Smooth skins hued from deep purple to violet white, and bodies styled from pleasingly plump to gracefully slender, eggplants always bare tender, creamy flesh inside.

Though commonly thought of as a vegetable, eggplant is actually a fruit, and specifically a berry. Eggplants belong to the Solanaceae plant family, commonly known as nightshades, and are kinsfolk with tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes. Eggplants have nothing to do with eggs other than their oblong shape which spurred their ovular name. Other cultures favored the term aubergine which is derived from the Sanskrit meaning “to cure wind disorder,” since eggplants were once thought to alleviate flatulence. The Sanskrit word vatinganah was somehow morphed to badingan by the Persians, then al-badinjan by the Arabs, alberengena by the Spanish, and finally aubergine by the French.

Native to India in wild form, eggplants were later cultivated in China around 500 B.C. The fruit was then introduced to the Mediterranean basin and Africa. Italy’s ardent affair with eggplant began in the 14th century. Myths persisted that eating eggplant caused insanity, not to mention leprosy and bad breath, which explains why eggplant was often used solely for decoration in many homes. Thankfully, so far I have at least avoided leprosy.

The Sicilian antipasto relish known as caponata is a poster child for food’s mottled history. An alluring triangular island smack dab in the middle of Meditteranean trade routes, Sicily has been conquered over centuries by the likes of Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Germans, French, and Spaniards. Through all this rape, pillage and survival, Sicilians subtly borrowed along the way to engender a cradle of singular cuisine. But, it comes as no surprise that the origins of caponata are disputed.

Some say caponata is of Spanish descent, derived from the Catalan word caponada, a similar relish. Others emphasize that the root word, capón, a type of fish, suggest it was prepared with fish as in capón de galera which is a form of gazpacho served shipboard. Another school claims that the dish had to be a mariner’s breakfast because of the vinegar, which may have acted as a preservative. A final, yet less accepted, theory is that the word derives from the Latin word caupo (tavern) where cauponae was served—a form of gastropub for ancient travelers.

Caponata is protean, having as many versions as uses. Antipasto, contorno, bruschetta, pasta, frittata, paninis, with fish, atop grilled meats, etc.


Extra virgin olive oil
3 medium eggplants, cut into 1/2″ cubes

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 T red chile pepper flakes

2-3 ripe medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 T capers, drained, rinsed and dried
1/3 C green olives, such as cerignola, pitted and chopped
2 T pine nuts
2 T currants
2 t fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t premier unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T tomato paste

Fresh mint, stemmed and chopped
Red chile pepper flakes

In a heavy pot or large sauce pan, pour in olive oil until about 2 1/2″ deep. Heat over medium high heat and bring the temperature to about 300 F. You can drop small pieces of eggplant or bread in the oil and when it starts bubbling vigorously, it is ready. Add the eggplant and cook, until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked eggplant to paper towels and drain.

Meanwhile, in a deep, sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil to medium high, add the onions, garlic and pepper flakes and sauté until onions are softened, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, capers, olives, pine nuts, currants and thyme. Stir some and cook until the tomatoes release their juices, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk together balsamic vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa and tomato paste, add to pan, and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Add the cooked eggplant, and continue to cook at a simmer until heated, about 2 more minutes.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Garnish with mint and a pinch of chile flakes.

Pourboire:  consider dribbling caponata on bruschetta slices.

Ovine Hankerings

July 28, 2010

Strife will not cease till the wolf and the lamb be united.

Damn I love lamb. Shamelessly so. It is simply hard to conceal my carnivorous lust for these delicate creatures…it never flags or falters. To me, lambs are the Brahmins of the red meat caste system.

Domestic sheep (Ovis aries) are quadrupedal, ruminant members of the even-toed ungulate order Artiodactyla. One of the earliest domesticated animals, sheep have been raised for fleece, meat and milk since Mesopotamian days, some 10,000 years ago. While often imaged as freely roaming virginal white flocks wandering from one bucolic, verdant slope to another, sheep actually display a wide array of hues—from pure white to dark chocolate brown and even spotted or piebald. There are hundreds, some even say thousands, of sheep breeds which are raised on varied lands across the four corners of the earth. They hoof it on every continent except Antarctica.

The English word “sheep” is derived from the Old English word scēap, while the word “lamb” is rooted in the teutonic word lamba.

