowdsourced the funds to expand, then opened a bakery. Reading this book makes me want to go to Watlington in Oxfordshire so I can taste her bakes in person. Until I make it back to England, I will happily bake many of the sweet and savory treats in their book such as Za'atar, Feta and Honey Buns or Stem Gingersnaps.  The instructions are clear. The photos quirky and delightful. I can attest to the transformative qualities bread baking imparts and am always on the lookout for a book that touches on this. Breadsong does just that. 

Lulu's Provencal Table: The exuberant food and wine from the Domaine Tempier vineyard by Richard Olney
Originally Published in 1994 by Harper Collins 
Republished in a slightly different format by Grub Street Cookery in 2018.

I grew up with one foot planted in Provence. The color of the sea and the sweet earthy aroma of the sun warmed vineyards are baked into my psyche. To find a cookbook that captures the essence of all that is Provence is like stepping into a scene from a book by Marcel Pagnol or Jean Giono, filled with tang of aioli, the richness of bouillabaisse, the sweetness of merveilles, complete with the soundtrack of cicadas crick cricking in the background. Richard Olney has managed to capture the 'je ne sais quoi' of this region's cuisine in Lulu's Provencal Table. Lulu is Lucie Peyraud whose family owns Domaine Tempier, a vineyard just outside Bandol. Her cooking style is instinctive, a little dash of this, a handful of that, and fluctuates with what's at hand, and what's in season, which can be difficult to translate into a precise recipe. Olney managed this task with aplomb, combining clarity and precision in his text, yet maintain the spontaneous spirit of her food and capturing her words of wisdom and practical kitchen tips. The grand classics of Provencal cuisine are here, from anchoiade, pissaladière and bagna cauda, to bourride, gigot à la ficelle and ratatouille. It's a delight to read and a feast to eat!

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi
Published ‏by Clarkson Potter in 2021

The subtitle to this book is 'recipes to unlock the secrets of your pantry, fridge and freezer.' It's the book you want to turn to when you find a jar of harissa, a bag of those special beans you couldn't resist, or a bottle of pomegranate molasses all sitting somewhat underused in the back of your cupboard. It is filled with suggestions on how to substitute ingredients and make dishes your own.

The book is the product of the talented team at Ottolenghi's Test Kitchen who found themselves separated during the pandemic. Through zoom meetings and social media, they shared what they were cooking with what they had on hand. The result is this very practical and tasty book. I've added the smoky marinated feta and almond and orange brittle to my pantry staples thanks to the OTK crew. The book's organization takes a different approach too. From 'your veg box' (exploring the many ways you can use a multitude of vegetables) to 'fridge raid' aka comfort food, the book encourages its readers to get out of the rut of cooking things the same way over and over again, e.g., Grilled confit parsnips with herbs and vinegar instead of plain roasted parsnips. It is, as one would expect from an Ottolenghi book, packed with flavors and masses of herbs, and does assume that we have pretty well stocked pantries filled with lots of spices, jars of tahini (yes), tamarind paste and asafoetida (perhaps not). Yes, some of the recipes have long ingredient lists, but part of the charm in the recipes is that they are the framework upon which you can create your own dish. There's a Brussels sprout and parmesan salad with lemon dressing that's terrific. I've made a few different versions which I'll serve at Thanksgiving this year. Delish!

“Fruit, more than any of the other foods we consume, has the power to go right to the heart of our being. Fruit is sweet. Fruit is beautiful to look at and beautiful to smell. Fruit teaches us the meaning of time and eternity.“ Alice Waters-Chez Panisse Fruit

Rereading this passage from the introduction to Alice Waters delicious Fruit cookbook made me think about patience, and the lifecycle of plants and trees, fruit trees in particular. Is there anything more satisfying that watching something you have planted grow and bear fruit? The lifecycle of almost any fruit tree echoes the seasons. A cool dormant winter, the flourish of blossoms in the spring, the tantalizing ripening in the summer, followed by a gratifying harvest.  

I have, sporadically over the past three years, planted as assortment of fruit trees; a lemon, fig, peach, donut peach, nectarine, apricot and apple, in the hope that they will blossom, and bear a prodigious quantity of fruit which I can subsequently eat, cook with, and preserve.

