Pizza Di Nuovo

April 20, 2009

The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at 4:00 a.m.
~Charles Pierce


4 ozs goat cheese, crumbled
8 ozs mozzarella, grated
3-4 slices proscuitto, about 1/8″ thick
2 T fresh chives, finely chopped
3 T fresh oregano, minced
3 sprigs thyme leaves, peeled off stem, chopped
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

Extra virgin olive oil

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Cut proscuitto into 2″ long julienne strips. Combine goat cheese, mozzarella, proscuitto, chives, parsley, thyme and garlic cloves, making a thick paste. Arrange the filling on one half of the dough, leaving a 1″ margin on the edge. Fold the dough over to seal, pinching with fingers, much like closing the top and bottom crusts on a fruit pie.

Bake the calzone, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Calzones tend to take a few more minutes to cook than open pizza. Brush with olive oil immediately after removing from oven. Let rest before slicing.


6+ plump, fresh roasted garlic cloves, peeled and sliced*
4 ozs goat cheese, crumbled
4 ozs mozzarella, shredded
10 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil and cut into ribbons

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 bunch basil, cut into ribbons

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly brush pizza with the garlic olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the pizza dough with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Scatter crumbled goat cheese over mozzarella. Strew garlic cloves and sun dried tomatoes over cheeses.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with grated parmigiano reggiano and basil.

*Roasted Garlic

Preheat oven to 400 F

Leaving skin on, cut 2 heads of garlic in half transversely. Place each half in a ramekin, cut side up. Cover with extra virgin olive oil and then foil. Place on a cooking sheet or baking dish and cook until slightly golden, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool. Keep garlic oil for cooking purposes, including brushing on pizzas or calzones in lieu of simple extra virgin olive oil.


2 C brine-cured olives, such as Niçoise, pitted
2 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
2 T capers, drained and rinsed
2 high quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
6 T olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

If the anchovies are salt packed, let them stand in a bowl of milk for 15 minutes to exude the salt. Then, drain thoroughly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the drained anchovies, olives, capers, mustard, garlic, cognac and thyme. Process in bursts to form a thick paste.

With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated. Season with pepper, then allow the tapenade to stand for an hour or so to allow the flavors to marry.

8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

Parmigiano reggiano, grated
2 T capers, well drained
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Zest from 1/2 orange

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly brush pizza with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the pizza dough with tapenade, leaving a 1″ border. Strew mozzarella over the tapenade.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with capers, citrus zest and then a grating of parmigiano reggiano.


5-7 chili peppers of varying colors (poblanos, anaheims, jalapeños, serranos), stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/3 lb. fresh Italian sausage, out of casings and crumbled
8 ozs fresh mozzarella or serrano, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Large pinch dried thyme

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
Fresh thyme sprigs

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy skillet, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and sauté chili peppers on medium high heat. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Remove and set aside, discarding garlic. Add sausage and cook until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Arrange sausage and chili peppers atop the mozzarella.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a grating of parmigiano reggiano and a few fresh thyme sprigs.


3 large fresh, organic, free range eggs
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
3-4 slices proscuitto or serrano, very thinly sliced, and then sliced again lengthwise
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1-2 T fresh tarragon, chopped

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove pizza half way through cooking (about 5-6 minutes), arrange proscuitto on cheese and crack eggs on top in an equilateral triangle; sprinkle with pepper and return to the oven to cook through. Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, for a the remaining 5-6 minutes. When cooked, garnish liberally with a grating of parmigiano reggiano and chopped tarragon.

Beets & Radicchio

April 17, 2009

An appeasing and colorful aside to pizza…served on endive boats, you can jettison flatware entirely.

Despite our Fearless Leader’s aversion to them, beautifully hued beets boast a subtle, earthy flavor and are supremely nutritious. With the scientific name of Beta vulgaris, they are vegetables from the amaranth family which has been cultivated for some 4,000 years. Beets are herbaceous biennial plants with stems growing to 2-6 feet tall bearing nearly heart shaped leaves. They belong to the same family as swiss chard and spinach.

