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N7’s Seared Scallops With Chive Oil

N7’s Seared Scallops with Chive Oil

A trip to New Orleans is always difficult for a food lover. Difficult in a good way, because there are so many talented chefs in the Big Easy, offering wonderful options ranging from Creole dishes to traditional Southern favorites to nouvelle fusion.
N7, labeled the country’s tenth best restaurant in 2016 by Bon Appétit magazine, fits the last description.
The food speaks with a definite French accent, and the restaurant’s name, N7, is a reference to the mythic road that ran from Paris to the border of Italy (now upgraded or replaced by the A77 autoroute).
Finding your way along a French road that was the equivalent of America’s Route 66 might be slightly easier than finding the restaurant N7, tucked away on Montegut Street, off of St. Claude Avenue in the city’s funky, hip Bywater neighborhood.
You might easily pass the entrance if you’re not looking for the red stenciled sign on a wooden doorway leading to N7’s courtyard.
Once inside, you can’t miss the red Citroen taking a prime spot along the gravel driveway.
 Much of the seating is outdoors, in a courtyard outfitted with casual style tables and chairs, surrounded by potted plants and vines.
But there is some seating indoors in a structure that at one time housed a tire shop, and long before that, a stable. Sitting at the bar now though, you might be convinced that you were in a bistro in Paris’ Marais neighborhood.
 The food whispers with other culinary accents too, like the oysters from Washington State, served with a sauce redolent of soy sauce — not unusual since the restaurant is owned by Japanese born Yuki Yamaguchi, and her husband, filmmaker Aaron Walker.
 Nearly half the menu is “can to table” seafood – which could be off putting to many. But in some European countries, particularly Spain, canned fish is a delicacy sought after as eagerly as fresh seafood.
We dug in with gusto to the sardines, swishing our bread through the can to glob on to every last bit of the sundried tomato sauce.
And after a squirt of lemon, the octopus in olive oil was gone in a flash too, accompanied by herb butter and a piquant red pepper paste.
The menu, although limited, does contain a few cooked items, such as the seared scallops with chive oil, pictured in the first photo. It was our favorite dish of the night (recipe below).
Another winner was the pork katsu with beet purée. The pork is dredged in flour, egg and finally panko (Japanese bread crumbs), then fried in hot oil and sliced. It rests on a luscious purée made with beets, apples, chicken broth and a little cream and yogurt.
 We also tried the duck breast a l’orange, again prepared with a hint of soy sauce in addition to the more traditional ingredients such as orange zest and orange juice.
 Desserts are very limited but seemed just right. Choose either French macaron cookies (not pictured) or the cheese plate, which contained three cheeses – a sweet gorgonzola, a sheep’s milk cheese and a creamy cow’s milk cheese. A few dried figs, cherries and nuts rounded out the platter.
 As night descended and the tables filled, lights twinkled around the perimeter of the courtyard.
Is it really the most romantic French restaurant in the world, as Bon Appétit claims?
I’m not so sure I buy that moniker, but it sure won over our hearts and I know we’ll be visiting N7 again the next time we’re in New Orleans.
 And if you’d like to take a real trip to Europe and a dreamy part of Italy, join me for a memoir writing retreat at Villa Monastero, in Varenna overlooking Lake Como. Only a couple of spots remain. You don’t have to be a professional writer to participate. Life is short, so don’t delay your dream. For more information, go to www.italyinotherwords.com or email me.
Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.

You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.

 

Seared Scallops with Chive Oil
From N7 Restaurant, New Orleans via Bon Appetit magazine

Ingredients

4 Servings

Chive Oil

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
  • ½ cup olive oil

Potatoes

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
  • ½ cup heavy cream, warmed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Scallops and Assembly

  • 16 large sea scallops, side muscle removed
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Finely grated Gruyère (for serving)

Preparation:

Chive Oil

Purée garlic, chives, salt, and oil in a blender until smooth.
Do Ahead: Chive oil can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Potatoes

Place
potatoes in a medium pot and pour in cold water to cover by 1″. Add 2
tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are
very tender but still hold their shape, 15–20 minutes (boiling will
cause potatoes to become waterlogged). Drain and pass hot potatoes
through a ricer (or use a masher) into a large bowl (do this right away;
cold potatoes will become gummy when mashed). Add cream and butter to
potatoes and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until combined and
mixture is smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Scallops and assembly

Pat
scallops dry with paper towels; season both sides with kosher salt.
Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high. Cook
half of scallops, undisturbed, until deep golden and caramelized, about 3
minutes. Turn and cook until barely golden on second side and just
cooked through, about 2 minutes. Repeat process with remaining 1 Tbsp.
oil and remaining scallops.
Top mashed potatoes with Gruyère and drizzle scallops with chive oil.
Spinach Ricotta Pie

Spinach Ricotta Pie

 I wish I had thought to post this before Easter, because it would have made the perfect meal to serve on Fridays during Lent. But it still is a good one to keep in your back pocket for those nights when you want a meatless meal.

I made this using a store bought pie crust, making it easy to get on the table in a snap, but use your favorite homemade crust recipe if you have time.
The recipe comes from “Blue Plate Special,” a memoir by Kate Christensen, read by my book group nearly a year ago. It’s a passionately written account of her unorthodox childhood and relationships as she navigates her way through adulthood. Through the sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, and frequently tumultuous events, food is the sustaining thread throughout. It’s well worth a read.
And if you have a food, travel or family story you’ve been wanting to write down for posterity, now is the time to start. We’ve got only a couple of spots left for our memoir writing retreat on Lake Como, Italy. Join us for an unforgettable week in this enchanting location in late September. Get more information by going to www.italyinotherwords.com

 

Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.

