Articles in Cooking w/recipe

A live Dungeness crab. Credit: David Gomez/iStock

As Americans there are certain holiday food traditions many of us share: turkey at Thanksgiving, gingerbread at Christmas. But in addition to these commonalities, regional specialties, from tamales in Texas to kalua turkeys in Hawaii, contribute local flavor to our celebrations. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the holiday table wouldn’t be complete without Dungeness crabs.

This succulent bottom-feeder was first harvested commercially from the San Francisco/Bodega Bay waters in the mid-1800s, and Bay Area residents have been feasting on its sweet meat ever since.

The region’s commercial crab fishing season opens just before Thanksgiving and lasts only as long as the crabs do. Often, the supply runs out not long after the ringing in of the New Year. With such a short season, Northern Californians strive to eat as many Dungeness crabs as possible before they disappear — and what better time to do it than the holidays?

Unlike the ubiquitous Thanksgiving turkey, Dungeness crabs are not associated with a particular winter holiday. Some people have them for Christmas, others for New Year’s Eve, or even Black Friday.

For Joy Sterling, whose family owns Iron Horse Vineyards in western Sonoma County, Thanksgiving is the best time for crabs. “Our tradition is to start with cold, cracked Dungeness crab fresh from Bodega Bay, just 13 miles from us as the crow flies,” she said. It’s served buffet style, as a pre-turkey appetizer, along with the winery’s unoaked Chardonnay. “We like a traditional Louis dressing, which is a Northern California invention, sliced Meyer lemons, bright Rangpur limes and regular limes.”

At the Stony Point location of Oliver’s Market in Santa Rosa, people begin lining up at 6:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve to buy Dungeness crabs for their holiday feasts. Before the day is over, the store will easily sell 1,000 pounds of crab. “It takes at least an hour to get through the line,” crab-lover Kelly Keagy of Santa Rosa said, “but people are nice and in a good mood.”

Keagy’s family has been eating crabs on Christmas Eve for the last 10 years, accompanied by warm sourdough bread and salad. “When the kids were little, crab wouldn’t have been high on their list of favorite foods,” she said. “Now that everybody is older, crab and Champagne are the highlights of our Christmas Eve.”

Supply and demand

Having a family tradition of eating Dungeness crabs at Thanksgiving can be a bit risky, due to supply fluctuations. Some would even call it foodhardy.

“Three things can affect availability at Thanksgiving,” said Scott Lenhart, founder of San Francisco Crabs, which supplies live Dungeness crabs to individuals, restaurants and retailers. “One is a bad crab season, or something like the oil spill a few years ago where they don’t catch any. Second, there can be strikes, when crab fishermen are negotiating for pricing. Then you can also have horrendous weather.”

International orders can also cut into the local crab supply. “China’s taken a huge amount of crab from us, and that’s one reason the prices are going up,” Lenhart said. “There’s a huge Asian market for Dungeness crab for special occasions, and for the rising middle class.”

Nick’s Cove crab cakes. Credit: Justin Lewis.

Nick’s Cove crab cakes. Credit: Justin Lewis

And because Northern California’s Dungeness crab season opens before those in Oregon and Alaska, out-of-state crabbers head south to get an early start. “They come to our waters and scour our crabs,” Lenhart said.

Even so, he always has Dungeness crabs on his Thanksgiving table. “I’ve been having Dungeness crab with turkey for a long time,” he said. The crabs are simply boiled with a little sea salt, and eaten without embellishment. “You don’t need garlic or butter. It’s good right out of the pot as soon as it’s cool enough to eat.”

Getting creative with crabs

At Nick’s Cove Restaurant, in the town of Marshall on Tomales Bay, executive chef Austin Perkins gives Dungeness crabs a gourmet twist. For the restaurant’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, as an alternative to the traditional turkey entrée, he serves up wood-fired whole Dungeness crab with fingerling potatoes and rosemary butter.

“Dungeness is a little bit sweeter and a lot milder than most other types of crab,” Perkins said. “We use it in many different ways at the restaurant, from crab cakes to our Dungeness crab mac and cheese.”

For those boiling crabs at home, he offered this advice: “After cooking, you need to remove the top part of the crab’s shell and remove all the intestines. After that, look for grayish gills on the sides and scrape those away as well.” Then the crab is ready to crack and eat, or use in a recipe.

Although Lenhart of San Francisco Crabs prefers his Dungeness crabs unadorned, he said he also likes them deep fried, or simmered in cioppino, San Francisco’s signature fish stew. “There’s nothing wrong with ginger crab at a nice Chinese restaurant, either,” he said. “But for Thanksgiving, you don’t need any sauces. You just can’t beat it.”

Nick’s Cove Dungeness Crab Cakes

Cooking Time: About 6 minutes per batch (3 minutes per side)

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3/4 pound Dungeness crab meat, cooked and shelled

2 cups mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 cup panko bread crumbs, plus an additional 1/2 cup for coating

Oil for pan frying (preferably rice bran oil or vegetable oil)

For garnish:

Spicy Paprika Aioli (recipe below)

Arugula and shaved fennel

Directions

1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and combine with hands until thoroughly mixed.

2. Weigh out 1 1/2 ounce portions and form them into cakes.

3. Roll cakes to coat in more panko, and brown them on the top and bottom surfaces in a hot sauté pan coated with oil (about 3 tablespoons, enough to cover the bottom of the pan).

4. Serve with Spicy Paprika Aioli, arugula and shaved fennel.

Spicy Paprika Aioli

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1/2 tablespoon salt

Directions

Whisk everything together to combine.

Main photo: A live Dungeness crab. Credit: David Gomez/iStock

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Salmon in pastry is an alternative Thanksgiving dish. Credit:

Lots of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes come from the English. Food we think of as American, like apple pie and turkey with stuffing, originated in Elizabethan England in the time of Shakespeare.

Pies, both sweet and savory, were popular back then. Savory pies were always a part of  festivities and were often made into the shape of the ingredients inside. I especially love the fish pie dishes from that era, which were made into the shape of lobster, crab or salmon with the crust embellished with elaborate pastry scales, fins, gills and other details.