Beyond their divine flavor and ruby tint, beets are quite the health food—loaded with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C. (By the way, besides the deep red variety, there are beautiful golden beets, and pink and white striated Chioggia beets.) The greens have a higher content of iron compared to spinach. They are also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, sodium and iron.

So far, of the 55 varieties of vegetables in the new White House garden, beets have yet to make the grade. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Obama will convert.

The time to buy beets is June through October, when they are most tender. Look for unblemished bulbs with sturdy, unwilted greens.

Radicchio is a zesty and spicy leaf chicory which has been relished since ancient times. Consider using radicchio on the grill as it mellows with heat.


2 pounds medium red beets, scrubbed, ends trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil, to toss
Red wine vinegar, to toss
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled, minced and mashed to a paste
1/2 C red wine vinegar
2 C extra virgin olive oil
2 t fresh tarragon, chopped
1 head radicchio, cored and roughly cut
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 C fresh beet leaves, chopped
4 ozs fresh firm goat cheese, roughly cut into cubes
2/3 C pine nuts, toasted

2 heads endive leaves, cleaned

Preheat oven to 400 F

Line an adequately sized baking dish with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, toss together the beets, some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Place beets in a the dish and cover with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake until tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Check throughout the latter part of the cooking process to see if the beets are cooked until tender, but still al dente. They are done when easily penetrated with a fork. Slip off skins. Transfer to a small bowl and cool. Cut into thin half moons by cutting across transversely and then vertically.

In a small bowl, whisk together with 1/2 cup red wine vinegar with the mashed garlic and tarragon. In a narrow stream, add 2 cup olive oil to emulsify, making a vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Separately toss beets and endive leaves with vinaigrette to coat. Set both aside. In an open bowl, combine radicchio, parsley and beet leaves. Toss with vinaigrette so it is gently dressed. Add beets, goat cheese, pine nutes and toss gently. Serve on open endive leaves. If additional vinaigrette is needed, very sparingly drizzle over the top.

Pizzas (cont’d)

April 16, 2009

Now that the basic dough has been mastered, it is time to assemble. Pizzas and calzones are rather simple creatures once you get the drill. But to reduce any unnecessary anxiety and enhance the pie making experience, it is crucial that the ingredients be prepared in advance with most all mise en place before dressing those yeasty doughs. Having the components neatly arrayed before you in bowls creates a sense of empowerment. Isn’t the kitchen really about controling chaos anyway?

When arranging the toppings, the dough should be rolled out on a pizza paddle which is sprinkled with a thin, but consistent, layer of cornmeal.

Be original, and think seasons, color, harmony, and design—almost feng shui. Please exercise restraint, remembering the cardinal rule that less is best.

Each recipe below uses the basic pizza dough recipe found in the preceding post (Pizza & Calzone Dough), which does not bear repetition.


3 leeks, most of top trimmed off, well cleaned and sliced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 C pancetta, cut into lardons, 1/2″ square or so
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
A large pinch dried thyme

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Sweat sliced leeks in olive oil and butter until tender. Season with salt, pepper and thyme while cooking; set aside and cool. Cook pancetta in a drizzle of olive oil until crisp and lightly browned; drain on paper towels. Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread mozzarella over dough, leaving the border uncovered. Strew leeks and pancetta over the dough. Bake the pizza, until browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, immediately garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a healthy dose of grated parmigiano reggiano.


Pissaladière, a classic onion marmalade, olive and anchovy pizza has its origins in southern France. This tart derives its name from pissala, a Provençal anchovy paste.

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3-4 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t fresh thyme, minced

10 high quality olive oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained
1/2 C whole Nicoise olives, pitted

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large heavy skillet or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, salt, pepper and thyme and lower the heat. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until cooked down and nicely caramelized, 35 to 40 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes more.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil or garlic olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the onion mixture evenly over the pizza, leaving the border uncovered. Arrange the anchovy fillets in a criss cross or diagonal pattern over the onions. Bake the pizza, until browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with olives, a drizzle of olive oil and a grating of parmigiano reggiano.


