May 31, 2010

One Night in Paris with 'friends of Ja..'

Some thought me silly to fly to Paris from Florence, destination Provence. To go from south to North to South did not compute. Some have no imagination. To glimpse the grand avenue of the Champs-Elysees, the Seine, or to sleep in the quaint haunt of Saint Germaine, is reason alone to visit the capitol of 'des artiste!' even for an overnight. To dine is another.

A Parisian friend had made a reservation for my friend Virginie and me, in a well-known Basque bistro in the 7th. Popping into chez L'Ami Jean was like being invited into a party of a bon vivant. Lively, old, preserved and raucous, we were squished into a two top so close to the other two tops that the metal Ark-like breadbaskets straddled the tables down the crack, it was confusing to know which one to chose from. The waiter said, 'boo, it doesn’t mat-ter!' He was the same waiter that answered me candidly when I asked, 'what is the most typical Basque dish on the menu?" He answered, 'Moi!'

Big fish eat little fish. Feeling like a sardine, I chose the sardines. The other dishes were interesting to say the least,veal cheeks, quail, a side of beef stacked on roasted potatoes, but the thought of sardines seemed simple.

The plate was presented like order in chaos, not unlike the bistro itself. Same, same but different. Rough, rustic, a little noisy, yet friendly and charming, the sardines fell onto the plate like silver torpedoes topped with a confetti of pickled red onions, thin leaves of tarragon and capers. A potato slice for a bed and a drizzle of fruity olive oil for sanity. Second course was simple. Grilled turbot. House white. Just one glass but it fit.

No dessert, but L’Ami Jean was ‘sweet’.
Stephane Jego

May 27, 2010

Paris Bound

It was a rather funny moment. I was sitting in Teatro del Sale with Fabio when his friend Marc walked in. "let me introduce you to a true socialist and well known journalist from Paris!" Said Fabio. I told his friend I was on my way. Fabio asked for a restaurant recommendation for me. He thought for a moment and called this restaurant straight away and made a reservation." Basque". Said Marc.

I love the underground.

L'Ami Jean
27 rue Malard
75007 Paris
33 47 05 86 89

May 17, 2010

Recipe for Pasticciotto Napoletano: Pastry Cream Pie with Black Cherries.

Per la frolla:
(a sweet crust)

> 3 1/2 c flour (use 3 and the other half if needed)
> 1/2 c of butter
> 1/2 c of sugar
> 3 egg yolks
> 1 t of baking powder

Per la crema:
(the pastry cream)

> 1 pint of milk
> 3 egg yolks
> 3/4 c of sugar
> 2 T of cornstarch
> 1/2 stick of vanilla (or 1 t vanilla extract)
> 1 jar amerene (black cherries in syrup)
> powdered sugar to dust

Mix together all ingredients for the pasta frolla and put in the fridge for an hour.

Prepare the cream, putting milk to simmer with the vanilla. In a sauce pan, mix egg yolks and sugar together, add cornstarch, as well as warm, simmered vanilla milk.

Put this on a low flame and keep stirring until it starts to bubble. After a minute or two, turn off the fire and let it cool.

Take out the frolla and roll 3/4 of it to a thin crust, 12 inches around, or whatever size pie plate you choose.

Fill it with the strained cherries on bottom, covering with the pastry cream. Cover pie with left-over frolla, rolling it out thin to fit on top.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes at 350F, until the top becomes golden. When cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

May 16, 2010

Trattoria Armandino, Praiano. The Amalfi Coast

Colors can be seen at night by a full Amalfitana moon. Off to the nearby village of Praiano, suspended between the mountains and the sea, our mouths water as we approach a dimly lit piazza by the small sea port surrounded by cliffs.

Colored boats and nets line the shore as old men, looking more like crustaceans than humans, sit around tables playing cards, listening to the sea. They are waiting for calm, when they will jump in their boats and paddle out for the catch.