You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.
Spinach Ricotta Pie
from Kate Christensen’s “Blue Plate Special”
1 onion minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 10-ounce frozen box of spinach, thawed
a dash of cayenne pepper, basil,
salt and pepper
1 pound ricotta cheese
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
Sauté the onion in the olive oil.  Add the spinach, the herbs and spices. Beat the eggs, then blend in the ricotta cheese and the cheddar cheese, plus the sauteed onion and spices. Stir. Turn everything into a store bought or homemade pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes until golden brown on top.
Chocolate “Lamb” Cake

Chocolate “Lamb” Cake

Italian families have lots of food traditions at Easter, and I’ve made many of them through the years, such as pastiera, a sweet pie made with ricotta and wheat kernels,
 or the colomba, a rich, eggy brioche cake made in the shape of a dove that’s on every Italian’s dessert table at Easter.
Once every few years, although it’s not an Italian tradition, I also indulge in making chocolate covered coconut cream Easter eggs. My mother-in-law used to make these (and peanut butter eggs) each Easter as a fund raiser for a local charity and they’re  a real weakness of mine, but so much better than store-bought, especially when you use really good dark chocolate.
But the dessert that holds the most memories for me is the lamb cake that my mother always made when I was growing up.
It wasn’t the chocolate version, as seen in the first photo. It was the white cake version, pictured below, that I often make each Easter.
I’ve already written about the white cake version here, covered with buttercream and coconut, but since I attempted a chocolate version last year, I thought I’d show you the little brown lamb cake, and give you the choice of making either — or both.
I thought for a while about what to use to simulate the dark fleece of a brown lamb, and I came up with this combination: ground up chocolate wafer cookies mixed with ground up amaretti cookies.
It tasted good and I think worked well as wooly fleece, pressed into the chocolate frosting.
I used some cut up jelly beans for the eyes, nose, mouth and ear details, but if you have other ideas, I’d love to hear about them, or see a photo, so send it on. Don’t forget to tie a ribbon around its neck to dress it up in Easter finery.
I inherited the lamb pans from my mother, but you can find them for sale in many places, including on Amazon.com. You fill only one side, then cover with the other very well greased half.
I used a chocolate pound cake recipe I found online, and I knew there was more than enough for the lamb cake, so I baked the extra batter in some small, individual “cakelet” pans I had.
Clearly, I loaded the pan with too much batter, since it started to leak out near the end of the cooking.
No worries though. I just trimmed it up and proceeded with the frosting.
This is how the chocolate cake looks before frosting. Don’t worry about the small holes you see here and there.
I had to keep him company, so I made the vanilla version too. That recipe is here. Again, there seemed to be more batter than I needed, so I baked a couple of cupcakes too. Make sure you grease the pan thoroughly, then dust with flour. After greasing with butter, and before flouring, I sprayed with some nonstick spray just for extra “insurance” against sticking.  Following those instructions, I’ve never had a problem – not even with the small ear parts.
When you release it from the pan, it sits upright like this – in desperate need of frosting and decoration.
Side by side, they make quite a cute pair. It’s almost a shame to cut into them.
But we do — starting from the back end. By the end of the day, we were left with these decapitated heads. I can assure you they didn’t go to waste.
Wishing all of you a happy Easter, or a Happy Passover, and if you don’t celebrate either of those holidays, Happy Spring to all of you.
Let me also take this opportunity to let you know we have a few spaces left in our memoir writing workshop on beautiful Lake Como, Italy.
Your home away from home for a week will be Villa Monastero, in Varenna — open to tourists during the day who come to see the beautiful gardens here, but closed at night to everyone but our workshop attendees. Life is short – don’t postpone your dream. For more information, go to www.italyinotherwords.com.
Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.



Super Rich Chocolate Pound Cake
From JamesDean’sGirl via Food.com
printable recipe here

 

Ingredients

    • 2 1/2 cups flour
    • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder ( I use Dutch processed)
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup butter, softened
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325*F.
  2. Grease and flour a 10″ fluted tube pan.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  4. In another large bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Blend in the vanilla.
  7. In 3 additions each, beat in the flour mixture and sour cream just until combined.
  8. Do not overmix.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
  10. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the center tests done.
  11. Cool 10 minutes in pan; invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.===========================================For the frosting:
    6 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter1/3 cup milk2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar2 t. vanilla extract3/4 c. cocoa powder
    Beat the butter in a mixer until smooth, then slowly add the rest of the ingredients until everything is blended to the proper consistency. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Spread over the lamb. You’ll have more than you need to coat the lamb, so freeze the extra.
    For the “wooly” coat:Buy some chocolate wafers and some amaretti cookies. Place some of them in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin (or pulse in a food processor until the proper texture). Using your hand, spread the cookie crumbs over the chocolate frosting, pressing in to secure.Decorate the eyes, ears, nose and mouth with bits of jelly beans or other candies.
A Writing Retreat On Lake Como

A Writing Retreat On Lake Como

Join me for a week on Lake Como, to write about that childhood memory, travel experience, or any other event you’ve been wanting to capture in print.  Spend the mornings in writing instruction, and afternoons in leisure touring the area, eating exquisite foods and pinching yourself that it’s real.

