A lot of the grilled vegetables that have passed my plate over the years have been rather boring. In fact, I’ve been to many outdoor BBQ parties where the vegetables feel quite frankly, not much more than an afterthought. You know which veggies I’m thinking about. I may be a grilled veggie lover, but I’ll admit that too many times I’ve politely passed over these veggies in order to get to the main event. These days, for the sake of the planet and my health, I’ve vowed to eat less meat. Which sometimes presents a “center of the plate” dinnertime challenge. Grilled Radicchio with Burrata meets that challenge deliciously.
I do like a good char on food and I spend a lot of time on this blog cooking with high heat. Mastering a controlled char on all sorts of food is the sign of a good cook. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written on this blog how much I love cooking hot and fast. Seared fish is a particular favorite of mine. Especially seared salmon with crispy skin. But if you just can’t give the pan the undivided attention seared fish requires, or you bought skinless salmon fillets then I suggest you try Slow-Roasted Salmon. It’s a forgiving, stress-free method of cooking that makes regular appearances in my kitchen.
The idea is simple. You use a low temperature and cook the salmon a fairly long time (about 25 minutes). When it’s finished a fork inserted in the thickest part of the fish meets with no resistance and the flesh is just beginning to flake when you poke into it. An instant-read thermometer should read no more 120° F.
Slow-Roasted Salmon with Thai BBQ Sauce and Swiss Chard
The results are quite surprising. Slow-Roasted Salmon is incredibly moist with an especially buttery texture which really emphasizes salmon’s inherent richness and big flavor. Qualities I think that beg for something sweet and tangy. Homemade or even good quality store-bought BBQ sauce is the perfect baste for this fish. You can choose something traditional or perhaps give it an Asian vibe as I did. The side dish of chard and barely cooked tomatoes is optional but I like the cross-cultural panache it brings to the plate. GREG
I spent a number of my younger years in Florida. I have happy memories of strolling the beach eyes on the sand searching for shells. My finds were mostly brightly colored coquina, super shiny ceriths, and those ever-abundant olive shells. Occasionally more interesting specimens would wash my way and I’d be rewarded with a striped whelk or a spotted junonia. I still hit the beach sometimes and I still look for shells (in fact I’m in Key West right now!). However these days I usually leave them where I found them. Which isn’t to say I no longer get excited about shells. In fact, shells in the sink make me giddy. Particularly clam shells. Because clams in the sink mean steamed clams on the menu.
I remember the first time I really appreciated steamed clams – though it wasn’t on a Florida beach – it was in a beach town all the way across the country. I was in college and I stumbled upon Brophy Bros. restaurant in Santa Barbara, California. The restaurant sat (and still sits) on the second story of a wooden marina building on the bustling docks at the Santa Barbara Harbor. I recall a heaping bowl of shells and a half boule of sourdough bread being placed in front of me. Digging through all those shells in order to pluck out a minuscule muscle hardly seemed worth the effort. Which set me up for quite a surprise when I tasted those sweet like the sea, plump clam morsels. Maybe it was the cold beer or the spectacular view, but all I remember was the pure joy of tasting the sea by the sea. To this day there are very few meals in my life that can take me back to a time and place as quickly as steamed clams.
Steamed Clams with Chickpeas and Green Garlic
When I see clam shells in my sink I know that they carry a lot of nostalgic culinary baggage, so I quickly remind myself of the old mantra that says the best cooking comes when a just a few simple ingredients are treated with respect. Which often means doing as little as possible and simply enjoying the process. Because the process can be as wonderful as it is simple. All you need is a bit of broth – I’ve chosen white wine enriched with a decent amount of cream – and enough heat so that the clams steam open. If you’re crazy enough to put your ear near the pan as the steamed clams cook you’ll actually hear a sort of clattering as they open their shells, release their liquor with abandon, and reveal their plump secret. GREG
PS All these accolades for steamed clams and I totally forgot to point out the other special ingredient in this recipe – green garlic. It’s only available for a short while in spring. What’s green garlic? Well, in one of the greatest cookbooks ever published, Chez Panisse Cooking, Alice Waters, and Paul Bertolli write: “Garlic is commonly used as a mature plant when the bulb containing many cloves has formed. Green garlic is the same plant pulled from the ground at a much earlier stage, before the bulb forms and when the plant resembles a leek, with a stalk about 1/2-inch in diameter…Until recently, green garlic never appeared in the market and was largely unrecognized by cooks. The quality of green garlic is unique and of great use in the kitchen.”
