returning recently from a fun family wedding and blissful, relaxing vacation in greece with its own share of delicious food, andy and i made a two day stopover in rome.our flights were through rome, andy had never been there, and since my pavlovian response to any mention of italy is memories of all the amazing food I have eaten there, i experienced a temporary suspension of reason, forgetting that in spite of the heavenly food, rome in july is a blazing, humid hell of tourists, lineups, scam artists and more tourists.did i mention the throngs of tourists?
what made it all worthwhile for me was the opportunity to revisit the roman institution of roscioli salumeria and vineria (since 1974), where i’d had the pleasure of a salami and cheese platter many years ago, but not a full meal.the cozy space is crammed from top to bottom with wines, antipasti, pig legs cured in various manners, and over 300 different cheeses, only the very best that italy has to offer. (i was surprised to see that they were also selling spanish jamon iberico, aged 6 years, at $300/kilo.i guess importing is ok for an ingredient so exceptional!) in the evening a full menu based on these amazing ingredients is offered.the first evening we tried to go, we were politely but firmly rejected as we did not have a reservation, but we secured one for the next night.phew!
weary after a day of endless walking, crowds and sightseeing but refreshed by naps and showers, we returned to roscioli the next evening with anticipation running high.poring over the menu, we decided on a selection that we hoped would give us a broad enough overview of dishes in a single meal.i only wish the portions had been smaller so we could have sampled more!we shared all of the dishes, and noticed that all the other couples near us seemed to be doing the same.i accompanied my food with glasses of a bright white from fruilano, while andy enjoyed a smooth and silky brunello di montalcino. here is what we ate:
antipasti - selection of italian prosciuttos:parma, san daniele, monti sibillini, sauris, d’osvaldo, speck dell’alto adige.not much to say about this.prosciutto heaven!
our second antipasti was the burrata from andria (where burrata was invented!) with malaysian black pepper and semi-dried cherry tomatoes from pachino.i think this was the highlight of the entire meal for me.it doesn’t get more decadent than this - velvety burrata with intense, sweet dried tomatoes – incredible.i had already eaten quite a lot of the dish before i got around to taking this photo!
pasta (not shown) - spaghettone with vulcano red tuna, chili, black olives and tomatoes . oily, salty, and tangy with long pasta pleasantly al dente.
primi - la polpette – traditional roman meatballs served with chestnut polenta and a smoky tomato sauce.this was andy’s favourite.perfectly seasoned and the nutty polenta was fantastic!
dolci - tiramisu – simple and rich. the best i’ve ever had.
and finally, thick, delicious, bright espresso without a hint of bitterness (sourced from timor) accompanied by complimentary buttery pistachio shortbreads with amadei chocolate fondue (70% cacao) to end the meal.oh.my.god. when all the shortbreads were gone we scooped this amazing liquid chocolate out of the bowl with our coffee spoons.
needless to say, i would recommend roscioli as a must for any food lover visting rome. though they take themselves very seriously (with good reason) and the ingredients are meticulously sourced, it’s not pretentious at all. we left stuffed, starry-eyed, and feeling like we’d experienced the magic of rome.
sometimes, when you have a whole saturday afternoon deliciously stretching ahead of you, nothing appeals more than a project where you can get your hands dirty and then sink your teeth into, literally. a project like making fresh pizza dough, promising smells of yeast and flour filling your kitchen, satisfaction of kneading, dough patiently rising in a warm corner. and then there are other times, like friday night at the end of an endless work week, and you’re craving a delicious savoury pizza and a chilled glass of wine and going to bed early in anticipation of saturday, the only day of the week that’s truly your own.
i recently made a discovery for that second case, those friday nights. at gelson’s gourmet grocery store here in santa barbara, the wolfgang puck outlet will sell you its perfectly pillowy pizza dough, fresh and elastic. all you have to do is go home, roll it out, spread over some crushed italian tomatoes, top with shredded fontina (my favourite italian cheese for melting) and bake on a pizza stone in the hottest oven (500C+) possible. when it comes out, scatter over arugula, then drape with proscuitto, both of which will tenderly and pleasantly wilt from the heat of the pizza. or if you prefer, add some spicy italian salami before baking instead of the proscuitto. enjoy with a fresh green salad with a strong red wine vinaigrette, and that chilled glass of wine i mentioned (very important step - don’t skip).
