Articles in Recipe

Olive Cunzate. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

With the considerable help of family and friends, we finished in record time the olive harvest on our Tuscan farmlet high up in the hills behind Cortona, Italy.

It was not the best harvest we’ve ever had, though the yield, at 12.8 percent, was high. Translated into real terms, that means that for every 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of our plump, shiny, black Leccino olives that went into the press at the Landi mill on the road to Arezzo, we got back almost 13 kilos (28.6 pounds) of oil. And that meant we were blessed with a little more than 70 liters of fine, fresh, blissfully spicy and fragrant oil with a hint of lush fruitiness that will emerge more fully in the coming months.

Celebrating the harvest

Fresh olive oil. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Fresh olive oil. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Back home with our treasure, we broke open the champagne, Franciacorta and prosecco for a bubbly salute, and of course we toasted thick slices of bread in the fireplace, rubbing them with cut cloves of garlic and lavishing the new oil on top for the original bruschetta (called fettunta around Florence). We also made bean-and-farro soup, traditional for the harvest, and garnished it with a healthy glug of new oil and tossed pasta in new oil with chopped garlic and broken chilis in the family favorite ajo-ojo-peperoncino (garlic-oil-hot red peppers), and we had a wonderful olive salad (see recipe below) made by our friend chef Salvatore Denaro with green olives he had cured earlier in the season.

Denaro is Sicilian, though he has lived in Umbria for most of his adult life. He remains Sicilian through and through, and it was he who introduced me to the old Sicilian idea that you must harvest olives to cure before the Feast of San Francesco on Oct. 3. “Later on,” he explained, “they’re too full of oil.”

So, in keeping with tradition, his were quick-cured green olives, olive schiacciate, or smashed olives, cured in a salt brine with bunches of wild fennel, then tossed in this salad, which makes a terrific antipasto as well as a great accompaniment for any kind of roast or grilled meat, or even in one of those Sicilian fish platters where a whole fish has been roasted in a combination of tomatoes, olives, capers and other tasty things.

Olive Cunzate

Olives before harvest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Olives before harvest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: None, although the olives benefit from resting about 30 minutes before serving

Total time: 15 minutes, plus resting time

Yield: Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups olive cunzate

Even in Sicily, cured olives are often dressed up (“cunzate”) to present as an antipasto salad. Try this with the plain green olives you buy from a supermarket bin, but taste them first (despite the sign that says “No snacking”) to make sure they have good flavor. And do not even contemplate using the kind of green olives in a jar that come stuffed with pimientos or the like.

This treatment will bring ordinary supermarket olives to life in a whole new way. You can do it ahead of time, too, and let the olives marinate in the mixture for a day or two, even up to a week, before serving. Keep the salad on hand for healthy holiday snacking along with bowls of almonds you’ve blanched and toasted in olive oil in a 350 F oven.

Ingredients

About 8 ounces brine-packed green olives, with their pits

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Sicilian

1 small fresh green or red chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 medium stalk celery, coarsely chopped

2 or 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon wine vinegar (optional)

Sea salt to taste (optional)

1 tablespoon finely minced flat-leaf parsley

Pinch of dried Sicilian or Greek oregano

Directions

1. Rinse the olives in a colander, tossing gently under running water. If you wish, remove the pits, but the olives themselves should remain as whole as possible. Some brine-cured olives have vinegar added to the brine to give a tart flavor. Taste an olive to see how salty and/or tart they are, then decide whether to add vinegar and/or salt to your marinade.

2. Transfer the olives to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss gently. Reserve the remaining tablespoon of oil to use at the end if necessary.

3. Add the chili pepper, celery, garlic and parsley and toss again. If the original brine for the olives was not perceptibly tart, add a teaspoon of good wine vinegar, along with a sprinkling of sea salt if necessary.

4. Let the olives sit, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes or so, then taste. Adjust the mixture at this point, adding more or less of the ingredients mentioned. If the mixture seems too dry, add the remaining olive oil. At this point, you may cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two or three days.

5. When ready to serve, bring the olives in their marinade back up to room temperature. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the minced parsley and oregano, crumbling the oregano with your fingers to bring out the flavor. Taste an olive and adjust the seasoning once more, adding a little more vinegar and/or salt as needed.

Note: Denaro is a purist, but some Sicilians toss into the mix a few thin curls of lemon or orange zest or even a few pieces of fresh orange or lemon segments, the outer membrane carefully cut away.

Main image: Olive Cunzate. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

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Chef Nicole Heaney shows her sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooking for dinner parties should be fun. If the occasion is a holiday, a birthday or a personal landmark, celebrating at home with a meal cements relationships with friends and family. But when preparing the meal is too much work, the fun goes away.

With relative ease, chef Nicole Heaney shows how to create a flavorful dish featuring a filet of fish that is perfect for entertaining. The key for a dinner party, as she demonstrates, is a little planning.

In the kitchen at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar in Monterey, California, chef de cuisine Heaney shows how to prepare sablefish with crispy skin in a brown butter sauce. Adding flavor, Heaney pairs the rich, fatty fish with al dente Brussels sprouts, creamy farro cooked risotto-style and savory apple puree to add acid and sweetness.

Key to making the festive plate is the combination of four elements, each of which takes very little effort to create. And of the four, three can be made ahead. The Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree can be made hours ahead of the dinner or even the day before. Then, just before serving, reheat the three components and cook the sablefish as your guests are sitting down ready for a celebration.

For a delicious vegan and vegetarian meal, leave out the fish and serve the Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree.