Kathryn Abajian and I hold the writing retreat at Villa Monastero (pictured above) in Varenna, on the banks of Lake Como, Italy. We’re scheduled to repeat it September 24-30., 2017.

Come along with me for an armchair visit to learn about the villa and its origins. Maybe you’ll decide you’d like to spend a week here with us too, improving your writing skills, and partaking of the region’s foods, wines and nearby sights.

          
     The villa was founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1208, but its mission foundered in 1667, when the nuns left for Lecco, a city to the south. After three years, the villa was sold to the Mornico family, whose weath came from the iron mining industry in the area. The family converted the monastery to a noble residence, renaming it Villa Leliana. It was held by the Mornico family for nearly three centuries, when it was sold at the end of the 1800s to the German sheep owner Walter Kaas.
       
     But in the lead up to World War II, Kaas was declared an enemy of the state and was sent back to Germany, while Italy took over the villa. The villa was then used by the elite mountaineering unit of the Italy military called the Alpini, until it was sold in 1955 to biologist Marco de Marchi, who converted the villa into a scientific conference center.
         
     Marchi had no heirs however, and left the villa to the Italian government with the proviso that it be used for conferences of a scientific or artistic nature.        

     We hold daily sessions in a sun-filled conference room overlooking the lake, surrounded by beautiful artwork created by local artists. 
      The villa also has a larger conference room that served as a chapel when the nuns occupied the villa, and is the place where Nobel prize winner Enrico Fermi taught his last lesson.
                                     
     You can see evidence of a religious fresco is a small niche there, dating to the 13th century.
                                 
        Other rooms in the villa highlight both the Germanic artistic taste of Walter Kaas, as well as highly decorative furnishings bought by de Marchi.
                                   
      The villa’s extensive gardens, containing thousands of species of plants, are open to the public, but at night, we writers have the beauty of the grounds and the silence of the lake to ourselves.
        Most bedrooms have modern furnishings, some with views of the lake, and a few have balconies facing the lake. Sign up early to get priority for one of these.
     Writing instruction is in the morning, and you can set up your laptop by the lake in the afternoons to soak in some inspiration from the peaceful and lush surroundings.
        
     If you need a break from writing, the town of Varenna has a lot to offer, with inviting shops and cafes.
Can you picture yourself seated along the lake sipping a cappuccino, or a glass of Prosecco?
         
     Come with us if you like, on an afternoon visit to Vezio, and step back to the 11th century and a castle that was once home to Teodolinda, queen of the Lombards.
                                      
       From the castle, you get a magnificent view of the lake and the rooftops of Varenna below.
                        
     We also eat well on our retreats, and taste local wines and cheeses, like this taleggio.
           
    Dinners are all special, and we try different restaurants each night.
                       
     If you’d like to go further afield one afternoon, we’ll take you on the ferry to Bellagio, where the streets are as quaint as the shops are prolific.
                         
     You can even try your hand at watercolor, whether you’ve got experience or not. We can arrange a lesson for you.
     It’s not to soon to start thinking about reserving a spot for next year’s retreat at Villa Monastero – September 24-30, 2017. Check out our website at www.italyinotherwords.com for more details.
How many times have you heard the phrase “Life is short?” Well, it’s not just a saying, it’s true.
Live the dream. Now.
It’s a week you’ll never forget.

 

Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero is a beautiful villa surrounded by magnificent gardens, located in Varenna, on the banks of Lake Como, Italy. It’s also the place where Kathryn Abajian and I held our writing retreat last month, and where we’re scheduled to repeat it next year.

     Come along with me for a visit to learn about the villa and its origins. Maybe you’ll decide you’d like to spend a week here with us too, improving your writing skills, and partaking of the region’s foods, wines and nearby sights.
          
     The villa was founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1208, but its mission foundered in 1667, when the nuns left for Lecco, a city to the south. After three years, the villa was sold to the Mornico family, whose weath came from the iron mining industry in the area. The family converted the monastery to a noble residence, renaming it Villa Leliana. It was held by the Mornico family for nearly three centuries, when it was sold at the end of the 1800s to the German sheep owner Walter Kaas.
       

 

     But in the lead up to World War II, Kaas was declared an enemy of the state and was sent back to Germany, while Italy took over the villa. The villa was then used by the elite mountaineering unit of the Italy military called the Alpini, until it was sold in 1955 to biologist Marco de Marchi, who converted the villa into a scientific conference center.
         
     Marchi had no heirs however, and left the villa to the Italian government with the proviso that it be used for conferences of a scientific or artistic nature. This year, we received approval to hold our writing retreat, “Italy in Other Words” at Villa Monastero, after conducting it in Abruzzo for the last several years.
       

 

     We hold daily sessions in a sun-filled conference room overlooking the lake, surrounded by beautiful artwork created by local artists.
          
      The villa also has a larger conference room that served as a chapel when the nuns occupied the villa, and is the place where Nobel prize winner Enrico Fermi taught his last lesson.
                                     
     You can see evidence of a religious fresco is a small niche there, dating to the 13th century.
                                 
        Other rooms in the villa highlight both the Germanic artistic taste of Walter Kaas, as well as highly decorative furnishings bought by de Marchi.
                                   
