Harvesting sea salt on France’s Île de Ré

sea salt Sea salt may be hot, but it’s hardly new. Since the 12th century, the “sauniers” on the Île de Ré have been literally raking it in. These days about 85 members of the Cooperative of the Sauniers of Île de Ré use the same traditional methods to harvest more than 2,600 tons of salt each summer. With its long, sunny days and mild breezes, this island off the west coast of France near La Rochelle has the perfect conditions for salt production, according to Hervé Rault, who learned the craft from his grandfather. Rault (pictured above) also has a steady job maintaining the dikes and marshes, but harvesting salt is his passion. “I do this after my other work,” he says, “just for fun.

coarse sea salt The whole process takes only two or three days, he explains as he leads a small group on a tour of his salt marsh plot. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Rault begins by opening a small stone dam to allow sea water to enter a reservoir big enough to hold about a three weeks’ supply. From there, water is pumped into a second reservoir until it is filled to about 20-30 cm (8-12 inches). To speed evaporation, the water circulates constantly and is eventually pumped into a third reservoir. By this point, the ever-diminishing water is only about 1 cm (0.4 inches) deep.

sea salt Rault uses a very long-handled wooden rake to bend into the harvest. He pushes away the shallow water to uncover the coarse gray grains that have formed on the clay bottom. Then he quickly grabs a shorter-handled rake with drain holes to pull them into little piles along the shore. The coarse salt is the bulk of the harvest. Like all sauniers, Rault keeps an eye out for finer grains that form on the surface of the water so that he can gently skim them off with a fine-mesh basket on a long pole.

 Île de Ré sea salt Rault recommends using the coarse salt for cooking while reserving the more delicate fleur de sel for use on the table. The natural Île de Ré salt has a pronounced minerality and the suggestion of a slightly toasted flavor. It definitely brings out the sweetness of the luscious melons and tomatoes that are happily in season during the salt harvest. Sea salt is sold all over the Île de Ré. The sauniers cooperative (Route de la Prée, outside the village of Ars-en-Ré) sells both gray salt and fleur de sel direct to the public along with a “pebble” of gray salt ready to be added to one liter (just over a quart) of cooking water.

20

10 2014

TWL: Prosecco over the line in Friuli

San Simone welcome2 The most rarefied Prosecco may come from the hills between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, as suggested in an earlier post but some superb examples also come from the plains and river valleys eastward toward Pordenone in Friuli. It may be an entirely different political region from the Veneto, yet it’s less than 40 km (25 miles) from Conegliano.

Maglio 1Driving east on the A28, it’s even worth taking a 15-minute detour to the village of Francenigo to see the historic power-hammer smithy — the Maglio di Francenigo — that’s one of the last touchstones of the agricultural heritage. The Pessot family started making tools to till the fields and vineyards, using water power from a falls on the Livenza River to raise and lower the power hammer on the anvil. The smithy was converted into a museum in 2000, and during the summer tourist season, someone is usually around on weekends to demonstrate the forge and mill-wheel powered hammer. During my visit, it was the august 74-year-old Beppe Pessot, who started work at the smithy at age 14, and is seen here at the forge. Nowadays the museum makes a few fireplace tools and other simple fabrications for sale as souvenirs.

Prosecco at San Simone di Brisotto

Seeing the industrial roots of farming in this bucolic landscape was a reminder that however idyllic and rustic the vineyards and farms might seem, there’s a lot of hard and dirty work behind that green facade. My visit to Francenigo was a stopover en route to a glamorous Prosecco house, San Simone di Brisotto (Via Prata 30, Porcia; +39 0434-578-633, www.sansimone.it). Located at the far western edge of DOC Friuli Grave and in the heart of the Prosecco DOC region, San Simone can (and does) make a number of excellent DOC wines. They also manage to make those wines in about as green a fashion as possible. (Antifungals and sulfur have their place in even organic practices.) San Simone is operated by three siblings—Chiara, Anna, and Antonio—who represent the family’s fourth generation in the business. (Anna Brisotto is at the top of this post at the entrance to the estate.)