3 C chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded, coarsely chopped and well drained
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt
12 fresh basil leaves, shredded (chiffonade)

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano
Whole basil leaves

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread tomatoes uniformly over the pizza dough, leaving the border uncovered. Distribute mozzarella evenly over the surface of the tomatoes. Lightly salt, then strew basil over the mozzarella. Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a grating of parmigiano reggiano and ribbons of basil leaves for color.

*Chiffonade: stack 4 or 5 basil leaves flat on top of one other. Roll the leaves tightly. Cut thinly with a very sharp knife which will create ribbons.


2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1/3 C ruby port
1 T fresh thyme leaves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 lbs assorted mushrooms, such as porcini, shiitakes, chanterelles or morels, sliced
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, grated
4 paper thin slices of proscuitto or serrano, then sliced again lengthwise (optional)

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
Several sprigs of fresh thyme

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a heavy skillet over medium high, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms, port and thyme and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper during the cooking process. Set aside. Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Strew mozzarella evenly over pizza dough, leaving an uncovered border. Distribute mushroom mixture evenly over the top of the mozzarella.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a grating of parmigiano reggiano and some thyme sprigs for effect.

Pizza & Calzone Dough

April 14, 2009

You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.
~Yogi Berra

Pizza has a lengthy and storied career despite its lack of a precise birthplace or fixed home of origin…an eternal, jiving gypsy of foods.

Tracing the history of pizza can prove tortuous. Any number of cultures or peoples who mastered the art of heating a mixture of flour and water on a stone could rightly stake claim to inventing these sumptuous edible tables. I will offer an abbreviated, anecdotal (far from academic) version. Chronologically precise? Doubtfully.

Evidence of flat breads have been found at prehistoric archeological digs. Breads we now call focaccia may date back as far as the ancient Etruscans. Focaccia literally means “flat bread,” from the Latin root focacius, meaning hearth.

Ancient Egyptians celebrated the Pharaoh’s birthday with a flat bread seasoned with herbs; and early historians such as Herodotus, described centuries old Babylonian recipes that bear resemblances to contemporary pizza crust. The ancient Greeks baked round flat breads annointed with oil, herbs, spices and dates which they called plankous or plankuntos. During lengthy marches, soldiers of the Persian king Darius the Great were known to bake a form of flat bread covered with cheese and dates upon their shields. In the epic Aeneid, the classical Roman poet Virgil alluded to the practice of using bread as an edible platter for other foods: “…we devour the plates on which we fed.”

So, a loose thread has developed that pizza gradually evolved from the ancient flatbreads relished by varying cultures in the Mediterranean rim. However, little debate exists that Italy took pizza to today’s level.

Pizza adopted its more current form in pre-Renaissance Naples, where impoverished peasants used limited ingredients (wheat flour, olive oil, lard, cheese and natural herbs) to make a seasoned, garnished flat bread. Later, tomatoes were brought to Europe from Peru and Mexico of the New World. Tomatoes were originally believed to be toxic; fortunately, the poorer denizens of Naples mustered the courage to add this once strictly ornamental pomidori to the crusty dough, creating the first basic tomato pizza.

In the late 18th century, Naples bustled and street vendors bought pizzas from small stands and sold them in slices from lidded metal boxes or narrow boards. A pizza delivered to King Ferninando I and Queen Maria Carolina was said to be so well received that the king had a red tiled pizza oven built at the royal palace.

In 1889, King Umberto I of Italy, and his wife, Queen Margherita were touring Naples. They asked to sample the fare of the most celebrated of the current pizzaiolis, Raffaele Esposito, even though partaking of such peasant fare was thought unseemly for royalty. Not wishing to disappoint, he prepared several pizzas, one of which was patriotically dressed with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes (the tricolors of the Italian flag)…dedicated to the Queen and coined “Pizza Margherita.”

Pizza migrated to America with Italians in the latter half of the 19th century, but did not achieve broad notoriety until after World War II, when servicemen stationed overseas returned to the states craving these newly discovered exotic pies.