      The villa’s extensive gardens, containing thousands of species of plants, are open to the public, but at night, we writers have the beauty of the grounds and the silence of the lake to ourselves.
       

Most bedrooms have modern furnishings, some with views of the lake, and a few have balconies facing the lake. Sign up early to get priority for one of these.

        
     Writing instruction is in the morning, and you can set up your laptop by the lake in the afternoons to soak in some inspiration from the peaceful and lush surroundings.
        P

If you need a break from writing, the town of Varenna has a lot to offer, with inviting shops and cafes.

         

     Come with us if you like, on an afternoon visit to Vezio, and step back to the 11th century and a castle that was once home to Teodolinda, queen of the Lombards.
                                      

From the castle, you get a magnificent view of the lake and the rooftops of Varenna below.

                        
     We also eat well on our retreats, and taste local wines and cheeses, like this taleggio.
           

Dinners are all special, and we try different restaurants each night.

                       

If you’d like to go further afield one afternoon, we’ll take you on the ferry to Bellagio, where the streets are as quaint as the shops are prolific.

                         
     You can even try your hand at watercolor, whether you’ve got experience or not. We can arrange a lesson for you.
       

It may seem early, but it’s not to soon to start thinking about reserving a spot for next year’s retreat at Villa Monastero.  We plan to hold it from September 18-24, 2016. Check out our website at www.italyinotherwords.com for more details.

       

 

Grilled Swordfish In Lemon Caper Cream Sauce

Grilled Swordfish in Lemon Caper Cream Sauce

People sometimes ask me where I get my inspiration for the recipes on this blog and the answer is, it comes from various sources, like family recipes, meals I eat in restaurants, and from other food bloggers. In this case, it came from Roz, who writes a wonderful blog called “La Bella Vita Cucina”. She lives in South Carolina, but has family in Emilia Romagna, the same region where my mother was born and where I still have relatives.

Swordfish is one of my favorite seafoods but it’s frequently overcooked by home cooks. It doesn’t take long before it’s dried out and tasteless. Roz’ instructions to grill it for two minutes on each side are spot on. The fish will be perfectly moist and tender.
Roz’ recipe calls for smearing olive oil over the swordfish, but I also brush on some soy sauce, grated garlic and minced thyme. Let it sit for a few minutes, then dredge it in the bread crumbs and grill.
Don’t worry if some of the breadcrumbs fall off on the grill. You’re bound to lose some, even if you grease the grates.
 The delicious lemon caper sauce covers up any spots that stuck to the grill, and  delivers such a flavor punch, you’ll be tempted to lick the plate.
See more of what goes in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen on my Instagram feed. Just click here to connect with me there: Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram 
And for all you last minute wanna-be travelers to Italy: There are still a couple of spots available in  the memoir writing retreat Kathryn Abajian and I are leading in September in dreamy Lake Como. You don’t have to have any writing experience, just a desire to learn. Come write, eat, and meander through Varenna – one of the most beautiful places on earth. You’ll be lodged here at Villa Monastero, with gorgeous views of the lake and mountains, and world-famous gardens to explore. For more info, click here, on “Italy In Other Words.”
 



Grilled Swordfish with Lemon Caper Cream Sauce
From “La Bella Vita Cucina” 
printable recipe here
Ingredients

  • 8 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 Swordfish Steaks, cut 1″ thick
  • 4 T. soy sauce
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 cup Italian-seasoned panko crumbs
  • Garnish: Fresh-cut sprigs of Italian parsley
  • Garnish: Sliced lemons
  • Creamy Lemon Caper Sauce:
  • 8 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • ½ stick of high quality butter
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • Juice of 1 medium-sized lemons
  • Zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1-½ cups minced fresh-cut Italian parsley
  • 4 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons fresh-cut oregano, finely chopped
  • ½ small jar of capers (if salted, rinse thoroughly)
Instructions
  1. Drizzle each swordfish steak with olive oil and spread the oil evenly over each steak on all sides. (I also drizzled some soy sauce on top and spread some minced garlic and thyme over it all)
  2. Using a shallow mid-size bowl, pour in the Italian seasoned bread crumbs and panko crumbs.
  3. Place each oiled swordfish steak onto the bread crumbs and panko crumbsand then turn over, making sure that the steak is covered on all sides.
  4. Get the grill heated.
  5. Prepare the sauce:
  6. While grill is warming up, heat all of the sauce ingredients in a saucepan.
  7. Place on a very low simmer to keep the sauce warm while grilling the swordfish steaks.
  8. Grill the steaks on a medium-low heat for 2 minutes on each side until the bread crumb coating is a nice gold-brown color.
  9. The thicker the steak, the longer the time necessary to cook through, keeping in mind that the steaks should not be cooked to the point of being dry, but rather they should be moist and tender inside.
  10. Pour a little bit (about a tablespoon) of the creamy lemon caper sauce on top of each steak.
  11. Garnish with sprigs of fresh-cut Italian parsley and slices of lemons.
  12. Pass the remainder of the sauce around to guests.
Bay Leaf Pound Cake

Bay Leaf Pound Cake

 Bay leaves are one of the unsung heroes on the spice/herb shelf. They sit there in jars turning paler and paler with each passing year, and find their way into the occasional stew or soup. When they reach that point, where they’re insipid in taste, it’s time to throw them out and buy new ones.