This salmon in pastry recipe is a real showstopper, gorgeous and delicious. The recipe includes artichokes and asparagus, both considered aphrodisiacs in Elizabethan England and expensive delicacies in Shakespeare’s day, enjoyed only by the nobility and wealthy. The ingredients paired with the salmon here are unusual — grapes, asparagus, pistachios and oysters — but surprisingly the flavors work wonderfully together, creating a memorable dish. Perfect for Thanksgiving!

Salmon in Pastry

From: “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan (Random House)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Bake Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients

Store-bought or homemade pie dough

4 artichoke bottoms

1 salmon fillet, cut into twelve 2- by 3-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely milled black pepper

1 dozen medium oysters or 1 can smoked oysters

12 thin asparagus stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces

24 green seedless grapes

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios

1/4 cup finely ground pistachios

1 large egg, beaten

3 lemons, cut in wedges

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

2. Roll out slightly less than one-half of the dough into a 5- by 13-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

3. Place the artichoke bottoms in a long line down the center of the crust. Sprinkle the salmon with the salt and pepper and put over the artichokes. Arrange the oysters, asparagus stalks, green grapes, and both the coarsely and finely chopped pistachios over the salmon.

4. Roll out the remaining dough into a 5- by 13-inch rectangle and place on top of the ingredients. Trim the dough into the shape of a fish and pinch the edges to seal. Using the excess dough, add fish details, such as an eye or fin. Using a teaspoon, imprint scale and tail marks on the dough, being careful not to cut through the dough. Brush with the egg.

5. Bake the salmon for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with lemon wedges.

Main photo: A salmon in pastry dish is a real showstopper, gorgeous and delicious. Credit: “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan (Random House)

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The ubiquitous chicken tikka masala can be delicious. But why stop there? Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

Chicken tikka masala — a fairly delectable concoction of tomatoes, cream, fenugreek and grilled, boneless chicken — has become the poster child of stereotypical Indian food, leading most of us knowledgeable in Indian cuisine extremely hesitant to associate with it.

When done right, it can be a palate-pleasing dish. I mean, who can argue with smoky chicken morsels smothered in a mildly spiced tomato cream sauce? All things considered, it’s a fairly good introduction to the world of Indian cuisine before moving on to bigger and better things.

But this is where the problem lies. The love for chicken tikka masala does not leave much room for taking that next step. On the contrary, it seems to be gathering more fans and converts in its wake. A few cohorts that aid in its cause are the saag paneer (Indian cheese morsels in a creamed spinach sauce) and the leavened, butter-slathered naan bread. They woo the spice-averse with cream and butter and the novelty of a tandoori oven.

 Lights … camera … stereotype

A recently released food movie, “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” takes us from the bustling markets of Mumbai to farm markets in rural France and on a journey of reinventing Indian food in chic Paris — all in an hour and a half. However, before moving on to molecular gastronomy, the movie’s central character, Hassan Kadam, wows us with his fare in his family restaurant, Maison Mumbai, with dishes such as saag paneer and butter chicken, essentially enough hackneyed restaurant fare to make any true-blue Indian foodie shudder.

Departing from the author’s original fairly adventurous food renderings, the movie makers introduce the viewer to Hassan’s talents by talking tandoori, showing stunning pictures of saag paneer before moving onto other essentials and brave and bold fusion.

This creates the same frustration that leads most Indian food professionals to shy away from the chicken tikka masala, as the dish has stymied the broadening of the essential Indian repertoire.

Certainly, we have come a long way. There is a lot of exploration in Indian cuisine. Yet few restaurants leave this staple off their menus. They call it different names and sometimes add nuances to it that might add a layer of sophistication or a somewhat varied touch, but it is there — in some shape or form.

Even sandwich chains have moved on to include tikka sandwiches or wraps in their repertoire as a nod to the cuisine of India.

Is chicken tikka masala even originally from India?

Chicken tikka masala also suffers from heritage issues. It is difficult to bond, I mean, truly bond, with a dish that supposedly was invented in a curry house in London. It is hard to wax poetic about it like it was something conjured up in your grandmother’s kitchen.

If you are a fan of this brightly hued, rich-tasting curry, it is not my intent to offend you. Instead, it is to move you along to the other aspects and dimensions of your Indian restaurant menu. Yes, you can be adventurous, too. Explore, and you might surprise yourself with a new favorite or maybe a few. Imagine the possibilities.

If you like it spicy, a chicken chettinad from Southern India might please with its notes of garlic and black pepper. A simple chicken curry with ginger and tomatoes could tantalize the taste buds, without any unnecessary cream. And, of course, a kerala coconut and curry leaf chicken curry might also satisfy the indulgent palate with gentle citrus notes from the curry leaves.

The objective here is to taste the complete bouquet of flavors that good Indian cooking offers, rather than a muted version that is further masked with too much cream.

I offer you as a peace offering a nuanced cauliflower dish, which is creamy and richly flavored with ground poppy seeds and cashews. No cream here. This recipe for cauliflower rezala is a vegetarian adaptation of the Mughlai style of cooking found in Eastern India. This variant combines traditional Mughlai ingredients, such as yogurt and dried fruits, with core Bengali ingredients, such as the poppy seeds used in this dish. A mutton or chicken rezala is fairly rich. I first lightened the original with chicken in theBengali Five Spice Chronicles” and have adapted this for the cauliflower and kept it relatively simple. If you can find pale cheddar cauliflower, it should result in a pretty rendition.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower Rezala provides the creaminess without the cream. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

 

Cauliflower Rezala – Cauliflower in a Cashew, Yogurt and Poppy Seed Sauce

Prep Time: 4 hours (mainly to marinate the cauliflower)

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

For the marinade:

3/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 medium-sized cauliflower, cut into medium-sized pieces

For the cashew cream paste:

1/2 cup cashews

1/2 cup poppy seeds soaked in warm water for 2 hours or longer

Water for blending

For the base:

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon caraway seeds (know as shazeera)

1 medium-sized onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater

2 to 3 bay leaves

4 to 6 green cardamoms, bruised

3/4 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon clarified butter (ghee)

To finish:

1 tablespoon rosewater (optional)

Slivered almonds and or pistachios

Directions

1. Beat the yogurt with the salt and marinate the cauliflower pieces in the mixture for at least 3 hours.

2. Grind the cashews and poppy seeds into a smooth paste and set aside. You need to start with the poppy seeds, without too much water, just enough to create a paste, and then add the cashews with 1/3 cup water.