Foodwise, the term “lamb” generally describes the meat of sheep offspring from the time it is weaned to one year old. Unlike some other farmed stock, lamb has a seasonal element. Sheep have cycles of breeding, roaming, grazing, and birthing that dictate when sheep and lambs go to slaughter. Ewe ovulation is naturally prompted by the shortening days of autumn, so the birth of lambs, whose gestation period is five months, is meant to coincide with warmer days and the first fresh grass of spring. Genuine spring lamb is born, not killed, in the early spring and slaughtered at between 3-5 months old. Lambs are weaned off milk some four months after birth, at which point they graze and fatten on whatever their habitat offers. Local pasture grasses, marsh grasses and coastal herbs, rosemary, thyme, wild fennel, clover and balsam, wild garlic transubstantiate lamb meat. So, they are what they eat—a lamb’s regional diet imparts distinct, yet subtle, aromatic dialects on the back end.

Please don’t be overly complacent and limit your lamb imagination to loin chops or legs. Break from the routine occasionally and think shoulder, shank, kidneys, tongue, ribs, sweetbreads, sausage and so on.


Tapenade Butter
1 C Niçoise olives, pitted
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 T capers, drained, rinsed and patted dry
2 high quality anchovy fillets, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 t freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
Freshly ground black pepper

12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Combine all ingredients, except butter, in a food processor bowl and blend by pulsing with metal blade until smooth. Then add the softened butter and blend further by pulsing until smooth. Adjust seasonings to your tastes. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and stir well. Then wrap the spread tightly in plastic wrap in the shape of a log (about 1 1/2″ x 10″) and refrigerate until firm, usually overnight. To use, just unwrap and slice from the butter log, allowing the slices to soften again some before serving over the warm lamb chops. Alternatively, slowly melt the butter in a small sauce pan and drizzle over the lamb chops.

Grilled Lamp Loin Chops
6 lamb loin chops, bone in, about 1 1/2″ thick
1 plump, fresh garlic head, sliced crosswise
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 T herbes de provence

Freshly grated lemon zest

Rub the lamb chops with the open garlic head, and then season with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it. Three seconds is medium high.

Meanwhile, bring the lamb chops to room temperature. Grill the lamb until medium rare, about 5-6 minutes on each side. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Let the lamb rest for at least 5 minutes, then serve still warm, topped with tapenade butter slices.

Finish with a light grating of fresh lemon zest over the tapenade butter and lamb chops.

How do you like your eggs in the morning?…I like mine with a kiss.
~Dean Martin

I have ever been a morning person. Admittedly, being pert, even ebullient, alertness at daybreak has not always endeared me to bedmates. Yet, somehow with all that solitary sunrise time on my hands, I don’t dine in the morning. Coffee and laptop newspapers are the staples. Not until lunch rolls around do my buds tend to rouse. Despite my dawn start, in the evening I often paradoxically morph into a night owl. Self imposed sleep deprivation, sometimes with a positive bend and occasionally pernicious.   Sort of a lark & owl dyadic discordance, but I tend to play both roles — perhaps to my chagrin though.

The first meal of the day, the English word “breakfast” is a verbal fusion of break + fast. A meal that ends the nightly fast. The benefits of breakfast have been ever heralded by nutritionists. For a warped example, Michael Phelps begins his 12,000 calorie daily quest with three fried egg sandwiches laden with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. He follows that elfin opener with two hefty cups of coffee, a five egg omelet, an ample bowl of grits, and three slices of French toast dusted with powdered sugar. Not to be forgotten is the finish of three large chocolate chip pancakes. One nut up, carbo loaded meal to start a day…that is, if you are a finely honed athlete who ritualistically spends his days performing route compulsion in a pool.

Now, transport your mind across the pond for something more to my morning liking. Le petit déjeuner, translated as “small lunch,” is a light, unhurried affair eaten while seated — not walking, standing, commuting or driving. For the français moyen, breakfast consists of sliced fresh artisanal bread, such as a baguette, with butter and honey or jam* (aka une tartine), and occasionally a croissant or pain au chocolat. Add a cup or two of espresso, dark coffee or black tea, perhaps a small cup of yogurt or fruit and, of course, that everloving sweet kiss. Unlike in the states, hams, eggs, omelets and other savories are reserved for lunch or dinner. So, if you desire a bulky meal or cornucopian brunch to start your day, you’d best head toward Calais and board the Chunnel.