I’ve had a fascination with bay leaves since the year I lived in Italy, where I encountered hedges of bay leaf plants everywhere, tempting me to pluck a leaf or two whenever I needed it for a recipe.
 If you’re in Italy during college graduation season, it’s common to see newly minted graduates around town wearing laurel wreaths encircling their heads, a tradition started at the University of Padua, one of the world’s oldest universities.
For you word nerds out there: The Italian word for graduation is “laurea.”
Ovid with a laurel wreath
I’ve since bought my own bay leaf plant, although it’s not hardy in the harsh New Jersey winters. Instead, I’ve pampered it indoors for a few years and reluctantly used its leaves the first year or two. Mostly, I just admired it and drew of a sketch of it in my “nature journal.”
I have used some of the leaves in the past for a wonderful appetizer with ricotta cheese, but when I saw this bay leaf pound cake from David Leibovitz’ “My Paris Kitchen,”  I knew my now thriving, four-year old bay leaf plant was in for a pruning.
David says you can use either dried or fresh bay leaves for this recipe, but since I had the fresh, I thought, “why not?”
 There are at least two types of bay leaf plants by the way – California and Turkish. What you find in spice racks at grocery stores is mostly the dried Turkish variety. Each of the varieties is highly aromatic, but from what I’ve read the Turkish, or Mediterranean variety (my plant) has a subtler flavor, with floral overtones. Some sites even claim that the California bay leaf has a “medicinal” taste and is more suited to making wreaths (or crowning Olympic champions) than to culinary purposes because of its strong flavor. If any of you readers has ever cooked with a California bay leaf, let me know.
For this recipe, start by buttering a 9″ x 5 ” loaf pan, and place a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom. Butter the parchment paper. Line the bottom of the pan with bay leaves.
As part of the recipe, more bay leaves are steeped in melted butter for an infusion, lending even more herbal flavor.
Pour in the batter (I tucked a bay leaf into each of the long sides of the pan also) and dot with butter across the top.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out clean. The recipe says to bake 45 to 50 minutes, but I had to leave mine in closer to 55 minutes.
It’s done when the cake releases slightly from the sides of the pan and is golden.
Flip it over and admire the bottom of the cake (that no one will see, but the flavor the leaves impart is definitely perceptible).
I used a bay leaf and small branch to decorate, but a lemon or orange glaze would be nice too.
Dust heavily with powdered sugar and carefully remove the leaf.
Slice and serve, being careful to remove the bay leaves on the bottom and sides before eating.
The cake has a tender crumb and a subtle, aromatic flavor that’s hard to pinpoint. It’s a nuanced, perfumed taste that would also pair well with a tumble of berries, or a bit of whipped cream.

Or just enjoy as is.



Bay Leaf Pound Cake
from David Leibovitz’ “My Paris Kitchen”
printable recipe here

Ingredients

  1. 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon butter, sliced; at room temperature
  2. 8 – 10 small to medium sized bay laurel leaves, fresh or dried
  3. 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  4. 1 cup granulated sugar
  5. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  6. ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  7. 3 eggs, at room temperature
  8. ½ cup crème fraiche (or sour cream)
  9. Powdered sugar
  1. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. Take the pan off the heat and add 3 bay leaves. Let steep 1 hour; remove bay leaves and discard.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a standard loaf pan with some butter; dust the pan evenly with flour and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper (easiest way to do this is to place the pan on the paper and trace all around the bottom edge with a pencil; use scissors to cut it out).
  3. Dab one side of the remaining bay leaves in a bit of butter and lay them evenly along the bottom of the loaf pan, buttered side down.
  4. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.
  5. Combine the eggs, crème fraiche, and melted butter in a medium bowl; gently stir into the flour mixture just until the batter is smooth, without over-mixing.
  6. Scrape batter into the pan carefully over the bay leaves. Put the remaining butter in a small zip-top bag and snip off one corner. Pipe the butter in a line down the center of the batter; bake 45 – 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool 10 minutes; run a knife around the edge of the pan, then turn the cake out onto a rack to cool completely. Dust top with powdered sugar.
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Join us for a writing retreat in September in one of the most beautiful places on Earth – along the shores of Italy’s Lake Como. Click here for more information.
A Week In A Magical Italian Village

A Week In A Magical Italian Village

 Have you dreamed of publishing those family stories that might otherwise be lost in the future? What about those travel experiences you always wanted to put to paper, or those food memories from childhood? Now, how many times have you told friends to go for it, using the phrase “You only live once”?
Well, how about following your own dream for one week while learning how to polish your prose, eating fabulous food and living in a magical village in an unspoiled region of Italy?
It’s a village where road signs might have distances between towns measured in the time it takes to ride a horse.
It’s a village that has quiet, secret corners and small treasures waiting to be discovered.
Why not do yourself a favor and sign up for “Italy, In Other Words,” a memoir writing workshop?   It takes place from June 15 to June 21st,  2014 and is held in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a medieval village in the Gran Sasso National Park. Located in the region of Abruzzo, Santo Stefano di Sessanio has been named one of Italy’s prettiest towns, or “I borghi più belli d’Italia.” You’ll stay in Sextantio, a unique hotel with rooms dispersed throughout the town. Yours might be warmed by this rustic fireplace (but don’t worry – you’ll have modern Phillip Starck bathroom fixtures):
This is the view from one of the rooms:

 

The wild poppies and mustard should be in bloom when we’re there in mid-June.