milestone birthdays call for a special celebration, right? for andy’s 40th, we headed to Nobu in Beverly Hills to enjoy what we hoped would be some of the finest quality sushi we had ever experienced. thankfully, we weren’t disappointed. the restaurant was quite beautiful inside, and we took a few minutes to soak it in, get settled, and check out the other diners, who seemed there less for the amazing food, and more for the classic LA scene. we started off with some very nice cocktails (mine involved champagne, cassis, and raspberries) and got started perusing the rather extensive menu. in the end we chose a few dishes that we really wanted to try, such as Nobu’s signature miso black cod, and our server filled in the rest of the courses with hot and cold dishes incorporating what was fresh that evening and other restaurant specialties. we let her know that we love sashimi and that we wanted to try bluefin tuna (before it goes extinct - i know that seems irreverent and i’m sorry), and had no problem with red meat. here’s what we enjoyed:
bluefin tuna carpaccio with jalapeno and cilantro oil
yellowtail sashimi with baby artichoke salad
2 kinds of nobu sashimi tacos - crab and wagyu beef
truffled panko crusted scallops with wild mushrooms
rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce
black cod with miso.
and to cap it all off, we had an order of salmon nigiri, one apiece. the salmon was so meltingly fresh, so succulent with a quick dip in their rich, special house soy sauce, that we wished we had made a meal only of the suberb sushi and sashimi, prepared as simply as possible. not to say the dishes we had weren’t excellent. the highlights for me were the light and crisp tacos with a squeeze of lime, especially the amazingly marbled and tender wagyu beef which neither of us had had the pleasure of eating before. and the scallop dish, with its earthy and intense mushrooms had so much depth of flavour i could barely handle it. so all in all, a very satisfying experience, and i’ll go as far to say that it was definitely worth the hefty bill at the finish. i’ll continue dreaming about soft, fresh and sweet raw fish until the next time i have i have the good fortune to enjoy some quite so delicious.
i haven’t been so good at updating recently, so this is a little out of date but still timely as the kind of food you want to eat mid-january; something that fills the house with delicious aromas and anticipation over a weekend, flavours deepened and infused by concentrating and roasting in a slow oven that warms your kitchen, and a tender yet intense result that fortifies your tummy for a chilly night ahead. it’s thomas keller’s two day braised shortribs, out of the ad hoc at home cookbook, involving beautifully marbled beef, rich beef stock, an entire bottle of red wine, and copious amounts of aromatic veggies. the meat is seared, then slow braised and then allowed to cool in the braising liquid overnight, and finally slowly pan and oven-warmed and served with the reduction of its juices. the sauce alone is a sensation; smooth and velvety liquid beef with incredible depth and layering of flavour. i served the ribs with keller’s garlic confit mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus, and a green salad with strong vinaigrette to provide some relief from the incredible richness. i have more shortrib meat in the freezer, awaiting the same treatment in late january or february; can’t wait to savour this dish again soon.
well, this so-called summer in coastal california has been so in name only. with average highs in the mid-60s, evening temperatures dropping into the low 50s, and plenty of fog, mist and drizzle, it’s been serious sweater weather! this doesn’t help the tomatoes, who need those smoking hot, dazzlingly bright afternoons and balmy humid evenings to develop the rich and intense flavour characteristic of a truly great in-season tomato. our slowly ripening tomatoes are tasting little better than the winter supermarket varietal… what a disappointment.
i was, however, able to find a little basket of california heirloom cherry tomatoes at whole foods the other day, most likely grown somewhere inland and sunny. they were sweet-tart and incredibly intense. i sauteed a few cloves of smashed garlic in generous amounts of olive oil, tossed in the cherries, and cooked until they were just barely starting to burst. a quick toss with some ricotta-spinach ravioli, a sprinkling of basil, cracked pepper and freshly grated parmesan, and i had the fastest and summeriest meal of the season yet. i guess the salted, thickly sliced, beefsteak tomato, crispy bacon, and mayo sandwich on sourdough will have to wait until next year.