millesimato bottle2 San Simone makes four different Prosecco DOC frizzante wines (lower alcohol, less carbonation) as well as brut and extra brut versions of Prosecco DOC spumantes, and a Millesimato (single vineyard) brut Prosecco DOC (Perlae Naonis) that is one of the most complex examples of Prosecco DOC brut that I drank during my travels in the region. It was creamy on the palate (great mouth feel), fruity on the nose, with just a hint of toasted almonds in the aftertaste. The acidity gave the wine a real freshness yet enabled it to hold up to a small feast prepared by the winery’s cook staff.

That included, as pictured below, some frico (Montasio cheese grilled until crisp), a fresh asparagus salad with quail eggs, a shrimp risotto, and cheese ravioli in a Prosecco sauce.

san simone food

15

10 2014

What to Eat at the Airport: More LAX

LAX Terminal 5 Operating at the corner of Third and Fairfax since 1934, the Original Farmers Market is a Los Angeles landmark that celebrates great California fruits and vegetables as well as good cooking from around the world. Now a little piece of this city treasure has been transplanted to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Opened in June, Farmers Market at Terminal 5 includes such market stalwarts as Bennett’s Ice Cream (look for the chocolate-covered frozen banana), Magee’s House of Nuts (perfect for munching on the plane), and the Dog Bakery (in case you need a treat for Fido waiting at home).

Loteria! at LAX Two spots are stand-outs for a satisfying meal before a flight. At Monsieur Marcel Pain Vin et Fromage (www.mrmarcel.com), you can select some great cheese and bread for a quick snack or order a bowl of French onion soup or a wedge of quiche Lorraine. Much more in tune with southern California’s Mexican heritage, Lotería! Grill (loteriagrill.com) serves lightened versions of regional Mexican cuisine. The green tomatillo enchiladas and shredded beef tacos are among the most popular with airport diners. But for my money, nothing beats a bowl of chef Jimmy Shaw’s purée of tortilla soup. The creamy, slightly spicy soup is topped with corn tortilla strips, sliced avocado, queso fresco, and toasted ancho chile. It’s the ultimate comfort food before a long flight back to the East Coast.

I didn’t want to wait until my next trip to Los Angeles to enjoy another bowl, so I developed this recipe to try to approximate the version served at Lotería! It’s inspired by the chicken tortilla soup I’ve been making for years from a Consumer Reports cookbook—crossed with Dean Fearing’s famed puréed tortilla soup that he reveals in his Texas Food Bible that came out last April. I have lightened up the recipe by baking the tortilla strips rather than frying them.

By the way, if you’re going to be in Terminal 7 at LAX, see this post on where to eat.

tortilla soup at Loteria!
PURÉED TORTILLA SOUP

Serves 6

Ingredients

12 corn tortillas (6-inch), halved and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
1 tablespoon light, neutral-flavored oil (sunflower, peanut, or canola)
2 medium onions, puréed in the blender or a food processor
6 whole large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon ground ancho chile
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock
juice of a small lime
8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:
fresh avocado, peeled and thinly sliced
queso fresco, crumbled (cow’s milk feta cheese makes a fine substitute)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange tortilla strips in single layer on cooling racks and place in oven to bake until lightly browned and crisp (about 5 minutes). Reserve.

In large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic cloves and cook until onion turns a golden brown. Stir in chile, cumin, oregano, and bay leaf. Add chicken stock, lime, tomato sauce, and sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook 20 minutes.

Taste soup and add salt and/or pepper, if needed. Add about one-third of toasted tortilla strips and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and purée soup in batches in a blender or by using an immersion blender. It should be the texture of light cream. If it is too thin, add more tortilla strips, cook, and purée again. If too thick, add a little chicken stock.

To serve, ladle into bowls and top with queso fresco, chopped avocado, and tortilla chips.