 

 

Kathryn Abajian, college professor, author, and writing teacher, will lead the writing workshop, and she is gifting at elevating pedestrian words to poetry.
You’ll get plenty of daily, helpful feedback from the other participants in the workshop too.

 

 

 I’ll be your cultural guide, taking you on nearby excursions. Some of the places you’re likely to visit are Rocca Calascio, a mountaintop fortress dating back to the 10th century.
We’ll pass by the church of Santa Maria della Pietà, built to commemorate what legend says was a victory of the locals over a gang of bandits.

 

We’ll walk along ancient sheep trails where you might even meet a modern day shepherd:
 It’s not unusual to have to stop along the road for a sheep crossing.
 
The bedspread in your hotel room is likely to be hand woven by women from the local area, and you’ll see a demonstration on a centuries-old loom:
 We’ll take an excursion to see how pecorino canestrato (sheep’s milk cheese) is made – .
 And how maccheroni alla chitarra is made – an Abruzzo specialty.
 
 And you’ll have plenty of opportunity to eat it at dinner.
But before dinner, have a seat in the cantina with your fellow students and enjoy a glass of wine with some cheese and locally made sausages.

 

 At dinner, take the opportunity to savor conversation and delicious food.
 Like these affettati (sliced, cured meats):

 

 

or  ravioli with gorgonzola and walnuts:

 

 

Or arrosticini – succulent skewers of grilled lamb.

 

Get your feet tapping at the finale concert with DisCanto and their fabulous Abruzzese folk music:

 

 You don’t have to be an experienced writer to sign up. You just have to have the desire to improve your writing.  Although we’ve had participants who were accomplished, published writers, we’ve also had homemakers, a postal worker and an artist in past years too.
Want more information? Check out all the details here on the Italy, In Other Words website. You’ll find contact information to register.  Hope to see you there in June. It’s a week that will stay with you forever.
Food, Writing, Intimacy

Food, Writing, Intimacy

 Caveat: This post contains no recipes, but there will be plenty of food for thought here.

One of the best things about living in Princeton is the access to events at the university, including a lecture yesterday on “Food, Writing, Intimacy.” It was standing room only, as some of my favorite writers and chefs spoke on a topic near and dear to them (and me). In the photo above, from left to right, are Christopher Albrecht, executive chef of Eno Terra in Kingston, New Jersey; Frank Bruni, columnist and former New York Times restaurant critic, Leonard Barkan, professor of comparative literature at Princeton University, Anita Lo, owner and chef of Annisa in NYC and Gabrielle Hamilton, author and chef at Prune in NYC.
To view a video of the entire talk, go here: http://english.princeton.edu/news/critical-encounters-series-food-writing-and-other-intimacies-video-stream 
Over the course of an hour and a half, the speakers discussed topics ranging from sustainable farming to writing memoir and I wished it could have continued for another hour or more.
When Enoterra entered the dining scene here in the Princeton area, it immediately secured the spot as my favorite restaurant in the region, and that’s in no small part due to Christopher Albrecht, who started his career working for Tom Colicchio at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern. It’s all about quality, not quantity, he told the audience, and it all starts with the soil. “The quality of our soil is at the heart of our health,” he said. Think about the clover that grows in a pasture. If the clover is not grown on good quality soil, it will affect the diet of the sheep that graze there. If the sheep aren’t eating good clover, it will affect the wool they produce, and the quality of garments that people wear. Now transpose that reasoning to food products that we eat and our dependence on chemical fertilizers that make crops grow unnaturally fast and prolific. Those chemical fertilizers do not produce the same kinds of crops that natural fertilizers like manure can or enrich the soil as natural compost does. Albrecht, who works at the restaurant’s farm three to four days a week, said it’s important to ask growers about their farming practices. “Our children’s children will bear the effects of the neglect of our soil,” he said.
Although Professor Leonard Barkan teaches comparative literature at Princeton, he writes about food for many publications in the U.S. and abroad. His love of food goes back to his first girlfriend years ago, he said. “I was more interested in food than she was. Then I became more interested in food than in her.”  But his real culinary breakthrough began after he moved to Italy for a year for academic reasons, and lived “the secret life of a food and wine maven.” He has been wine editor for Gambero Rosso (the Italian equivalent of a Michelin guide to food and wine) for many years and in 2008, published a book about his love affair with Italy called “Satyr Square.”
Gastronomy is seldom elevated to a high position on the academic ladder, he said, yet Barkan has lectured on how scholarship and food collide, referencing a painting at London’s National Gallery. It’s a depiction taken from the bible, in the chapter of St. Luke where Mary and Martha have welcomed Jesus into their home. “Nearly all the painters who illustrate the story give little notice of the savior, while they spend a vast amount of space on Martha,” he said. In the painting below, Martha dominates the scene, pounding a pestle with all the fixings for a Catalan fish soup, he said.
Anita Lo, owner of Annisa, in New York City’s Greenwich Village, talked about how her childhood affected her thoughts about identity and food. Born to a Malaysian mother, she grew up in Michigan with multi-cultural influences. Her father died when she was very young, and was cared for by a Hungarian nanny, so “Chicken paprikash is one of my favorite foods,” she said. Later, her mother married a Caucasian man and most of her schoolmates were white as well. “There were less than a handful of people of color,” she said, later instilling in her the conviction to tell the story of her identity through food. “Through food, I can be who I am.” She scoffs at the idea of “fusion food,” saying that “All food is fusion. I don’t really believe in borders. Food at its very best can make you think, show you new things and new cultures,” she said.  “At the end of the day, what’s important to me, though, is that it be delicious.”
Frank Bruni needs no introduction if you read the New York Times. He’s an op-ed columnist there, but served as restaurant critic for five years and was the newspaper’s Rome bureau chief before that. “To write about food is to write about life, and to write about life is to write about food,” he said. His memoir “Born Round” was an engaging portrayal of his struggle with weight since his childhood, complicated by his life as a food critic.  The book also provides an intimate look at his Italian-American family and a man coming to terms with his homosexuality.
“There is no better way to write about a place than to write about its culinary rituals, ” he said. “To write about anything, if you are writing about it well, is to write about the food.”  Sprinkled throughout his memoir are funny anecdotes detailing his efforts to maintain anonymity in a job where a bad review can spell economic doom for a restaurant. Bruni will be teaching a class in food writing next year at Princeton University.
Gabrielle Hamilton, owner and chef at Prune in New York City, is also the author of a wildly successful memoir called “Blood, Bones and Butter.” She always wanted to be a writer, but envisioned herself becoming a novelist, never a memoirist. However, the public’s current fascination with food and her job as a chef are what got her a book deal, she admits, and what the editors wanted was memoir.
“I am very glad that the world is obsessed with food right now. I am not that interested in food.”– a surprising statement coming from someone whose restaurant is a favorite of chefs and food writers. Although she holds a M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, her kitchen skills are what really served her best in writing the book, she said. She wrote it as though she were treating a reader as a guest in her restaurant, she said. The book is forthright, frank and unpretentious, not unlike the food at Prune.
One of the reasons both her book and Frank Bruni’s memoirs are so gripping is their intimate insight into their private lives. But therein lies the rub — Just how does a writer deal with the need for honesty while not alienating family members or friends who are in the book, I asked them.

