Monday, April 27, 2009

agretti, Italy's secret weed

Now I see why my CSA box is called a mystery box. Ya just never know... This week I found a bag of agretti, an heirloom Italian green. In Italy it's called salsola soda and is a close cousin to the tumbleweed. Agretti is a tender, succulent herb, which when harvested young has a pleasingly sour taste. In Italy, agretti is chopped and tossed in salads or saute with onions to throw into pasta dishes, but it also makes a good stir-fry. It sort of looks like a weed and it got me thinking... Maybe someday weeds would be vegetables we savor instead of plants we don't understand. I don't know, I think that's what the ingenious Italians keep as their own little secret.


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, 1/4-inch dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound agretti, tough stems removed
Large pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
4 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fill a frying pan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low.
In another frying pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally until light golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just soft, 5 seconds. Add the agretti and crushed red pepper and cook, tossing with tongs occasionally, until it is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
In the meantime add the vinegar to the boiling water. Crack the eggs into the pan and poach until the whites are firm and the yolks are soft, 2 to 3 minutes.
To serve, divide the warm agretti between two plates and top with each place with two eggs. Season the eggs with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Serves 2

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

the perfect margarita

You missed the launch party last night for my new TEQUILA book at Tres Agaves. Two hundred very fun tequila-lovers and 800 tequila drinks later! This photo is of my fiance, Joe, Valerie Shilgalis of Partida Tequila, me smiling, Jon Bonne, wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Laura Werlin, cheese aficianado and tequila pal. Several very high profile bartenders who contributed tequila cocktail recipes to the book showed up, H Ehrmann, Joel Baker, Ronaldo Colli and Ashley Miller plus several Agave Girls,-- Mariangela Sassi, Carolyn Alburger, Renee Behnke, Shannon Smith, Amy Sherman, blogger extraodinaire, and Marcy Carmack, dresser to the stars. Thought you might like the recipe for the perfect margarita we drank. It was inspired by the folks at Partida Tequila and Julio Bermejo, acclaimed Ambassador of Tequila. For years people have been making a margarita with crappy tequila, sickening sweet triple sec and lime juice. A few years ago, Julio introduced a margarita using agave nectar and the perfect margarita was truly born! And if you like this cocktail recipe, my new book contains 37 other equally as delicious cocktails!


1 1/2 ounces 100% agave tequila of your choice
3/4 ounce agave nectar
3/4 ounces water
1 ounce lime juice

Place all of the ingredients in a shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously for 5 seconds. Pour into an old fashioned glass filled with fresh ice.

Serves 1 very happy margarita lover

Saturday, April 18, 2009

take a guess... nope! guess again!

I know, it looks like celery but it's not. Look again, it's that time of year again! Cardoon! I got some in my CSA box Thursday and jumped at the chance to cook it up. Last night I was making dinner for Larry Mindel, owner of Il Fornaio and Poggio, and thought who better to appreciate cardoon. So I did an vegetable antipasti with grilled asparagus and baby spring onions, pickled turnips and carrots, a yummy salami made by my chef pal, Bruce Hill, and cardoon a la grecque.
Cardoon can be found growning wild in the Mediterranean and California this time of year. They look like huge stalks of celery, almost an overgrown thistle reaching upwards of six feet with an artichoke-like flower at the top! Though they aren't in the same family as the artichoke, ironically, that's what they taste like.

Cardoon takes a bit of work but to me, its worth it. Trim the leaves and cut the stalks into maneagable 3 to 4-inch pieces. Peel the outer tough stings and immediately place the cardoon in a bowl of acidulated water. That's just cold water with the juice of lemon. Now you're ready to cook them.


5 stalks cardoon
1 1/2 cups olive oil
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly slced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
24 peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt black pepper

Prep the cardoons as above and set aside in a bowl of acidualted water.
Place the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the ehat and simmer 10 minutes. Add the cardoon and cook until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the cardoon and discard the other solids. Place the cardoon back in the liquid and store in the refrigerator overnight.
To serve, drain the cardoon and bring to room temperature.

Serves 6 happy cardoon lovers


4 cardoon stocks, prepped as above
1 cup all- purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs, whisked together
2 cups Japanese breadcrumbs or panko
Canola oil for deep frying
Homemade garlic mayonnaise

Drain the cardoon.

Place the flour in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Place the eggs in a second bowl and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the panko in a third bowl.

Dredge the cardoon in flour tapping off the excess. Next place the cardoon in the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs. Set aside.Place the oil in a deep heavy pan and heat to 360 degrees F. Fry the cardoon until golden. Place on paper twoels to drain. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve immediately with garlic mayonnaise.

