Sunday, 30 August 2009

Colonic Colonialism

I never thought that living in Italy would have such an acute impact on my eating habits. I never thought I’d eat as much, or considered that meat would cease to be an option. I never thought lard would be hiding in my bread, potatoes and pastries, and I never would have contemplated liking it…
Before Italy, local or seasonal food did not enter my mind in preparation of dinner, and now that I am a born again semitarian, how is it that I still cant manage to bring myself to have British food whenever I’m in London? Its probably not that difficult a question. Good food at a reasonable price is calling my ‘anything but Italian food’ deprived palette, which is how I found myself having dim sum, curry, krispy cremes, Thai and Mexican, with the odd salt beef sandwich to even out the food map.
This should keep me going for a while.
A creature of habit, London is the place I perform my food rituals; my curry, my dim sum, my Thai, my Japanese- an annual top up for my cravings with the occasional stab at something new. With each visit I return to old favorites, and abandon others in favor of satisfying my curiosity.

The aromatic hectic-ness of China town is where I go for dim sum, year in, year out, and the juicy stack of salt beef on a radish slapped rye bread (with a side of pickled gherkin) is a must stop at Selfridges food hall. Curry has no specific location, as long as all the favorites are on the menu, and they always are and since the book came out Ottolenghi’s is on my list.

This is my newly added loot:

Broadway Market- local market, good vibes, live music, Jellied eels, Vietnamese sarnies, fresh produce, food stalls, breads, pastries, canal, nice shops.

Primrose hill’s Melrose & Morgan- a grocery shop and kitchen, they provide hand made, high quality seasonal and local goods. British best, be it the bright coloured fresh salads, in house sausage rolls and pastry as well as carefully sourced ice creams, tea, coffee, dairy products, fruit, wine and chocolate …I’m sure I’m forgetting something. The jams. I happen to know where the blackberries that make a certain blackberry jam are sourced. Can you say that about the jams you buy? Or any other foodstuff for that matter?

Another discovery was the joyous bursting burrito at Chilango, prepared from scratch by a human conveyor belt. It was good. And big. I would have bought half the portion, but this is not an option as they would then only make half the profit, which is probably why one can’t buy half a portion.

Leon is a fast food chain. What makes it different from any other fast food is that it is freshly prepared, tasty, healthy and inexpensive. So it's better.

All topped up, I am heading in the only possible direction.

vers le bas, Sud. à plus tard.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Danish summer Xmas

The countryside

The bus ride leading up to the village passes through small villages of shiny bright windows and rows of trimmed hedges. Grazing cows dominate the flatland; Black, brown, spotted and white, with the occasional reindeers, a picture of Danish serenity.

After 24 hours of traveling 1400km from Italy to the northern coast of Denmark I was greeted with Danish pastry and the opening shot for non-stop endless eating of Denmark’s quintessential cuisine.

The summerhouse sits in the middle of ‘as nowhere as it gets’, with rooms leading to narrow corridors intertwining backwards, with nic- nacs, antiques and lots of stuff to look at, a pantry full of Scandinavian goodness and a backyard bursting of green apples, red and yellow mini plums, blue currents and red, tarty gooseberries, green and red, all weighing down the trees and bushes, waiting to be picked.

I am in the backyard of a Danish summerhouse, and I am overwhelmed.

There is so much fruit that the majority of it finds itself on the ground and mostly enjoyed by the wildlife. The following days presented the challenge as well as the opportunity of finding as many uses for the abundant berries, and some that would not be tried were they not free and in endless quantity.

C is Danish in more ways then one. He likes order and takes pleasure in the proper way of doing things. I, on the other hand, prefer to approach rules and guidelines as recommendations, with a pressing need and strong urge to make a recipe my own, after all, rules are made to be broken.

