Wednesday, October 28, 2009

cinque terre

I've been to the Cinque Terre twice before. I've hiked the trails from one fishing village to another, eaten pesto, fritto misto and tasted the white wine made here in Liguria. The other times I visited I remember thinking that I just didn't get what all the hype was about. It was supposed to be so romantic,- 5 fishing villages along the Mediterranean connected by a train, the Via d'Amore or ferry. But what I recall during those two visits was bumping into people on the trails, visiting tourist-ridden fishing villages, experiencing sweltering heat and suffering mediocre food. I knew there had to be more because every time someone talked about their trip to the Cinque Terre, they had a twinkle in their eye.

Why was it different for me this time? Why did the pesto taste so sweet? Why didn't I know about the Albarola, Bosco and Vermentino grapes and how good they tasted with the crispy, tender fritto misto? The hotel was far from luxurious so it couldn't be that. Was it the warmth that Felicita and Angelo Pasini, the owners of Albergo Pasquale, extended making me feel like their hotel was my home? Were the villages more quaint? Had the Cinque Terre changed or had I?

I arrived at the Albergo in the heart of Monterosso just two weeks ago, the first day of my weeklong cooking class. As soon as I walked in the door, I knew I'd made the right decision. I immediately revisited the kitchen I'd seen a year ago on a scouting trip and yes, it was well equipped and had enough space for my 12 students. I then went upstairs to my room and it was very basic at best, but when I opened the shutters, the Mediterranean Sea was right there before me.

In the first few minutes I knew that for me it was a magical place I couldn't wait to explore. And I had a whole week to do it! But would my students get it? I just had to hope. And I'd be finding out soon because I had just minutes until they'd arrive.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

something about stella

When I was about ten years old, Stella Ginsberg's age, I wanted to make oatmeal cookies all by myself. I remember measuring out everything, the flour, oatmeal, butter, baking powder and salt. I even cracked the egg. I called my Mom who was in the other room, "Mom, we ran out of baking soda." "That's funny" she said, "I just bought box the other day."

As I scooped the last of the cookies onto a baking sheet, I got all excited. I popped them into the oven, switched on the oven light and grabbed a chair to sit in front of the oven and watch my cookies bake. For the next ten minutes, I watched as the cookies spread out covering the entire baking sheet, over the sides and onto the floor of the oven. Horrified I called my mother. We realized I'd added 1 cup of baking soda instead of 1 teaspoon.
As we scraped the cookies off the baking sheet and into the trash, my mother broke off a piece and tasted it. "They're still good!" she said, not ever wanting to hurt my feelings.

Last week when I was in LA, I visited my friend, Stella. I've known her Mom for several years. and since Stella loves everything food, she and I have become cooking buddies.

Last week she called me for an informational interview for a biography she was writing for her 5th grade class. This gave me an idea, I'll interview her! After all, she's a very interesting, smart, funny, inquisitive kid. And I love her dimples! (Seriously, if I had a daughter, I'd want her to be just like Stella!)

So how did Stella get interested in cooking? Her Mom loves to cook, so did her grandmother and great grandmother. What does cooking and food mean to her? She said, "That's simple, love!" What's her worst cooking disaster? Every year, Stella, her brother and her Dad make chocolate cupcakes for their Mom's birthday which happens to fall near Mother's Day. One year, by mistake, Stella put unsweetened cocoa in the cupcakes instead of sweetened cocoa powder. Stella and Jack tried them and couldn't even eat one they were so bitter. When their Mom tasted them, she loved them.

Stella's Mom reminds me of my Mom. Check out Stella's blog, it's pretty cool, just like her! And maybe she'll even share her recipe for chocolate cupcakes?!

Friday, October 9, 2009

rome and cinqueterre

My Dad always called me his "wandering gypsy!" I'm beginning to think he was right!

I leave for Rome this morning. I'll be in Rome for the weekend with my friend, Jill. Tuesday we head to the Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre for my weeklong cooking course with twelve students. Should be amazing this time of year. I have good walking shoes, lots of aprons and my knives.

If you want to follow me, I'll be doing lots of tweets on twitter, so check it out! My address @joanneweir1

fall salad recipe

Love fall, love being home in San Francisco and love cooking again! Last night, I had John and Derek for dinner. I was dying for sauerkraut with braised pork and sausages but what should I serve for a first course...

There is an incredibly short window for this salad! This is the time when figs are just going out of season and Fuju persimmons and pomegranates are just coming to market. Perfect! I can make one of my favorite salads.

What about wine? Are you ever in a quandary as to what wine to serve with salad? The acid of the vinaigrette really makes you think.... I had a really nice bottle of Navarro Riesling which I thought could be wonderful with the salad if I did things right.

I opened the bottle and tasted it. Delicious! I poured about a cup of the wine into a saucepan and reduced it until about a tablespoon or so was left. I whisked that into the dressing and served the same wine along with the salad. An absolutely perfect match!

You have to try this salad. Be forewarned... Do it today! The fruits should all be there and available!


1 cup dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch escarole or frisee, torn into 2 to 3-inch pieces
1 Fuju persimmon, cut into thin slices
1 ripe pear, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
6 figs, halve
25 red and/or green grapes, halved
1 small pomegranate, seeds removed and separated

In a small saucepan over high heat, reduce the wine until 1 to 2 tablespoons remain. Let cool. In a small bowl, whisk together the reduced wine, vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place the escarole or frisee, persimmon slices, pear slices, figs and grapes in a bowl. Add the vinaigrette and gently toss together. Place on individual salad plates and garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.

Serves 6