I had hoped for a six-month long feast of fruitful fecundity, beginning with divine Blenheims in June, ending with crunchy-sweet tangy Fuji in mid-Autumn, with a final flourish of magnificent Meyers to cap off the winter months. The results have been very mixed, due in large part to their being planted in pots, albeit very large ones, and my belief that they will just get on with the business of growing, blossoming, pollinating and producing a juicy product without my having to intervene too much. I had chosen varieties with the shortest number of chill hours and fed them before they blossomed. However, three years and a fruit harvest that has gone from satisfying to abysmal has put paid to any notions of my fruit tree husbandry. 

As I stood in the garden earlier this summer, surveying my fruitless, and I do mean completely fruitless, apricot, peach and nectarine trees wondering what had gone wrong, I suddenly thought about my grandmother Genevieve, her garden and my culinary apprenticeship at her side. As a child, I leant to pick and choose fruit, in her garden or at the market. She would assess them, smell them, and choose only those that were perfect. She would wait patiently for the fruit she grew— whether an apricot, cherry, redcurrant or plum--to be just so, just at their height of sweetness before picking them. Jams and jellies were resplendent representations of fruit at their acme. Her apricot jams the color of an orange sunflower, her red current jelly, a glistening ruby red.  Desserts at her house were often a single piece of fruit, but what a piece of fruit it would be. After all the hard work of harvesting them, we ate them reverently, eyes almost closed, savoring their juiciness! She came to my mind when I read this quote by John Keats: 

"Talking of pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine how good how fine… all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large, beatified Strawberry."

If plums, peaches and nectarines are the glory bombs of summer, apples and pears are fireworks of autumn. They may not be quite as colorful or juicy, but they are versatile and can be transformative. They are cloaked in the seasonal colors of falling leaves from pale yellow sunset, to burnt orange and sage.  These are the fruit that carry us from the first chill of autumnal air to bundled up on those longed-for rainy days. These are the fruit that are the harbingers of festive feasts, the promise of delicate pies, of scented cakes, and luscious puddings, married with cinnamon, cardamom, pecans and nutmeg.

As the air cools, these autumnal fruits come to the fore, keeping us company, wrapped up in cozy blankets of deliciousness. Persimmons made into pudding, pomegranates scattered like glistening jewels over autumnal salads with the golden palette of fall citrus, a caramelized Tarte Tatin, a classic apple pie, a Waldorf salad, a roast with apples and prunes, a cider basted chicken, a Poire Belle Helene, a fine quince tart, a candied apple, oodles of hearty crumbles or a delicate wine poached pear.

Homer referred to pears in the Odyssey as ‘the gift of the gods’, and they have long been revered, seen as a precious, seductive and almost luxurious item. There is something very sensual about pears. Hidden beneath the drab exterior of a Bosc is an aromatic, sweetly spiced flesh that is perfect for baking or poaching, slice open a pink tinged Comice and discover a creamy, sweet juicy fruit that is an ideal complement to cheese. Small, heirloom Forelle pears with their beautifully speckled red blush over greenish yellow skin taste extra sweet with cinnamon spice over tones, and are marvelous poached in wine or saffron syrup, a dish my grandmother made with great aplomb.

I resolved to exercise a little more patience, to channel my inner Genevieve, to see if my mini ‘orchard’ would yield anything edible this year. Finally, to my delight, it was the smallest of the trees, the Fuji apple with its spindly trunk, that has produced an extraordinary number of marvelously sweet, crunchy apples, its little limbs bent over under their weight.  I covert them! They are perfect for salads, to be eaten out of hand, or sliced alongside a nutty piece of parmesan or cheddar.

Evidently certain years produce a spartan crop, all the more reason to treasure it. Now the question is do I dare add a pear tree to the mix?

Green Apple, Herb and Green Tomato Salad

I recently found some irresistible gooseberry-like green tomatoes at the farmer’s market. They had almost translucent, iridescent skin that glistened as the sun shone on them. They had a firm texture and nice acidity, which oddly made me think of crunchy green apples. Once back in my kitchen, I made a small salad trying the two together and was delighted that the two fruit worked so well together. Paired with the freshness of the mint leaves and perfume from the lemon basil, the salad was bright and light.

Serves 8 people

For the salad:

4 green crunchy unpeeled apples (Fuji, Envy or Jonagold work well) — very thinly sliced, on a mandolin if possible
½ lb green cherry tomatoes — quartered (or yellow cherry tomatoes)
30 small mint leaves
30 small lemon basil leaves (if you cannot find lemon basil, use regular Italian basil)
¼ cup lightly toasted pine nuts


For the vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lime juice
Coarse sea salt
Black pepper

  1. Completely cover a large platter with the apple slices, overlapping them slightly. Scatter the chopped green tomatoes, mint and basil leaves, and toasted pine nuts over the apples.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and lime juice to form an emulsion. Immediately pour the vinaigrette over the apples to prevent them from discoloring. Sprinkle the salad with a generous pinch of salt and 5-6 grinds black pepper.

