I’ve been somewhat down lately. It seems to me that good ol’ common sense has gone out the window– disrupting everything from what’s politically acceptable to what’s environmentally necessary. Our views are polarized and most people are unwilling to cross the aisle. Well, I decided to breach one of my own boundaries and cross La Cienega Boulevard (LA’s east-west dividing line whose crossing represents a real commitment).
Estate Proprietor Taylor Rothchild graciously hosted the evening and introduced the history and distinctive qualities of each of his wines. He began by telling us that the brand name Tayson Pierce is a mash-up of his and his brothers’ names: Taylor, Grayson, and Pierce. Taylor followed in his father Eric’s winemaking footsteps (foot stomps?) and traveled to France, Italy, Greece, and Croatia to broaden his oenological experience. Once settled back in Rutherford, California, Taylor introduced a line of vintage, NV and Rosé Champagnes (produced in France of course) and crafted the wine we’ll explore in this post, the Rothchild Rosé.
But first, a few words about Champagne Éric Philippe. I was especially taken with the Extra Brut, made from a blend of Grand Cru and Premier Cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The toasty notes of brioche, almonds and green apple along with a healthy dose of acidity loudly spoke French to me. I found it a delightful, true representation of classic, slightly funky Champagne flavors– enhanced by a low 1% dosage (added sugar) to naturally express terroir. My favorite of the three Champagnes we tasted.
Seafood cries out (unfortunate lobster connotation) for a wine with a fair amount of acid and minerality. The Rothchild Rosé is bright and somewhat saline, with a distinctly round and juicy mouthfeel. Citrus and stone fruit flavors, with tart raspberry notes from the Grenache, complement the pomegranate arils in the wrap. The wine’s bracing acidity, along with fresh crunchy lettuce, cuts through the succulent texture of the lobster and the rich celery root remoulade. This new Rothchild Rosé is elegant and rich, with layered lingering flavors and a nice weight. Yum! I do feel better. KEN
1 celery root(peeled and cut into fine julienned "matchsticks")
¼ olive oil
8 whole little gem lettuce leaves
8 whole baby red butter lettuce leaves(or similar red lettuce)
8 whole parilla sesame leaves(you may also use shiso leaves)
micro-green or fresh baby herbs(as needed for garnish)
2-3 tablespoonpomegranate molasses
Make the sesame remoulade: In a medium bowl combine tahini, lemon juice, Dijon and whole-grain mustard. Whisk until smooth and then begin to slowly add the sesame oil, whisking the whole time, until emulsified and thick. You might not use all of the oil, use your judgment. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss julienned celery root with just enough of the sesame remoulade mixture to coat. Set aside up to 2 hours in advance.
Just before serving heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high.
Leaving the lobster in its shell cut the lobster tails in half lengthwise. Brush the exposed flesh with olive oil and season them with salt, and pepper. Run a skewer lengthwise through each tail section to keep it straight while grilling. Set the tails aside while prepping the serving plates with the rest of the ingredients.
Create the lettuce wraps by placing a green little gem lettuce leaf onto the center of each of 8 salad plates, top each with a baby red butter lettuce leaf, and then a sesame leaf. Scatter a few fresh micro-greens on top of the lettuce stacks.
When ready to serve grill the lobster tails flesh side down for approximately 5 minutes, then flip for another 3 or 4 minutes until cooked through. Quickly remove the tail meat from the shells and place them together in a large bowl. Gently toss with pomegranate molasses. Season lightly with salt and pepper if you like.
Top each of the lettuce stacks with one section of lobster tail, about 2 heaping spoonfuls of the celery root mixture, a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and a few more fresh micro-greens. Serve immediately, encouraging the diner to pick the wraps up and eat them out of hand.
Make sure you take the time to create a slurry with the flour and stock before you add either to the pot. The creamy dairy-free texture comes about once this slurry is heated. Of course, you can use plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream (or skip it altogether) if you prefer a truly dairy-free version of this soup. Briefly cooking the pumpkin seeds and cumin in hot oil – a process known as blooming – draws out the aroma of the seeds and spices and deepens their flavor. Which is perfect for the season. GREG
Combine pepitas, cumin, and oil in a bowl; toss to coat. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add pumpkin seed mixture to skillet, and toast, stirring often until lightly browned 2 to 3 minutes.
Scrape the pepitas onto a paper towel-lined plate in as close to a single layer as possible. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and set aside. Once completely cool place them in a small covered bowl. Store them at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Heat oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, thyme, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 6 minutes. Add turmeric, and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, whisk together flour and about 1 cup stock in a small bowl until smooth.
Pour the flour-stock mixture into the soup pot. Add salt, cauliflower florets, and remaining 3 cups stock. Turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until cauliflower is very tender about 20 minutes.