The actual word “pizza” may be a derivative of the Latin word picea, a word which Romans used to describe the blackening of bread in an oven. Others assert that the word pizza is rooted in an Old Italian word meaning “a point,” which in turn became the Italian word pizzicare, which means “to pinch or pluck.”

Do not be deluded into thinking that pizza is some complicated dish unworthy of your efforts or too banal for your guests. You can make divine homemade pizzas with little outlay of time or capital.  All that is needed is to craft dough (flour, water, yeast, salt and honey) watch the ball rise, lightly scatter (even underload) with toppings, slide into a very hot oven with a paddle onto an already well-heated stone or steel and cook briefly.  You can riff on classics far and wide too.

Pizza is not only sublimely delicious — strewn with a small bevy of fresh ingredients, it is a visual feast.


Extra virgin olive oil to coat bowl

1 C warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast packet
1 T organic honey

3+ C all purpose flour
1 t sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Pour warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast and honey until it dissolves. Let stand until yeast activates and forms foam or bubbles on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Rub large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix flour and salt in stand up, heavy duty mixer equipped with flat paddle. Add yeast mixture, flour, salt and olive oil; mix on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Refit mixer with dough hook and process at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic—or transfer to lightly floured surface and knead dough by hand until smooth. Kneading helps develop strength and elasticity in the dough. During this step, add more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is too sticky. Work dough with hands into a smooth ball.

Transfer to large oiled bowl, turning dough until fully coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a dishtowel and let dough rise in warm draft free area until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes for quick rising yeast and 1 1/2 hours for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls and let rest, sometimes overnight.

Place dough on well floured board or large work surface and roll out, starting in center and working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. Roll the dough to roughly 12 inches in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim. Transfer to a pizza paddle which is either covered in cornmeal or heavily floured so it can slide off easily into the oven. Lightly brush with olive oil. Then add the toppings, which were chopped, cut, prepared and/or cooked in advance.

A word to the wise—do not overburden pizzas with toppings; rather, try to maintain balance and integrity, always allowing the crust to play a central role in the tasting theater. Too often pizzas are heavily laden with a plethora of ingredients that bury the crust and offer little to the savory character of these rustic delights. So, please use a light hand and err on the side of less vs. more.

With calzone, follow the dough procedure described above; but, once rolled out add toppings only to half of the dough circle, leaving a 1″ border around the half circle. Moisten the edge with water and fold the uncovered side over the filled half. Press the edges of the dough together to seal. Calzones usually take a couple minutes longer to cook. Lightly brush the top with olive oil right after the calzone is removed from the oven.

On cooking pizza: The ideal environment is directly on the tile floor of an intensely hot wood fired or stone oven. As most home kitchens are accoutered with a simple gas or electric oven, we have to accomodate. So, either use a thick, heavy pizza stone or place a layer of unglazed ceramic tiles in the bottom rack of the oven. Crank up the dial to 500 F for a sufficient time to assure that both the stone and oven are fiercely hot.

Gently shake the paddle attired with the already topped dough to make sure the pizza is loose enough to slide onto the hot stone. With a flip of the wrist, slowly slide the pizza from the paddle onto the stone and cook until slightly browned and crisp, about 10-12 minutes. Once removed, immediately grate fresh parmiggiano-reggiano on top. Slice and serve.

No need to worry, readers. Pizzas are a revered food at this table, so topping recipes will follow on the next post and later throughout the blog.

Pourboire: Some fine pizza crafters suggest that once the early kneading is complete, and the dough is divided, you should turn out each piece on a floured surface, folding and kneading each about four times until it forms a smooth ball. Then, set each ball in a lidded glass or plastic bin large enough to allow it to double in size. Settle a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough, then cover with the lid. Refrigerate for 24-48 hours before shaping and baking. This prolonged fermentation not only develops the dough’s structure, it also enables starches to transform into sapid sugars—resulting in a svelte, airier crust.