Whole Roasted Chicken in Clay Pot with Almonds, Dates and Lemons

I received my clay pot as a gift. I’ll be honest and tell you that it sat, collecting dust, for a very long time. I mistakenly thought that it would be a chore to use. Finally, prompted by another article raving about this cooking method, I took the plunge. Ah, what a discovery! Now, close to thirty years later, my very dependable clay pot (yes, the same one) has produced many a succulent meal. Chicken cooked this way melts in your mouth. The combination of the lemons with the sweetness of the dates and the crunch of the almonds is one of my favorites. Don’t wait to use your clay pot!

Serves 6-8 people

6-8 shallots — peeled and quartered
1/3 lb Barhi or Medjool dates — pitted
6 Meyer lemons — quartered
2 cloves garlic — peeled and minced
One 4-5 lb chicken or two 3 lb chickens
Juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup whole almonds
Coarse sea salt and black pepper

NOTE: Do not pre-heat oven. Place the rack in the middle of the oven.

  1. Soak a large unglazed clay pot (top and bottom) in water for 15 minutes; drain.
  2. Put the shallots, dates, lemons and garlic in the bottom of the clay pot. Rest the chicken, breast side down, on top of the lemons. Whisk together the honey and orange juice with a pinch of salt and 8-10 grinds of fresh black pepper and then pour over of the chicken.
  3. Cover with the clay top and place the pot on the center rack of a cold oven.
  4. Set the oven to 450 degrees and cook for 45 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven.  Lift the lid cautiously, avoiding the steam. Turn the chicken breast side up. Add the almonds, replace the lid, and cook for an additional 40 minutes.
  6. Remove the clay pot from the oven and rest it on a wooden surface, cork trivet or folded kitchen towel. A cold surface may cause the clay pot to crack.
  7. Serve the chicken with the lemons and dates. This is excellent served with sautéed greens.

Pan Roasted Pears with Vanilla and Cloves

I love pears. There is a moment when they are perfectly ripe, slightly firm, juicy and sweet. When cooked they take on another dimension as their flavor is enhanced. Certain spices evoke seasons, and the aroma of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves speak of an autumnal day when you smell baking gingerbread cookies or mulled wine. These pears encompass all these delicious traits.

Serves 8 people

2 oz butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 vanilla beans — split lengthwise and seeds scraped out (or 2 teaspoons vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract)
1 stick cinnamon
1 pinch allspice
3 cloves
8 pears – peeled, cored and quartered
½ cup crème fraiche
Zest of 1 lemon

  1. Place the butter in a large shallow pan, over medium heat. Once melted add the sugar, vanilla bean seeds, the vanilla beans themselves (if using), the cinnamon stick, allspice, and cloves. Cook for 2 minutes so that the sugar has started to melt, stirring frequently.
  2. Carefully add the pears to the pan. Turn and coat the pears with the buttery-sugary mixture and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning them once or twice. The pears should be a golden-brown color and smell heavenly.
  3. Remove from the heat but leave the pears in the pan until you a ready to serve.
  4. Combine the crème fraiche and lemon zest in a small bowl. Serve a good spoonful alongside each plate of warm pears.

“Wherever it is done, picnicking can be one of the supreme pleasures of outdoor life. At its most elegant, it calls for the accompaniment of the best linens and crystal and china; at its simplest, it needs only a bottle of wine and items purchased from the local delicatessen as one passes through town. The color and charm of the countryside can make the most modest meal taste superb. Have a picnic at the slightest excuse. It is even fun to have a box lunch and a hot drink in the car on a wintry day, while you look out at a dazzling stretch of landscape.”
                                              James Beard's Menus for Entertaining, James Beard, c. 1965

When I read about James Beard’s exuberant love of outdoor meals, I cannot help but think of my uncle Yves, a bon vivant and grand gourmet if ever there was one. All meals in my aunt and uncle’s home were approached with a dedication to planning and with such gusto that one could not help but be swept up in the preparation and ultimate consummation. Upholding a century’s long family tradition of grand dining is something every subsequent generation has taken very seriously, whether the meal be indoors or out. Even picnics, taken on eight hour long epic mountain hikes took judicious organization. The meal, bottles of wine included, was carefully packed into the backpacks of everyone present, and only consumed once a suitable spot had been chosen, preferably near a stream of alpine water or mountain lake in which the wine had been properly chilled. The children carried less precious, although still essential cargo: butter, radishes, baguettes. The older you got, the more important the victuals, the heavier the pack. This was, as with all things food related in my family, important business.