In batches, place soup in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in lid. Process on high until smooth. Return soup to the pot and gently warm it to serving temperature. Stir in vinegar, brown sugar, and white pepper.
Serve in bowls; garnish with pumpkin seeds and sour cream (if using).
I made Celery Leaf Pesto because I spend a lot of time at home these days. My duties as a caregiver for my MIL mean I often have hours on my hands where I have nothing much to do. However, I need to be able to drop whatever I’m doing at a moment’s notice. So I’m always looking for tasks that can be stopped and started at that same moment’s notice.
Things like Celery Leaf Pesto can keep my hands busy but allow me to keep my mind on my responsibilities.
Celery Leaf Pesto
That’s because Celery Leaf Pesto requires no great skill. It does, however, require you to sit in one place and remove the leaves individually from stalks of celery. Much like shucking beans it can be a bore if you let it. So I try not to let it. I have a fabulous interior life…
Of course, if you say the word pesto it won’t be long before an Italian food connoisseur in your exterior life will declare the basil-centric pesto alla Genovese as the only true pesto. But don’t worry because the name pesto is derived from the Italian word pestare (to pound or crush). So as long as you can pound it or crush it then I say – there is no such thing as the one true pesto. Because pesto can be unexpected. It can be creative. It can be made with celery leaves that have been patiently plucked one-by-one until you have a great big delicious pile. GREG
PS: It doesn’t have to be served with pasta either. You can serve pesto on (or in) anything.
Use the pesto immediately or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to two days — any longer and it will lose its pretty green color and vibrant flavor.
1 tablespoontoasted pine nuts
1 clovegarlic(peeled and chopped)
1/8 teaspoonkosher salt
½ cupextra-virgin olive oil(plus more if needed)
¼ ounceflat-leaf parsley
2 ouncecelery leaves(light green leaves are best, divided)
1-2 tablespoongrated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 poundcooked chicken breast(about ounces, cut into 3/4-inch dice)
1 poundfresh jicama(cut into 3/4-inch dice)
3 stalks celery(cut into ¼-inch slices on an extreme bias)
4 scallions(cut into ¼-inch slices on an extreme bias, both white and green parts)
3-4 fresh sprigs tarragon(leaves only)
whole lettuce leaves(for serving, optional)
To make the celery pesto: Combine the pine nuts, garlic, salt, and about half of the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the parsley and pulse until it is finely chopped. Turn off the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add about two-thirds of the celery leaves, the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the remaining olive oil and purée, stopping as soon as the ingredients form a homogenous, but not too smooth paste, and adding more olive oil if necessary to obtain a loose, spoonable pesto. Cover and set aside. (see notes).
To assemble the salad: Combine diced chicken, diced jicama, sliced celery, and sliced scallions in a large bowl. Drizzle with 2-3 tablespoons celery pesto (or more to taste). Toss to combine.
Pile the salad in the center of a large serving plate. If you are using burrata, nestle it in the center of the salad. Use the back of a spoon to create a shallow crater in the center and spoon more pesto into the crater. Garnish with remaining celery leaves and tarragon leaves, and serve it “taco-style” wrapped in lettuce leaves, if you like.
Isn’t this a pretty bean? It’s a sweet bean too, with a fierce name. Dragon Tongue is a ”Romano” bean, which means its pods are flat rather than round. Though technically it’s still a wax bean (another questionable name) because its pods have a yellow background.
This is a summertime recipe. At least in Los Angeles. That’s because I never see Dragon’s Tongue or other types of wax beans at the Hollywood Farmers Market until the last dog days descend. I also consider this recipe as a warm-weather friend because it’s served chilled. Well, charred and then chilled.
Charred Dragon’s Tongue Beans? Isn’t that just another way to say burnt beans?
Burnt food. It used to be the mark of a distracted cook. The phone rings and the carrots get singed. A kid asks a question about algebra and the chicken comes out black. You capture a Pokémon in the pantry and your “go-to” burgers have gone too far. “Oops” would be your only excuse. Nowadays, though, blackened, charred and blistered is not only acceptable but it’s a whole new cooking trend that’s worth mastering.
However, you have to learn to burn artfully… There’s a difference between a carcinogenic pile of ashes and the ultra-sophisticated, ultra-caramelization that can amplify the flavor. I like to cook with high heat and I’m hoping you take a look at these Spicy Charred and Chilled Dragon’s Tongue Beans and see the latter. Their flat shape makes them a particularly good choice for this method of charring. GREG
PS: This recipe was inspired by the Los Angeles restaurant Hippo. I found it in the Los Angeles Times and adapted it to suit my tastes. But I do plan to make a trek to Matt Molina’s restaurant to try the original.