So, suffice it to say, these blissful bottoms have a lunch or dinner post time.


Artichoke Hearts
2 fresh lemons, halved
4 artichokes
3 T extra virgin olive oil

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/3 C chicken broth
1/2 t sea salt
Freshly ground black or white pepper

Fill a large bowl about two thirds of the way with cold water. Squeeze the juice of the halved lemons into the water to acidify. Working with one artichoke at a time, cut the stem off the base of the artichoke. Then, peel back and snap off the first 1 or 2 layers of leaves. Cut off the top third of the artichoke. Starting at the base, peel back and snap off the tough outer leaves until you reach the pale green inner leaves.
Cut off the uppermost part again, and trim around the base to make a smooth surface. The choke will be removed after cooking. When done with each, drop into the lemon water. When completed, drain and pat dry.

In a heavy, large sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium high. Add the smashed garlic cloves and saute until lightly golden. Discard the garlic. Then add the artichokes and sauté until just lightly golden. Increase the heat to high, add the lemon juice and deglaze the pan. Add the broth, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Shortly before using them, scoop out the choke with a spoon, so a smooth, curved cup is formed.

5 C mushrooms, cleaned and finely minced
1-2 small shallots, peeled and finely minced
3 T unsalted butter

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large sauté pan over a moderate heat, melt the butter and add the shallots. Sweat the shallots for about 5 minutes in the butter until soft and tender.

Add the finely minced mushrooms, a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Stirring occasionally, cook over moderate heat until the mushrooms throw off their liquid and then reabsorb it, leaving no liquid in the pan. It may be necessary to add additional butter, and care must be taken that they do not get crisp. They must remain soft. This process can take up to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

When done the mushrooms will resemble a dark brown, mealy, almost paste-like texture. The quantity will also have been reduced by about half.

1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C dry white wine
1 T minced shallots
1 t dried tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 large egg yolks
8-10 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

In a medium heavy saucepan combine wine vinegar, wine, shallots, and dried tarragon and simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cool and strain through a fine sieve.

In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolks until they become thick and sticky. Whisk in the reduced vinegar mixture, salt and pepper. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. The yolk mixture should be thickened enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.

While whisking the yolk mixture gradually pour in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time whisking thoroughly to incorporate before adding more butter. As the mixture begins to thicken and become creamy, the butter can be added more rapidly.

Season to taste with chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. To keep the sauce warm, set the bowl over lukewarm water.

Poached Eggs
4 large fresh eggs
1 T white wine vinegar

Fill a large, heavy skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water. Bring to a simmer, and add the white wine vinegar. Crack each egg into a shallow bowl or saucer to assure they are not broken. Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry.

Place two artichoke hearts on each plate. Top with a heaping spoonful of duxelles, and place the poached egg or eggs on top (depending on the size of the hearts). Then, drizzle bearnaise over the duxelles, hearts and eggs. Sprinkle freshly chopped tarragon on top to finish.

*Pourboire: speaking of jam (confiture), I cannot resist mentioning mi figue, mi raisin—literally “half fig, half grape” or figuratively “between unpleasant and pleasant.” The combination of these two fruits is not trivial. In France, the fig historically had negative connotations because of their resemblance to animal droppings, while grapes have always been revered. So, the phrase reflects an ambiguous situation or person…being in two different worlds or places, or hovering between two antithetic expressions. A mixed bag. If you find a local source for this luscious mi figue, mi raisin jam, glom on to a jar. It is available online as well. (I have my source).

Squid & Heirlooms

July 24, 2010

A hundreth knyghtes mo… and four hundreth to bote, squieres of gode aray.
~Robert Manning of Brunne, Langtoft’s Chronicle (1330)

Said to be the ancestor of all cultivated tomatoes, they are the smaller garden varieties of these exquisite fruits. Pop(s) a shots, of sorts. The varieties abound: black, red & yellow plum, black cherry, red & yellow pears, coyote, green grapes, Isis Candy, Cuban yellow grapes.