Serves 6

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

eat immediately

Student extraordinaire and food pal, Hilary came over today. She brought a bunch of vegetables from her Petaluma garden, a half dozen eggs from her chickens and a huge bag of asparagus from a friend's asparagus. She's working on a very interesting book project about creativity, teaching and learning. We talked and she interviewed me for about four hours. Boy did I get hungry! After all that talk I needed to get creative and make us some lunch.... An asparagus and Campo de Montalban souffle baked on a platter. I love the technique... Butter an oven-proof platter, dust it with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano and bake the souffle directly on the platter in the top third of the oven. Bakes in one-third the time. Hot out of the oven, was it ever delicious!!!


6 large asparagus spears, ends removed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup milk
4 eggs, separated, room temperature
3/4 cup coarsely grated Campo de Montalban cheese (or Fontina or Gruyere)
Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the asparagus on the diagonal into very thin slices. Warm 1/2 tablespoon butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus and cook stirring occasionally until just tender, 3 minutes. Season with salt.
Butter a 13-inch by 8-inch over proof platter with 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Dust with the grated Parimgiano Reggiano, tilting the platter to cover evenly.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir for 1 minute. Add the milk, all at once, and with a whisk, stir until smooth and thick. Remove from the heat and with a rubber spatula, place in a bowl. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Place the egg whites in a large copper bowl or the bowl to your electric mixer and beat until stiff peaks. Do not over beat. Fold the whites and the Campo de Montalban cheese into the base as quickly as possible without deflating the whites. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed.
Pour the mixture onto the prepared platter and bake in the top third of the oven until well puffed, golden and the souffle doesn't jiggle in the center, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven. No time for photographs, EAT IMMEDIATELY!
Serves 2 creative types!

Friday, April 10, 2009

hot off the press-- TEQUILA

Let's dispel those thoughts that a night of tequila drinking results in a "morning-after" popping aspirin to rid of the horrible headache. Not if you drink 100% agave tequila! FINALLY after much (very fun) research my new tequila book is making its splashy debut! Research consisted of trips to the highlands and lowlands of Jalisco, Mexico to visit the best distilleries, rounding up the most passionate tequila bartenders in the country to give their favorite tequila cocktail recipes and adding another 25 food recipes including tequila! You have to try the Prado,-- an icy cold cocktail, airy and light, with a heavenly foam that crowns the glass. Or the crispy Chorizo Handpies with saffron, tomatoes, olives, cumin and a good dose of blanco tequila!. And for dessert, the Coco Loco Tequila Cupcakes, rich and moist with lots of coconut and ginger! This is an adult-only cupcake providing enough kick to make you feel like you're on vacation south of the border.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

100 miles north of san francisco

Years ago, I remember driving to Mendocino through Anderson Valley eating a picnic at Navarro and visiting the tasting "shed" at Husch. It was so undeveloped, kind of like Napa might have been 50 or 60 years ago. Yesterday at the "Taste of Mendocino" at the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio, for the first half hour, I have to admit, I was kind of uncomfortable. It was a sea of wines, many unfamiliar to me and I whispered to Mariangela, my business manager, "Hey, we don't have to stay long." Four hours later, I had tasted some of the best wines from some of the most passionate, dedicated and talented winemakers. I could have downed a whole glass of the Goldeneye Anderson Valley 2006 Pinot Noir ($55.00) . Also loved McDowell's 2005 Coro Mendocino ($35.00) . Meyer 2004 Mendocino County Syrah, MacPhail 2007 Frattey Shams Pinot Noir ($60.00 ouch), Londer 2006 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($35.00) and one of the best deals of the day, the McNab Ridge 2006 Petite Sirah ($18.00) . That event was big on the learning curve and a big "AH-HA" for me.

Friday, April 3, 2009

more signs of spring

So cool.... I contributed one recipe to the "Cooking with Les Dames D'Escoffier." It happens to be my tribute to spring and came about because I love insalata Caprese, the ubiquitous salad that's served year around in some restaurants with insipid winter tomatoes and rubbery cow's milk mozzarella. I was at the Ferry Terminal and saw the best local buffalo mozzarella (available this time of year) at Cowgirl Creamery and lots of spring vegetables and herbs. That was the inspiration for this salad. I also had a can of the most delicious La Amarilla fruity virgin olive oil on my shelf.


1 ½ pounds fava beans in the pod
½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup fresh shelled English peas
12 ounces mozzarella di bufala or fresh milk mozzarella
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons chopped fresh savory (optional)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups mache or other young tender greens

Peel the outer husk of the fava beans and discard. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the fava beans and boil 30 seconds. Drain, cool the beans and peel the outer bright green shell. Discard the shells and reserve the fava beans.

Bring 2 cups salted water to a boil, add the asparagus and boil until bright green and almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve with the fava beans. Add the peas to the boiling water and simmer 30 seconds. Drain and add to the asparagus and fava beans.

Slice the mozzarella into thin slices and place on a platter. Sprinkle the vegetables onto the platter. Sprinkle the mint, savory and oregano onto the mozzarella and vegetables. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the mache onto the top.

Serves 6