French in a Flash: Tagliatelle with Zucchini Flower Pistou

RECIPE: Tagliatelle with Zucchini Flower Pistou
Zucchini Flowers

Zucchini Flowers

(I love this recipe!)

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

I travelled to the southeast of France last weekend to visit my parents, and because they’re renting a little apartment, that meant a lot of home-cooked dinners. Although I normally like to eat out in France to get inspiration from the different menus and plates, there was something satisfying, spontaneous, and real about constructing something special out of little local finds—living à la française.

We took a drive across the Italian border to Ventimiglia where we heard there was a market. And there, I found my vegetal Holy Grail: zucchini flowers. The market was vivid yellow with them. All around, they were arranged in great bridal bouquets, sold for only one euro for ten flowers. I could have swooned.

In Nice, where I had been they day before, they serve zucchini flowers on the streets as fried beignets in a batter that’s doughy but still crisp. In addition to those, I also made my own version of another dish I had had in Nice the night before: Tagliatelle au Pistou—wide, fresh pasta tossed in a very intense, garlicky pesto. Instead of basil, I used squash blossoms, mashed with garlic, olive oil, and walnuts. Made with fresh pasta from the Italian market, flowers just cut from the plant, intense garlic (if you’ve ever been to the South of France, you know how intense), and walnuts with a woody flavor like none I had ever had before, the result was spectacular—mellow, vegetal, and nutty. Even my pistou-hating stepfather ate half the pot. If you want to make something different and feel a little breeze from the Riviera, try this.

Tagliatelle with Zucchini Flower Pistou

Tagliatelle with Zucchini Flower Pistou

Tagliatelle with Zucchini Flower Pistou
serves 4

Tagliatelle with Zucchini Flower PistouINGREDIENTS

  • 500 grams or 1 pound fresh tagliatelle
  • 14 large zucchini flowers
  • 12 walnut halves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan on top

PROCEDURE

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt the water.  Separate the strands of pasta, and drop them into the water.  Cook according to package instructions, careful not to overcook the pasta (it should take about 2 to 3 minutes to cook).  Reserve a mug full of starchy pasta water, and drain the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, roughly chop the zucchini flowers, garlic, and walnuts.  Put them in the food processor with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Blitz until you have the smooth consistency of a pesto.  Add the pistou and the tagliatelle back to the pot, and moisten with two spoonfuls of pasta water.  Toss to coat the pasta in the pistou, adding more pasta water if needed.  Serve right away, with grated good Parmesan to sprinkle on top.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian
 

Cool Summer Salads: Fresh Chickpea Salad with Red Onion, Parsley, and Lemon

RECIPE: Fresh Chickpea Salad
Fresh Chickpea Salad

Fresh Chickpea Salad

Having a hearty meal without turning on an oven or stove or toaster or even a campfire in the summer is utter joy.  This salad was inspired by a restaurant my grandfather used to take me to in New York: Divino, on Second Avenue.  My grandfather was a grand man.  He knew everyone, and they knew him, and he shook their hands.  He would dress to perfection, always a touch too formal.  He had his hands manicured, and he wore the slightest whiff of cologne.  He drank Absolut on the rocks, and took my grandmother on far-flung cruises.  And he cared deeply about family.

Divino was, and still is, although it has changed, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, near where I grew up.  In the back of the restaurant was a large round table, nestled into a booth that was nestled into an alcove in the wall.  The restaurant had burgundy carpeting, and the banquettes were upholstered in the same color.  The tablecloths and napkins were cream, and the silver was heavy.  There would be piano or accordeon music.  Like my grandfather, it was very grand.  And when we went, he always invited my uncles, and aunts, and it made a big and merry party.

What I loved about Divino’s as a kid wasn’t what I always ordered (fusilli marinara).  It was what I didn’t order.  The waiter came around with a huge basket of breads, bread sticks, focaccias, and pizzas.  He came around more often when I was there (some things never change).  They brought plates of bruschetta, biscotti, and cold salads.  One was this chickpea salad, full of red onion and parsley, and lemon, and olive oil.  That salad, and getting to sit under that round table on the plush burgundy carpet, is what made Divino’s such an experience.  When I make this salad, as I often do, I think of my grandfather, and of grand days, in the old New York of the rich ’80s.

Fresh Chickpea Salad Zoom

Fresh Chickpea Salad
serves 6

Fresh Chickpea SaladINGREDIENTS

  • 3 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

PROCEDURE

Toss everything together in a big bowl.  Marinate for a few hours or overnight, covered, in the fridge.  Transfer to a serving bowl, and serve proudly!

