There was absolutely no way I could resist the fantastic selection of exotic mushrooms for sale at the Torrance Farmers Market. Chanterelles, Black Trumpets, Cordycep Militaris, Chestnut Royale, Wood Ear, Persimmon Enoki and Blue Foots to name a few… I paired them with Pink Peppercorns from my neighborhood trees to create a mysterious and colorful WildMushroom Still Life. Due to their psychedelic deep lilac colored stems, the Blue Foots just had to take center stage.
blue foot (pied bleu) – highly perfumed aroma and flavor, cook before eating
chanterelles – nutty with a fruity aroma
cordeycep militaris – savory earthy-nutty flavor
persimmon enoki – impossibly fruity!
black trumpet – buttery woodsy smoky flavor
chestnut royale – porous texture absorbs other flavors (like butter) well
wood ear – crunchy gelatinous texture
After the photoshoot, what did I do with all those various wild mushrooms?
Pan-Seared Branzino (Mediterranean Sea Bass) Fuyu Persimmon “Pico de Gallo”
The fuyu’s shape and size, plus its firm but supple texture is somewhat reminiscent of a tomato…which gave me the idea to try it as a substitute for that unseasonal fruit in a wintery version of pico de gallo. The Korean market where I often shop has huge displays of both fuyu and hachiya varieties of the persimmon, in season October through February. This salsa fresca is savory but has a hint of honey-apple sweetness. It has bracing acidity from the fresh lime juice and medium spiciness from the jalapeno. In addition to making a bright refreshing topping for this sea bass we thoroughly enjoyed it paired with a crispy-skin salmon too.
Loup de Mer à la Provençale
Prepared in Honor of Julia Child’s 100th Birthday
Crispy Skin Mediterranean Sea Bass
Provence-Style Salad with Anchovy
Roquette, Green Bell Pepper, Red Onion, Tomato, Cucumber, Olive
Herb Garlic Vinaigrette
“Simca, Paul, Patricia, and I… penetrated into this beautiful courtyard and were seated at a little white table beneath a leafy trellis. It was a splendid lunch, moving from apéritifs to pâté of fresh duck livers and truffles, thick slices of pain brioche, a timbale, tomatoes and a green salad. But the real reason we were there was for the loup de mer.” Julia Child, My Life in France
Here we are on the sparkling azure Mediterranean. I’m in the cucina with Chefs Norma and Debi, cooking for opening day of our virtual ristoranteCiao Fiore! Norma is in the process making ricotta fresca for the extravagant antipasti tavola, and Debi is using sodium alginate and calcium chloride to craft the strawberry caviar which will top her lavender & mascarpone panna cotta as a part of the fabulous dessert course.
My job is to execute the main course, and with the risotto already done, imagine my delight as the fishing boat pulled up to the dock, loaded with just-caught branzino! Fresh from the sea pan-seared fillets will be served with salmoriglio, a Sicilian fish sauce made with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs. For our grand opening, this particular version of the classic sauce will be enhanced with Meyer lemon confit, red chiles, cucumber, and Castelvetrano olives. Borage blossoms will finish the dish, with their sweet cucumber flavor accenting the sauce while their bright blue hue mirrors the sea.
Discovering Calabria – A Rustic Southern Italian Dinner Party
Inspired this past weekend, by the recent gift of a new Calabrese cookbook, my friends and I prepared an authentic Southern Italian feast. The setting was beautifully simple, complete with herbs, flowers and citrus fruits from our gardens. For the menu, we adapted seven recipes from My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino with Janet Fletcher, with outstanding results.
We enjoyed exploring this lesser known regional cuisine, learning about the remote and somewhat mysterious Calabria as we constructed our menu. Dusty and hot mountainous regions, steep slopes, and narrow coastlines all contribute to the uniqueness that is La Cucina Calabrese.
We served esoteric Italian wines with the meal, wines that paired well with the simple yet robust Calabrese cuisine. Unfortunately we had difficulty locating wine specifically from Calabria, but we certainly were not disappointed with the fabulous bottles that graced our table. And we enjoyed Gino’s locally famous homemade limoncello to cap off the affair.
Unlike most of our dinner parties, the dishes were served family style. There was plenty of conviviality and great food & drink, as we experienced Southern Italy via Southern California.