I thought coq au vin was love in a lorry.
~Victoria Wood

Coq au vin (“rooster in wine”) is a fancy name for a rustic ragout of rooster (now chicken) slowly simmered in wine with lardons, mushrooms, tomatoes and garlic. This dish, which conjures up images of French farmscapes, has an aromatic omnipresence and offers a symphony of harmonized flavors from the braising process. From a traditionally rural land, a country classic that has truly stood the test of time.


12 white pearl onions or cippolini onions
1/2 C chicken broth
Sea salt
1 bay leaf

6 thick slices pancetta or bacon, cut into 1″ x 1/4″ lardons

3 C fresh mushrooms, quartered
2 T butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 T unsalted butter, softened
3 T all purpose flour

3 lbs organic, free range chicken parts (preferably leg/thigh quarters), well dried
3 T butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C brandy

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, finely minced and smashed again to a paste

3-4 C Burgundy, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Chianti wine
1-2 cups chicken broth
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 or 4 large slices
1 can San Marzano tomatoes, loosely drained and chopped
2-3 T brandy
Fresh parsley or tarragon, chopped

In a large, heavy deep skillet or Dutch oven, fry the cut bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Set aside, reserving about 1-2 tablespoons fat in the pan.

Drop onions into a sauce pan of boiling water for no more than 1 minute. Drain and remove. Cut off the root and stem ends, keeping the onion layers intact. Slip off the skins with your fingers. Place the onions in the pan covered halfway with the broth and add bay leaf. Cover the pan and simmer very slowly until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place heavy skillet with butter and oil over medium high heat. When the butter is well heated, add the mushrooms and toss well so they absorb the butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and continue tossing until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.

Beurre Manié
With your fingers, combine butter and flour. Set aside.

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. In the heavy, deep skillet or Dutch oven with the bacon fat, add butter and olive oil over medium high heat. When it is lively hot, but not smoking, lay in the chicken skin side down. In batches and without crowding the pan, cook until nicely browned, about 4-5 minutes per side. After removing, drizzle the skillet with brandy and flambé by igniting the fumes. Allow to sit until flames die down and burn out in pan. Set chicken aside in a casserole dish, loosely tented with aluminum foil.

Add chicken, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, carrot, and tomatoes to the skillet or Dutch oven. Pour in wine and adequate stock to cover the ingredients. Cover and simmer slowly until chicken is tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a dish or casserole, and tent loosely with foil. Also remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Raise heat, fortify sauce with 2-3 tablespoons brandy and boil down rapidly—-tasting and adding any necessary seasoning—until sauce just begins to lightly thicken. Remove from heat and little by little whisk in beurre manié to thicken to the point until the sauce becomes glossy and coats a spoon well. Return the chicken to pan along with the braised onions, lardons and mushrooms. Simmer a couple of minutes to blend the flavors and baste the chicken.

Top with parsley or tarragon and serve with buttered artisanal noodles, mashed potatoes/turnips or rice pilaf, a favored seaonal green and a special red Burgundy or pinot noir.

Pourboire: Please heed Julia Child’s mantra about browning —
(1) The meat should be thoroughly dried
(2) The oil in the pan should be quite hot
(3) Do not crowd the meat in the pan

Aïoli epitomizes the heat, the power, and the joy of the Provençal sun, but it has another virtue—it drives away flies.
~Frédéric Mistral


Globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus) are perennial thistles with origins in the Mediterranean, probably North Africa or Sicily. After the plant travelled throughout Europe, Spanish settlers brought artichokes to what is now California in the 1600’s—but they were not widely grown there until the first quarter of the 20th century. Castroville, California, became artichoke famous on a national scale when Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1948.

The edible portions of the plant are fleshy lower portions of the leaves (bracts) and the base or receptacle, known as the heart. The mass of florets in the center of the bud is called the choke.

Artichokes contain a compound called cynarin, which stimulates taste bud receptors enhancing even the simplest of flavors. They are deceptively healthy—a fertile source of silymarin, an antioxidant traditionally used in many cultures to treat liver, gallbladder and digestive disorders. They also provide other nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, folic acid as well as carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Artichokes are virtually fat free.

Choose globes that are dark green, heavy, and have tightly knit leaves. Dry looking globes that appear to be turning brown and are too open are past their prime.