Lastly, I can’t let you go without suggesting you take a good look at Mr. Molina’s “Frenchie” Dressing recipe attached below. I’ve made a lot (a lot) of mustard vinaigrettes in my time and very few of them are as simple and as good as this one. The recipe makes way more than you need for these Dragon Tongue Beans. Which is a very good thing.
1 pound"string" beans (such as wax beans, haricots verts and dragon tongue beans, stem ends trimmed)
1 tablespoonextra-virgin olive oil(plus more as needed)
kosher salt(as needed)
"Frenchie" Dressing(as needed, see recipe)
3 scallions(cut in 3-inch lengths and thinly sliced lengthwise)
⅓ cuproasted almonds
1 tablespoonfreshly squeezed lemon juice
1 serrano chile(very thinly sliced)
Toss the beans with the oil and salt until evenly coated. Heat a griddle or two large skillets over high heat. (Work in batches if necessary.)
When the surface is smoking hot, spread the beans in an even layer on the griddle or in the skillets and add another drizzle of oil (about a teaspoon per skillet or a tablespoon for the whole batch). When the bottoms brown and blister, toss the beans and continue cooking, tossing occasionally, until there’s a nice char on the beans but they still have a little bite, 3 to 5 minutes. Thinner beans will brown more quickly, so pull them from the heat first and place them in a large bowl. As the batches of beans cook continue to transfer them to the bowl.
Once all the beans are cooked toss them (while still warm) with about 2 tablespoons “Frenchie” dressing. Let them sit uncovered until they come to room temperature then cover and refrigerate them until chilled.
When you’re ready to serve, soak the scallions in a medium bowl of ice water until crisp, about 5 minutes, then lift out and gently pat dry with paper towels.
Put the almonds on a cutting board and crush with a heavy skillet or the flat side of a knife until they crack into smaller pieces. On the board, drizzle the nuts with ½ teaspoon olive oil, sprinkle with ⅛ teaspoon salt and toss until evenly coated. Transfer two-thirds to the bowl with the beans. Add scallions, lemon juice, and as many of the chile slices as you like and toss well. Taste and add more dressing if needed. Transfer to serving plates, top with remaining almonds and serve immediately.
Print This RecipeTotal timeYieldgenerous ½ cupSource Matt Molina for the LA TimesPublished
1 tablespoonwhole-grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoonDijon mustard
2 tablespoonwhite wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic(grated on a Microplane)
1 teaspoonfreshly squeezed lemon juice
⅓ cupextra-virgin olive oil
Pulse both mustards with the vinegar, garlic and lemon juice in a mini food processor until smooth. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil. Or, you can make the dressing by hand: Whisk both mustards with the vinegar, garlic and lemon juice in a medium bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Continue whisking until the dressing is emulsified.
I’m going to say “Pickled Shrimp Toasts” out of one side of my mouth and say “Hollywood Bowl” out of the other side. Of course, I’d rather be putting Pickled Shrimp Toasts into both sides of my mouth. But before I do that I think I need to explain why I would attempt such a ridiculous feat of Pickled Shrimp/Hollywood Bowl verbal dexterity.
Let’s start with the Hollywood Bowl. You see, I live quite close to the Hollywood Bowl, which is lovingly known as “The Bowl” where I live.
In case you don’t know, The Bowl is one of the leading outdoor music venues of the world. It has a long, glamorous history. It’s a mecca for summer concerts in Southern California. Making it one of the top 10 reasons to live in Los Angeles. Which means pretty much every Angeleno who’s able goes to The Bowl at least once a summer.
As wonderful as the Hollywood Bowl is, there’s only one problem. It’s a problem a lot of places in Los Angles share, but it’s a particularly large problem at The Bowl.
Of course I’m talking about parking. It’s stacked, it’s horrendous, it’s hard to avoid. It can destroy a perfectly wonderful night of music under the stars.
Fortunately for me, I live close to The Bowl. So close I can walk.
Problem solved, at least for me. Unfortunately for my friends – many of them do not live close. So my driveway has become a much-coveted parking spot. Some of my neighbors actually charge to let folks park in their driveway. It’s true.
But I’m not one of those people. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. My driveway is open to a first-come-first-served basis. It also comes with an unspoken open door policy.
Which means any night of the week a grateful friend might show up (sometimes with a bottle of wine in hand) to (ostensibly) say thank you for that once-in-a-summer opportunity to skip the parking hell at The Bowl and actually enjoy the experience.
What I’m trying to say is not only do I not charge, I provide appetizers!