A kitchen with a view

Chef Nicole Heaney preparing sable fish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts & farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Nicole Heaney preparing sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar is the main restaurant at the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row. Working with executive chef James Waller, Heaney cooks in a kitchen with a view of Monterey Bay. Growing up in Wyoming and working in Colorado and New Mexico, Heaney was an adult before she saw the Pacific Ocean.

She confesses that, even after a year at the restaurant, when baby humpback whales swim close to the restaurant, she joins the other kitchen staff members to rush outside for a closer look from the dining patio. There they watch as the whales breach for a long moment before disappearing in the cold blue water.

Her cooking is influenced by the time she spent in Sedona at Mii amo Café. Preparing meals for health-conscious guests of the resort and spa, Heaney learned the importance of clean, fresh flavors. Fats were kept to a minimum. The kitchen did not use butter or cream. Asian ingredients and techniques were frequently used.

The regime is not as strict at Schooners, but Heaney still creates dishes with distinctive flavors and innovative ingredients like the kelp noodles she uses to make her version of pad thai.

An avid reader of Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” she knows that the more you understand the chemistry of cooking, the better you can control the results. In her video demonstration, she points out the importance of using acid to round out flavors, as in the savory apple puree and farro risotto.

Apple Puree

Apples and onions poaching in apple juice and apple vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Apples and onions poaching in apple juice and apple vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The apples Heaney uses are grown locally on the Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, California. She recommends using Gala apples in the recipe. Heaney leaves on the peels to add flavor and color. Because the apples will be pureed, there is no need to cut them precisely.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 3 cups sauce

Ingredients

4 large Gala apples, washed, pat dried, peels on

1 yellow onion, washed, peeled and trimmed, roughly chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup bourbon (optional)

Unsweetened apple juice to cover

Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

Kosher salt to taste

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Directions

1. Heat a large saucepan on a medium flame.

2. Cut open the apples. Remove and discard the core and seeds. Do not peel the apples. Cut the apples into large pieces.

3. Drizzle olive oil into saucepan, add onion and apples and sauté together until translucent.

4. Add bourbon (optional). Cook off the alcohol, which may catch fire. Be careful not to singe your eyebrows as chef Heaney once did.

5. Cover with unsweetened apple juice. Simmer on medium heat until reduced by half and the apples soften and begin to break down.

6. Puree in a large blender. Start blending on a low speed and progress to a higher speed until the puree is smooth.

7. Taste and season with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and kosher salt.

8. If preparing ahead, store refrigerated in a sealed container.

9. Just before serving, reheat. Taste and adjust the seasoning and, if the puree is too thin, continue reducing on a medium flame to thicken.

Farro Risotto Fit for a Dinner Party

Farro risotto with mirepoix of minced carrots, onions and celery. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Farro risotto with mirepoix of minced carrots, onions and celery. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooking farro risotto-style means heating and hydrating the grain as if it were Arborio rice. Substituting farro for rice adds a nutty flavor. Heaney prefers her farro al dente but that choice is entirely personal. Many people prefer their risotto softer rather than al dente.

Better quality ingredients yield a better result. With risotto, that means using quality rice or, in this case, farro. The stock is as important. Canned stocks are available, but they are high in sodium content and can have an off-putting aroma. Homemade stocks are preferable. Any good quality stock can be used — beef, pork, chicken or seafood. For vegetarians and vegans, the farro can be prepared with vegetable broth and without the butter or Asiago cheese.

The cooking time may vary depending on the farro.

Like other whole spices, pepper has volatile oils. To preserve the freshness of its flavor, Heaney prefers to grind the peppercorns just before using.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 45 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 40 to 55 minutes

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

64 ounces hot stock, preferably homemade, can be vegetable, beef, pork, chicken or seafood

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

1 large carrot, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

2 large celery stalks, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

3 garlic cloves, washed, peeled, rimmed, minced (optional)

16 ounces farro

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)

1 bunch Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves chopped fine

1 tablespoon chives, washed, chopped fine

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, washed, chopped fine

1 cup shredded Asiago cheese (optional)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt to taste

Black peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste

Directions

1. In a saucepan, heat stock on a low flame.

2. Heat a separate medium saucepan over a medium flame. When hot, add olive oil and sauté onions, carrots and celery until the vegetables are translucent.

3. Add farro. Stir well and sauté until lightly toasted.

4. Add garlic (optional) and sauté until translucent but do not brown.

5. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Cook until alcohol is fully cooked out.

6. Add hot stock in 6- to 8-ounce portion. Stir well.

7. As stock is absorbed, add more stock and stir well. Do not scald the farro.

8. Each time the stock is absorbed, add more stock until the liquid becomes cloudy and the farro softens.

9. If the farro is being made ahead, when the farro is soft but not yet soft enough to eat, or 75 percent cooked, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in a sealed container.

10. If continuing to cook or if reheating, taste and continue cooking the farro until it is al dente or to your liking. Set aside until the fish is cooked.

11. Just before serving, to finish, add sweet butter (optional) and stir into the heated farro until melted.

12. Add Asiago cheese (optional) and stir well to melt.

13. Taste and season with fresh lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

14. Just before plating, sprinkle in chopped fine parsley, chives and thyme and stir well.

15. Serve hot and plate as described below.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Caramelized halved Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Caramelized halved Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Heaney prefers her Brussels sprouts al dente. Some people like them softer, in which case, after the Brussels sprouts are washed, trimmed and halved, blanch them in salted boiling water for two minutes, drain and then sauté as directed below.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 pound medium-sized Brussels sprouts, washed, discolored leaves removed, ends trimmed, halved

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black peppercorns to taste

Directions

1. Heat a large sauté pan.

2. Add extra virgin olive oil and halved Brussels sprouts.

3. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper.