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Cheap, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, Recipes, Salad, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian
 

French in a Flash: Salmon en Papillote with Cherry Tomatoes and Rosemary

RECIPE: Salmon en Papillote with Cherry Tomatoes and Rosemary
Salmon en Papillote with Cherry Tomatoes and Rosemary

Salmon en Papillote with Cherry Tomatoes and Rosemary

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

I don’t like summer, but it’s getting to the point where I don’t entirely hate it either. It’s that blissful redeeming moment of the season when the tomatoes crop up. Fat red baubles strung onto the vine. Little yellow tear drops. Jolly heaving heirlooms. Suddenly the fact that they’re fruit makes sense. I don’t stop myself from popping them into my mouth like sweet-tart bursting grapes.

This is a simple dish, the type that I’m becoming more fond of, especially during summer when I’m hot and harried and never in the frame of mind to make myself any hotter. Tomatoes are usually paired with basil, but rosemary matches so beautifully with salmon that I performed a sly swap. I rub with salmon with just a drizzle too much olive oil, spiked with chopped fresh rosemary. Pack it in a parcel with those ruddy cherry tomatoes, and bake until they burst. The salmon gives off its own distinctive juice, which mixes with the fresh, mildly sweet and tart juice of the tomatoes and the fruity, almost thick olive oil. The freshness of the rosemary almost acts like mint, imparting a clean bite that reminds me of just-washed wood floors. And the fact that it all stews together in a parchment packet that you can just then throw away—well, not that this dish needs saving grace, but I think I just found one anyway.

Serve it with a bright and lemony fresh salad, and some crusty bread. Just as good outdoors as in.

Papillote

Papillote

Salmon en Papillote with Cherry Tomatoes and Rosemary
serves 4

Salmon en Papillote with Cherry Tomatoes and RosemaryINGREDIENTS

  • 4 8-ounce boneless, skinless fillets of salmon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Tear off 4 large rectangles of parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a small bowl or a glass, mix together the olive oil and rosemary, and season the mixture liberally with salt and pepper.  Sit 1 salmon fillet on a piece of parchment, and pour 1 tablespoon of the rosemary oil over the fish.  Using your hands, rub the fish in the oil, and top with 5 halved cherry tomatoes.  Fold the parchment (or foil) into a sealed packet, and place on a large baking sheet.  Repeat with the other 3 pieces of fish.

Bake the parcels until the fish have cooked and the tomatoes have burst, about 12 minutes.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Fish, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series
 

In Menton & Ventimiglia

 

Crazy Italian Zucchini

Crazy Italian Zucchini in Ventimiglia's Market

Fresh Capers

I've never seen fresh capers before...

Zucchini Flowers

Bundles of Zucchini Flowers for Just a Euro

Orata

Orata, Stuffed with Lemons, and Roasted with Salt and Olive Oil for Dinner

Today was all about shopping.  But not like in Nice, where I was hitting the summer sales at my favorite French high street shops.

We drove across the border to Italy–not far away.  And immediately, the world changed.  Everything, the buildings, the people, even the shore, became more abundant, and more run down.  It was still in the midst of the morning chill when we pulled up to a shady piazza in a town called Ventimiglia, near the sea.  Before us stood the huge square of an indoor market, about which we had heard great things.

The market did not disappoint.  Everywhere were those darling little sweet white peaches that are flattened out as if God had accidentally sat on the first one, and they had never recovered.  I love those peaches.  Huge, thin zucchini that twirled this way and that like overgrown fingernails.  Heirloom tomatoes in large teardrop shapes, ridged as if swelling with pride.  There were cheese stalls, where my parents haggled to taste every tomme in the place in search of some mythical cheese that had bought and couldn’t find again.  We tasted shards of sheep’s cheeses, and cow’s cheeses, and goat’s cheeses.  That wasn’t such a bad activity.  Butchers with whole rabbits and chickens.  A fishmonger with langoustines and enough mussels to make my previous attempts at all-you-can-eat mussels seem pretty feeble.  I bought an orata, which I’ve been noticing on a lot of New York menus.  Scaled, gutted, and gilled before my very eyes.  And then, my most precious find: zucchini flowers.  I love them, probably most, frankly, for their rarity.  They are only in season in the States for a second, blooming off the ends of the summer squashes and zucchinis.  I sometimes find them at the Union Square Farmers Market, or at Whole Foods, but they are exorbitant–sometimes a dollar per flower.  In Nice, I mentioned yesterday, they fry them up in beignet batter, and serve them with lemon wedges as street food.  There’s something about getting a diamond for the price of a lump of coal.