Though I’m traveling at the moment and need to be brief, I’ve got a smashing recipe I’d like to share. And I do mean smashing. I don’t know why but people love food when it’s smashed. I’m sure you’ve seen kids with peas and a fork. Though I acknowledge with kids smashed peas can be weaponized as easily as they can be pulverized. So it’s easy to doubt their motivation. Still, I maintain my thesis. People love smashed peas. Adults too. Although we do it with a bit more sophistication and we rarely flick them across the room on the back of a spoon. Especially when they’re served with whipped goat cheese on toast.
Smashed Peas and Whipped Goat Cheese on Toast
Things on toast, especially for breakfast, are having something of a renaissance at the moment. It’s a culinary category that’s hard to beat for its versatility and its portability. But I prefer things on toast as more as a light bite. The kind of late lunch or afternoon snack you’d serve after a big holiday breakfast (say Easter for example). This blog has not been immune to the trend. Fava beans, mushrooms and of course avocado come to mind. Today I have come up with a fresh as spring smashed peas recipe using the same smashing concept that people seem to love. GREG
Easter is a big deal in Italy and some sort of ricotta pie is quite often a part of the Italian holiday table. The most traditional Easter pie is the pastiera. It’s a lattice-topped, sweet and savory torte filled with ricotta, beaten eggs, and wheat berries. It’s often flavored with candied fruits and a dash of sugar and cinnamon. As much as I like the idea of this traditional Easter pastiera I think that it may be an acquired taste. I’m not saying I dislike pastiera but – much like Christmastime fruitcake – I’ve yet to taste a version that inspires me to create my own. Still, fresh sheep’s milk ricotta does seem to perfectly suit the holiday so I’ve turned to another lattice-embellished Italian tart – the ricotta crostata.
Raisin-Ricotta Crostata. That’s such a happy little rhyme. In fact, it’s practically poetry so I don’t feel I need to say much more. But I would like you to know that this simple, not-too-sweet Italian tart is reminiscent of a cheesecake with a higher crust-to-filling ratio. Which also sounds like music to my ears because the crust is a sweet Italian pastry known as pasta frolla. It’s richer, silkier, and of course sweeter than the all-butter slightly salty French pastry crust I make by rote. As for the filling in this Raisin-Ricotta Crostata, well, that’s where this recipe really shines. It’s a barely sweet, shallow layer of ricotta beaten until smooth then laced with booze-soaked golden raisins. I’ve also scented it with just enough cinnamon to add complexity without making it taste like Christmas. Afterall, it’s an Easter pie. Happy Easter. GREG
PS: It’s well worth seeking out really good fresh sheep’s milk ricotta for this recipe because you will be able to taste the tang of it against the sweet pastry dough. Cow’s milk ricotta makes a perfectly delicious ricotta crostata too, just make sure to drain it well.
It’s officially spring now. So what springs into your mind this time of year? Why peas of course! As soon as I hear that distinct boing from a spring that has fully sprung I start thinking about ways to cook with sweet, fresh English peas. However, as I was making this pea puree I began to wonder why I wait until spring to get so excited about peas. Peas are the ultimate vegetable. They’re reliable, versatile and almost as good frozen as fresh. In fact, most of us always have a bag of frozen peas lurking in our freezer, but it’s rare that we ever let them be the star of the show.