A fine homegrown single malt whiskey

Westland American Single Malt whiskey As a lover of good whiskey — whatever its Gaelic or hillbilly pedigree — I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole new category that’s just become available in the Northeast. Based on a tasting of Westland Distillery’s American Single Malt, the folks behind this Seattle distillery are visionaries. The Pacific Northwest has been, arguably, the source of some of the most exciting craft beer making in the last 15 years. Part of that is due to the great barley-growing areas of Washington State and Idaho, and the localized skill in creating specialty malts.

To my taste buds, though, it’s a big jump from craft beer to a sipping whiskey, and I’m pleased with the fruity, not-too-sweet Westland house style. I’m typically a bourbon drinker, and this single malt barley whiskey is frankly less assertive and less sweet than high-end corn-bred bourbons. But it’s a very civilized sip that picks up a lot of subtlety from the complex grain bill (Washington select pale malt, Munich malt, “extra-special” malt, pale chocolate malt, and brown malt). The mouth heat I’d normally associate with 92 proof is tamed by aggressive aging in new American oak for at least 24 months (with some mellowing in sherry casks and port pipes). The flavor starts as an assertive graham cracker sweetness, quickly mellows to caramel crystal (like crème brûlée), and gives an aftertaste full of white chocolate and toasted spice.

This is Westland’s first release in New England, and will be followed soon by a peated single malt with strong smoky phenolics. I’ll be happy to see how both styles fare with a little more time in the barrel before bottling, but to borrow from the film Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Next time I’m in Seattle, I definitely plan to visit the distillery for a $10 tasting and tour (offered Wed.-Sat. at 11 a.m,, and 2, 4, and 6 p.m). The distillery is at 2931 First Avenue South, Suite B, Seattle (206-767-7250, westlanddistillery.com). Suggested retail for Westland American Single Malt is $79.

30

09 2014

TWL: Visiting the school for Prosecco

Prosecco Conegliano

Vineyard of Glera clones at Oenology School.

According to the Prosecco DOC consortium, farmers in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia village of Prosecco began making sparkling wine from the grape now known as Glera around 1600, and it became so popular that it spread to nine provinces in the 17th century. (Those provinces now lie within Friuli and the Veneto, and the symbol of Prosecco DOC is nine wine glasses.) Originally a farmhouse wine, Prosecco would stop fermenting in the fall when the weather cooled, then begin again in the spring, when it was sold as a “frizzante” wine. Antonio Carpenain invented modern Prosecco in the mid-19th century when he began using a pressurized tank for a second fermentation. His adaptation of France’s Charmat process quickly became known as “The Italian Method.”

Prosecco The full history lesson is something you can learn at the School of Oenology & Viticulture in Conegliano — or better yet, at the adjacent Enoteca Regionale Veneta (Via Giovanni Dalmasso 12, Conegliano, +39 0438-455-138, www.enotecaveneta.it). Carpenain established the school in 1876, and it still trains more than 90 percent of the region’s winemakers. It’s also a research center for establishing the characteristics of different grapes and clones of known varietals. (That’s one of the school’s vineyards above.)

While the school does have a Bottega del Vino on the property where you can learn about some of the experimental wines made at the school (and purchase them after a tasting), it is open mainly on weekdays. The Enoteca is for both the more considered drinker, and possibly the partier. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 6 p.m. until midnight with light snacks and the opportunity to taste any of the wines in the library. The collection includes about 500 still wines from the Veneto, as well as about 100 different Proseccos. There are typically a dozen open bottles of chilled whites, about half of them Proseccos. But if something else on the shelves piques your curiosity, you need only ask.

Some technical matters

The street of the Enoteca is named for Giovanni Dalmasso, who proposed the first delimitation of “Prosecco Superiore” around Conegliano and nearby Valdobbiadene in 1936. Finally, in 1969, the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC was created. In 1977, the Prosecco IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or “typical of the region”) was established and in 2009, the Prosecco DOC was created to certify IGT producers who met all the consortium’s criteria. Just to confuse things more, the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC is now Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. Total production varies by year, of course, but in 2013 there were about 241 million bottles of Prosecco DOC and 70 million bottles of Prosecco DOCG.