My French grandparents had long perfected the art of le piquenique by the time I was born. It was a finely orchestrated dance into the countryside. These outdoor excursions took on gargantuan proportions, akin to moving a small platoon complete with regulation tables, seating, linens, silverware, china, glasses etc. The meal would be commensurate with the occasion. An abundant selection of salads, herb omelets, chilled meats, roasted chickens, plateaus of cheese, baguettes, fougasse, saucisson, pates, melons and prosciutto, fresh fruit, tea cakes, madeleines and fresh coffee. All this washed down with bottles of rose, a little Chablis or a lightly chilled burgundy. The adults all needed a sieste after the feast. Yves Montand singing Ma Bicyclette serenaded us from a little transistor radio. My brother and I chased butterflies and picked wildflowers. I think Mr. Beard would have felt at ease.

Lest the French side of family felt that they had cornered the market on how to dine outdoors in style, the English side manifested a certain skill set when it came to entertaining in nature, although often in more inclement weather. More than once we had to hurriedly repack hampers as the heavens opened up. Whereas in France our picnics took on a more gastronomic flare, in England they were often more eccentric, including a regular outing to Highgate Cemetery where we played I spy behind Karl Marx’s tomb, before we regrouped to eat. Hot tea was often the beverage of choice. It was often cold and damp, but our enthusiasm for open-air adventures never waned.

In an effort to keep up both sides of the family tradition I continued the practice of Le Grand Piquenique when I moved to California. Among the precious items I lugged across the Atlantic was a copy of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household management. This book has a treasure trove of information (some tips still valid today and recipes that have stood the test of time) including, under the entry numbered 3026 in the 1890 edition, the following suggestion, “One of the pleasantest forms of entertainment is a well-arraigned picnic” She proceeds to list all that is required, including a suggested luncheon menu for twenty persons. She, my grandmother, aunts, and uncles obviously all adhered to the same school of thought.


5 lbs of cold salmon
Mayonnaise sauce
1 quarter of lamb
Mint Sauce
1 large galantine of veal
2 boiled chickens
1 ham
2 pigeon pies
Salad. Dressing.
2 cucumbers
2 Fruit tarts
Pastry sandwiches
2 jellies
2 Creams
1 gallon strawberries
3 lbs grapes
1 lb cheese
½ lb butter
4 loaves bread, or rolls
Bottled bear
Soda water
Glass cloths
Castor Sugar
Champagne opener


Ten years ago, I decided to throw a giant birthday picnic in a vineyard, complete with all the accoutrements. To say that I felt I had a tradition to uphold was an understatement. I followed Mrs. Beeton’s advice and drew on family lore. It was Downtonabbeyesque - minus the footmen.

Ten years on I toyed with the idea of doing this again, but, as the reality of the logistical task sunk in, I pondered the question, do all picnics have to resemble Le Diner en Blanc where linen covered tables are de rigueur? Those picnics all had one thing in common, they were a lot of work. Did I need to drive a few hours to find the idyllic spot? Or load up 10 picnic baskets? Was there a simple way to do this? I could feel my grandmother raising an ancestral eyebrow in concern.

I was mulling this over whilst sitting on a bench in the local park watching the ducks frolic in the pond. I had a flakey croissant in one hand, a piping hot espresso in the other. It occurred to me at that moment that I was in fact enjoying an impromptu breakfast picnic with nary a tablecloth in sight. The thought made me smile. I walked home.

Later that day I went for another walk. It’s how I solve problems. I’ll mull them over as I wander about. Without any fixed destination in mind, I found myself at the rose garden in front of the Santa Barbara Mission. The bells had just peeled six o’clock and the sun painted the hills the sort of pink hue that sends artists racing for their paintbrushes. A patchwork of colorful throws decorated the expanse of the gently sloping lawn like dots on a ladybug. As I walked past the rose beds I spied little vignettes, outdoor ‘rooms’ created by their occupants. Hidden amongst the bushes, blankets askew, electric bikes piled up, parked side by side creating a mobile barricade, a group of giggling gangly girls feasted on sweet treats; at the base of the lawn an elegantly dressed couple sat facing each other in beach chairs; cheese, crackers and wine on a gingham covered low table next to them. They smiled as small children rolled down the hillside, as others did handstands around their supine parents. Two pairs of feet suddenly shot up behind an eruption of Julia Childs, the yellow roses swaying in time with the tottering limbs. The legs disappeared as I rounded the corner where I saw a group of friends, jackets used as blankets, laughing at each other’s antics, pizza boxes tossed higgledy-piggledy, grabbing a bite together after a long workday.