 

Bruni replied that “I have a ridiculously loving family – a conflict-free family,” but he added that he wasn’t seeking to expose any dirty laundry about friends or relatives.  “I can hang myself out to dry but I didn’t feel I had a right to do that with my family.”
Hamilton took a different approach, giving a copy of the manuscript to family before it was published and asking them to vet parts of it. There were very few complaints, she said. Although the book feels very intimate, there’s so much the reader doesn’t know, she explained. “I felt I dodged a bullet.”
If you’ve been thinking about writing a memoir, whether food related, travel or any other theme, I can’t think of a better place to get a jump start than by joining a group of writers (and one artist) in the hauntingly beautiful village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio for the “Italy, In Other Words” workshop this June.  Click here for more information about the workshop and here to learn more about Santo Stefano di Sessanio.  Kathryn Abajian, who teaches classes in California as well, is the talented writing coach, and I will be your cultural guide, taking you on small excursions to help you find your muse. There are only a few spots open, so act now. I promise you it will be a magical week you won’t forget.
Some Enchanted Evening

Some Enchanted Evening

Wake me if you must, but it’s been nearly three days and I’m still dreaming about Saturday night’s dinner with “The Glorious Friends of Abruzzo,” prepared in my kitchen by Joe Cicala, chef at Philadelphia’s Le Virtù restaurant — the same restaurant named yesterday by Zagat one of the “hottest Italian restaurants in the U.S.” 