4. Stir well to prevent burning. Sauté until Brussels sprouts are caramelized on both sides.

5. If the sprouts are to be served later or the next day, when they are cooked 75 percent, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container.

6. When the fish is cooking, heat the sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil. Add the cooked Brussels sprouts to reheat and plate with the fish, farro risotto and apple puree.

Crispy-Skin Sablefish in a Brown Butter Sauce

Also called black cod, sablefish is not actually cod. Heaney uses sablefish caught in nearby Morro Bay. She likes cooking the fish because it is almost “bulletproof.” The flesh is difficult to overcook and is almost always moist, flavorful and delicate.

In order to achieve a crispy skin, Heaney has developed a simple technique described in the directions. She recommends buying a wooden-handled fish spatula with a beveled edge, which helps remove the fish from the pan. The spatula is preferable to tongs, which tend to break apart the filets.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 5 to 10 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 15-20 minutes

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

4 6-ounce skin-on filets of sablefish or black cod, washed, pat dried

1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sweet butter

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

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

Directions

1. Season each filet with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides.

2. Heat a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. When the pan is hot, reduce the flame to medium-low.

3. Add the olive oil. Allow the oil to heat.

4. Place the filets into the pan, skin side down. Do not overcrowd the pan, allowing space between each filet. If the filets are crowded together, the skin will not crisp.

Sear but do not burn the skin.

Jiggle the pan. That will help prevent the filets from sticking to the pan. If they do stick, use the fish spatula to gently release them from the bottom of the pan.

5. Add sweet butter to the pan and swirl around the filets.

6. Let the filets cook without fussing too much. The fish is cooked when the flesh is opaque.

7. Using the fish spatula, gently flip each filet over. Swirl the filets into the melted butter, being careful to brown but not burn the butter.

After 30 seconds, use a spoon to baste the filets with the melted butter.

8. At this point, the fish is cooked. Add parsley for color and season with lemon juice.

Put the saucepan to the side.

Assembling the dish:

Plate the fish when everyone is seated at the table.

All of the elements — fish, apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto — should be hot and ready to serve.

Select a large plate. Using the back of a soup spoon, spread a tablespoon of the apple puree across the plate. Add a good portion of the farro risotto in the middle of the plate, then the caramelized Brussels sprouts.

Gently add the sablefish filet, crispy skin side up. Spoon a little bit of the brown butter on top of the filet, farro and Brussels sprouts. And as chef Heaney says, “That is it.”

Serve the dish hot with a crisp white wine and let the festivities begin.

Main photo: Chef Nicole Heaney shows her sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Breakfast noodles are served in Yunnan province, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

The restaurant was nothing special, just a small room with a couple of low tables and stools. There was no menu, nothing to indicate what was being served. But next to the door was a wide basket piled high with fresh rice noodles, and behind them I could see steam rising from a large soup pot. And in Yunnan province, in southwestern China, that means one thing: breakfast noodles.

I hurried in, took a seat at an empty table and shook off my coat, wet from the heavy morning fog. The proprietress, a young woman whose face was rosy from standing over the steaming pots all morning, asked what I wanted in my soup, and I pointed to some things that looked particularly delicious — some fatty stewed pork, a heap of thin rice noodles, some bright green chives. In just a couple of minutes, the soup was ready. I added a handful of pickled mustard greens and a small spoonful of dried chili flakes in oil and took a sip. The flavor was rich and bright, sour and spicy, and somehow both comforting and exotic all at once.

Starting the day with noodles

A woman and her grandchild eat noodles in China for breakfast. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

A Zhuang woman eats noodles for breakfast with her grandson in Puzhehei, Yunnan province, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

I would say that the noodles were a perfect antidote to the cold, wet weather, but the truth is that those noodles would have been fantastic in any circumstance. In fact, I’ve enjoyed similar noodles for breakfast on hot, muggy days down by the Chinese-Vietnamese border and on a cool, crisp morning near Tibet. And in every case (and every temperature) they were the perfect way to start the day.

Eating noodles for breakfast is common all across East and Southeast Asia. In Japan you can have asa-raa or “morning ramen,” in Vietnam pho is a reliable way to start the day, and in Malaysia there’s stir-fried mee goreng. But there’s something about the combination of meat, pickles and chilies in Yunnan’s noodles — not to mention the wide array of different rice and wheat-based noodles you can choose to put in your soup — that makes it one of the most addictive and satisfying breakfasts I’ve ever had. Everywhere I’ve traveled in Yunnan, I’ve started my mornings with noodles from that town’s busiest stand, hole-in-the-wall or restaurant, and every single time I’ve been blown away by the flavor.

It’s been a few months since I last traveled to Yunnan, but thankfully those morning noodle are not hard to make. Whenever I feel like I need a little help waking up, or I just want something hearty to start the day, I make them for myself. All it takes is a few ingredients and about 15 minutes, and I can have a breakfast that is both a little bit exotic and immensely comforting.

Yunnan-Style Noodle Soup

Yunnan-style noodle soup begins with ground pork, vegetables, noodles and prepared broth. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Yunnan-style noodle soup begins with ground pork, vegetables, noodles and prepared broth. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 large portions

Ingredients

4 cups prepared broth (preferably pork or chicken)

6 ounces ground pork (about 3/4 cup)

3 ounces vegetables, like Napa cabbage, sliced crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch strips (approximately 1 1/3 cups’ worth)

1/2 cup Chinese pickled vegetables, ideally mustard greens or daikon pickles

2 1/2 cups fresh or parboiled rice or wheat noodles

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup fresh herbs, ideally flat garlic chives or scallions, cut into inch-long pieces (mint and cilantro also work well, and multiple herbs can be used in combination)

Black Chinese vinegar and dried ground chili in oil, for serving

Directions

Heat the broth in a pot large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients (including the noodles). Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and blanch ground pork for 5 seconds, breaking up the meat with chopsticks or a spoon, then drain it and set it aside. The meat will still be pink, possibly even red in some places.