Most of the time we balance each other out. MOST of the time. We began by preparing traditional Frikadeller, Danish pork meatballs, accompanied by red currents from the garden. The following day we got on a bicycle and headed out to lunch by the coast at the svinkloev badehotel, a seasonal hotel serving fresh Danish food by the Baltic sea in what is the only restaurant in the area. 2 hours and19.5 km later, with aching thighs, sweaty and windblown, a couple of foreigners entered a seaside restaurant (scandalously, 45 minutes past the reservation time), for a Smørrebrød.

The Local organic heather beer quenched my thirst and soothed my aching buttocks while waiting for lunch.

aper thin slices of rye bread arrived, spread with a coat of fresh salted butter, followed by a thick layer of remoulade topped with a rye-fried plaice and a slice of gherkin. Eaten with a knife and fork, as you do.

Dessert was a selection of cakes, mostly with almonds and marzipan, though practically all the other diners seemed to favor a cream explosion on a layer cake, as apparently Danes love their whipped cream.

I was still recovering from the long journey to Denmark, so the 38.5 km I had cycled that day pushed my limits even further. And I swear those cows were looking at me as if they knew me…

By the time we got home we had earned our dinner, traditional style; slices of rye bread and herring with schnapps, followed by a dish of fried potatoes, beets, onion and bacon, and fresh morels sautéed in butter and garlic, some currents and a venison fillet. All grown, raised and bought locally, with the wonderful invention of roadside shopping; a system based on trust, stalls by the side of a road offer local produce to passers by and a small piggy bank for the payment. Stumbling upon these stalls is as exciting as finding an oversized mushroom under a tree.

The following day we had lunch at a hot dog stand, a cheap and popular Danish lunch serving hot dog mit alles, the lot; ketchup, remoulade, fried onions and gherkins, with a side of crinkled fries. I have managed to acquire an addiction to remoulade. The hotdog is sold in a pristine clean fast food stand, almost making the act of purchasing and consuming fast food a cleansing experience.

Then there was a traditional Xmas rice pudding, eaten cold with hot cherry sauce, an Øllebrød, ale bread, a soup made of rye bread and ale, shots of pressed bloody red currents, a traditional potato salad as well as a cream layer cake.

The city

I soaked up the Danish landscape on the quiet, calm, punctual and smooth 6 hour bus ride to Copenhagen.

Once in the city I did as the Danes, and equipped with a pair of city headed to the nearest bakery. A seed bursting rye bread and several pastries later we headed to the town centre for a boat ride around the city, on what turned out to be one of those summer days of cloud, wind and some rain.

With fresh pastries, rye bread, remoulade, quality butter and beer, it is surprisingly easy to pass the days with only a faint hint of vegetables or anything remotely carb free…

I had only a couple more days in Denmark and I had still Danish food to try so it was decided dinner would be a traditional festive Xmas meal. We roasted a pork belly, complete with a top layer of crunchy skin, seasonal berries, Danish new potatoes, and cooked cabbage. Dessert was a tasting of flødeboller, cream ball. Industrial and grand cru versions.

A food item thought as indigenous to Israel, the Krembo is in fact of Danish origins. There are several main differences; the Danish version is an evergreen version, and is available all year round as opposed to the seasonal Krembo available only during the wintertime. The flødeboller has a wafer or a layer of marzipan instead of a moist cookie, and can come in several sizes (Large and small), a variety of finishes (white or dark chocolate, double coating, coconut topping), and either in artisanal or industrial versions. The main difference however, is found in the way of consuming the flødeboller – the Danes crush it on top of ice cream. Cookie side up! Fascinating.

The breads, butters, pastries and beer balance out with cycling. This is how one can get away with it!

A week in Denmark I ate pretty much all the Danish food I could find,

which was more then I could have hoped for.

I am a Scandi-fan.