For me, I adore that audacious rainbow coalition…differing hues, shades—vivid yellows, pinks, reds, purples, oranges, golds, and even bicolors to boot. A chromatic scheme that naturally creates harmony. And then the shapes. From precisely spherical to slightly oblong to grape or pear like. Artful imperfection, everytime I look at you.


1 lb squid. cleaned, rinsed and patted dry
3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb mutlicolored heirlooom “cherry” tomatoes

2-3 T fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped

Cut the squid body into ringlets and leave the tentacles intact. In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil to medium and add the garlic. When the garlic sizzles (but does not brown), add the squid, then salt and pepper. Stir and raise the heat to medium high until the squid runs from opaque to white in “color.” Add the tomatoes and cook until just heated through, yet not broken. Make double sure the squid is cooked briefly, or rubber will ensue. Stir in the tarragon and serve.

Less is more.
~Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect

Bleat: Middle English bleten, from Old English blǣtan; akin to Latin flēre to weep, Old English bellan to roar — more at BELLOW; before 12th century; intransitive verb: to make the natural cry of a sheep or goat; also: to utter a similar sound, such as whimper.

Classic comfort with simple, balanced charm. A BLT may lack culinary show but when constructed of noble, hand hewn ingredients, it should be canonized. Superb bacon, artisanal bread, indulged aioli, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh lettuce. Should you take the next step (which I invariably do)…farm fresh eggs. This is food synergy rarely replicated, and done in the right ratios, BLT is the stuff of fetish. You know who you are.

The first bite will make you whimper, and on a good day, the last will produce a sated bellow (or bleat).


4 thick slices of superior slab bacon

2 thick slices artisanal bread, such as ciabatta, pain au levain or focaccia, toasted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heirloom tomato slices
Butter lettuce leaves

2 t unsalted butter
1 t extra virgin olive oil
2 large farm fresh eggs

Fresh avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced (optional)

In a large, heavy skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat, turning, until crisp, about 8 minutes or so. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Spread the aioli on the top slice of toast. Then top the bottom slice of toast with the bacon, tomato and lettuce. However you stack it, avoid having the bleeding fresh tomatoes directly touching the bread which can turn sodden.

In a small, nonstick skillet, melt the butter and oil. Add the eggs and fry over moderate heat, until cooked with the yolk should still runny. They are done when the whites are set and the outer edges are just starting to curl. If the edges start to curl before the whites in the center are fully cooked, cover the pan with a lid. Carefully slide the eggs onto the lettuce and close the sandwich.

Pourboire: this may need be a forethought and not an option. The restaurant technique of chucking the skillet and oven roasting the bacon allows you to cook more strips which are more evenly cooked with less mess. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Arrange strips on a metal rack and place on the lined baking sheet. Roast–rotating the pan once halfway through cooking–until brown and crispy, about 20-30 minutes. Cooking time varies based upon oven and bacon thickness. Drain on paper towels.

A Seared Salmon Parable

July 18, 2010

Somewhere in a fluorescent lit, smoke filled church basement…

G: “Hi, my name is G. and I am a seared salmon…well, you know—aholic.”

Chorus (in unison): “Hi, G.”

G: “I just don’t know how or where to start. It’s terribly difficult for me to admit to you that I have become a convert to this fish. I had stayed salmon sober for years—what with the blatant overuse of this oily animal on restaurant menus…those stupid salmon Caesars, salmon surf and turf and the like. And the malodorous nature of that beast on the stovetop which lingers in the house. That persistent salmon stench. Now, except for the wild Alaskan and tank farmed ones, salmon are becoming fished out. I thought sustainability would deliver me. Yet, after constant pressure from her, I finally succumbed. I was weak, I know. How guilty I now feel. Who ever thought this would happen to me?”

Member of Chorus: “Well done, G. A good start—admitting you are powerless. Please go on. You are with friends and with Him.”

G: “Please understand I don’t want to mislead you…I have secretly reveled in smoked salmon over the years. But, it was few and far between, so I felt under control. I mean, I am a caper addict, so it was hard to turn down those little berries on that tempting pink meat dressed in crème fraiche and adorned with dill. Looking back, I guess that smoked salmon was really my gateway substance. I felt I could stop with a little of that, here and there. Just dabble some. But, I guess not because there were also those secretive times with salmon roe. Those buttery little eggs, and the way they popped between your teeth, were too hard to resist.”