i returned last month from a lovely though too brief sojourn in cape cod, where i found myself enjoying the ultra casual approach to seafood embraced there. this is an attitude that works only when you have the freshest and most plentiful bounty of fruits de mer, which they obviously do. grilled swordfish, fried scallops, and of course the legendary and ubiquitous lobster roll were some of the highlights for me. i was fortunate to sample a couple of lobster rolls, and while there was never a disappointment, the photo above represents my favourite. liberal amounts of, though not too much, mayo, generous chunks of sweet lobster meat, chopped scallions, and a soft white Portuguese roll provided the winning combination. can’t wait for next year!
so today i have a confession to make and a secret to share. coming, as i do, from the great white north, i used to associate california produce with rock hard, golf ball sized, white-in-the-middle strawberries, tasteless year-round asparagus, and the ubiquitous droopy bagged salad. i suppose that having access to this inferior if well traveled fresh produce was indeed preferable compared with making do with what was locally in season during the Canadian winter. i’ll leave you to contemplate on your own the consequences of that statement. but i digress.
having now lived here in california for more than three years, i have the pleasure of confidence in the best kept secret, which is that we keep all the good stuff here for ourselves. all i have to do is make a small effort to seek it out, at the farmer’s market or produce stands, each vegetable or fruit taking its turn in a natural and sunlit seasonal spotlight. each weekend i dig my crumpled bills and clinking coins out of my pocket and make the trade with the vendor for my small and colourful treasures, hardly believing my good fortune at the benevolence of the exchange. lately my obsession has been fruit; rosy cheeked rainier and jammy black cherries, musky and sweet tuscan cantaloupe; fleshy, juice dribbling nectarines and peaches. i’ve only barely recovered from strawberry season; for weeks we had been enjoying them sliced and macerated in a hint of sugar or honey, crowned with softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or even better, turned into ice cream themselves.
and so the new ritual; saturday farmer’s market, let the fruit ripen to perfection over the weekend, and then we all sit down on monday night after dinner and devour a huge plate of of the sweetest fruit, licking the juices from our fingers greedily.
it’s friday night and i was seriously craving a night in and some comfort food, so i made it happen. a pound of al dente pasta mixed in with a luscious creamy sauce; butter/flour/roux/hot milk, you know the drill. spiced with nutmeg and cayenne; big handfuls of shredded gruyere and extra sharp cheddar, topped off with buttery breadcrumbs and baked until delectable. salad garnish for the semblance of balance. i’ll see you on saturday.
the incredibly unassuming lily’s taqueria is tucked away at the very edge of downtown santa barbara. it’s at the end of a dead end street right beside the freeway, and offers only a handful of items on its singularly focused menu (vegetarians beware). but if you manage to find your way there, i promise you won’t be disappointed.
while i’m not quite brave enough to try lip, cheek, tongue or eye tacos, the steak asada and pork adobada (spicy shepherd’s style) varieties, garnished with radish, cilantro, onion and lime, are the stuff my food fantasies are made of. rich, tangy and piquant, once you have finished two or three of these little bundles, your mouth will be pleasantly burning and your appetite just whetted. the only solution is another couple of tacos, and a chilled bottle of mexican coke with real sugar. now, if only they had beer…
seared scallops, garlicky white bean puree, proscuitto crisps, roasted tomato, arugula, and lemon/olive oil drizzle. salty, sweet and sharp; a perfect combination of flavours from jamie oliver.
i followed thomas keller’s advice from his amazing new cook book, ad hoc at home, regarding the scallops. ten minutes in a salty brine for thorough seasoning, and a sizzling hot metal (not non-stick!) pan with clarified butter for deep caramelization. the scallops i was able to find tonight were a little too small to get that perfect brown crust before completely cooking through but we enjoyed them all the same.