3. Heat the oil and add the caraway seeds. When they sizzle, add the onion.

4. Cook the onion for at least 7 minutes until it begins to turn pale golden.

5. Add the bay leaves, cardamoms, cayenne pepper and then the cauliflower. Cook on medium heat until well mixed. Cover and cook for 7 minutes.

6. Remove the cover and stir well. Add the poppy seed and cashew paste and mix well.

7. Stir in the clarified butter and cook on low heat for another 3 minutes. Note: The gravy should be thick and soft, and the cauliflower tender but not mushy.

8. Sprinkle with the rosewater, if using, and garnish with slivered almonds or pistachios.

Main photo: The ubiquitous chicken tikka masala can be delicious. But why stop there? Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

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Savoy cabbage, a winter vegetable, is a milder and sweeter alternative to green and red cabbage varieties. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

For years, I thought Savoy cabbage was a specialty of the great London hotel of that name, a way of cooking the vegetable that transformed it into a dish fit for kings. Even today, frilly Savoy cabbage remains, in my eyes at least, the classiest brassica on the block, a glamorous, swanky sibling to pale, pointy spring or hard white winter cabbages. Less aggressive than kale, more versatile than red, a good Savoy bursting with squeaky-clean health and goodness, is a far cry from the flabby cabbage-swamp clichés of British school dinners that linger long in collective memory.

The evolution of the great family of brassica cabbage cultivars, which also includes broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, originated in spindly, “headless” plants that were known throughout the ancient world. The Greeks cultivated such headless cabbages, believing they originally came from the sweat of Zeus, chief of the Gods (it must have been something to do with their, er, pungent smell when over-cooked).

However, generations of children who have been told to eat their greens to a refrain of cabbage-is-good-for-you (an unpopular, as opposed to a popular saying) can really blame the Romans. Cato, in the 2nd century BC, devoted a long passage to the plant in “De Re Rustica.” And Pliny the Elder, in “Historia Naturalis,” described a swollen-stemmed plant (perhaps another brassica, kohlrabi) and an exaggerated reference to “headed” cabbages 30 centimeters (about 12 inches) across, as well as 87 cabbage-related medicines.

The lore about cabbage

Over the centuries, cabbage has been credited with many medicinal properties, from curing snake bites, to growing hair on bald spots and preventing drunkenness (wrong!).

Savoy, as a newly developed variety with a loose “head,” came to prominence in medieval Germany, the great center of cabbage culture, although the name suggests an earlier French or northern Italian origin, with a possible link to Catherine de’ Medici.

Slow-growing Savoys are particularly good after the first frosts. They are hardy enough to stay in the ground through the winter, and bring a swathe of colorful, ruffled cheer to the stews, casseroles and thick soups of the winter months. Cabbage soup is a rustic favorite still in France and Germany, cooked with pickled pork or confit goose and duck.

The flavor of Savoy is nutty, and the texture crisp and firm (when not, of course, boiled lifeless), although a slow braise with rich flavorings, such as beef stock, Marsala wine and thyme, can also work well. Its natural color ranges from acid yellow to Day-Glo lime and from vivid emerald to deep forest green. The wrinkled leaves are supple and strong enough to be stuffed with meat and rice and rolled, before being bathed and baked in rich tomato and sour cream sauces spiked with caraway seeds or paprika. One of the greatest spectacles of the East European repertoire is a stuffed whole cabbage winched like a missionary’s head from a cannibal’s pot.

Simplicity of cabbage

But you don’t have to attempt this culinary equivalent of climbing Mont Blanc to enjoy a Savoy. If you wish, and have time, soak the leaves in cold water for a few hours before cooking to crisp them up further, then simply remove the tough central stalk and chop roughly. Steam or cook in plenty of water at a rolling boil with the lid off to retain the bright green color for a few minutes before tossing in butter, sea salt and black pepper. Or, just slice and cook briefly in butter. Leftovers can make a splendid bubble and squeak (see recipe below).

Savoy is also excellent and surprisingly sophisticated when shredded and stir-fried with seasonings such as red chile, sesame, garlic, ginger and soy sauce. It also goes well with aniseed flavors such as tarragon, fennel and Chinese five-spice powder.

The Savoy is the cabbage that even cabbage-haters can learn to love. If all else fails, try calling it an adorable petit choux, because everything sounds better in French, of course. Even cabbage.

cabbagehead

cabbagehead
Picture 1 of 6

The leaves of Savoy cabbage are very distinctive, a combination of green hues combined with a distinctive crinkled texture. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Stir-Fried Savoy Cabbage

A quick and vibrant dish that perks up the taste buds. Add garlic and/or 5-spice powder if you like, but the key thing is not to overcook it.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 servings, as a side dish

Ingredients

Half a small Savoy cabbage

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 green onions, sliced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 small fresh red chile, de-seeded and finely chopped

Soy sauce to taste

Directions

1. Shred the cabbage leaves, wash and drain well. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a wok until sizzling, then add the green onions, ginger and chile. Stir-fry briefly, then add the cabbage.

3. Stir-fry over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the cabbage is tender but still has a little crunch.

4. Season with soy sauce and serve immediately.

Buttery Braised Savoy Cabbage

An excellent dish to serve with meatballs or chops.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 servings, as a side dish

Ingredients

1 Savoy cabbage

3 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

2 large tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon paprika

2 tablespoons freshly chopped fennel leaves or dill leaves

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons toasted almonds

Directions

1. Discard the very coarse, outer leaves of the cabbage, then cut into quarters and then into thin strips.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the onion, tomatoes and paprika.

3. Add the cabbage, fennel and lemon juice and mix well together. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Cover the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender. Add a splash of water or a little more butter if the cabbage mixture seems to be drying out.

5. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds just before serving.