Pickled Shrimp Toasts
Sweet and briny, faintly spicy pickled shrimp are one of those surprising taste treats that has everyone rushing into the kitchen to see how you made them. In fact, you didn’t do very much at all, which is what makes pickled shrimp such a great choice for those first-come-first-served parking friends.
They’re a great make-ahead because the shrimp can remain covered with the pickling liquid and will last for a couple of days in the fridge. Keep in mind that the longer they sit in their pickle liquid, the picklier they get.
But no one seems to mind how pickley they get because they know they’ve avoided a “pickle” of a parking situation. GREG
18 medium raw shrimp(peeled, deveined, tails removed)
1 jalapeño(thinly sliced)
2 poundsmall to medium heirloom tomatoes(various colors would be nice)
freshly cracked black pepper(as needed for seasoning)
1 cupwhole-milk ricotta
18 slicerustic bread(cut into about 3x 3-inch pieces, 3/4-inch thick)
chopped chives(as garnish)
lemon wedges(for spritzing)
hot sauce(optional, as garnish)
Pickle the shrimp: Stir together vinegar, ½ cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, and coriander seeds in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high. Remove the pan from the heat and add shrimp, and jalapeño slices. Cover pan and let stand about 10 minutes before uncovering the pan and stirring. Re-cover the pan and allow the shrimp and jalapeño to come to room temperature before using. Alternatively, the room temperature shrimp and jalapeño may be left in their liquid, covered and refrigerated up to 48 hours before using.
Prepare the tomatoes: Halve the tomatoes and then slice halves into ½-inch-thick pieces; place on a plate, and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Set aside.
Make the ricotta: Place ricotta in the bowl of a mini food-processor fitted with the metal blade. Season generously with salt and pepper. Process until smooth and light, about 30 seconds. Set aside. You may alternatively whip by hand.
Make the toasts: Brush both sides of bread slices with olive oil.
Preheat grill or grill pan to high. Place bread on grill, and grill, uncovered, until toasted, about 1 minute and 30 seconds per side.
Assemble toasts: Spread about 2 tablespoons ricotta mixture on each toasted bread slice. Choose the nicest tomato slices to top toasts from edge to edge. You might not use them all. Nestle in a drained pickled shrimp and a couple of slices of jalapeños on top of each toast. Garnish with chives, a squeeze of lemon, and, if desired, a dash of hot sauce. Serve immediately.
It’s hot in Los Angeles. It’s not supposed to be hot here. It’s supposed to be 76 and sunny. But, more and more it seems, it gets hot in LA. When that happens a cold soup – full of ripe, summery flavor – is a refreshing relief. Sweet like summer and a little bit spicy, this chilled Sungold tomato soup combines tomatoes and corn to find just the right balance to cool down a hot summer night. It’s remarkably sophisticated despite how few ingredients are actually in the bowl.
That’s because the tomatoes are the star of this chilled soup. But not just any tomato. I made this golden bowl of chilled tomato soup using super sweet Sungold tomatoes fresh from the farm.
Sungold tomatoes are sweet. They have one of the highest Brix ratings (a measurement for the sugar content in fruits and vegetables) of any tomato. Meaning Sungolds are just about the sweetest tomato you will ever eat. In fact, they’re so sweet and juicy they’ll remind you that tomatoes are indeed fruits. Put a bowl of these bite-size, bumblebee-yellow beauties on the counter and watch yourself sneaking handfuls like a kid in the cookie jar.
But you probably won’t find Sungold tomatoes at a supermarket near you. They don’t travel well because their skins are so thin. They can crack on the vine when it rains or burst during shipping. The big farms stay away from growing them. Thankfully, Sungold tomatoes, which aren’t an heirloom variety but are a hybrid bred specifically for sweetness, are a staple of many backyard gardeners and can also be found at many farmers’ markets.
Chilled Sungold Tomato Soup
I could call this Chilled Sungold Tomato Summer Soup a gazpacho – but I’m not going to. True it’s a chilled soup featuring raw vegetables, but this summer tomato soup is more delicate than its rustic Spanish cousin. Besides I like the idea of a summer soup – whether it’s a traditional blending of tomatoes, cucumbers, red pepper, onion, oil and vinegar as in gazpacho – or something less expected like today’s sweet tomato and spicy corn pairing. However, there’s a secret to keeping these soups from becoming little more than pulverized salad.
That secret is balance, and you probably knew that.
Traditional gazpacho balances bright acidity with aromatic flavors. A poorly made gazpacho has aggressively raw flavors. Good gazpacho or summer soup, like a good wine, will linger on the palate in a pleasing way that transforms the initial taste experience.