I circumnavigated the lawn witnessing the lexicon of picnics. The impromptu, the planned, the celebration, the romantic (complete with matching easels and canvases on which to capture the setting sun), the very grand (three tables festooned with giant bouquets and groaning with food), and the very modest (a bag of chips and a dip). As I watched, a young couple, two-up on a blue bicycle, circling between the groups, music trialing behind them like streamers, floating out from the tiny speakers lodged in the bike’s basket, until they found the right spot and marked their territory with a neon towel. The parked bike niftily acting as a de facto bar and table, they unpacked a smorgasbord of delicious looking salads.  A picnic, obviously, could take on many guises. I re-thought the giant feast.

Over the past few months, walking up and down the Riviera, I’ve discovered some hidden gems. Small pocket gardens, little perches -some with great views-, little used parks, charming alcoves, and the odd fountain that all make charming picnic venues. Sometimes I’ll pack up some leftovers, take a good book, and park myself under a beautiful tree to read and eat. I’ve discovered I also rather like impromptu gatherings. Are you free for dinner I may ask? Shall we meet at…..?

As Margaret Visser wrote in "The Rituals of Dinner. "Fresh air and natural beauty, adventure, no cooking and no tables and chairs -- a good picnic is a thrilling reversal of normal rules, …. and the freedom we grant ourselves to lounge about on a blanket eating cold food with our hands." With apologies to my ancestors, this sounds like the perfect recipe.

Radish, Goat Cheese and Herb Pate

6 oz goat cheese
4-6 radishes — finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
5-6 grinds black pepper

Place all of the ingredients into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Using repeated 2-3 second pulses, mix the ingredients to form the pate. The texture should look like a thick slightly chunky hummus. Spoon into a mason jar and refrigerate until ready to serve. Eat with baguette, crackers or as part of a raw vegetable platter.

Salmon Rillettes

Serves 4 people

Olive oil
1/2 lb skinless salmon fillet (preferably wild)
2 teaspoons Herbes de Poisson (or equal parts fennel, coriander and mustard seeds mixed with ½ teaspoon salt)
¼ cup (or more) Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons diced fennel
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives 
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Good pinch of salt
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the salmon in a small baking dish. Drizzle with little olive oil, just enough to very lightly coat the salmon. Sprinkle the herbes de poisson over the salmon. Bake for 18-20 minutes. The salmon should be just cooked through.

Place the cooked salmon in a mixing bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients to the bowl. Gently mix just to combine the ingredients. You want the salmon to break apart a little.

Serve with crackers or a baguette.

Caramelized Onion, Zucchini, Basil and Arugula Galette

Serves 8 people
For the pastry:
9 oz (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 oz butter — chilled, cut into small pieces.
1 teaspoons thyme leaves – finely chopped
1 large egg
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt

For the onions:
Olive oil
3 large yellow onions — peeled, halved and finely sliced
Salt and pepper

For the vegetables:
Olive oil
1 lb zucchini — thinly sliced on a bias
½ cup basil leaves
1 cup baby arugula leaves

For the goat cheese:
4 oz slightly soft goat cheese — at room temperature
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Place all the dough ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs, then use longer pulses until the dough forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

While the dough is resting, pour a little olive oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, a large pinch of salt and 5-6 grinds of black pepper, stir frequently and cook until the onions are completely soft and slightly golden. This will take at least 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the zucchini and Herbes de Provence, ½ teaspoon of salt and 10 grinds pepper. Toss to mix and coat well. Place the zucchini slices onto a sheet pan or shallow baking dish. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until the zucchini are golden in color. Remove from the oven.

Place the unwrapped dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 14-inch round, ¼-inch thick. The dough edge will be ragged. That’s okay. Place the dough onto a parchment lined sheet pan.