White Fish, Green Cabbage

A surprisingly delicate dish that gives an interesting edge to simply baked white fish.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

6 thick fillets of white fish

1 large Savoy cabbage cut into wedges

1/3 cup butter

Juice of half a lemon

2 two-ounce tins of anchovies in olive oil

14 fluid ounces sour cream

Black pepper

1 bunch of parsley, chopped

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 392 F (200 C).

2. Arrange the fish in a well-buttered oven dish. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and dot with flakes of butter. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

3. Steam or microwave the cabbage wedges until tender.

4. Put the anchovy fillets and their oil into a small pan. Gently mash with a wooden spoon over low heat until the anchovies disintegrate. Add the sour cream and black pepper and stir well. Simmer for a few minutes.

5. Arrange the fish and cabbage wedges on a warm serving platter or individual plates. Pour some of the sauce over the fish and scatter with parsley. Serve the remaining sauce separately.

Bubble and Squeak

Originally, this old-fashioned British dish of cooked potatoes and cabbage fried together, was made with leftover beef and cabbage. Potatoes appeared in 19th-century recipes and the beef was discarded. The name supposedly refers to the noise made by the vegetables as they fry in the pan.

Prep Time: 10 minutes (30 minutes if not using leftovers)

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 8 servings, as an accompaniment

Ingredients (Amounts are variable, depending on how much leftovers you have.)

1 small Savoy cabbage, shredded, cooked and set aside

2 pounds leftover mashed potatoes

1 onion, thinly sliced

4 to 5 tablespoons butter, drippings or goose fat

Salt and pepper

Directions

1. Mix the cabbage and potatoes together.

2. In a large frying pan, heat some of the fat and fry the onion slowly until soft. Mix into the cabbage and potatoes. Season well.

3. Add the remaining fat to the pan and spoon in the cabbage, potato and onion mixture. Press down with a wooden spoon or spatula until it makes a flat cake. Fry over medium heat until the bottom crisps.

4. Stir to mix the crust into the vegetables, pack down again and then fry to make another crust. Continue until the crisp brown pieces are well mixed with the cabbage and potato. This should take about 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Main photo: Savoy cabbage, a winter vegetable, is a milder and sweeter alternative to other green and red cabbage varieties. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

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A slice of fried spaghetti makes the perfect finger food. Credit: Giovanni Castiello, Maistri Pastai

Want a new way to serve pasta? Ditch the fork and try these handheld pasta snacks. They’re delicious and fun to eat.

Pasta has branched out from its traditional role as a first-course dish and now stars in unusual forms in Italy’s bar scene. Apericena — “appetizers as dinner,” an assortment of tiny plates served in lieu of a formal sit-down dinner — is a new trend in Italy, especially in the northern cities of Milan and Turin. Hip restaurants and bars present elaborate buffets, with many lush pasta offerings, included with the price of a glass of wine or cocktail.

Creative finger foods such as oven-baked pasta “pretzels” are offered as nibbles. Any long hollow macaroni with a hole in the center — such as bucatelli or perciatelli — boiled, tossed with a little oil and baked, turn out as perfect golden crisps with a pretty bubbly surface that look just like pretzel sticks. Great served plain, with just a sprinkle of sea salt or jazzed up with dry spices such as ground garlic, cayenne or smoked paprika, they are eye-catching served poking out of a wine glass. “Pasta pretzels are a delicious bar snack,” says Riccardo Felicetti, president of the World Pasta Organization and owner of the Felicetti Pasta Company, “accompanied by assorted cheeses, salami and olives, (they) are a nice menu item as well.”

Another highly versatile offering are bite-sized foods wrapped in a strand of fresh pasta and fried. A strand of fresh pasta can be wrapped around all sorts of foods —  seafood such as shrimp, oysters, scallops; veggies such as whole mushrooms and baby sweet bell peppers; and even mini-meatballs all make great finger foods. Chef Andrea Fusco, of Ristorante Giuda Ballerino in Rome, serves shrimp with mortadella mousse wrapped in strands of pasta —  spiedino di gambero, what he calls “a dish eaten with the hands, informally.”

Another especially adaptable dish, Pasta Cups (recipe below), is Italy’s modern single-serving riff on timballo, the baked pasta pie featured in the movie “Big Night.” Bake up a batch in mini-muffin tins and then either serve them plain or fill the tiny cups with anything you like, from diced tomatoes to cheese or salami.

Pasta as bar food

Andrea Mattei, Michelin star chef of La Magnolia Restaurant in the Hotel Byron in the chic Tuscan seaside resort town of Forte de Marmi, created a delightful mini bite of pasta for guests to enjoy at the bar. He fills penne pasta with a puree of dried sea cod (baccala) and adds hints of Tuscan ingredients, including farro from Garfagnana and tomatoes from Livorno. He explains, “I invented this tiny tasting for our clients, who coming in from a day at the beach wanted a little something cool and refreshing with the flavor of the sea and of Tuscany to pair with a cocktail. It was an immediate hit and now returning guests specifically ask for it. It’s become a bar menu staple as we noticed that sales of aperitifs and cocktails rose significantly after this tiny, unique bar snack was introduced. It’s so popular that we also offer it poolside.”

Penne pasta filled with a purée makes for a finger food. Credit: Andrea Mattei

Penne pasta is filled with a purée of dried sea cod and other Tuscan ingredients. Credit: Andrea Mattei

Macaroni fritters, a typical Neapolitan street food, are hand-held morsels of seasoned pasta dipped in batter and fried. They can be found throughout Naples, in every rosticceria and in the city’s most popular pizza shops such as Scaturchio and chef Ciro Salvo’s 50 Kaló. Similar to arancini, Sicilian stuffed rice-balls, these pasta fritters are spreading from Naples throughout Italy. Author and Italian TV personality Gabriele Bonci even serves them in Pizzarium, his Rome pizza shop.

The fritters, called frittatine di maccheroni, are traditionally made with bucatini, the long thick hallow pasta specialty of southern Italy, but any shape pasta can be used and any sort of sauce. Crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside, they are a great restaurant starter or bar snack, as they are a make-ahead dish that can be assembled in advance and fried as needed. “Macaroni fritters are not just a creative way to enjoy pasta, but they are very economical too, as they’re a terrific use for leftover pasta,” notes Emidio Mansi, sales manager for Garofalo, a renowned pasta company founded in 1789 near Naples, in Gragnano, a town with a legendary pasta-making history.