Because Sungold tomatoes and summer corn are so sweet they need a savory balance to keep from becoming a ghastly ice cream topping. I tried to achieve that balance in this Sungold Tomato Soup with a big splash of vinegar and a scoop of chili-garlic sauce. It’s just salty, spicy, and pungent enough to keep those sweet, sweet Sungold tomatoes in line. GREG
Chili-garlic sauce is slightly salty, spicy, and pungent; it can be found in the Asian foods section of many supermarkets and at some specialty foods stores and Asian markets.
2 pints halved Sungold or similar sweet yellow cherry tomatoes(about 1 ½ pounds)
5 ears raw corn(kernels only)
2 yellow bell peppers(seeded and diced)
1 large shallot(peeled and chopped, about ¼ cup)
1 teaspoonkosher salt
¼ cupchili-garlic sauce(see notes)
¼ cupsherry vinegar
¼ cupextra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoonfresh lemon juice
Set aside separately about 1-cup each tomato and corn kernels to use as garnish.
Add remaining tomato, corn kernels, bell peppers, and shallots to a large bowl. Stir in salt and let sit for thirty minutes.
Working in batches if necessary, transfer the tomato mixture to a high-speed blender along with chili-garlic sauce, vinegar, and lemon juice. Cover and pulse the machine several times. Once the mixture is uniformly chopped, turn the machine on and slowly pour in the olive oil. Blend until smooth.
Chill the soup at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
To serve season with a little more salt if necessary, then ladle the cold soup into bowls. Garnish with reserved tomatoes, corn, and a drizzle of sour cream (if using).
Sometimes you come across an ingredient that inspires you to get into the kitchen and make something delicious. A new (to you) ingredient means that the end result may be unlike anything you ever cooked before. For me, that’s the kind of motivation I need lately and it comes in the form of tamarind paste.
Gosh knows the inspiration came just in time. I’ve been traveling. It was a big trip and the details (and the doing) have taken a lot of my attention this summer. Add that to the caregiving responsibilities that seem to grow in scope every single day.
All this means that the cooking aspect of my poor little blog has been neglected. I’ve even considered putting it out to pasture. At least for a while…
Then tamarind paste came along, and I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen and create an original recipe. Just like I used to do when I first started this blog (more than 10 years ago).
It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with tamarind. I come across its particular sour notes quite often in many of the Asian and Latin restaurants I frequent. A sweet and sour tamarindo soft drink sits next to almost every taco my partner Ken orders.
I’ve even bought fresh tamarind in the market. It comes in sticky pods (like a giant vanilla bean) and the flesh is scraped out and the large seeds are discarded before you can use it. It’s a fun chore once in a while, but mostly it’s far too tedious for day-to-day cooking adventures.
One the other hand, tamarind paste comes in a jar. It contains nothing but tamarind. No preservatives, no additives, no added sugar. How have I not known this all these years?
Tamarind paste can be found in a lot big supermarkets these days and keeps forever in the fridge. It’s a great investment in flavor, bringing its own fruity sweet-sour tang to anything from chutneys to curries to the glaze in this roast pork tenderloin.
Oh yeah, it’s also magical when mixed in with the sauteed red onions that accompany this dish. They’re so easy to make that it may change your allegiance to traditional fruit chutney for good. GREG
Chili-garlic sauce is slightly salty, spicy, and pungent; it can be found in the Asian foods section of many supermarkets and at some specialty foods stores and Asian markets.
¼ cuptamarind paste
¼ cupchile-garlic sauce(see notes)
1 teaspoonground cardamom
½ teaspoonground cumin
1 teaspooncrushed red pepper flakes(divided)
salt and black pepper(as needed)
1 tablespoonbrown sugar
1 pork tenderloin(about 1 pound, tied to ensure even cooking)
3 tablespooncanola oil(divided)
2 red onions(peeled, halved, and thinly sliced)
Make the marinade: Mix the tamarind paste with enough water to make a smooth syrupy liquid. Set aside.
Place half of the syrupy tamarind mixture in a large bowl, add honey, chili-garlic sauce, ground cardamom, ground cumin, ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the pork, rub the marinade into the meat, then cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Roast the pork: Preheat the oven 450 degrees F.
Meanwhile, make the tamarind onions: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and stir to coat with oil. Stir in salt and black pepper to taste, and add remaining ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook stirring often until softened and beginning to lightly brown at the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and remaining tamarind mixture until the liquid begins to bubble. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan on high heat. Lift the pork from its marinade, then sear on all sides for about four minutes. Transfer the meat to a roasting tray, spoon over some of the marinade and roast for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how well done you like your pork. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for five minutes before slicing.
P.O.P. Pošip, Oysters & Pelješac. Pop go the tastebuds! I probably would have fallen in love with Pošip (pronounced POH-ship) whether I first encountered it at a dinner party in Los Angeles or in one of the wine tasting rooms we visited on Croatia’s Pelješac Peninsula. It’s a remarkably sippable wine, thirst-quenching, citrusy, and fragrant. It goes perfectly with summer.