Using a spoon, cream together the goat cheese and chives. Spread the mixture over the dough leaving a 1-inch boarder. Spoon the cooked onions onto the goat cheese and spread them to the edge. Cover the onions with the roasted zucchini. Carefully fold the unadorned pastry edge over the vegetables, pressing gently to enclose the border.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is a deep golden-brown color. Once the galette has cooled, scatter the basil and arugula leaves over the top. Leave the galette in the pan for ease of transportation.

Berry Verrines

Serves 8 people

2 pints strawberries — rinsed clean if necessary, hulled and halved
2/3 cup sugar
8-10 grinds black pepper
Zest and juice of 2 lemons (keep the rinds)
8 oz mascarpone
1 tablespoon wildflower honey
4 cups assorted berries — sliced
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
¼ cup toasted pecans
¼ cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Place the strawberries, sugar, pepper, lemon juice, and the squeezed-out lemon rinds in a large saucepan placed over medium heat. As the strawberries begin to render some juice, mash the strawberries using a large fork or a potato masher. It’s okay if there are some larger pieces – the jam is not supposed to be completely smooth.

Cook for 10-13 minutes, skimming off any foam that forms on the surface of the jam. The jam is ready when it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Leave in the saucepan until ready to use.

In a small bowl combine the mascarpone, lemon zest and honey. Divide the mixture into eight mason jars.

Spoon a half cup of sliced berries into each glass on top of the mascarpone mixture.

Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla extract (or paste) until it holds just firm peaks. You do not want to over whip the cream. Spoon the whipped cream over the chopped fruit.

Top the whipped cream with a spoonful of the strawberry jam.

In a small bowl combine the toasted pecans, almonds and powdered sugar. Sprinkle the nut mixture over the jam and serve.

“Pounding fragrant things – particularly garlic, basil, parsley – is a tremendous antidote to depression. But it applies also to juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chilli pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one’s being – from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. The cheering effects of herbs and alliums cannot be too often reiterated.” ~ Patience Gray

Have you ever caught the fragrance of basil in the air and thought of pesto, or brushed by lavender and thought of Herbes de Provence? Have you noticed how specific aromas conjure up favorite dishes, one’s olfactory memory making a Proustian leap into the past, a remembrance of all things delicious? Herbs, great mounds of them at the spring farmers markets have that effect of me.  I see tarragon, rub the leaves between my fingers releasing its anise and peppery scent, and think of the Poulet a l’estragon my grandmother used to make; I see the willowy branches of lemon verbena, swooning slightly at its floral perfume and think of afternoon tisanes and scented madeleines; I see basil and think of pistou, the rich basil sauce swirled into the vegetable soup of the same name. I am drawn to their fragrance and the promise they hold within their leaves.

Herbs are a culinary paintbox, each adding hues and depth to a dish that brighten and invigorate our palettes, complementing and intensifying the flavors of a recipe’s main ingredients. Mint added to a bowl of spring peas pop with more flavor; puree parsley, add some olive oil, capers, and anchovies and you have a piquant salsa verde that will add verve and depth to a platter of roasted vegetables; anise scented, feathery dill complements salmon; finely chop handfuls of parsley and mint, add a little bulgur and you have the basis for classic tabouleh. Herbs can be transformative.

Cuisines where herbs are more than a garnish are not a modern concept. Dive into the culinary lexicon of most middle eastern countries and you find a rich treasury of dishes that celebrate all things herb. From Egyptian herbalist schools in 1500BC to medieval monastery gardens, from a liberal sprinkling of culinary references in Shakespeare’s plays to recipes in some of the earliest known cookbooks, the use of wild and cultivated herbs in medicine and cooking has been documented through millennia. Herbs proliferate in the oldest known cookery book, De Re Coquinaria dating from the 1st century AD with recipes such as Artichokes with Hot Herb Dressing, Braised Mushrooms with Coriander, or Baked Trout with Honey Mint Sauce; seven centuries later, in 1699, John Evelyn wrote Acetaria: A Discourse on Sallets in which he champions the copious use of herbs and greens in healthy cooking, yet making herbs the focal point of dishes, and using them in abundance is a relatively new concept in American cuisine. Many cookbooks from the 1950s call for the parsimonious use of dried herbs with few, if any, fresh herbs in sight except for the odd parsley sprig, used as ornamentation rather than for flavor. The explosion of ethnic foods over the past 15-20 years has changed all of that. The interest in Levantine cooking, fueled in part by the success of books by Yotam Ottolenghi, Claudia Roden, Sabrina Gayour and Naomi Duguid has pushed the demand for fresh herbs to all-time highs. When I first came to California in the mid-80s you would be hard pushed to find an array of fresh herbs at the market, now we find 5 different kinds of basil, 3 varieties of thyme, edible flowers and a cornucopia of herbs rarely found outside a keen gardener’s patch until not that long ago.