This halibut recipe features springtime peas (fresh or frozen) in a mash of what I’d more properly what call a pea puree. It’s not much more than lightly seasoned smashed peas blended with a little half-and-half. However, it’s a simple combination they really absorbs the surrounding flavors very well. It also adds a beautiful color and texture to your plate. GREG
I look forward to big, fat springtime asparagus and I’ve allotted quite a bit of space to the beautiful green spears that deliciously beckon the arrival of warmer days. Some of my favorites include Bistro-Inspired Asparagus with Mimosa Sauce and Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad. Here in Southern California green asparagus season is April thru June. However, there’s another shorter (sweeter) asparagus season and it begins right now. I’m talking about white asparagus. White asparagus pairs beautifully with grapefruit. Which is great because Ruby Red Texas Grapefruit also hits its stride in March. Add to that a third seasonal favorite, California avocados, and you’ve got a White Asparagus and Grapefruit Salad with Green Goddess Dressing that suits the season perfectly.
Genetically speaking white asparagus is no different than green asparagus, with one exception. White asparagus never sees the sun so it never develops the chlorophyll that would turn the stalks green. It’s a time-honored agricultural process, and though farmers have a made some concessions for modernity, the cultivation of white asparagus has remained largely the same for many generations.
Farmers plant the stalks in long mounded rows. As the plants grow, the rising spears are piled with dirt. The least amount of sunlight could color the asparagus and ruin the entire crop. It’s a fascinating process, but the most important result the cook needs to know is that white asparagus develops a fibrous skin and therefore should be peeled before cooking.
As I said white asparagus is identical to herbaceous green asparagus (minus the chlorophyll). However, it tastes quite different because it carries the terroir of the soil its grown in. As with wine grapes, the soil actually influences the flavor. So my California grown Asparagus and Grapefruit Salad might taste different from the version you whip up in your own neck of the woods. That’s fascinating, don’t you think? GREG
Sometimes I think I get into trouble with you my gentle readers because I don’t do as many “wow” recipes as I used to. I realize seared scallops can knock it out of the park and many people are cruising blogs looking for quadruple-layer chocolate cakes to satisfy their food fantasies. So yes, I know in my heart that today’s Golden Beet Salad with Avocado and Haricot Verts might be a disappointment to those of you looking for gravity-defying-stacks of fantastical food. However neither my wallet nor waistline can afford these treats on a daily basis. So as much as I love bringing the wow-factor every now and again, I can honestly say that I also enjoy presenting real food from real life.
Golden Beet Salad
For me, real food and real life include eating seasonally. Prime season for ripe California Avocados starts right now. Which is why I have chosen this Golden Beet Salad with Avocado and Haricot Verts. It’s fresh and seasonal. It has just a few ingredients – each one chosen to augment the other. While it’s true that this is “just a salad” I like to think that it’s in no way boring. Because you don’t need to switch into zombie mode every time you make a green salad. A salad does not have to limit itself to lettuce and tomatoes.
Take this salad: beets, avocado, watercress, haricot verts, some herbs, and spices – nary a legit lettuce leaf to be located. But it’s a winning combination nonetheless. It has diverse textures and bold flavors. The creamy California Hass Avocados I chose add a luxurious counterpoint to the crunch and snap of barely cooked green beans. A sweet and sour dressing along with cilantro and mint make the flavors bright, but the peppery bite of watercress keeps it from getting too cloying.
This nourishing creation could probably be dubbed a “superfood” salad, a term I try not to use much, mainly because I think all food is “super”. Still, there’s so much good stuff in here that it makes you feel conscientious just looking at these pics. Served as it is it’s a terrific first course. However it can also be a substantial meal – just scatter some lean protein and/or chunks of creamy goat cheese over the top.
Which doesn’t mean you won’t find a perfect sliver of seared goose liver resting on toasted brioche and served alongside a dollop of pineapple and pink peppercorn chutney right here on these very pages sometime very soon. My interests and tastes are diverse. I find joy in the simplicity of good food as well as the drama of true gastronomy. So keep coming back. I always want to keep you guessing. GREG
California Avocados did not compensate me for this post, but as a Californian, I love to feature California produce whenever I can.