Member of Chorus: “Now you’re talkin’…an unmanageable and insane life, just as He likes it. Keep it up.”

G: “Thanks. Sorry, I’m a little nervous. As you know, I am a first timer…a rookie at sins and confessions. I mean telling a group of total strangers about my innermost wants and needs and downfalls is a little dismaying to say the least. And to let on that I allowed her, of all people, to persuade me to savor it makes me feel almost cowardly.”

Member of Chorus: “It’s all cool, man. I’ve been there, and, ya know, we’re here to help, and…and so is He. And to start so soon admitting your shorcomings to Him is a leap, ya know, of faith.”

G: “I am not sure what to do—now that I have admitted to this dark craving to her and now to you. Of course, I have not told her about how much I adored my times with the roe. For so long, I told her that salmon did not interest me, that it did little for me. So, she just enjoyed it on the side when I wasn’t there. And even shared it with our friends when I wasn’t home. Can you blame her for those indiscretions? I mean I had my flings with smoked ones and the trysts with roe. She kept telling me how good it was, endlessly encouraging me to try it. Now I know she was just preying on my ever addictive personality. A noggin chocked with maladjusted hormones and neurotransmitters gone awry. Damn that rough hewn limbic system. All she had to do was just barely set the hook, and that she did…despite my efforts to ward off her temptations. She simply seduced me into seared salmon, knowing I couldn’t help myself. And once I took a bite of that apple, there was no turning back. Now it is me, not her, that suggests we have it. I seek it, I order it, I de-bone it, I sear it, and then we partake—usually, but not always, without guilt. And now others have become aware of my shortcomings, my inability to just say ‘no.’ It’s public knowledge in our circle of friends, and it’s a little humiliating that others know I felt so powerless and succumbed to the temptation. Even just last week we lunched on seared salmon with a beurre rouge reduction. It’s in season, you know. And it was indecently intoxicating. Try some…make it a lusty habit or just dally in it. And before I close…pray tell, who is Him?”


2 center cut, skinned Alaskan salmon fillets, about 1 1/4 lbs
1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t tarragon leaves, chopped

1 medium shallot, peeled and finely minced
1 1/2 C dry red wine
1/4 C red wine vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground white or black pepper
3 fresh tarragon sprigs
1 bay leaf
8 T unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

1 fresh lemon, zested
Capers, drained and rinsed

Season salmon with salt, pepper and tarragon. Add garlics and heat heavy large skillet over medium high. Heat garlics, swirl throughout the pan and then remove.

Add and then sauté the salmon over medium high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, carefully lifting the salmon with a spatula to loosen it from the pan when done. Turn and cook until the salmon is cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more. The skin should be crisp and the flesh medium rare.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the pan juices, then add the shallots. Sauté them just until they just turn light brown. Deglaze the pan by adding wine and wine vinegar. Allow to heat, then whisk in salt and pepper and add tarragon and bay leaf. Keep cooking until the liquid has been reduced by half. Then remove from heat and start more vigorously whisking in cold butter, one tablespoon at a time. Get each piece of butter melted and fully whisked in before adding the next. Please take your time as it may be a short while to incorporate all the butter, about 8-10 minutes. The idea is to avoid the beurre rouge from separating.

Plate, then drizzle beurre rouge over salmon and top with some lemon zest and capers.

My mouth is a happy place.
~Pat Conroy

Galettes are flat, round, rather freeform traditional French cakes. They may be savory or sweet, and are crafted from pastry, cereals, potatoes, nuts, etc. Galettes vary regionally, so those from Bretagne will differ from those in Lyon or Franche-Comté, and there are even some cakes made for special occasions such as the Galette des Rois eaten on the holiday of Epiphany.

Crispy potato galettes are savory potato cakes which can be simply made as below, but they also lend themselves to fecund imaginations. Sometimes they are grated and other times sliced; sometimes they are skillet sautéed and other times oven-roasted. Mix it up with personal zeal—add differing herbs (rosemary, tarragon, herbes de provence), eggs, ham, sausages, onions, leeks, shallots, mushrooms, and cheeses (gruyère, emmental, chèvre, parmigiano-reggiano and friends), just to name a few. Try topping with seared scallops, salmon, duck and drizzle with their luscious pan juices.