Berries salad/ salsa

750g mixed berries (I used red & blue currants, red & green gooseberries, yellow & red plums)

a handful of chopped parsley

a handful of chopped chives

2 tbs chopped roasted nuts (I used pine nuts and walnuts)

Approx. 10 cloves of garlic cloves pickled in chili oil

2 tbs chili oil

Salt & pepper

Mix all the ingredients together before serving. Pair with meat dishes.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Let Go

Lecco, a city at the end of the southeastern branch of Lake Como is home to pizzoccheri (Buckwheat pasta), neighbor to George Clooney, and my host for a couple of days. And, by the looks of it, having a fresh water lake surrounded by monumental mountains at the foots of one’s door step is breathtaking if not terribly convenient on a bleaching hot August day. A fact obvious to the many locals that shared the sharp stoned lake shores, other then us. Beer on top of a mountain, accompanied by a packet of local Fonzies, with a panorama opening to green fields, small lakes, and scattered villages proved a pleasant activity passing time in the heat.

This was my first tasting of pizzoccheri, and, although healthy sounding, this is the North of Italy, code word to cold winters, thus food is made with the intent of providing maximum calories, ie. comfort food. The pizzoccheri swims in butter, literally, alongside fontina cheese, parmesan, potatoes and greens, accompanied by loyal friends, home made sausage in a bun and glass of red wine. Yes, its August, midday, and a hot one at that. And whilst it’s wrong, it feels so right.

A couple of days in the sun, ice cold beers, and too much Gelato (yes, there is such a thing), and at the end of it all sitting on a balcony surrounded by pre alps mountains, clear skies, good company, a glass of local wine and freshly made food is really all one could ask for.

Here is a recipe for pizzoccheri

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Friendly Firenze Food

Finally. Florence.
Years of waiting have finally come to an end.
Will I like it? Will I fall in love with it? What if I don’t?
Planned as a short visit ahead of an eight-week internship in Florence, this trip was themed a budget friendly affair, and one aimed at getting to know some of the challenges ahead as well as the food map of the area. In a swift in n’ out manner, with minimum possible damage.
A 2-hour ride, and I was in Florence, and in a different time vs. space dimension.
We arrived in the late morning hours, checked in to our strangely cheap, yet clean and central hotel apartment (!!!) and headed down to try the ‘best focaccia’ in town,
Pugi. Indeed the Focaccia made for an adequate representative, and was in keeps with our budget challenge, with fruit from the market to spare. For dessert.
It was time. Ahead was one of the world’s true wonders, Brunelleschi’s dome. A gob smacking structure, it resembled an ant farm, surrounded by hundreds of tourists swarming it, little deterred by the scorching heat and the blistering sun. This is not over. I put a pin in it, "to return" when slightly cooler and, more importantly, emptier.
After a day in this heat it really is clear why gelato is so big in Italy. It’s the only thing that can take the edge off the heat and provide some comfort. Gelato is the opposite of comfort food, eaten cold and in summer, but it is nonetheless comforting. This point in time marks the beginning of my research into the wonderful world of Florentine gelati. I kicked off with
Badiani, situated outside of the tourist path, priding itself on the Buontalenti flavor, a combination of custard, cream and pine nuts invented and copyrighted in memory of the Florentine architect Bernardo Buontalenti. Interesting. As in: "I'm not sure about this flavor exciting my taste buds, interesting...''
The following morning started in San Ambrogio market, passing a tripe vendor preparing tripe sandwiches for hungry folk in need of their breakfast tripe. A similar case of "interesting..."
A Porchetta (roast pork), spicy sauce, eggplant and pecorino sandwich at Antico noe’ was Lunch. This was, in keeping with budget, a traditional sandwich bar 'hole in the wall' venue situated, typically, under a vault. Another pin, I will return. Last stop for
Mattei cantucci in Pegna, and I was back on a train, sweating. Nothing better then sitting on the sun side of a train with no air conditioning, during August, in Italy. Oh god, am I complaining?
Sweet and quick, if not hot and sweaty, I will be back and fully prepared now that I know what lies ahead.

Via dello Studio 8
50122 Firenze

Viale dei Mille 20/R
50131, Firenze

P.zza S. Marco 10
Via S. Gallo 62/R
V.le De Amicis 49/R

Antico Noe'
Volta di San Piero 6r, Florence, Italy

Sunday, 2 August 2009

To Kiss a Scallop

Located in the east centre of France, the Bourgogne region sits on the strategic intersection linking Paris and the Rhineland with the Mediterranean. A week in Bourgogne; Lyon, Dijon and the Cote d’Or.