I like mangoes. I’ve always liked mangoes. In fact, I’ve featured them on this blog. Here… Here… and Here. I always thought there were just two types of mango. The big egg-shaped mango and the smaller comma-shaped mango. Or in my layman’s terms the Hawaiian mango and the Mexican mango. But I’ve recently discovered that someone’s been holding out on me. There’s also an Indian mango more appropriately called Alphonso mango. All I can say is I hope you seek this mango out. I bought some at an Indian market and I can honestly say the Alphonso mango is now my favorite mango. It’s unbeatable for its buttery flesh, incredible fragrance, and perfectly balanced sweetness.
The Alphonso mango does have a downside. The price. They can cost as much as $4 apiece. But don’t let that stop you. If you can find one buy one. Better yet, buy a dozen. If ever there was a fruit to teach us the art of living in the moment, it’s the Indian mango. The season is fleeting (from now until the end of June) and supplies are often limited so don’t dilly-dally. Seize the day, be brave and buy a bunch when they’re still unripe and green. Then watch as they change color dramatically, transforming from a hard and sour fruit into something golden-hued and altogether richer and sweeter than any mango you’ve ever tasted.
If you find you have too many mangoes ripening all at once, go ahead and pickle some of them. I did in this (spicy-pricey) Pickled Mango Salad with Thai Bird Chile. GREG
I’ve recently returned from Mérida, Mexico – the capital city of the Yucatán region – where I threw myself into a self-proposed project to taste as much of the street food of Mérida as possible. There’s a lot to love when it comes to the street food of Mérida too. It’s a place where taco-like panuchos and salbutes are sold on street corners, large steamers of tamales wrapped in banana leaves are peddled from roving tricycle carts and intoxicating smells waft from the simmering pots of the tiny fondas that ring almost every public square in the city. The street food scene is so vibrant that you’ll never be able to try it all.
Though you’ll see from the photos that I gave it a good go!
If you haven’t been to Mexico or immersed yourself in its cuisine it’s easy to assume that tacos and burritos are the best the country has to offer. While these two favorites certainly are ubiquitous, Mexico, much like Italy, is a country of great culinary diversity and clear regional differences. To know and love the real food of Mexico is to delve into the specialties specific to each region.
This is especially true of Mérida. The culinary delights of Yucatecan food are quite distinct from traditional Mexican cuisine. The food is irresistible, influenced by Mayan, Caribbean, and Spanish cuisines. Key ingredients range from locally grown products such as pumpkin seed, oregano, red onion, sour orange, sweet chili, tomato, achiote, the xcatic chile, and habanero pepper to turkey meat. You might not consider turkey to be a Mexican ingredient but it’s a traditional component in many of the regional specialties of the area.
Before I get into all the street food let me tell you a little about the city. Mérida, Mexico is an architectural jewel of brightly painted mansions lining a grid of cobblestone streets and interconnected public squares. Considered the capital city of the Yucatán it has one of the country’s largest historic centers outside Mexico City. It’s an elegant place where Mayan ruins and colonial architecture come together gracefully – reinvented by a newly emerging expatriate community who are converting the colonial mansions and haciendas into sophisticated hotels, bistros, and beautiful private homes.
While it’s true that Mérida is becoming a world-class restaurant town and boasts an exquisite gastronomic heritage, it’s also a place where simple street food may be the most exciting culinary contribution to the city’s culture. The Plaza Mayor is a vibrant meeting place in the center of town where locals escape the mid-day heat sipping champola on leaf shrouded benches or chat with friends late into the night over scoops of icy sorbet. On weekends the choices become even more exciting as food vendors invade the square from all corners.
Street food in Mérida dates back to pre-Hispanic times – the Spaniards were probably amazed to find an array of ready-to-eat food for sale on the streets when they arrived. Not much has changed since then: the streets still teem with carts and makeshift fondas slinging fast, cheap, delicious eats. Who needs Michelin stars when you have street eats this good? GREG