“How did this happen?” people have been asking. “Can I be one of the “Glorious Friends?”
Well, it all started when Francis Cratil Cretarola and Catherine Lee, owers of Le Virtù, and ardent promoters and supporters of this too-little known, mountainous region of Italy, held a fund-raiser for a project there — maintenance of the tratturi, the centuries-old trails used by shepherds to transport herds during the seasonal migration.
My friend Helen Free, co-founder of “Italy, In Other Words,” the workshop in Abruzzo that I now co-teach with Kathryn Abajian, suggested we get a group of friends together and place a bid. So we did. And we won!
l. to r. Chef Joe Cicala, Ciao Chow Linda, Francis Cratil, Cathy Lee, Doug and Helen Free
 Fifteen of us were seated around my dining room table, including our special guest — Domenica Marchetti, author of many cookbooks, including “The Glorious Pasta of Italy.” Domenica’s mother hails from Abruzzo and travels there frequently for research and to visit family and friends.
The meal exceeded our expectations, beginning with the stuzzichini, or appetizers that were served before we were seated. Stay with me because this was a meal with many courses, and there’s a recipe at the end for you too. Let’s start with crostini topped with sheep’s milk ricotta that was blended with saffron (Navelli is the town in Abruzzo noted for its production of the much prized pungent spice). Sprinkle with toasted almonds, drizzle with honey and you’ve got something you can’t stop eating.
Have some potato croquettes too, oozing with cheese and tantalizingly hot.
What about arancini, crackly and crispy on the outside, giving way to soft and luscious nuggets of rice, small peas and cheese on the inside?  I got carried away with munching and forgot to take a photo, so the one below is courtesy of Stacey Snacks, a fellow blogger, friend and guest at Saturday’s dinner.
Do you know about arrosticcini, one of Abruzzo’s iconic dishes? They’re kebobs of uniformly cubed lamb grilled over an open fire. Traditionally, the meat is not marinated in Abruzzo, where the quality of the lamb is far different from what’s available here. To compensate, chef Joe marinates his arrosticcini in olive oil, minced rosemary, peperoncino, garlic and lemon zest.
I could have eaten a dozen, but I knew these were just the opening act so I restrained myself – barely.
We took our seats at the table, as Joe brought forth wooden boards laden with affettati, house-cured salumi made at Le Virtù – pancetta, guanciale, salame nostrano (a simple pork salame), capocollo,
cacciatorini (small pork salame), lamb salame, sweet and sour carrots
and onions and roasted peppers. I felt like I had been transported back to Italy, where many meals start with plates of similar cured meats.
Next came a soup so delicious it could warm the body and soul of any shepherd tending his flock in mid-winter. I’m not the only one at the table who was wishing for the recipe, and Joe graciously gave it to me. Its monochromatic color may not win any beauty contests, but let me assure you it could take first prize for flavor with its arresting combination of chickpeas, chestnuts and farro.
Before I go any further, let me mention that Joe stepped aside from the stove long enough to describe each course as it was served. Meanwhile Francis, seen in the photo below toasting Domenica (seated next to him), talked about the different wines — all from Abruzzo — as they were being poured.
Are you ready for the primi piatti? That’s primi not primo, and piatti not piatto, because there were two of them. The first was a dish of gnocchi made not with the predictable potato, but with flour and water only, dressed in a creamy sauce of sheep’s milk ricotta from Abruzzo and sautéed bits of lamb sausage. A dusting of pecorino topped the dish.
Nothing says Abruzzo like maccheroni alla chitarra, a pasta made with a wooden, multi-stringed traditional implement called a chitarra. The pasta was tossed with a lamb ragù. If you weren’t an aficionado of lamb, an animal that’s been crucial to Abruzzo’s economy since the Middle Ages, you might have struggled with Saturday night’s lamb-centric menu. But as each plate was cleared from the table, I detected no lingering bits of food from unhappy diners. Had I been eating in private, I would have licked the plate clean — or at least sopped up any remaining sauce with bread, “scarpetta” style.
How could you not when the food was so delicious? The main course followed the night’s theme — juniper smoked lamb loin, served with roasted potatoes and broccoli rape. It was succulent and tender enough to cut with a butter knife or even a sturdy fork — and cooked to the perfect temperature.
Like any respectable Italian meal, there has to be a cheese course, and this was no exception. This was, in fact, a tour de force with cheeses imported from Abruzzo by Bob Marcelli, who was also a dinner guest and who explained each cheese and its characteristics. He should know what he’s talking about since he owns Marcelli Formaggi, importers of products from Abruzzo including cheeses made on his family’s farm. They were served with a selection of artisanal honeys from the region.

At this point you might be wondering if dessert was served and whether any one had room for it. The answer is yes, and yes. As with many special occasion meals in Italy, there is no rush to the process and the portions are not super sized as they are in the U.S. We started the evening around 7:30 and were still seated at close to midnight. So there was no need to move my belt by even one notch when dessert was served — a creamy semifreddo made with fragrant star anise and pine nuts, served with pears poached in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine and drizzled with mosto cotto.

But wait, there was still more to come — a platter filled with Italian cookies – biscotti, ferratelle (Abruzzo’s version of pizzelle), jam-filled cookies and struffoli — all made in-house at Le Virtù. P.S. Joe’s wife Angela is the pastry chef there.
As much as I didn’t want the night to end, all good things, as they say must …… what? they must? No they mustn’t, dang it. Not if you live anywhere near Philadelphia they don’t. You can get yourself to Le Virtù and experience these delights for yourself at the restaurant at 1927 E. Passyunk Ave. Want an even more authentic experience? Francis and Cathy are taking a small group to Abruzzo in April on a culinary tour. I can’t imagine a better way to visit the region, unless you have relatives there. And if you’ve been thinking about writing a personal memoir, a food or travel memoir, join me and Kathryn in June for a week in the magical Abruzzo village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio for the Italy In Other Words workshop.
OK, I hear you. You don’t live near Philly and you can’t get to Italy this year. So here’s something for you too — Joe’s recipe for that unforgettable soup is below so you can cook up a bit of Abruzzo right in your own kitchen.
It may not be as complete as Saturday’s dinner with “The Glorious Friends of Abruzzo” but it sure beats frozen pizza or Chef Boyardee.
Thank you Joe, Francis and Cathy for a night I’ll be remembering for years to come and thank you “Amici Gloriosi d’Abruzzo” for your participation.
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La zuppa di farro, ceci e castagne
Farro, chickpea and chestnut soup
From Chef Joe Cicala of Le Virtù
printable recipe here

1/2 cup mirepoix (minced celery, carrots and onions)
1 tablespoon diced pancetta (or any other salame scrap)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz peeled chestnuts
6 oz chickpeas (that have been soaked over night)
4 oz farro
1 gallon chicken stock (we also use rabbit stock)(I used about 6 cups when I made this – one gallon seemed like too much).
1 tablespoon minced rosemary

Sweat the mirepoix, pancetta, olive oil and chestnuts until the nuts are soft/tender, add chickpeas and chicken stock.
cook until the chickpeas are almost tender.
add farro and rosemary
cook until tender.
serve with pecorino cheese and drizzled olive oil