But it didn’t happen that way.
As it turns out the head-spinning moment of Pošip passion for me came last week as Ken and I sailed the Adriatic with friends. Boatlife is laid out at a leisurely pace. We often found ourselves lazily, blissfully, quietly sailing past islands with rolling hills and pocket-sized harbors keeping one eye on the shimmering sea and the other eye on the horizon. Both the same glorious shade of true blue.
I didn’t think I could possibly need anything else. Then came the wine, from a grape variety with which I was only vaguely familiar. Not only did this wine have historic importance as an indigenous grape to the island of Korčula (it still grows on its own rootstock since it was planted long ago in sandy soils of Smokvica village). But it’s also versatile. If you like a dry white wine, you’ll almost certainly find a Pošip to love while you’re in Croatia. The Pošips we tasted varied from juicy, Sauvignon Blanc-style wines to more mineral Chablis-styles. Which got me thinking about oysters.
The Oysters of the Pelješac Peninsula
When the time came to leave the boat and our friends behind in Split we rented a car and drove down to the Pelješac Peninsula. It’s an area known for shellfish. After a week of sailing to a different city every day we decided a little time on dry land was how we wanted to end our Croatian adventure.
So here we are, idly stopping into any winery or random konaba that strikes our fancy. We don’t have much of an agenda so it’s turned out that Pošip and oysters are giving our days all the structure we need.
Like wine, oysters exhibit a discernible terroir. Maybe it’s because they’re still alive when you eat them but for me, no other food carries its provenance in quite the same way. This is what I’m thinking about as I sit here sipping wine and eating oysters steps from the 14th-century oyster bed where my meal was born.
After all, there’s an expression used by chefs and wine lovers. “What grows together, goes together.” I try to remember that phrase when I travel because it means that the traditional foods from a particular region pair extremely well with the wines native to that same area. So it’s no wonder that Pošip shows itself in no place better than in a glass next to a plate of freshly shucked oysters from the Pelješac Peninsula. GREG
For more info see this video from Skoljka Ledinic, one of the oyster farms we visited.
Live from the Gulet Maske: I’ve been in Croatia now for several days. Most of them spent in the Medieval city of Dubrovnik. It’s a magical place and has been for centuries. I suppose that’s how it found itself with a starring role in Game of Thrones. I’ve been to Dubrovnik before. In fact, I went way before HBO ever got here! So I can honestly comment on how much it’s changed in just a few years. Dubrovnik is one of those notable places, like Machu Picchu, whose popularity may be its undoing.
Dubrovnik is heaving with visitors. From Italian school boys jumping from cliffs, to serious history buffs who explore the back alleys. It may no longer be anyone’s best-kept secret, but Dubrovnik is a Venetian Gothic marvel. A walled seaside town of orange-and-red-tiled roofs jutting out on a peninsula. A walk along its exterior wall will bring breathtaking views of the porticoes and loggias that rim marble-paved Renaissance squares and tiny alleys that, in true Venice style, seem to go nowhere. The whole impression of gleaming streets and artistically placed turrets make the whole city look like a sculpture.
Its nightlife has changed a lot since I was last here too. The summer crowds still flock to Dubrovnik, but they can now find restaurants serving quality Dalmatian fare, crowded coffee shops pouring world-class java, and serious cocktail bars shaking up inventive creations. We even spent a bit of a Dubrovnik evening swooning to the crooning of an Italian tenor whose mastery of Volare brought the crowd to dancing in the marble streets.
Dubrovnik’s reputation may precede itself, however, it’s not the sole reason for our trip. There are many Dubrovnik-style fortress cities scattered along this coast and throughout these islands. So we’re sailing off to explore the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia with Captain Marko and crew on the GuletMaske.
Gulet Maske: Croatia 2019
It’s the first morning of an eight-day trip aboard the Croatian GuletMaske. Our first night on the boat (if you can call a 27-meter two-masted sailing vessel a “boat”) was spent on the Island of Mljet just off the mainland of Croatia near Dubrovnik. The thrill of the experience was, of course, brand new and our first night’s meal turned out to be celebratory so I’m moving slowly on that first morning.
It’s not yet 6am and most of my companions have not awakened as I settle into the front of the boat with my tea and a book as dawn brightens the sky with a swirl of orange and magenta. The solitude is short-lived and soon I’m joined by a solitary tern dive-bombing for his breakfast. Other yachts bob nearby and I can see the neighboring sailors starting their day in much the same way I have chosen.