Fried spaghetti, Frittata di spaghetti, another southern Italian specialty, is like a jumbo variation of macaroni fritters. Instead of individually frying each portion, all the seasoned leftover spaghetti is fried in one skillet and then served sliced like pie. A staple in Italy, it’s surprising that more restaurants and pizzerias in the United States don’t serve it, especially considering that it is low-stress on busy kitchens, as it’s made in advance and served at room temperature. At the charming Acqua Pazza restaurant on the Amalfi Coast, chef Gennaro Marciante serves seasonal variations, including a frittatina infused with the area’s famed huge, aromatic lemons.

What I love about traveling through Italy is seeing the myriad ways pasta, a simple flour-and-water product, is creatively used. Italy, a country we view as bound by tradition, is really evolving. It’s easy for us home cooks to take a strand from the Italian box and wrap it around something new! Pasta served as a breadstick or cracker or a handheld snack. No forks required!

Pasta Cups can easily be baked in mini-muffin tins. Credit: "Pasta Modern"

Pasta Cups can easily be baked in mini-muffin tins. Credit: “Pasta Modern”

Pasta Cups (Capellini in Timballo)

From: “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 12 minutes

Total time: 17 minutes

Yield: 24 pieces

These little nests of Parmesan-flecked angel hair strands are baked to form perfect one-bite nibbles. Though excellent plain, there are endless ways to fill these chewy, crunchy morsels: with prosciutto, pesto, tomatoes, shaved Parmesan cheese, mozzarella, salami, caponata, garlicky broccoli rabe — or anything the chef comes up with.

Ingredients

Olive oil

2 eggs

3 tablespoons grated grana padano, Parmesan or other aged cheese

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 pound angel hair or other long thin pasta

Salt

Optional ingredients: salami, pesto, anchovy, prosciutto, cheese etc.

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil 24 mini muffin cups (or use disposable mini cups and set them on a baking pan).

2. Combine the egg, grated cheese and butter in a bowl. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, drain and toss with the ingedients in the bowl until well combined and almost all absorbed. Using a fork, twirl a few strands into a nest shape and put into a prepared muffin cup. Repeat. Drizzle any remaining egg mixture on top of the nests.

3. At this point you can either put an ingredient the center of the nest, or bake them plain and top them with something yummy afterward. Bake for about 12 minutes or until set.

Macaroni Fritters (Frittatine di Maccheroni)

Macaroni fritters are crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

Macaroni fritters are crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

Recipe courtesy of Garofalo

Prep time: 20 minutes (plus rest 6 hours or overnight)

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: Dozen 2-inch fritters

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk, warmed

2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and white pepper

1 pound cauliflower florets

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 ounces sharp provolone or scamorza cheese, chopped

1/2 pound bucatini or other long thick pasta

1/4 cup bread crumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions

1. Make a béchamel: Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then off the heat, use a fork to stir in 2 tablespoons of the flour until smooth. Return to the heat and cook for a minute until golden, then slowly add the milk, stirring a few minutes until thick. Stir in the nutmeg and season with salt and white pepper.

2. Boil the cauliflower in a pot of salted water until very soft, about 10 minutes, and remove to a food processor with a slotted spoon. Puree the cauliflower with the béchamel, Parmesan and provolone cheese until it resembles cooked oatmeal. Place the mixture in a large mixing bowl.

3. Meanwhile, break the pasta in half and cook in boiling salted water for 3 minutes less than package directions. Drain and stir into the cauliflower mixture. Taste and add more cheese or other seasonings, if needed.

4. Lightly butter an 8-inch round high-sided pan and spread with the pasta mixture, packing it down firmly. The mixture should be about 2 1/2 inches high. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.

5. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons flour with 4 tablespoons of water in a bowl to form a smooth slurry. Spread the bread crumbs onto a plate. Using a 2-inch cookie-cutter, cut out rounds from the cold pasta. Gather up any odd bits of pasta and form into another round; you’ll get about 12 rounds.

6. Dip each round into the flour-water mixture, then into the bread crumbs, coating all sides.

7. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a small skillet over high heat. Add the rounds and fry until dark golden on both sides. Drain on paper towel-lined plate. Serve at room temperature.

Main photo: A slice of fried spaghetti makes the perfect finger food. Credit: Giovanni Castiello, Maistri Pastai

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Pickled shrimp goes way back in the South, and it's still a treat among modern-day holiday fare. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

“Swimpee! Swimpee!” shouted the shrimp vendors of years past in Charleston, S.C., as they wended their way through the streets, the fresh shrimp in their baskets glistening in the early morning light.

Southern hospitality being what it was, hostesses served that shrimp to their guests in velvety bisques and bubbling stews and pickles. Happily, not much has changed. Now as then, any gathering in the South, especially around the winter holidays, demands a lot of food. Pickled shrimp is just one option for you as you plan your upcoming holiday get-togethers.

One of the easiest ways to prepare an excess of shrimp came from the long English tradition of pickling. And so it’s no surprise to find a recipe for pickled shrimp in an early manuscript cookbook from the well-connected Pinckney family of Charleston, published in 1984 as “A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriott Pinckney Horry, 1770.”

Some other so-called Southern traditions are relative newcomers to the Southern table, but beloved nonetheless.

Bring on the butter and cheese

For instance, roast some pecans and douse them in a bit of butter, salt, and black pepper. They’ll be gone before you get back to the kitchen for a refill.

Another possibility includes that old standby, pimento cheese. It’s actually not so Southern after all, but originally the offspring of industrial food – cream cheese and canned pimentos, dating to around the 1870s in New York state. But the South adopted the concoction straight away, eventually gravitating from the industrialized version to recipes using white and yellow cheddar.

Make a Pecan-Crusted Cheese Ball and put a definite Southern signature on it all. Or go for tiny, open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches. Create them by spreading dollops of pimento cheese on toasted bread rounds, topping the cheese with a thin slice of tomato, placing the rounds on a cookie sheet, firing up the broiler, and cooking the rounds until the cheese bubbles. You’ll never have enough, so popular are these with guests of all ages.