Beginning the soup

Once the broth boils, add pork, cabbage and pickles to the pot. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Once the broth boils, add pork, cabbage and pickles to the pot. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

When the broth is boiling, add the pork, cabbage and half of the pickles to the pot. Return to a boil and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until stem parts of the cabbage begin to soften slightly.

Adding the noodles

Add noodles, and then the remaining pickles and chives or scallions. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Add noodles, and then the remaining pickles and chives or scallions. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Add noodles and cook until semisoft (timing will vary depending on type of noodle being used). When noodles have softened, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix into broth, then top noodles with the remaining pickles and chives or scallions, if using. Cook another 30 seconds, and remove the soup from heat.

The finished product

Finish the soup with herbs like mint or cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Finish the soup with herbs like mint or cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Divide the soup into deep bowls and top with any delicate herbs, like mint or cilantro. Add vinegar and chili to taste.

Main photo: Breakfast noodles are served in Yunnan province, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

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Chef Ryan Swarthout's Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Paso Robles, California, is gaining as much recognition of late for its cuisine as for the region’s celebrated wines, with chefs drawn to the bounty of the state’s Central Coast.

Downtown Paso Robles, ringed with fine restaurants, is anchored by the historic Paso Robles Inn, which has long been known for the traditional menu at the Steakhouse Restaurant. Now, with the arrival of Ryan Swarthout as the inn’s executive chef in April 2015, the menu is being tweaked.

While maintaining a meat-lover’s menu, Swarthout is making a few changes. “I’m bringing a bit of freshness,” he said, cradling a bowl of silky butternut squash soup garnished with green apple strips and a delicate chive blossom.

For example, the steak menu is being edited and trimmed, and the potato gratin is being made in-house. “And we took away the balsamic reduction on the halibut,” Swarthout said.

Herbs and a variety of tomatoes from the inn’s organic garden are finding their way into dishes, and Swarthout has even created a habanero jam with peppers harvested from the garden’s abundant bush.

When asked what kind of specials diners are likely to see on the fall menu, his face lights up. He mentions the butternut soup as well as braised dishes such as short ribs. He even provided the recipes (see below) and suggested that a versatile dish like the braised short ribs can be served over pappardelle or with topping potatoes, whether mashed or baked. In his version, he adds crimini mushrooms to the pasta for a heartier touch and uses a beef stock that simmers in the restaurant kitchen for several hours.

Chef’s journey one worth following

Chef Ryan Swarthout. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Chef Ryan Swarthout. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

I have followed Swarthout’s culinary arc since 2005, when I first met him and tasted his wine-country cuisine at Deborah’s Room at Justin Winery. He served as executive chef there for six years and since then has done the rounds in Paso Robles, from launching a catering company and cooking for elaborate weddings at the former Eagle Castle Winery to serving as opening chef at three downtown restaurants — Robert’s Restaurant and Bar, Estrella and Second Press. I have experienced much of the versatility in his cooking, which ranges from American Bistro style to Latin fare.

Originally from El Centro, California, Swarthout got hooked on cooking when he started out as a busboy in a Mexican restaurant. “But I didn’t want to be a short-order cook,” he recalled.  After researching culinary schools, he opted to attend San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy, graduating in 1997 and going to work for chef Mark Miller in the Bay Area.

Swarthout’s food sensibilities were further elevated with trips to Europe, first as a young backpacker with his wife, Kate, and later as a chef with the U.S. Armed Forces in the Alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a German ski resort.

“It gave me a better understanding how Old World food is steeped in tradition,” he said of the experience.

Because Kate is from San Luis Obispo, California, the couple settled in the charming town on the Central Coast and Ryan began working as a sous chef both at Gardens of Avila and Café Roma before making his move to Paso Robles.

Swarthout regards himself as a Paso Robles chef. And how does he define it?

“Paso has so much to offer, with the wineries and local farms around,” he said. The culinary flavor reflects the local bounty, including olive oil, honey, poultry, seafood and produce.

Next time you visit the Paso Robles wine region, you can get a taste of how Swarthout defines the region’s culinary style. In the meantime, try these warming Paso Robles Inn Steakhouse recipes at home.

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Swarthout’s wine recommendation: Vintage Cowboy Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, minced

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

2 large green apples, coarsely chopped

2 quarts chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:

Thinly sliced apples

Chive blossoms

Crème fraiche

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the shallots.
  2. Sauté for one minute, then add the butternut squash and apples. Sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken stock and spices. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat. Puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with thinly sliced apples, chive blossoms and crème fraiche.

Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 4 hours

Total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Swarthout’s wine recommendation: Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles

Ingredients

For the braised short ribs:

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 whole beef short ribs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 sticks celery, chopped

2 cups red wine

2 cups beef stock

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs rosemary

For the mushroom pappardelle:

1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

1 (24-ounce) package of pappardelle

Directions

For the braised short ribs:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Season short ribs with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in an oven-proof pan over medium heat. Add short ribs and sear 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
  3. Remove ribs and set aside.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium. Add onion, carrots and celery to pan and sauté for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape bottom of the pan to release all the flavorful bits.
  6. Add the beef stock. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ribs to the liquid. They should be almost completely submerged. Add thyme and rosemary.
  7. Cover the pan with a lid and place in the preheated oven. Cook at 350 F for 3 hours. The ribs should be fork tender when done.
  8. Remove pan from the oven. Remove the ribs and set aside.
  9. Skim the fat off the top of the liquid in the pan and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the liquid by half and set aside.