Beef of Charolais originated in the countryside of the French province Charolles; an undulating landscape with a heterogeneous variety of fields and soils, streams & rivers, a continental climate, and plenty of rainfall proving an ideal breeding ground for this free roaming, happy breed. Tartare, boiled and seared.

Titled France’s culinary capital, gastronomy is an inseparable part of Lyon’s identity. The city has over 1,000 restaurants, a food trade exhibition, a school of culinary art and the Halle de Lyon indoor Market. Although we were shopping for a picnic lunch, breakfast mustn’t be skipped. This is how I found myself enjoying oysters, Champagne and a whelk, bulot, at 9am.

Best. Breakfast. Ever.

This was followed by an unsurprising Best. Lunch. Ever.

On the doorstep of a stone heavy castle, by a lake in the Bresse countryside a table was laid with market fresh fruit and vegetables, a pungently French cheese platter, a cured meat platter, and, since we were in Bresse, a Bresse chicken with its characteristic white feathers, smooth blue feet and a red crest bearing the colors of the French flag. Raised on grassy pastures with an area of 10sq/m per chicken, the chickens feed of the grassy land as well as corn, wheat, cereals and dairy from the Bresse area. The poultry is slaughtered using techniques that keep it whole without external incisions, prolonging its preservation period and making for a fascinating piece of trivia information.

It was lovely. And then it rained. As it does on July.


It was during the 14th century that the Duchy of Burgundy became the richest and best administrated state in western Europe. During this period the towns prospered and Dijon became an important market town. This is also where I had a French kiss in the form of a thinly sliced, raw St Jacque scallop.

Its Dijon, so naurally there were a lot of snails, L’escargot, enough mustard to last me for a few years, crème de Cassis, spice bread and head cheese, a cold terrine of pieces from the head of pigs (happy, free range ones), and it is as aesthetic as it sounds. In section view.

Dijon is also where I had a gallette filled with tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, and cubes of bacon, folded like an envelope, and addressed to me. With cider, bien sur.

Epoisses is a washed rind cheese made of milk curd.

Cylindrical in shape with either plain or parallel surfaces, the Epoisses could either have a shiny and smooth crust or slightly rippled. Its color can vary from orange- ivory to brick red, caused by the pigmentation of the surface bacteria depending on the maturation period. The cheese should be light beige nearer the rind with a white centre.

Characterized by a strong, persistent, flowery aroma with woodland undergrowth the paste should be creamy, melting in the mouth with a slightly crumbly heart, and balanced fruity and dairy flavors.

Wonderfully accentuated on a slice of a Dijonnaise spice bread, Pain d’epice.

With 99.5% made of Oak wood, France supplies 80% of the worlds’ barrels.

Stepping into the the Francois Freres Cooperage in Saint Romain was a journey through time; a tradition, technique, skill, history, and well, yes, a terroir are all captured in these wooden barrels. Hollywood could not build a better set or design better lighting.

The production of barrels begins in the forests of the Loire valley; Oak trees from renewable sources, aged between 120-280 years are carefully selected. The trees are cut to 100cm logs and split by hand. The planks are then sun dried, in order to remove the humidity in the wood, for several years.

The planks are molded by hand to barrels, that are then placed over an open flame and are ‘toasted’ to varying degrees, giving the wine an oak accent based on the temperature and length of the toasting process.

Next a bung hole is made, the circular heads are inserted and the final hoops give the finishing touch, made to the clients’ specification.

The last day began early with a café and an almond croissant, followed by a visit to the market in Dijon for grocery shopping; berries, apples, peaches, yogurt, wholesome bread, lentils, roasted chicken, a spring roll, and Epoisses cheese. What followed was an 11-hour bus ride back to Italy through the alps, and a pleasurable one at that if we ignore the strong cheeses that were brought on board. It was a foodie bus, so complaints. I had French food for the next few days, so I could pretend for longer.