My love affair with herbs began in my grandmother’s garden, kitchen and at her dining table. She lived high in the French Alps where the growing season was not long. Her summer garden had chives, tarragon, parsley and chervil. The occasional basil plant sat in her kitchen. She kept a pair of scissors on a hook under one of the kitchen cabinets whose sole purpose was to snip chives. I felt privileged when I was finally old enough to use them. At her side I learnt to choose vegetables and lettuces with care, to prepare the leaves and makes simple fresh salads. Hers were not complicated salade compose, but ones filled with perfect greens and fragrant herbs, dressed with a simple, light vinaigrette. They were crisp and fresh, ideal palette cleansers served after the main course. She had a deft hand with her cooking, classic cuisine bourgeoise, creating nuanced flavors in her dishes. She used herbs judiciously; finely chopped parsley brought freshness to her Hachis Parmentier (French shepherd’s pie) and fines herbes infused her omelets for example. These were the steppingstones upon which I built my herbal repertoire.  

The more I cooked and explored the cuisines of the Mediterranean basin the more herbs I used, the more herbs I used, the more I came to appreciate their ability to be the focal point of a dish, their floral, bright notes the arias in an opera of vegetables. I went from teaspoons to tablespoons to handfuls of herbs in recipes.

I have tried them nipped, crushed, striped, rubbed, tossed, mixed, and pureed, relishing in the fact that these different preparations enhance a different element of each herb. Crushed basil leaves morph into glorious pesto, thinly sliced into a chiffonade they provide peppery ribbons of flavor sprinkled over any dish, and small leaves left whole in a salad provide big bursts of flavor for example.

As a rule of thumb when cooking with herbs, handle soft herbs, such as basil, dill, cilantro, chervil, and marjoram, gently, their leaves are tender and damage easily and are better used with little cooking, or used uncooked when their flavor, color and vibrancy are retained, for example cooking purple basil will turn the leaves black and mute its heady clove-pepper taste. So called hard herbs, such as rosemary, bay leaves, thyme and oregano with their woody stems enhance dishes through longer cooking times. Add them to roasts, use them to baste, and let their aromas infuse the dish as heat extracts, then releases their oils into the ingredients. 

Discover new herbs at the local farmers markets. BD of Earthtrine farms has tables filled with an apothecary of aromatic plants. Pick up a bunch of fresh za’atar to roast with Romanesco broccoli, try fresh sorrel leaves in a delicate soup, use lemon verbena to infuse cream to make panna cotta, float chamomile flowers on top of the poached stone fruit. Explore new varieties of your favorite herb too, try Thai, lemon and purple basil for instance, reveling in their unique essence. Above all have fun and be bold in your use of herbs. Bon Appetit!

Roasted Beets, Heirloom Carrots and Salsa Verde

Serves 4 people

4 golden beets with their greens — greens washed, trimmed and reserved; beets carefully washed

4 heirloom carrots — use the yellow or white ones if you can find them, washed and sliced on a bias

Olive oil

Coarse sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the unpeeled beets in a small oven proof dish, drizzle them with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, or until a knife easily pierces the beets. Once cooked, let cool, then carefully peel, and thinly slice the beets.
  3. Place the sliced carrots in a separate ovenproof skillet. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and toss to coat. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and roast them alongside the beets. Remove from the oven after 20 minutes.  Spoon the carrots and any pan juices into a serving platter.
  4. Pour ½ tablespoon olive oil into the skillet the carrots roasted in placed over medium heat. Add the beet greens and sauté for 1 minute, or until just wilted. Add the beet greens to the carrots.
  5. Add the sliced beets to the dish and spoon the salsa verde over the vegetables.

For the salsa verde:

4 anchovies — drained of oil

10 basil leaves

10 mint leaves

¾ cup finely chopped parsley leaves

2 tablespoons capers

1 small shallot — peeled and minced

½ tablespoon Dijon mustard

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Large pinch salt

5 grinds Black pepper

1/3 – ½ cup olive oil

  1. Place the salsa ingredients into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the mixture resembles a thick paste, then, with the motor running, pour in the olive oil.  Use only enough olive oil to blend the salsa. The mixture should have a chunky consistency and not be too loose.