For the mushroom pappardelle:

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Mushrooms can be done ahead of time and set aside.)
  3. Cook the pappardelle according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a serving dish.
  4. Serve the ribs over pappardelle tossed in the reduced braising liquid and mushrooms.

Main photo: Chef Ryan Swarthout’s Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

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Delicata squash pair nicely with pasta for a Thanksgiving dish. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Every time I come back to Italy, which I do as often as I can, I learn something new. Take pasta, for instance.

The subject is very much on my mind these days because I’ve just published, with my daughter Sara (chef-owner of Porsena Restaurant in New York), a book called “The Four Seasons of Pasta,” in which we present recipes for pasta around the year. A few of the recipes are for handmade pastas, but most are for the kind of pasta we’re familiar with in Italy — so-called pasta secca or pasta asciutta, the boxed pasta that Italians eat happily and eagerly every day of the year.

The best pasta is made from durum wheat

Sagne a pezzi with squash. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Sagne a pezzi with squash. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Pasta is truly a marvelous food product — healthy, tasty, easy to prepare, loved by almost everyone, young or old, gourmet chef or harried home cook, and to my mind the single greatest contribution Italy has made to the modern table. It comes in a dozen or more different brands and hundreds of shapes and sizes, but its greatest virtue is that, if it’s made in Italy, it’s made from hard durum wheat, one of the most protein-rich of all grains. A cup of cooked pasta contains more than 8 grams of protein and, depending on the sauce that accompanies it, is low on the glycemic index, with a good amount of fiber and more than 15 different vitamins and minerals, some of them, admittedly, in small quantities.

Pasta can be made fresh or it can be dried — but whatever the form, it is cooked by boiling or steaming over water, i.e., it’s not baked and it’s not fried. Theoretically, it can be made with almost any flour, but wheat flour is far and away the most typical. That’s because when wheat flour and water are mixed together, gluten develops, and it’s gluten that gives elasticity and extensibility, two characteristics fundamental for both bread and pasta.

But what about that gluten? I have friends who swear that a gluten-free diet has led them to lose weight, gain friends, improve their digestion and their disposition, and generally make life better — I have enough friends who swear this to want to pay some attention myself. But (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) I have failed to find any hard evidence for the claim that gluten is responsible for their former woes. (I’m not speaking of those with celiac disease, a well-recognized condition that can be deadly if not identified and managed — but only about 1 percent of the U.S. population is diagnosed with celiac disease.)

Some have suggested that so-called gluten intolerance has nothing to do with gluten itself but is instead related to modern wheat and the way it is grown. Others have speculated that it has something to do with modern bread — which would omit pasta from the list of suspects.

In any case, I’m not here to argue with you. If you feel you can’t tolerate gluten, all I can say is too bad for you because you are missing out on one of life’s greatest and easiest pleasures — a steaming bowl of pasta topped with a sauce that might be as complex as a meaty Bolognese ragu or as simple as aglio-oglio-peperoncino (garlic, extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of red chili peppers). I call it the little black dress of the food world, to be dressed up or dressed down, as often as you wish.

A fresh take on pasta for Thanksgiving

Chef Salvatore Denaro at work picking olives. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Chef Salvatore Denaro at work picking olives. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

My latest discovery in the ever-unfolding world of pasta is a dish our friend chef Salvatore Denaro calls amatrigialla. No, not amatriciana, the quick-and-easy Roman trattoria dish that we know and love — and included in our book. But faced with a crowd of hungry olive pickers, for whom amatriciana is an ideal lunch, and equally faced with an inexplicable dearth of tomatoes in the farmhouse pantry, Salvatore said, why not squash, which was available in abundance. So we peeled and seeded the available squash, which came in several varieties, and chunked it up so it would cook quickly in the big black-iron skillet, and amatrigialla (gialla, or yellow, from the bright colors of the squash) was born.

Might I add that this would be a terrific take on traditional squash for a Thanksgiving table? Use any good squash available (butternut, delicata, Hubbard) or pumpkins made for eating, not for Halloween (cheese pumpkins, rouge vif and the like). Long, hollow bucatini are traditional for Roman amatriciana, but you could use any robust pasta shape, including spaghettoni, penne rigati or rigatoni.

Here’s how to do it:

Bucatini all’Amatrigialla

Prep time: About 15 minutes

Cook time: About 15 minutes

Total time: About 20 minutes, with some cooking done during the prep

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 medium yellow onion, finely sliced

2 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced small

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small dried red chili pepper, crumbled (or a pinch of crushed red chili flakes)

3 to 4 cups squash or pumpkin cubes, about 1 inch to a side

One sprig fresh rosemary, leaves only

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

About 1 pound (500 grams) pasta, preferably imported artisanal

Freshly grated aged pecorino cheese for serving

Directions

1. Combine the garlic, onion and pancetta with the oil in a skillet and set over medium heat. Cook gently, stirring occasionally. When the meat just begins to brown along the edges and render its fat, add the chili and stir in, then add the squash cubes and the rosemary leaves.

2. Stir to mix well and add a very little boiling water — a tablespoon or two, just enough to keep the squash from sticking to the pan. As the squash cooks down it will soften and release some liquid, but if necessary, be prepared to add a little more boiling water from time to time until the squash is softened. This should take about 20 minutes. When done, remove from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Meanwhile, bring about 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and the pasta, stirring it in well. As soon as the water comes back to the boil, start timing the pasta, following the directions on the package but testing at least 2 minutes before the prescribed time.