Bright gold and frilly, they were beautifully bound in bridal bouquets.  I bought two.  Because I could.  They were only a Euro for ten.

Italy Old Typewriter

A Beautiful Old Typewriter, like the inspiration for the "blog" illustration

Italy Flight Mask

Italy War Helmets

World War Helmets

Italy Pocket Watches

World War Pocket Watches

On the way back to the car, we ran into what I suppose you would call a flea market.  Not like the flea markets I see in Florida–new things that are bad and cheap.  But a real flea market, full of old things excavated from someone’s attic.  Where you might really find buried treasure.  Each stall promised something different.  My mother bought a beautiful real old necklace for Mémé.  I saw a mesmerizing old typewriter, much like the one that inspired the illustration for this “blog” page.  I love that clackety-clack sound they make as you write away.  There was all kinds of junk, too.  Old dolls, which terrify me.  Heavy marble boxes.  And gorgeous relics.  Real ivory daggers, and leather-sheathed sabres.  Imagine the romantic histories those must have had.  And somewhere amidst it all–a vintage Arizona license plate.

Soon, I came upon a stall that I still can’t make sense of.  Since moving to the UK for school a few years ago, I have come to see that Europe still has not let go of the World Wars.  Much as we still are haunted by our Civil War.  It is part of our everyday conscious.  Except, the World Wars were much more recent.  Sometimes, I think Mr. English himself considers what our food would cost in terms of wartime rations.  And he’s 27.  But it wasn’t until this flea market stall that I felt how heavy the weight of the wars still hang here.  The table was covered with helmets.  I don’t know if they were WWI or WWII–maybe even a mix of both.  A pilot’s mask that looked too near a gas mask to make me comfortable.  Helmets that had clearly encased the heads of boys younger than me, and that could have found there way to this table mostly by one twist of fate: they had died.  One was so badly rusted, that I thought maybe, just maybe, he had got away without it, for a farmer to dig up in his muddy field 50 years later.

The helmets were eerie, but that wasn’t what frightened me.  On the table, next to them, were pins, insignia, all the things that soldiers wear on their uniform to signal whose side they play for.  And then I remembered what side Italy was on in the war.  All the insignia were Nazi.  A few USSR, but other than that all Nazi.  And in my life, I have never seen a real German swastika.  In movies, of course.  Even carved into a park bench.  But somehow it was different.  And what struck me was that while the USSR also represented something sinister, their insignia was bright and imperial, almost cheerful in red and gold.  The Nazi insignia were dark, almost gunmetal in color.  And there were even skull pins to go along with them.  Sculls and crossbones etched into belt buckles.  It was consciously, knowingly dark.  It frightened me, and captivated me.  Because on one side, I had the helmets of innocent young boys, on whatever side they had fought, that filled me with a protective love and empathy, and then the purposefully sinister and nearly terrifying face of the Nazi party.  It put things into a perspective that I never really fully registered before.  So much so that I swore to publish the photos I took on this blog, and to even buy one of the paraphernalia, to lock in a safe, and to use as proof and a reminder of what can happen when we let horrors run amok.  I thought carefully about both, and decided to leave both where they were–unpublished and unpurchased.  There were just so many of them–it reminded me of the piles of dog tags you can find in Vietnam.  And next to them, a pocketwatch emblazoned with the Star of David.  What stories you could find it those relics.  Among all the colored artifacts you got the sense that this was some video game come to life, or some large-scale football tournament.  Except it wasn’t a game, and it didn’t “come to life.”  I was life.  The only comfort I found was a Red Cross bag, and this being Italy, I wondered if it could have been Ernest Hemingway’s.

Menton Bruschetta

Bruschetta in Menton

Menton Crêpe au Sucre

Crêpe au Sucre in Menton

Leaving the flea market, and crowds, and run down buildings behind us, we raced across the border to France.  We had a quick, light, but delicious lunch in Menton of bruschetta and crêpes.  Later that day, I decided to use my Ventimiglia purchases to write the recipes for this week’s columns.  I made zucchini flower beignets, fried in olive oil, just like in Nice.  And a zucchini flower pistou with the best walnuts of my life, tossed on fresh Italian tagliatelle.  I stuffed the orata with lemon and olive oil, and charred it under the broiler.  It had the whitest, sweetest meat.  And a carrot salad, with that spicy French Dijon mustard (why is it never that spicy back home?) and walnut oil.  It was a feast, because after a day like that, you have to stop and celebrate life!  La vita e bella.  La vie est belle. And from the terrace, in the cool of the evening, overlooking the bay of Monaco, life was very beautiful–and delicious–indeed.