Suddenly my attention turns from the colors of the sky to the silver-streaked Adriatic. A sea turtle splashes to the surface just a few feet away. I swear he smiles and winks before submerging again, leaving me alone with my book.
Captain Marko tells me it’s rare to see a turtle here and I see he doubts my story. So I find myself looking up from the pages of my book every few words, playing a sort of I-Spy game hoping to see the friendly Cheloniidae again. Eventually, other creatures do appear, as does the sun and I give up on my book with no regrets. It’s not every day Ken and I go sailing off the coast of Croatia. And on this day we plan a bike ride on Mljet before sailing off to Korcula.
Our plan is to sail from Dubrovnik to Split. It’s an area known as the Dalmatian Coast and it’s spotted, like the dog, with small islands floating on the blue, sun-blasted Adriatic Sea. There are 1,244 of these islands and we plan to make port in 6 or 7 of them over the next week.
“Why Dalmatia?” you may ask. Part of the appeal is perfect weather combined with natural beauty. Dalmatia has blue skies and near constant sunshine beaming down on rolling, Aleppo pine-scented hillsides cobbled between olive groves, vineyards, and silvery-purple lavender fields. Not to mention excellent beaches that range from smooth sun-bleached stone to white sand.
But its also got history frozen in the stones of its many walled cities. The purpose of these walls may have been defensive, but the results are splendid. The sight of these stone citadels rising from the sea is one of the most memorable impressions of the Adriatic coast. Limestone and marble streets have been polished to gleaming over several centuries by millions upon millions of footsteps. Many of these cities with their graceful Renaissance churches bear the veneer of the Venetians who funded these port towns to assist in their old-world trade ambitions. It’s a mark of true beauty.
But Italy is not the only architectural influence among these islands. Some cities still carry the stamp of the carefully plotted Neoclassic civic centers in the Hapsburg tradition of stoic Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy.
In the hills of these islands, farmers built thick-walled stone houses in hopes of keeping out the chill as well as the constant stream of invaders. Today these farms, especially on Korčula, Hvar, and along the Pelješac Peninsula often house wineries, and/or traditional restaurants and taverns known as konoba.
When I was last here in 2006, less than a decade after a bloody civil war devastated much of Croatia, the Dalmatian coast had the lingering whiff of socialism and the no-frills vibe of the Yugoslav era. Now the islands of southern Croatia welcome me as one of the premier destinations in the Mediterranean region. They glimmer enough to attract the trendy, yet cling to their complicated history just enough to elicit blank stares or raised eyebrows from many travelers.
Just my kind of place. GREG
The video and some photos appear courtesy of Gulet Maske. Other photos may be attributed to my fellow crew members.
Does a Croatian Food and Wine Guide seem a bit of a random subject for this blog? Well, maybe it’s not so random. I’ll give you one guess why. Yep. I’m going to Croatia. I’ve been there before (in 2006) and I promised myself that I’d definitely, positively, absolutely go back.
But you know how those kinds of promises go. It’s a big world. It’s taken me quite some time to stay true to my word.
Ken and I (plus 4 other friends) have chartered a 27-meter sailboat to cruise around the Southern Dalmatian islands off the coast of Croatia. Which means we’ll be off-the-beaten-track discovering the villages, beaches, and everything else most tourists never get to see. It also means we’ll be eating in small family-owned tavernas (known as konoba) where traditional Croatian food and wine may be the only offering. So it’s best to know what to look for once I’m faced with those menus.
Croatian Food and Wine
Croatia has a rich diversity of culinary choices. It’s situated at the crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe and is influenced by both regions. In the north of Croatia, Istrian cuisine has graceful Northern Italian roots, but as you move inland you’ll find more robust menus, with Hungarian, Viennese and Turkish influences. Along the coast, where we’ll be, Croatia is known to have some of the finest seafood in the world.
Our itinerary follows a path through Southern Dalmatia from Dubrovnik up to Split so I will be concentrating here on the Croatian food and wine of this area.
A lot has changed since I was last on the Dalmatian coast. As you may know, Game of Thrones has transformed the area into an incredibly popular destination. In the process, Dalmatia has garnered a well-deserved reputation for seafood. Adriatic specialties like squid, turbot, John Dory (called Saint Pierre in Croatia), zubatac (snapper) and škarpina (scorpionfish) are the fish to look for. However, Croatia also prides itself on the quality of its sardines and anchovies (I’ve read that Croatia has some of the best grilled sardines you will ever try).
However, shellfish lovers must pay a visit to the villages of Ston and Mali Ston on the Pelješac Peninsula which has been renowned for its oysters since Roman times. In fact, some of these oyster beds have been in constant harvest since then, resulting in a uniquely meaty oyster unlike any I’ve had.