4. As soon as the pasta is al dente, drain it and turn immediately into a warm serving bowl. Pour the sauce over it and serve, turning the pasta and sauce together at the table and passing the grated pecorino.

Main image: Delicata squash pair nicely with pasta for a Thanksgiving dish. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

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Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Thanksgiving is surely a time for gastronomic excess, but at the same time, unless your children are adult cooks as mine are and the work is joyfully parceled out, the task of cooking Thanksgiving dinner can become burdensome and stressful. But dinner, especially the Thanksgiving sides, shouldn’t be stressful.

When I was a kid, I remember it was my aunt or my mom cooking and we kids played football in the cold late November air. Entering the house to the aroma of that roasting turkey is as indelible a memory as any.

Simple, satisfying green Thanksgiving sides

Boiling broccoli for broiled broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Boiling broccoli for broiled broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

These days we all cook, and there is much hilarity as we cook and eat all day. We gather about 11 a.m. and shoot for the turkey carving around 4:30 p.m.

I can’t say our food is simple — it’s mostly labor-intensive — but there are three wonderful Thanksgiving side dishes that can fit right into the program of a too-tired cook or a teeny kitchen. I call them the three B’s, three vegetable recipes that are perfect for Thanksgiving, easy to do, more-or-less traditional and all begin with the letter B: broccoli, beans and Brussels sprouts.

Broiled Broccoli

Broiled broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broiled broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

I like to make this preparation when I’ve cooked something else in the oven that is either richer or more complex and has taken more of my time, such as a roast turkey. It seems almost no one has had broiled broccoli, so you’ll get positive comments. And it’s so simple it barely needs a recipe. The turkey is going to rest for 20 minutes, so that’s the perfect time to raise the oven to “broil” and cook this.

Prep time: 15 minutes to preheat broiler

Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3 pounds broccoli

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a vigorous boil and plunge the broccoli in, stems first. Boil until the broccoli is still bright green and slightly tender when skewered into the stem portion, 6 minutes, but not more. Drain well.

3. Slice the stem at a sharp diagonal, then slice the florets in half. Toss the broccoli in a large bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the broccoli, cut side up, on a broiler tray. Broil until blackened on the edges, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Green Beans with Pine Nuts

Green beans with pine nuts. Credit: Copyright 2015Clifford A. Wright

Green beans with pine nuts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This is about the easiest way to make green beans sparkle in taste and color. This preparation occasionally appears on our Thanksgiving table as it can be assigned to someone who feels they are not a good cook and they won’t mess it up. It makes a nice room-temperature antipasto the day after.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds green beans, trimmed

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 to 6 tablespoons pine nuts

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the green beans until no longer crunchy, about 10 minutes. Drain the beans and cool quickly under cold running water so that they stop cooking, and then let drain further.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the pine nuts until golden, about 1 minute. Add the green beans. When the pine nuts begin to brown, take the pan off the heat and serve.

Griddled Brussels Sprouts

Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This is as simple as it gets. Typically we serve this preparation as a kind of appetizer, as it’s easy to cook, easy to eat and tossed with salt — just perfect with a pre-turkey drink.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise

Coarse sea salt

Directions

Preheat a cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium heat for 10 minutes. Pour oil into the skillet or griddle until slightly thicker than a film of oil. Place the Brussels sprouts in the skillet, cut side down. Cook until blackened golden brown, then turn with tongs and cook until the convex side is also browned, 5 to 8 minutes in all. Sprinkle with sea salt, drizzle with more olive oil, if desired, and serve hot.

Note: By the time you place the last cut Brussels sprout down, you will probably need to begin turning the first.

Main photo: Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

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Red O Restaurant Thanksgiving succotash made with corn, poblano chilies, butternut squash, onion, cotija cheese, cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Thanksgiving is the best of times. Friends and family gather together to celebrate one another and the season. And yet there is the nagging problem of devising a menu that protects tradition but still surprises. Chef Keith Stich has an answer. Use the flavors of Mexico. In his kitchen at Red O Restaurant in Santa Monica, California, Stich demonstrated how to spice up a traditional succotash by adding Mexican ingredients.

The Santa Monica restaurant is one of a dozen restaurants and bistros opened by chef Rick Bayless, well known for his many awards, cookbooks and television appearances. When Bayless was looking for a chef to help him expand his Southern California operation, he searched for chefs who shared his passion for Mexican cooking. Stich was selected for a cook-off in Chicago at Bayless’ Frontera Grill.

Inspired for succotash fusion

Chef Keith Stich, Red O Restaurant Santa Monica with his Thanksgiving succotash. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Keith Stich of Red O Restaurant Santa Monica, with his Thanksgiving succotash. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Growing up, Stich loved eating Mexican food. As a young chef, he specialized in the preparation of steak and seafood in restaurants in Colorado and California. He learned to cook dishes with strong, clean flavors. For the competition at Frontera Grill, Stich had to prepare one entrée. Four chefs competed. Stich would win or lose the job based on whether Bayless liked his lobster enchiladas.

The competition among the chefs was tough. But Bayless was impressed. He hired Stich to open Red O in Newport Beach. In a competitive setting, the restaurant did very well. After Newport Beach, Stich was asked to open the restaurant across from the Santa Monica pier, a prime tourist destination, and as corporate executive chef to oversee all three of the Southern California restaurants with more planned in the future.

Celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients

Boiled and grilled corn kernels are used to make chef Keith Stich's Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Boiled and grilled corn kernels are used to make chef Keith Stich’s Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

As the seasons change and the cooks come up with innovations, Stich proposes new dishes to Bayless either over the phone or in person. Sometimes he’ll fly to Chicago and prepare the dishes in the Frontera Grill kitchen. Once Bayless signs off on the new dishes, Stich updates the Red O menus on the West Coast.

Making everything from scratch is an essential part of the Red O identity. Fresh limes and oranges are juiced in-house. All the salsas and sauces are made fresh. The produce comes from local purveyors and the farmers markets. In that sense, the West Coast cooks have a distinct advantage over their Midwestern colleagues. Leafy greens are available in abundance in January at the farmers markets in Los Angeles long before they appear in the Chicago markets.

Adding a Mexican twist to a classic

Chopped butternut squash and grated cotija cheese go into chef Keith Stich's Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chopped butternut squash and grated cotija cheese go into chef Keith Stich’s Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

To create a flavorful side dish that would go well with traditional Thanksgiving dishes, Stich used butternut squash, the quintessential fall vegetable, as a substitute for beans in succotash. He gave the dish a flavor boost by adapting the restaurant’s street corn side dish. To the squash he added dry-salty cotija cheese, earthy poblano peppers and spicy cilantro.

So this Thanksgiving as you help yourself to slices of turkey, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, now you can add spice to tradition with a large serving of Mexican succotash.

Street Corn and Butternut Squash Succotash

Thanksgiving Succotash, poblano chilies, butternut squash, corn, onion, cotija cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Thanksgiving succotash features poblano chilies, butternut squash, corn, onion, cotija cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Given how busy Thanksgiving Day can be, an advantage of Stich’s succotash is that all the elements can be cooked the day ahead and refrigerated in airtight containers. Just before serving, when the turkey is resting and the gravy is simmering, the succotash can be given a final sauté on the stove and served with the other dishes.

Poblano chilies and cotija cheese are available in Latin markets. In order to achieve the Mexican flavor profile, the chilies cannot be substituted with green bell peppers; nor can the cotija cheese be replaced with feta cheese.

Because corn season is ending, Stich suggests buying fresh corn now if possible, boiling the cobs as directed, cutting off the kernels and freezing in corn stock, which is made as described below. Cover the kernels with the stock, seal and freeze. The stock will protect the kernels from freezer burn. The day before using, defrost the containers. Strain out the kernels and use them as indicated in the recipe. Reserve and refreeze the corn stock to use in soups and stocks.

When fresh corn is not available in the markets, frozen corn may be substituted, but not canned corn.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 ears of yellow corn, shucked, washed

1 small butternut squash, washed, seeded, diced, yielding 1½ cups

1 small red onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, diced, yielding ½ cup

1 roasted large poblano chili, washed, charred, seeded, cleaned, yielding ¾ cup cooked

2 tablespoon grated cotija cheese plus ½ tablespoon as garnish

½ tablespoon fresh cilantro, washed, leaves only, finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon canola oil

Sea salt to taste

1 tablespoon micro cilantro (optional)

2 tablespoons sour cream or Mexican creama (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat a grill.

2. Boil the corn on the cobs in water uncovered for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the corn from the water. Using tongs, place the corn on the hot grill. Turn frequently until the outside is slightly charred.

4. Place the grilled ears of corn into a bowl of water with two cups of ice cubes.

5. Once the corn is chilled, use a sharp knife and cut off the kernels. As much as possible, keep the kernels together in slabs. Set aside and if not using until the next day, place in an airtight container and refrigerate.

6. If the kernels are to be frozen, place the cobs back in the hot water. Boil another 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Set aside to cool. Then place the cooked kernels in an airtight container and cover with the corn stock. Seal and freeze.

7. Peel the butternut squash, removing the outer skin, seeds and fibers inside. Discard. Using a sharp knife, cut the squash into ¼-inch dice.

8. Add the kosher salt to a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Add the diced squash and cook quickly, approximately 45 to 60 seconds or until fork tender.

9. Prepare an ice bath. Strain the cooked squash and place into the ice bath to chill. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.

10. Place the poblano chili over a high flame on the stove burner. Char the outside, turning often to evenly blister the skin. Remove and place under running water. Rinse off the blackened skin. Cut open the chili. Remove the stem and all the seeds and discard. Cut the poblano into ¼-inch dice.

11. Finely grate the cotija cheese. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.

12. With all the elements cooked and prepped, all that is needed is to combine and lightly sauté the ingredients. Heat a large saucepan. Add the canola oil.

13. Sauté the diced red onion until translucent and lightly browned. Add the poblano chili, stir well to heat, then add butternut squash and corn kernels until all ingredients are hot.

14. Sprinkle the cotija cheese on top and heat until the cheese melts. Mix in the chopped cilantro.

15. Transfer the succotash to a serving bowl. Garnish with more grated cotija. Decorate with dollops of sour cream or Mexican creama (optional) and micro cilantro (optional). Serve hot.

Main photo: Red O Restaurant Thanksgiving succotash made with corn, poblano chilies, butternut squash, onion, cotija cheese and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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The Château de Versailles, which was lovingly restored by the Van der Kemps during a 35-year period. Credit: Copyright 2012 Michal Osmenda/Creative Commons

It was November 1963 and I was living in the Château de Versailles overseeing catering for the American socialite, Florence Van der Kemp, who was married to the museum curator. The Van der Kemps were already well renowned as fundraisers for the restoration of the Château, and Florence decided to host a big traditional Thanksgiving dinner to thank all of her French friends. Having been raised in England, I did indeed know nothing about this very American holiday. “Leave it to Bernadina,” Florence exclaimed to me, “you don’t need to know anything about it, just come to the party!” Bernadina was the elderly chef from Mexico who could cook in three languages, so I was happy to pass on the responsibility.