A boy of about eight rides his bicycle, a bit too big for him, around and around the piazza dodging everything in sight. It’s a night for cats. Some friends and I thought we would prowl around as well, for che c'e c'e. "What there is, there is. "

Before we sit down, we talk with Armandino, a serious man, a bit shy, but ‘molto simpatico.’ He owns one of only two small trattorias in the square. From behind the bar, he tells us that he has just prepared an excellent squid sauce, very fresh, and that we should take a walk and come back in 10 minutes.
We decided to follow a railed walkway around the rocky coast of the village. It leads practically to no-where, other than an African style disco-tech that has a plexiglas dance floor, through which one can see fish swimming around below. Off-season unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to try it out. 

Just as well, as Laura, Sergio, Giocondo and I were ready to sink our teeth into dinner.

Back at Armandino’s, we sat down outside to a very simple table he had just covered in crisp white linen, set with glasses and a bottle of local wine. It was Furore, named and produced from the next village. A light, dry, fruity wine, it was perfect for our meal and an honor because Giocondo, our host, was born there.

While we feasted on coral-colored squid in a tasty stew of its own juice over tubetti, Giocondo told us a story from when he was a little boy. Furore is a vertical village, with life happening below along the sea, and above among the vineyards. Everyday his father and brothers went out in the boats to fish. He would cry, “Let me go!” and his father would say, “No Giocondo, not today.” But Giocondo would cry and cry until his mother finally said, “Let him go.” So, off he would go.

Inevitably, a five-year-old boy, the lull of the boat would put him to sleep. This was not so bad, but the problem was that once he fell asleep his brothers would have to carry him up 200 stairs to the house! Everyday he cried, “ Let me go!” And his father said, “No Giocondo, not today,” and somehow his mother was always able to convince him. Giocondo inevitably fell asleep from the rocking and had to be carried up the 200 stairs.

We laughed about many things in between sips of Furore and our second plate of freshly grilled anchovies and more squid. The night was magic, the waves and moon setting the ambiance of the piazza. We ate the acciughe with our hands, eating their flesh right off the small bones and tossing them to the cats, which held court around our table just waiting for something to drop. Perhaps some boney morsel would fall their way. Something had happened to one of the cats and her top lip was missing, which gave her the strangest, almost Chesire expression.

Armandino fed us fresh melon and torta for dessert, which was an experience equal to the magic of the night. It was moist, flavorful and so deliciously honest that I asked for the recipe. Armadino’s wife, Filomina, humbly came to the door and told us, blushing, in a soft voice, how she had done it. It was Pasticciotto; a traditional dessert of the region (borrowed from the Pugliese) with black cherries and custard. Four ingredients simply prepared (find the recipe here).

As if dessert wasn’t enough, Armandino gave us a special digestivo made from wild laurel. Its herbaceous quality was subtle, yet soulfully satisfying, enough depth to cap off a somewhat rustic night in the open air.

Another walk in the moonlight. Satiated, we had no need for conversation. Only the sound of the sea and the moon's reflections on the water.

I couldn’t help but picture Giocondo, this content little boy, slung over his brother's shoulder, flopping in his slumber still thinking he was fishing on his father's boat.

May 11, 2010

Private One-Day Cooking Classes in Florence, May and June 2010.

This month and next, Peggy will be offering private cooking classes in Florence.

The classes, based out of Peggy's home behind the Palazzo Vecchio in downtown Florence, are terrific one-on-one experiences.

Peggy writes, "The day begins with a cappuccino at Cibreo to discuss the menu, a trip to the market to choose the best ingredients, a stroll through the cobblestoned alleys of Florence back to my apartment to cook, and sharing a lunch of what we have prepared."

For travelers, these lessons provide a one-day intensive that will immerse you into the life of a Florentine insider. Cooking in Peggy's home is a welcomed retreat from the street, and the tourist routine of eating out night after night.

One minute, a tourist. The next? A friend of a friend..of a friend.

Wine and a wine lesson are also included. Email Peggy for more information and pricing.

the donuts at Cibreo—yum!

"Anatomy of a Latté" Peggy gives a lesson on the perfect Italian latté at Cibreo, her favorite Florentine café.

Finding fresh local strawberries at the Sant'Ambrogio market.

The perfect meal calls for the perfect cheese, thanks to advice at the Sant'Ambrogio Market.

May 8, 2010

Moroccan Fish Pastilla Recipe

Guided by master chef Bahija, we learned to make a traditional Moroccan chicken pastilla during the 2010 trip to Morocco.