Why the devil is it called deviled ham?

Or what about deviled ham, a preparation harking back to medieval recipes for various types of potted meats, always preserved in some type of fat? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, around 1786 the word “devil” became associated with spicy foods. The William Underwood Company in Boston, Mass., began canning deviled ham in 1868. And many home cooks made a version with a meat grinder, called it ham salad. After all, as Abraham Lincoln once supposedly said, “Eternity is two people and a ham!” Deviled ham is a good way to use up leftover ham, spread on crackers and garnished with a bit of sliced pickle.

And then there are fried dill pickles, absolutely delicious, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. A real treat. Popular history claims that in Atkins, Ark., in 1963, Bernell “Fatman” Austin originated the fried dill pickle craze at his Duchess Drive-In. You have a choice here: You can rustle up some dill pickle spears this way or stick to the “old-fashioned” way with dill pickle chips.

The beauty of these appetizers, except for the fried dill pickles, is that you can make them all ahead. And as for the fried dill pickles, hey, just tap one of your talented-in-the-kitchen guests on the shoulder and ask him or her to don an apron and get to work. You just kick back and enjoy that shot of bourbon. And tell some tall tales about the origins of the appetizers on your table.

Bring true Southern hospitality to your holiday meals by pickling shrimp for your guests. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

Bring true Southern hospitality to your holiday meals by pickling shrimp for your guests. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

Pickled Shrimp

Yield: Makes about 1 quart

Ingredients

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 cup water

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

3 tablespoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds

2 pounds shrimp, cooked, peeled

1/2 cup thinly sliced mild (sweet) onion

Zest of one lemon, cut into strips (be sure to not include the white pith under the zest)

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

1. Put the vinegar, water, mace, ginger, dry mustard, coriander seeds, and mustard seeds in medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 10 minutes. Cool.

2. Wash and sterilize two 1-quart canning jars.

3. Put shrimp, onion, lemon zest, bay leaves, kosher salt, red pepper flakes, and olive oil in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Pour the brine mixture over it all and stir. Taste for salt. You want the salt to cut the strong tang of the vinegar.

4. Fill each canning jar with half of the pickle mixture, making sure to put one bay leaf in each jar. Place jars tightly sealed in the refrigerator and let sit for 36 hours. Do not be alarmed that the oil will rise to the top; this helps to preserve the shrimp, and is actually an old, time-honored method of food preservation. The brine will be slightly cloudy and that’s OK too.

5. To serve, fish shrimp out of the brine, place on crackers with a bit the onion, or serve in the brine in a small glass bowl, with toothpicks for serving. Pickled shrimp keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If it lasts that long.

Pimento cheese is not so Southern in its origins after all, but it has been heartily accepted there. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

Pimento cheese is not so Southern in its origins after all, but it has been heartily accepted there. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

Pimento Cheese

Yield: Makes about 3 1/2 cups

Ingredients

6 ounces sharp yellow cheddar, grated

12 ounces sharp white cheddar, grated and divided

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

A few grindings of black pepper or to taste

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne or to taste

1 1/4 cups Duke’s mayonnaise or other commercial or homemade mayonnaise

6 ounces chopped, drained piquillo peppers or other roasted red peppers, from a jar*

Directions

1. Put all of the ingredients except for half of the white cheddar and the piquillo peppers in a food processor.** Purée until slightly lumpy. Scrape cheese mixture into a medium-size bowl and add the remaining grated white cheddar and the peppers. Stir gently. I have found that adding some of the grated cheese at the end gives the pimento cheese a more interesting texture.

2. Scrape cheese into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week.

3. Serve on crackers, as a filling for tea sandwiches or stuffed celery, as a dip for vegetables, and even in grilled cheese sandwiches.

*You can roast and peel your own red peppers if you prefer. Piquillo peppers are sold in most grocery stores these days.

** If you don’t have a food processor, a blender works fairly well. You just have to divide the ingredients, pulse them in the blender separately, and then mix together in the bowl. If you don’t have either a food processor or a blender, simply mix all the ingredients together except the peppers, with a metal spoon, which will break up the cheese somewhat. Then add the peppers and fold in. You can also make a Pimento Cheese Ball; just roll the ball in roasted pecans. See recipe for pecans below; crush the pecans into smallish pieces for this.

Roasted Pecans

This buttery treat will be gone before you can return to the kitchen for refills. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

This buttery treat will be gone before you can return to the kitchen for refills. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

Yield: Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients

10 ounces pecan halves

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 250 F.

2. Put pecans in a 9-by-12-inch baking pan. Bake 1 hour, turning occasionally, making sure they do not burn.

3. At the end of the hour, stir butter into pecans and roast another 10 minutes.

4. Remove from oven and season with salt and pepper to taste. You can experiment by adding other ground spices like cayenne, ancho pepper, and smoked paprika or smoked chipotle.

Deviled Ham

Yield: Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup country ham, minced

1 1/2 cups smoked ham, minced

1/4 cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce (Texas Pete, etc.)

1 1/2 scallions, finely minced

3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely minced

Sweet pickle relish (optional)

Crackers or toasted bread rounds

Sliced dill pickle spears (to make small triangles)

Directions

1. Lightly oil a 1-quart crock or similar container.

2. Bring cream to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until slightly thick. Add all of the ham, and bring back to a boil. Let cool for a few minutes off the heat.

3. Place all ingredients, except the scallions and the parsley, in a blender or food processor and process until almost smooth, with a few large pieces of ham still visible.

4. Scrape mixture into a large bowl, stir in the scallions and the parsley. And if you wish, add sweet pickle relish to taste.

5. Spoon mixture into the crock, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled.

6. Serve spread on crackers or bread, topped with a small slice of a dill pickle spear. Or spread on sandwich bread, top with a lettuce leaf and another piece of bread, cut into four triangles. Then you’ll have tea sandwiches ready to go on platters for your guests.

Fried Dill Pickles

Yield: Makes 12 spears

Ingredients

Vegetable oil for frying

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste

2 eggs, beaten

12 dill pickle spears or 2 cups dill pickle slices/”chips”

Ranch dressing — homemade or commercial

Directions

1. Heat oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking in a heavy, wide-bottomed saucepan or a deep, heavy skillet.