Thanksgiving, French-style

Anne Willan, right, with the cook, Bernadina, at Versailles in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Anne Willan

Anne Willan, right, with the cook, Bernadina, at Versailles in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Anne Willan

I was sent to buy the largest possible turkey. “At least 25 pounds,” decreed Florence, but the poultry man was mystified. “We have nothing like that, the best turkeys are small, female and plump, about 12 pounds,” he explained. Clearly the American appreciation for sheer size did not extend to France. We compromised with two smaller birds and dressed them with large red bows for maximum effect. Then there was something called sparkling Burgundy, made for the American market and available only at Fauchon, the luxury gourmet store in Paris, which necessitated a special trip.

When at last I was seated in the middle of the long table in the magnificent dining room of Aile Colbert, I had plenty of time to observe. The Frenchwomen on either side of me had rapidly decided that a young, foreign neighbor was not worth a second glance. I nibbled the candied pecans and raisins in bowls beside my plate and broke into what I later learned to call a Parker House roll.

Turkey and oysters

Finding a good-sized turkey was a challenge in France. Credit: Thinkstock.com

Finding a good-sized turkey was a challenge in France. Credit: Thinkstock.com

I sipped the Burgundy, an adult version of soda. My friend Serge, the maître d’hôtel from the parties we masterminded together, set a bowl of borscht before me. The flavor and color were eerily similar to the Burgundy. Then came the turkeys, one for display, the other carved ready for serving; a murmur of approbation arose. Embassy service was the custom in those days, so Serge and his partner hefted huge platters of turkey, roast potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, turnips, Brussels sprouts and stuffing, maneuvering between the guests. A minion followed with boats of gravy, cranberry sauce and condiments.

As the platter reached my place, there wafted an unmistakable aroma of fish and I knew why. Another errand of mine had been to collect a couple quarts of shucked oysters for the turkey stuffing. When cooked, no one had accounted for the briny intensity of French oysters, as they are quite different from fatty American ones raised in warmer waters. I looked around at the startled faces of my fellow diners and Serge and I exchanged a wink. I tried the stuffing on its own; it wasn’t bad. Combined with the rich, meaty turkey it was, shall we say, an unexpected flavor.

And then there was dessert

There were all sorts of pies: pecan pie, chess pie, mud pie and, of course, pumpkin pie. Credit: Thinkstock.com

There were all sorts of pies: pecan pie, chess pie, mud pie and, of course, pumpkin pie. Credit: Thinkstock.com

It is impolite in France to refuse a second helping, so by the time dessert came around we all felt a bit stuffed. Having never been to America, I was determined to try novelties such as pecan pie, chess pie, mud pie and, of course, pumpkin pie; all considerately served in slivers for dessert. The slim, elegant Frenchwomen around me smiled politely and took the smallest portions offered.

Finally, at last, arrived the cups of strong, bracing coffee with plenty of refills — I had seen to that. At this stage, it occurred to me that, with the exception of the turkey and stuffing, everything had been sweetened with sugar. Few were tempted by the petits fours, the elite chocolates and the offer of liqueurs. We eventually staggered, blinking, into the courtyard, and made our way carefully on the cobbles in our high heels. The ladies slid into their chic Morris Minis and I into my MG (at least I could keep up with them there!).

For all of us, Florence had achieved her purpose. Our first Thanksgiving had been unforgettable and, as a souvenir, we all took home candied orangettes; strips of orange peel coated in chocolate and packaged in a little bag with the label Château de Versailles.

Orangettes au Chocolat 

Orangettes au chocolat are made with strips of orange peel and chocolate. Photo courtesy of Anne Willan

Orangettes au chocolat are made with strips of orange peel and chocolate. Photo courtesy of Anne Willan

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Total time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

Yield: About 10 ounces

Ingredients

6 large thin-skinned oranges (2 to 3 pounds)

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 cups water

3/4 pound dark chocolate, chopped

Directions

1. To cut the orange strips: With a serrated knife, cut off the ends of the oranges through to the flesh. Set an orange on one flat end, cut off the skin and pith in vertical strips. Repeat with the remaining oranges. Press the strips flat. With a large chef’s knife, cut each strip into 1/4 inch sticks, discard trimmings, and cut away any loose bits of skin.

2. For the sugar syrup, heat the sugar and water in a shallow pan over low heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Stir in the orange strips. Cover the pan and simmer the strips until they are tender and look translucent, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally during cooking and add more water if needed to keep the strips covered.

3. When tender, let the strips cool in the syrup. Set a wire rack over a baking tray to catch drips. Transfer the orangettes to the rack, spread so they do not touch each other, and leave them overnight to drain and dry. This may take 24 hours if the kitchen is humid.

4. When the orangettes are no longer sticky, coat them with chocolate. Put the chocolate in a bowl and melt it over a saucepan of steaming water, or in the microwave. Transfer the bowl to a pan of cold water to cool the chocolate, stirring often, until it starts to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Line a baking sheet or tray with nonstick parchment paper. Remove the bowl of chocolate from the bowl of water. Using a fork, dip an orange stick into the chocolate, coating it completely or only half if you prefer. Transfer sticks to the paper and leave to set.

Note: To avoid a “foot” of chocolate on one side of the orange strip, twist and turn the strip on the fork so the chocolate sets evenly. Wrap and store the orangettes in the salad drawer of the refrigerator.

Main photo: The Château de Versailles, which was lovingly restored by the Van der Kemps during a 35-year period. Credit: Copyright 2012 Michal Osmenda/Creative Commons 

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