You’re definitely going to want those recipes, so as the columns go up, I will republish them here, so check back!  As for the fish, this is my recipe for roasting a whole fish: buy it gutted, gilled, and scaled.  Preheat the broiler.  Rub a good amount of olive oil all over the inside and outside of the fish.  Season the inside and outside with salt and pepper.  Stuff the inside either with sliced lemons or a big bouquet of fresh thyme.  Put the fish on a baking tray lined with some aluminum foil, and it sit it close, but not directly under, the broiler.  Cook 6 to 10 minutes on the first side, then flip the fish for another 6 to 10 minutes on the other side.  You will know it’s done when the flesh is opaque and flaky.  I make whole fish at least once a week–it’s cheap, and so much more delicious than any other way of eating fish.  Don’t be intimidated!  So what if you make a mess while eating it?  Just watch out for the bones…

For more travels through France, explore here:

Paris Provence Côte d’Azur

 

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Voyages
 

In Nice

Nice Salts

Flavored Salts of Every Imaginable Variety at Lou Pantai

I’ve only been twice, and just for a day each time, but culinarily speaking, Nice is my mini-Mecca.  It’s an enclave unto itself, with its own food that no one else makes, and its hectic vielle ville, the old part of the city with crooked streets and little shops.  I plan to go hungry, so I can fill up on all the things I can only find there: socca, beignets, petits farcis.  Soccas are giant chickpea flour crêpes, but they are made with olive oil, and are savory, and crisp around the edges and crumbly inside.  I adore socca, and have never found it anywhere else.  Beignets are, like in New Orleans, little fried puffy fritters, but in Nice, they are stuffed with zucchini flowers and, again, are savory.  And petits farcis are vegetables, like zucchini, stuffed with meat and spices.  There is also pissaladière, that fantastic Provençal pizza covered in soft, sweet onions instead of sauce, and topped with anchovies and olives instead of cheese.  And, the best ice cream at Fenocchio, which has three cases of flavors (only one is pictured below) with classic flavors, and out-of-this-world flavors, like spekuloos, after those insanely cinnamon Belgian cookies, and riz au lait, or rice pudding.  And then, there are the absurd flavors, which are my favorite, made with the produce of the region: black olive, tomato and basil, rosemary, thyme, poppy, lavender, orange flower, verbena.  They’re not just novelty; they are actually really truly excellent, and it’s such an adventure going there.

For my day in Nice, I did what any sensible girl would do: I hit the soldes (sales) at Petit Bateau and Princesse Tam-Tam.  And when that was successfully completed, I found my way to Lou Pilha Leva, a street food vendor for all the foods I listed before.  That’s the best part of Nice–all the best delicacies are so casual.  You just sit at one of the broad benched tables, and share.  I bought two soccas for the three of us, and we had them with frothy, cold Kronenbourg.  They were salty, crisp, perfect–just enough to take the edge off.  One the way to dinner, I stopped in at a little bakery and bought a lavender navette, a little crisp tea cookies shaped like a boat, with dried lavender blossoms baked in.  And then, to dinner at La Tapenade, a little corner café where I had a fantastic ratatouille, and tagliatelle pistou (not an authentic version–but it wasn’t bad).  After a bottle of rosé, we broken heartedly watched the other tables with their crème caramel and chocolate mousse, but we were steadfast.  We got up, and marched to Fenocchio.  There’s no tasting, so I had to choose very wisely.  My mom and M. Français shared vanilla, coffee, and spekuloos.  But for me, I restrict myself to the local corner.  Orange flower ice cream and thyme sorbet.  The thyme sorbet was genius–cold, fresh, different but somehow not unfamiliar.  And the orange flower ice cream was just slightly fragrant, and much less sweet than the more “normal” flavors.  I loved them.  After that, I shared my lavender navette among the three of us as we hopped the automated trolley to our car.  I was honestly devastated at the thought I might not have another socca for years.

Fenocchio Flavors

The "absurd" corner of flavors at Fenocchio--as in, absurdly delicious.

Soccas

Socca, the most amazing chickpea crêpe, is only available in Nice

Socca Zoom

Because I want you to see how crispy the edges of socca are...

Socca Inside

...and how wonderfully dry and crumbly the interior is.

Lavender Navette

A little lavender navette...