The seafood dishes I’m looking forward to this trip include: squid ink risotto, steamed mussels (na buzara), and a bouillabaisse-style fish stew (brudet). The island of Hvar serves its own version of brudet called gregada. With a name like that, how can I not try it? Since we’re stopping on the island of Vis I hope we’ll enjoy the peaceful silence of this remote island while indulging in the traditional smoked fish soup. But first on my list is peka, an iconic dish of octopus cooked in a ceramic dish with a bell-like lid.
Aside from the seafood you’ll also find simply prepared vegetables. Swiss chard is especially popular I’ve read, and every restaurant seems to have some version of blitva – a homey side dish made from potatoes, Swiss chard, garlic, and local olive oil.
There’s plenty more to eat. Meals often start with a platter of paški sir (sheep’s cheese from the island of Pag) and thinly sliced pršut (cured ham). This platter might be accompanied by a strong spirit for sippingknown as rakija. A term which covers all the local herb and/or fruit-derived liqueursincluding plum brandy (šljivovica), pear brandy (vilijamovka), juniper-flavored spirit (pelinkovac), and a blueberry liqueur (borovnica). In the wine country where we’ll be sailing, we’ll probably be served travarica, the grape-based spirit infused with wild herbs.
The food list goes on. Soparnik – is a peasant’s pie made with Swiss chard and borek is a hand-pie that can be filled with almost anything. Dalmatia is also famous for a traditional beef stew called pašticada. The preparation sounds complicated but delicious. The meat is stuffed with garlic, cloves, carrot, and bacon, then roasted with onions, prunes, and handfuls of herbs and spices. It’s traditionally served with gnocchi.
The island of Brač, (one of our stops) is known throughout the country for lamb. It’s usually roasted and is often served whole to large groups at special events. While on Brač I also hope to try vitalac – a hard-to-find dish made of lamb offal wrapped in caul and roasted on a spit set over an open fire. However, I’m worried that my fellow sailors won’t let me back on the boat if I subject them to lamb guts!
There’s dessert too. Rožata, inspired by the Spanish crema Catalana, is probably the most popular sweet on the Adriatic. Or if you’re looking for something elegant how about the Austrian-inspired paradižet – fluffy white clouds of meringue floating in a custardy sea? I particularly remember enjoying a rustic cake called Stonska torta at an outdoor cafe in Mali Ston in 2006. It’s an unusual combination of pasta, sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts bound together with beaten eggs then wrapped in pastry. Some say it’s too strange a combination of savory and sweet, but Ken and I ate every bite and marveled at its structure. GREG
… and Wine
As is often the case, Croatian wines perfectly complement Croatian cuisine. Seafood is abundant, fresh and irresistible, so you might suppose that Croatian wines are mostly of the white variety. Well, you’re right! I’d like to fill you in on four whites and a not-to-be-missed red that will surely be filling us up while we’re island hopping.
First a few words about the history of wine in Croatia. It’s a long one. Viticulture was well established when the Ancient Greeks settled Dalmatia over 2,500 years ago. Several of the original indigenous varietals are still widely produced and wildly popular. We’ll be visiting, Vis, Hvar and Korčula and sampling (maybe too mild a word) Vugava, Bogdanuša, and Grk respectively.
Vugava is similar in taste to Viognier, the delicious Rhône varietal. In fact, it might even be one of Viognier’s offspring from about 2,000 years back. This lush, savory white is best with savory dishes like fish in a cream sauce or chicken.
Bogdanuša, on the other hand, is green-yellow in color and more acidic. This refreshing 12% alcohol wine would (will) pair nicely with oysters, grilled fish or octopus. Interestingly, its name means “godsend” and it is served in Croatia’s religious festivals. Looking forward to this religious experience!
Grk, pronounced “grk”, is a somewhat bitter, high-acid, aromatic white wine. While melon and herbal flavors predominate, you might even get a pine note on the palate. Not sure what food goes with pine, but pršut (prosciutto) sure works with melon!
This discussion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Croatia’s most famous wines, Pošip, and Plavac Mali. Both varietals have been popularized by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, the Croatian-born winemaker that produced the wine that won the Judgement of Paris in 1976. Pošip can now be found throughout Dalmatia and the Pelješac peninsula. Crisp and dry, Pošip presents a balance of acid (citrus) and round mouthfeel (apple) with a hint of almond on the finish. Pairing? Just about anything. Plavac Mali is the most popular red wine in Croatia. Its rich, high alcohol, high tannin flavor profile delivers berries, cherries, spice, and chocolate shavings to complement your lamb dish when you need a break from seafood. KEN
As we have not left on the trip yet the Croatian Food and Wine photos are from our 2006 trip and the Croatian squid shot at the top comes via Shutterstock.