Creative minglings can be exalting to body and soul…even epiphanic.


3 large (but not oversized) russet potatoes
2 t chopped fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black and/or white pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter

In a heavy pot, steam or boil the potatoes until almost but just not cooked. They should be slightly underdone so a paring knife or sharp fork should just piece the potatoes. But, the core of the potatoes should not be raw.

Let thoroughly cool in the refrigerator before grating. Then, peel the chilled potatoes and hand grate into a large bowl. Combine and toss the grated potatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper.

In a heavy large skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. Reduce to medium heat and carefully form the potatoes into rounds and slip into the pan, pressing the them down gently with a flat spatula. Cook until the bottoms brown and become crusty, and the galette pulls away from the skillet. If the heat is too high, the potatoes will not cook in the middle, and if too low, the potatoes will stick to the pan.

Using a wide spatula, flip the galette. Cook until golden brown on the second side.

A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.
~Czech proverb

The north to south plunge of the first stages of this year’s Tour de France bypassed the pastoral and gastronomically diverse region of Alsace-Lorraine nestled in the northeastern corner of France. Instead, the riders braved rain and then the harrowing, bone jarring rigors of 7 cobbled sectors in a more central route from Belgium south toward the steep mountain stages of the Alps. These are not those faux cobblestones seen in suburban malls, but are rather the old school, epic, rounded rocks with abysmal ruts and crevices that suddenly grab wheels with a Jaws-like vengeance. To cyclists perched atop two narrow high pressure tires in a frenetically paced and packed peleton, it is labyrinthine chaos. Seems a metaphor for modern life.

Home to handcrafted and hearty beers, Alsace-Lorraine is not to be forgotten though in this rustic chicken Ragout À l’Alsacienne. The braising beer should be darker with hefty yeast and malt tones. This is not fare for light lager. I might suggest your finest local microbrewery or a hearty bottled beer from the region.


6 thick slices high quality slab 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
1 t dried thyme

3 T unsalted butter, softened
3 T all purpose flour

3 1/2 to 4 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces and thoroughly dried
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T unsalted butter
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

3 C yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, finely minced and smashed again to a paste

4 C fine beer
1-2 C chicken broth
1-2 T Dijon mustard
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1-2 T brandy

Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish

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.

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, pepper and thyme and continue tossing until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.

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

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy skillet with the bacon fat over medium-high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the chicken and cook on one side until the skin turns an even golden brown, about 5 minutes. Do not crowd the pan and even brown the chicken in batches if necessary. Then turn the pieces, and brown on that side, 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside in a casserole dish, tented loosely with aluminum foil.

Reduce the heat to medium, and add the sliced onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Drain through a sieve to remove excess fat.

Return the chicken to the skillet, add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Pour in the beer, mustard and enough stock to barely cover the ingredients. Stir and bring to a simmer until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the sauce and boil the sauce down rapidly. Raise heat, fortify sauce with brandy and boil down rapidly—-tasting and adding any necessary seasoning. Then, remove from heat and whisk in the beurre manié little by little to lightly thicken the sauce. (There is no need to use the entirety of the beurre manié—just enough to lightly thicken.) Bring briefly to a simmer so that the sauce just lightly coats a spoon.

Return the chicken to the sauce, and add the lardons and mushrooms to the sauce. Top with parsley and serve with buttery artisan noodles.

Apulia (Puglia) forms the heel of the Italian peninsular boot. A tangled history of conquest and repression—Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Normans, Angevins, Turks, Austrians, Spaniards, French all held sway over time. To the chagrin of the oppressed, Puglia has been a perfect cauldron for supreme cuisine.

Orecchiette pasta of Puglia, those “little ears” that fondly show their makers’ thumbprints, date back to the 13th and 14th century domination of the region by relentlessly expansionist Angevins. Under the English monarch King Henry II, the Angevins were a landed aristocracy whose holdings covered much of the British isles, France, northern Spain and even parts of southern Italy. The Angevin were originally the Dijon born Plantagenet feudal nobility who ultimately dominated English royalty from 1154 to 1399, and also were the dynasty that ruled southern Italy during that era.