Nice Ratatouille

Ratatouille at Tapenade in Nice

Fenocchio Vanilla Spekuloos Café

My parents' flavors: vanilla, coffee, and spekuloos (the best little Belgian cookies in the world that taste like Christmas)

Fenocchio Thyme Sorbet Orange Flower Ice Cream

Mine, all mine: fresh thyme sorbet, and orange flower ice cream

Lou Pantai – spice, sugar, tea, salt shop – 5 rue de la Poissonerie 06300 Nice – 04 93 62 12 25

Lou Pilha Leva – cuisine niçoise traditionelle – 10 rue du Collet 06300 Nice

Fenocchio – provençal ice creams – 6 rue de la Poissonerie 06300 Nice – 04 93 62 88 80

La Tapenade – restaurant – 6 rue Ste Réparate – 06300 Nice – 04 93 80 65 63

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Provence, Voyages
 

The Secret Ingredient (Mango Chutney) Part II: Sweet-Hot Chutney-Grilled Chicken

RECIPE: Sweet-Hot Chutney-Grilled Chicken
Chutney Chicken

Chutney Chicken

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

One cooking technique I’ve really fallen hard for these days is using jams (including spreads and chutneys) and cooking them, so that they caramelize and bubble up.  I did it with last month’s Ginger Jam, and I’m doing it here, again, with Mango Chutney.  What I love about these ingredients is they add the requisite sweetness and stickiness, but they also come, as free-standing jarred products, pretty well balanced in terms of sweetness and acidity.  So they add this phenomenal tang, and deep flavor, while providing the perfect already-sweet vehicle for caramelization.

Because the summer is all about grilling, I decided to grill my chutney.  I made a spice rub of chili powder, smoky cumin, cinnamon, and salt, and let a few whole chicken legs sit and absorb all of those flavors.  Slightly hot, slightly smoky, slightly exotic and almost sweet from the cinnamon.  I grilled the chicken until the spicy skin was charred, and then I painted the skin with mango chutney.  Another couple of minutes on the hottest part of the grill, and the chutney had melded together inseparably from the skin, bubbled up and caramelized almost like a barbecue sauce, and added all that sweetness and tartness to contrast with and balance the hot, salty skin.  It’s so unusual, it just works.

Sweet-Hot Chutney-Grilled Chicken
serves 4

Chutney ChickenINGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 4 chicken legs (organic/free range if you can swing it)
  • 1/2 cup good mango chutney
  • Torn cilantro for garnish

PROCEDURE

In a large plastic food storage bag, mix together the chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and salt until well combined.  Place the chicken legs in the bag, seal, and toss until the chicken is coated in the spice rub.  Put the chicken in the fridge to absorb all those flavors for about 2 hours.

Take the chicken out of the fridge to take the chill off.  Light your grill—wood burning, charcoal, or gas.  Place the chicken on the grill, slightly away from the hottest part.  Cook the chicken about 8 to 10 minutes on each side until cooked through.  Then, brush both sides of the chicken with mango chutney, and sear an additional 1 minute per side on the hottest part of the grill.  Arrange the chicken legs on a platter, and top with torn cilantro.  Serve.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Eat, Main Courses, Poultry, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient
 

On the Riviera: Here We Go in Monaco

Monaco Palmier

My giant palmier...

I landed in Nice last Thursday to spend some time with my mom and stepdad, who are staying in France for the next couple of months.  Thank goodness for spare bedrooms and EasyJet flights!  Thursday was spent in a short, hot trip down the mountain to Monte Carlo, where I haven’t been since I was fifteen.  A giant palmier later, I finally was admitted to the Monte Carlo casino (fifteen year olds are barred at the gates).  Only to find you have to pay to get in and gamble, so my plan to make like Lucy Ricardo and “accidentally” win several hundred thousand francs at roulette was foiled.

Monaco Casino

The Casino at Monte Carlo

But I did pass by the Café de Paris, where my mom and I had lunch after I was barred from the casino thirteen years ago.  It wasn’t a total loss, because I had the best ratatouille of my life, cut into a miniscule and perfectly cubed dice (a brunoise if you’ve been to cooking school).  I never forgot it in thirteen years.  But that’s when we were on the franc!  Now, it’s 14 Euros!  Maybe you get what you pay for.

Cafe de Paris Monaco Ratatouille

14 Euros for Ratatouille!

Later on, a train of open army jeeps drove by our apartment, filled to the brim with men dressed as révolutionnaires and women dressed as Madame Lafarge.  Edith Piaf blared from the cars, and they shouted the time and place of the fireworks for Bastille Day.  So dutifully, at 10:30, we sat by the sea in Menton, eating ice cream, while the sparks flew.

Tomorrow, Nice!

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Voyages