Grilled Zucchini with Avocado-Tarragon Crema

Serves 4 people

For the crema:
1 avocado — pitted and flesh scooped out

1/3 cup Greek yogurt

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Pinch sea salt

5 grinds black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon leaves, plus a few small tarragon leaves for decoration

  1. Place all the crema ingredients into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Run until you have a smooth cream mixture.
  2. Using a spatula or a spoon, smear the crema over the surface of a shallow platter.

For the zucchini:

2 large zucchini — ends trimmed, cut on a bias into ¼-inch thick slices

Olive oil


Black pepper

1 tablespoon toasted pepitas

  1. Heat a griddle pan over high heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss the sliced zucchini with ½ tablespoon olive oil, a pinch of salt and 6-7 grinds pepper.
  3. Cover the hot griddle with the zucchini slices taking care not to overlap them. Grill for 3 minutes on each side. You may have to do this in two batches. Place the cooked zucchini on top of the avocado crema, then scatter the toasted pepitas over the top. Finish the dish with a few fresh tarragon leaves.

Steamed Spring Potatoes with Dill-Chive Vinaigrette

Serves 4 people as a side dish
1 lb small new potatoes

For the Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)

1 tablespoon finely chopped dill

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Pinch of sea salt

Black pepper


  1. Steam the potatoes until just knife tender, about 8-10 minutes depending on size. Place the cooked potatoes into a serving bowl.
  2. For the vinaigrette, combine the mustard, olive oil and whisk together well to form an emulsion. Add the chopped dill, chives, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Spoon the vinaigrette over the potatoes and gently combine. Serve at room temperature.

Grilled Asparagus with Spring Peas, Burrata and a Lemon-Mint Vinaigrette

Serves 4

For the vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons olive oil

Zest and juice of 1 lemon (Meyer if possible)

1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

Pinch sea salt

4-5 grinds black pepper

For the vegetables:

1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

2/3 cup shelled English peas

1 lb asparagus — ends trimmed

Olive oil


Black pepper

1 burrata — cut into 8 pieces

  1. Place all the vinaigrette ingredients into a small bowl and whisk together well.
  2. Heat a griddle pan over high heat.
  3. Combine the mint and chives in a small bowl, yet large enough to contain the peas.
  4. Bring a small saucepan filled with 1½ cups water to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately add the peas to the bowl with the mint and chives. Toss gently to combine.
  5. Place the asparagus on a plate or shallow dish, pour ½ tablespoon olive oil over the spears and roll them in the dish to coat lightly. Season with a pinch of salt and 6-7 grinds pepper.
  6. Lay the spears on the hot griddle taking care not to overlap them. Grill for 3 minutes, then turn them over to grill a few minutes more. Remove from the griddle and lay them on a serving dish. Spoon the peas over the asparagus. Arrange the burrata over the vegetables and drizzle the mint vinaigrette over the top. Serve while the asparagus are still warm.

Spring Pea and Leek Soup with Pesto

For the Soup:

2 large leeks — cleaned and chopped (yield 2 ½ cups)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 ½ lbs shelled English peas

5 cups vegetable stock


Black pepper

  1. Pour the olive oil into a large saucepan placed over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until very tender, stirring frequently. This will take 8-10 minutes. Be patient and resist the temptation to turn up the heat.
  2. Add the peas and cook for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a strong simmer. Season with 2 large pinches salt and 8-10 grinds black pepper.
  3. Puree the soup in a blender or use an emersion blender to make the soup as smooth as possible.
  4. Serve hot with a large spoonful of pesto (recipe follows) added to each bowl. Serve the pea hummus with crackers alongside as an added treat.

For the pesto:
2 cups packed basil leaves — roughly chopped

Large pinch of salt

8-10 grinds black pepper

1 shallot — peeled and finely chopped

2 tablespoons pine nuts

½ cup olive oil

Juice of 1 large lemon

  1. Place all of the ingredients except the olive oil and lemon juice into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Run until you have a thick paste. With the motor running gradually add the olive oil and lemon juice. The pesto can be made ahead of time and stored, refrigerated for up to 3 days. If keeping for more than 24 hours pour a little olive oil over the surface of the pesto to prevent discoloration.

Pea and Mint Hummus

Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 ½ cups shelled English peas — blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water then drained

1 avocado

¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Juice of 1 ½ lemons

1/3 cup olive oil

Large pinch of salt

5-6 grinds black pepper

  1. Place all of the ingredients into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Puree until smooth. Taste, adding more lemon juice and salt if necessary. Serve with crackers or toasted sourdough.

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