So, it is surmised that orcchiette has cross cultural origins. The pasta resembles French crosets likely migrating south from Provence and then morphing into those elaborately imprinted round lasagnes called corzetti. Crafted in nearby Liguria, these ornate pasta disks are served by upper crust families to display wealth and status. Orcchiette are strangely French and Italian, even English, by birth it seems.


1 1/2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded
1/2 T honey
A splash of red wine
Sea salt
Bouquet garni of fresh parsley, thyme and basil sprigs

1/3 C chèvre or other mild goat’s cheese
3 T heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t balsamic vinegar
1/4 C basil leaves, cut into ribbons

1 lb orcchiette
Sea salt

Fresh basil leaves cut into ribbons (chiffonade)
Capers, rinsed and dried
Grated parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large and deep skillet or even a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and just lightly golden. Add the minced garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until fragrant but not burned, about 1 minute. Add the quartered tomatoes, shredded carrot, honey, red wine, salt, and bouquet garni and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down and the sauce is thick, about 30-40 minutes.

Remove the bouquet garni, and then put through a food mill or purée with an immersion blender. Whisk in the goat cheese and cream. Taste and adjust seasonings. Return to the skillet and keep warm at low heat.

Add finely chopped tomatoes to the 2 minced cloves of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and ribboned leaves of basil.

Then, bring a large, heavy pot of cold water to a boil, and salt generously. Add the pasta, and cook al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the pasta well, and then toss with both the warm tomato sauce and then finish with the uncooked, chopped tomatoes.

Serve with fresh ribboned basil, capers and equal parts of grated parmiggiano and pecorino.

Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.
~Mark Twain

Another inexplicable food bias. Why does cauliflower so often cop attitudes ranging somewhere between ambivalence and disdain?

Cauliflower can rarely find a date for prom which, as always, is a waste of fine material. This somewhat nutty flavored cruciferous vegetable is whitish as it lacks green chlorophyll in the head (“curd”) because the leaves shield the florets from sunlight. The orange and purple varieties are particularly fetching. Cauliflower possesses a high nutritional density with a profile low in fat, high in dietary fiber, folate, water and vitamin C. Ironically, when coupled with turmeric (see below), cauliflower has been found to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. So, please take her to the dance whether raw, roasted or sautéed.

Gobi Masala is a scrumptious Andhra cauliflower dish. Andhra Pradesh is a state located on the southeastern coast of India, baring the second longest coastline on this subcontinent—often monsoon ridden and occasionally battered. Two major rivers, the Godavari and the Krishna, course across this climatically and historically diverse region. The state is often called “India’s rice bowl” as over three quarters of the crops are rice, and it also happens to be a brisk producer of chile peppers.

The cuisine in Andhra kitchens is varied and regionally dependent, but naturally includes rice, peppers and a wide array of curries and spices.

As with all provincial cooking, versions of gobi masala abound. Some cooks suggest parboiling, even frying, the cauliflower first…some incorporate more indigenous Indian spices and curry leaves…some add a wondrous paste of poppy seeds and cashews…and so on and so forth.


1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered

2 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C sherry wine vinegar
1 T curry powder
1/2 t garam masala
1/2 t turmeric
1 t red chile powder
2 t sea salt

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Stir coriander seeds and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Place ground seeds in medium bowl and whisk in olive oil, wine vinegar, curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, chile powder, and salt.

Pull apart onion quarters into separate layers and add to cauliflower in a large glass bowl. Pour spice mixture over florets and onions and toss well to coat. Spread cauliflower and onions in a single layer in a large baking dish or heavy roasting pan.

Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally, until just fork tender, about 25 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro.


1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and finely chopped

2 t coriander seeds
2 t mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
2 t turmeric
1/2 t garam masala
1 t red chile powder
Liberal pinch of sea salt

1/2 C plain yogurt
2 t cashews, ground

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Stir coriander, mustard and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Add turmeric, garam masala and red chile powder. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy, deep skillet and add the chopped onions, garlic and serrano peppers and sauté until onions are light brown.

Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the spice mix and salt and cook until the onion-tomato-garlic-pepper mix fully absorbs the flavors.

Add the yogurt and cashews and gently sauté until well blended. Now, add the cauliflower florets and sauté turning occasionally to coat for 2-3 minutes. Cover and cook until just tender, about 5 more minutes.

Garnish with fresh cilantro.