Ready with our assortment of spices

Adding saffron to the chicken.

Bahija crushes almonds for the chicken pastilla by hand, a method she
laughingly refers to as the "Berber food processor."

By popular request, the recipe for a fish and seafood version of the pastilla follows. Enjoy!
FISH PASTILLA (Pastille au Poisson)
The below recipe uses filo dough to form the crust of the pastilla. Traditionally, Moroccan pastilla is made with warka, a slightly less-flaky, more malleable pastry sheet. In the United States, warka can be found in many Middle Eastern groceries, but filo dough also makes a suitable substitution.
>> 1 pound of filo dough
>> 5 T melted butter
>> 2 egg yolks
>> 14 oz white fish, cut in pieces
>> 14 oz. shrimp
>> 14 oz squid
>> 2 diced onions
>> 4 cloves garlic
>> 2 Tablespoons parsley
>> 5 oz. vermicelli

>> 1 teaspoon cumin
>> 1 teaspoon paprika
>> 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper
>> 1 teaspoon saffron
>> 1 teaspoon harrissa (spicy tomato paste)
>> 1 preserved lemon, quartered and pulped
>> juice of one lemon
>> butter

Sauté fish in a skillet with 1 teaspoon of butter for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper.
Sauté shrimp for 5 minutes, separately, add salt and pepper. Sauté squid with salt and 1teaspoon harissa.

Sauté onion in a little butter until translucent.

Soften vermicelli in hot water, drain and set aside.

Melt a little more butter and add half the of the fish (you will save the other half) to the pan, together with all of the shrimp and squid. Add parsley, vermicelli, garlic, cumin, paprika, preserved lemon, lemon juice, saffron, salt and pepper. Mix and simmer in the pan for 10 minutes (or a bit longer if necessary, to ensure that the vermicelli is cooked.)

Butter pan for the pastilla.

Place 5 leaves of filo around in a fan, starting from the center (like we did in class with the warka) and brush with butter. Add one more in the center and brush again with melter butter.

Add filling, spreading evenly. Add the fish pieces that you saved and place them around the top of the filling. Brush outer leaves with butter and beaten egg. Fold the leaves of filo over the filling, trying to keep it round. Brush again with butter. Add one or two sheets of filo on top. Tuck in well. Brush again with butter and remaining egg yolk.
Cook at 400 degrees F. for 20 minutes or until golden. Decorate with lemon slices and cilantro. Slice into wedges like a pie. Serve hot!

May 2, 2010

Slow Food Cooking 101: Finding our materia prima at the Sant'Ambrogio Market

I’ve been lucky enough to travel with elephant columnist and dear friend Peggy Markel these last few weeks, in Morocco and Italy. This morning, over lattés at her favorite family-owned café in Florence, Cibreo, I said to her, “Peggy, it’s not that I want to open a restaurant or be a professional chef, but I want to learn to make delicious food for my family and friends. Where do I start?”

Usually, I start with a recipe in mind and then hit the internet or a cookbook, make a few tweaks, and the result is fairly decent. But Peggy took me to the market and taught me that great quality cooking starts with great quality ingredients. It’s all about how you choose your materia prima, as she (and the Italians) call it—the basic building blocks of a meal.
~ Merete Mueller

Read the rest of the post, including a video tour of the Sant'Ambrogio Farmer's Market in Florence, at

May 1, 2010

La Notte Bianca~ Florence an all-night circus

Florence, awake all the night from 6 pm to 6 am with open studios, museums, music, street performers and a swarm of 100,000 people, for 'Una Notte Bianca' White Night. Frescobaldi offered wine in the open antique shops and breakfast was offered in the Palazzo Vecchio at 5 am. It was one long aperitivo and Florence itself was a circus tent.

Here are a few glimpses into 'the sun shines also at night'.....A treat from the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi.

A homeless Elvis ('senza tetto'-without a roof), a well-known street performer, gives Florence his love.

The doorman of an antique art gallery poses for his photo.

A clever Marionette mesmerizes the crowd with his fluid movements and calm demeanor.

Inside a bookstore/bar/café, a magician opens his box of tricks.