2. Mix the flour with the seasonings in shallow baking dish, like a pie pan. Place beaten eggs in another, similar pan. Set aside.

3. Dip pickles in beaten egg, shake off excess egg, and then roll pickles in the seasoned flour.

4. Carefully slide the pickles into the hot oil. Fry until crisp and golden brown. Drain briefly on paper towels.

5. Serve immediately with ranch dressing on the side.

Main photo: Pickled shrimp goes way back in the South, and it’s still a treat for modern-day holiday fare. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

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In the kitchen at The Peninsula Beverly Hills are some of the ingredients used by chef David Codney and his team to prepare truffle macaroni and cheese, including hen-of-the-woods or maitake mushrooms, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sweet butter, whole wheat ridged macaroni and thyme sprigs. Credit: David Latt

Thanksgiving dinner is a feast of comfort food’s greatest hits. But even as much as I enjoy traditional favorites such as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts and turkey with gravy, it’s important to bring something new to the party. When chef David Codney showed me how easy it is to make his signature truffle macaroni and cheese, I knew I was going to make this elegant dish for Thanksgiving.

Codney is executive chef at the The Peninsula Beverly Hills, a five-star hotel. When I met the chef, he led me upstairs to the hotel’s rooftop where pool guests were swimming and hanging out. On a warm, blue-sky Southern California afternoon, the view was fantastic.

Just below the rooftop’s railing were two gardens. Originally planted with flowers, the areas are now used to grow edible plants. While the guests relaxed on their chaise lounges, Codney walked past thick bunches of carrots, cucumbers, ginger, tomatoes, fennel, chard, strawberries, heirloom onions, radishes, edible flowers and herbs.  Although Codney has local suppliers who bring him high-quality produce, he loves having a garden of his own.

He fertilizes the garden with compost made from coffee grounds and the pulp left over from making fresh juices in the kitchen.  When he spotted a cluster of photo-shoot-ready tomatoes and an heirloom onion, he cradled them in his hands and held them up for me to admire.

Codney’s first job as a teenager was washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen. Curious by nature, he learned every recipe the chefs would teach him. Even though he studied at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), he learned his craft in the kitchens of accomplished chefs.

For the video, Codney introduced three sous chefs who would join him in the cooking demonstration. Not that he needed so many cooks to prepare his easy-to-make dish, but their assistance made an important point. For Codney a successful kitchen is the result of collaboration, and he was happy to have them help demonstrate one of the hotel’s signature dishes: truffle macaroni and cheese. And with Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaching, the dish is a good way to celebrate.

Truffle Macaroni and Cheese

Codney’s riff on an American classic can be served as an appetizer, side dish or entrée.

Building flavors as the sauce reduces, he blends fats (butter, cream and cheese) with aromatics (rosemary, parsley and thyme) and uses sautéed mushrooms to anchor the dish. White wine provides acidity, cutting through the lovely richness of the dish.

latt-maccheese21

latt-maccheese21
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In the kitchen at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, truffle macaroni and cheese being prepared in a sauté pan by chef David Codney and his team. Credit: David Latt

Fresh truffles are not always in season and can be hard to come by for the home cook. Truffle oil is a good substitute and is available all year long. But where fresh truffles are a subtle addition to the aromatic quality of the dish, truffle oil can be perfumey, overpowering the other flavors, so Codney advises using it judiciously.

Yield: 8 appetizers or 4 entrees

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 pound elbow macaroni, preferably whole wheat and ridged

3 tablespoons sweet butter, divided

1 cup mushrooms (oyster, hen-of-the-woods, shiitake, brown or portabella), washed, stems trimmed, thinly sliced

Sea salt (preferably fleur de sel)

Freshly ground cracked white pepper, to taste

2 shallots, washed, peeled, ends trimmed, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, skins and root end trimmed, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, washed, finely chopped

½ cup Chardonnay

2 cups stock — vegetarian, meat, poultry or seafood — preferably homemade

1 whole thyme sprig, freshly picked

1 cup salty pasta water, reserved from cooking the pasta

2 cups cream, to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon white truffle oil, to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

1. While the sauce is being prepared, heat a large pot of water salted with kosher salt. When the water boils, add the pasta. Stir every 2 to 3 minutes. Cook 7 to 8 minutes or almost al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water when the pasta is drained. Toss the pasta well with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.

2. Heat a large sauté pan over low heat.

3. Add 1 tablespoon butter and mushrooms. Season with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. After mushrooms begin to color, add shallots and garlic. Sweat until translucent. Season with parsley and rosemary.

4. Stir well to build the flavors. Add more sea salt. To balance the rich flavors, add the white wine and stir in 1 tablespoon of sweet butter. Add the pre-cooked macaroni. Stir well to coat the pasta with the sauce. Add stock and simmer. Add the sprig of thyme.

5. Reduce the stock and toss the pasta. Add a few tablespoons of salted pasta water for flavor and to thicken the sauce. Raise the heat to continue reducing the sauce.

6. Stirring the pasta, add cream in small increments. Taste and stop adding cream when you have achieved the desired richness. Add freshly ground cracked white pepper.

7. Drizzle olive oil into the sauce. Continue stirring and reducing. Add grated cheese, reserving 2 tablespoons and stir well.

8. If the sauce is too thin, raise the heat and reduce. If sauce is getting too thick, add more stock. In either case, add a drizzle of olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to round out the flavors.

9. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper or more cream. Remove thyme sprig and discard. Finish with a drizzle of white truffle oil. Use the oil sparingly. Too much can overpower the other flavors.

10. Plate the pasta, decorate with edible flowers or an aromatic such as finely chopped Italian parsley and shaved fresh truffles when in season. Dust with grated cheese. Finish with a drizzle of quality olive oil.