1 artichoke
1 fresh lemon, quartered and seeded
12 black peppercorns
2 t salt
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Lay the artichoke on its side on a cutting board; using a large chef’s knife, cut away the entire top quarter in one slice. Cut off the stem at the bottom, so the artichoke will stand upright in the serving dish. Cut off the very bottom of the stem, peel it and and retain. Pull off the tough bottom leaves. Then, using scissors, cut away the thorny end of each remaining leaf. I actually prefer leaving the leaf ends intact as it seems more visually pleasing. You just need to care to avoid being pricked throughout your dining experience.

Fill pasta pot halfway with water, and and add lemon, peppercorns, salt, bay leaves, thyme and garlic. Bring to a boil and then place the artichoke directly in water. Reduce the heat to a lively simmer and cook until a large leaf easily pulls away, about 35 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a colander.

(You may also steam the artichoke in a basket with 2 inches or so of water in the pot.)

Serve hot, at room temperature or cold with drawn peppered butter, aïolis, or mayonnaise. Use your teeth to scrape the flesh from the bottom of each leaf. Either use a specially desiged artichoke plate or have a bowl on the side for the discarded leaves. Do not forget that the leaves closest to the heart of the choke are very tender. Once you reach the last flimsy leaves that cover the choke and heart in the middle, cut them away with a circular motion with a spoon or knife. Discard both the leaves and the fuzzy choke underneath, then slice up that succulent heart and stem.


Prepare aïoli (see Aïoli, Aïoli, Aïoli post)


Basic aïoli recipe
1 small can of chipotle chilies in adobo, partially drained and finely minced
1/2 fresh lime
Pinch of dried cumin
Handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

To the basic aïoli recipe, add finely minced chipotles and some of the adobe to taste; add the cumin, a squeeze of fresh lime and cilantro. Mix well.

Moules Marinières

April 11, 2009

Mussels, a personal love, have been a food source for tens of thousands of years. They encapsulate the type of food that I adore: simple, savory, and without pretense.

In ancient Greece, electoral votes were cast by scratching the names of candidates inside mussel shells.

Centuries later, in one of the earliest (14th century) French cookbook transcripts, Le Viander de Taillevent, a mussel recipe appears—with mint of all things. The reknowned Taillevent rose from meager beginnings as a young kitchen hand by the common name of Guillaume Tirel to become the heralded master chef for the king of France, Charles V (“the Wise”). More than a quincentennial later, Taillevent’s name graced a famous Parisian restaurant which opened shortly after the close of World War II.

Mussels are bivalves of the marine family Mytilidae, most of which live on exposed shores in intertidal zones. The external shell is composed of two hinged halves (valves) joined together by a ligament, and closed by robust internal muscles. They have tough, elastic byssal threads—their notorius “beards.”

On storage: do not bring home mussels in a closed plastic bag and directly store them in the refrigerator. In that sealed bag, they will suffocate and die. So, either put them on the refrigerator shelf with the bag open or transfer them to a large glass bowl and cover them with a damp cotton cloth.


2 lbs fresh mussels

3 T unsalted butter
1/4 t sea salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
3 shallots, peeled and finely minced
2 t dried thyme
2 C white wine (slightly sweet or a touch fruity)

1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C fresh tarragon, chopped

Thoroughly scrub mussels and rinse with several changes of water. If an open mussel closes when you press on it, it is good. If the mussel remains open, you should discard it. Pull off beards, the tuft of fibers that attach each mussel to the shell, cutting them at the base with a paring knife. Do not beard the mussels more that a few minutes in advance or they will die and spoil. Set bearded mussels aside.

Start with butter then combine salt, garlic, shallots, thyme, and wine in large deep heavy skillet. Sweat over low heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add bay leaf and mussels with a generous sprinkling of pepper, then cover. Cook just until shells open, about 3 to 4 minutes. Do not overcook.

Transfer mussels to shallow soup bowls. Drizzle pan sauce over mussels and sprinkle with tarragon and more pepper.

Serve with grilled or toasted baguette slices and a chilled white or rosé.