11. Serve hot as an appetizer, side dish or entrée.

Main photo: In the kitchen at The Peninsula Beverly Hills are some of the ingredients used by chef David Codney and his team to prepare truffle macaroni and cheese, including hen-of-the-woods or maitake mushrooms, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sweet butter, whole wheat ridged macaroni and thyme sprigs. Credit: David Latt

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Belgian beekeeper Xavier Rennotte has given mead a makeover with the launch of his Bee Wine. Credit: Xavier Rennotte

In Belgium, beer is the beverage of choice, while mead, an ancient alcoholic drink, is virtually unknown. But a young Belgian beekeeper, Xavier Rennotte, has given mead a makeover with the recent launch of his own brand, Bee Wine.

With roots in historic recipes and “Beowulf,” the real magic behind Bee Wine’s freshly minted flavor comes from Rennotte’s collaboration with a Belgian scientist. Mead is nothing more than honey, water and yeast, although spices and fruit are sometimes added for flavor. It’s not wine, although it tastes like it.

When I first encountered Rennotte some years ago, he had just met Sonia Collin, an expert in brewing and honey at Louvain University. I asked him then why he had turned to science for help. He explained it was his godfather who had made the suggestion: “Learn from the beginning, the scientific way. The best way to understand something is to go deep inside it,” he had told Rennotte.


But why mead? It turned out Rennotte was obsessed with recreating the flavor of his first boyhood taste of mead, known as hydromel (“honey water”) in French. In other words, he was using science to track down a fleeting, Proustian taste from his childhood in the Belgian countryside.

Rennotte’s story lies at the heart of a book I wrote to explore our mostly pleasurable relationship with flavor, and the science behind it. I caught up with him recently at a food festival in the Parc Royal in Brussels. A crowd was gathered in front of his Nectar & Co stand to sample his Bee Wine.

Many people were mystified — was it wine or not? He happily explained its origins, as he offered tastings. Most people were delighted with the flavor. “It makes a great aperitif, or can be used as an ingredient in a cocktail,” Rennotte said. He’s also a trained chef, and loves using it as a marinade for lamb or fish, or as a dessert ingredient. “It’s great in sabayon,” he noted.

People were also sampling about a dozen types of organic honey with different flavors, aromas, textures and colors that Rennotte imports from around Europe for his Bee Honey collection. They include lemon blossom, wild carrot, eucalyptus and coriander. My favorite is the sunflower honey — thick as molasses, butter yellow and delicious on Le Pain Quotidien sourdough bread. One of his best-sellers is a spreadable paste made of just honey and pureed hazelnut. It tastes like Nutella, but with no added sugar or oil.

Rennotte isn’t the only novice alcoholic beverage entrepreneur who has turned to science for help and inspiration. One of the recipes in my book is for sabayon made with Musa Lova, a banana liqueur produced by a Flemish restaurateur. The liqueur is made in collaboration with the director of the largest in vitro banana species collection in the world, at the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement at Leuven University. Musa Lova, a rum-based liqueur that comes in varieties such coffee or local honey, is made with ordinary Cavendish bananas, without added flavoring. Bananas contain a huge number of flavor molecules, which vary slightly depending on the ripeness.

Author Diane Fresquez. Credit: Thibault Cordonnier

“A Taste of Molecules” author Diane Fresquez. Credit: Thibault Cordonnier

Science not only helps alcoholic beverage makers, the producers influence science too. During my research in Copenhagen, for example, I discovered that the pH scale, used in medicine, agriculture and food science, was developed at the Carlsberg brewing company’s laboratory in 1909.

Rennotte’s hydromel is made from organic orange blossom honey from the Mount Etna area of Sicily, organic German yeast and spring water. His meadery, south of Brussels, is a former slaughterhouse that he refurbished with solar panels and a system to reuse the water that cools the fermentation tanks.


The first time I tasted Rennotte’s mead was at his wife’s bakery-patisserie Au Vatel in the European Quarter, where we met often to talk about his search for the perfect mead. The early sample I tasted, which he had poured straight from a plastic lab bottle into a wine glass, was clear, young but tasty. The honey-tinted final product I drank at the food festival was light and sweet with a complex flavor that, one customer noted, develops and changes slightly with every sip.

“I couldn’t have done it without science,” Rennotte said. “I learned how the yeast functions, the importance of the pH of the honey and the temperature of the water — I learned it all from Sonia.”

Rennotte is incredibly proud and happy with his hydromel. But did he manage to capture the flavor he remembered from childhood? “I’m still searching,” he said. “Perhaps I’ll be looking for it for the rest of my life.”

Crumble of Christmas Boudin Sausage With Mead Sauce

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes (plus chilling)

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

For the boudin mixture:

1/3 pound white boudin with pecans

1/4 pound black boudin with raisins

A “knob” of butter (roughly 2 tablespoons)

For the apple compote:

2 cooking apples

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons sugar

For the mead sauce:

2 cups veal stock

1 1/4 cups mead

Salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:

2 ounces Speculoos (classic Belgian spice cookies)

Directions

1. Prepare the compote the day before or in the morning, so that it can be well chilled before serving. Peel and cut the apples into chunks. Cook the apples in the water on high heat. After 5 minutes, mash the apples, drain off any excess water and add the sugar. Chill.

2. Before serving, remove the skin of the sausages and place the meat in a mixing bowl. Mash the sausage meat with a fork. Cook the sausage meat in the butter in a nonstick pan on high heat. Remove when the meat is browned and keep warm.

3. To create the mead sauce, combine the veal stock and the mead in a saucepan, simmer and reduce. Salt and pepper to taste.

4. Prepare the Speculoos cookies by breaking them into small pieces.

5. When serving use 4 balloon-type wine glasses to layer the ingredients in the following order:

  • 2 tablespoons warm sausage meat
  • 1 tablespoon mead sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cold compote
  • 1 tablespoon crumbled Speculoos cookies

Notes
This is one of Xavier Rennotte’s favorite mead recipes, a starter or amuse-bouche based on boudin (blood sausage) from the southern, Francophone region of Belgium. During Christmastime in Wallonia, butcher shops’ windows are overflowing with boudin made with a variety of ingredients, such as raisins, apples, walnuts, leeks, pumpkin, truffles and Port. Each butcher competes to offer his or her clients a selection of sweet and savory boudin sausage.

Main photo: Belgian beekeeper Xavier Rennotte has given mead a makeover with the  launch of his Bee Wine. Credit: Xavier Rennotte

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