What does this mean in practice for the buyer at an American wine shop? As a rule of thumb both DOC and DOCG certification indicates that the wine hails from the Prosecco region and is made according to some fairly strict regulations. The main grape is Glera (a rebaptism of the Prosecco grape to stop other countries from making sparkling wine called Prosecco), and there are three styles. The simplest and cheapest is frizzante, which has less than 2.5 atmospheres of pressure. Bubbles tend to dissipate quickly and most frizzante wines are low in alcohol. Prosecco brut (the most popular style in the U.S.) has higher alcohol, tighter and more persistent bubbles, and is bottled around 3 atmospheres. Extra dry, often with less persistent bubbles, is bottled around the same pressure but has more residual sugar than brut.

Prosecco

Vineyards in the rolling countryside of Conegliano.

24

09 2014

French chefs, Spanish ham & summer fruits

ile de re
During a recent visit to Île de Ré and Île d’Aix, the unspoiled islands off the west coast of France not far from Cognac, I also enjoyed a taste of Spain. In early September, swimmers and bicyclists were making the most of the warm, summer weather and chefs were looking for ways to highlight the last of the ripe tomatoes and melons. Several turned to Spain’s jamón serrano, an air-dried mountain ham, to add salt and umami to balance the sweetness of the luscious, ripe fruit.

jamon dishAt Le Grenier à Sel (www.grenierasel.fr/) in the town Ars en Ré on Île de Ré, a perfect starter consisted of a tartare of tomato mixed with the chopped ham. The next day, I encountered a slightly different version at Chez Joséphine (www.hotel-ile-aix.com/restaurant-josephine/) on the lovely, but much smaller Île d’ Aix, where Napoleon spent his last days in France. For a starter, the chefs paired a tartare of melon with crisp lettuce and even crisper jamón serrano for a lovely contrast of taste and texture. The dishes are simple and relaxed, yet they capture the elegance of the French table that even vacationers expect.

They also offer some good ideas about what we can do at home with the last bounty of summer.

19

09 2014

TWL: Getting to know Prosecco DOC in Treviso

a-psan marco
Wine is one of the easiest and best ways to bring the taste of travel back home, so this post initiates what we’re calling The Wine List — travels in wine country with a focus on the wines themselves. And we launch TWL with a journey through the beautiful towns and delicious wines of the Prosecco DOC region of the Veneto and adjacent Friuli–all within driving distance of Venice.

a-Zonin prosecco Prosecco is one of those wines that’s almost too good for its own good. The light sparkling wine made from the Glera grape is the signature sipping wine of Venice, and it is synonymous with laughter and indolent afternoons at an outdoor cafe (see above, on Piazza San Marco). The wine is made in a tightly limited area of the Veneto and parts of nearby Friuli, and there’s a lot of good Prosecco DOC to go around. Although many of the members of the Prosecco DOC Consortium are small operations, some (like Zonin) are big enough to slake the insatiable thirst of Trader Joe’s customers. Even these mass-produced Proseccos are very good.

a-Treviso sculture little Venice My Prosecco fact-finding trip began at the Prosecco DOC headquarters in Treviso, a beautiful little city north of the Venice airport. Treviso is sometimes called the “little Venice” because four rivers flow through it and some of them were channeled to power mills. Despite being heavily bombarded by the Allies in World War II, traces of its old mill wheels and mill architecture remain. Dante immortalized the town in a line in the Paradiso dutifully reproduced on the 1865 bridge over the convergence of the Sile and Bottiniga rivers. The charming city makes a good base for exploring Prosecco country. My lodging, the Carlton Hotel (Largo Porta Altinia 15, + 39-0422-411-611, www.hotelcarlton.it) was modestly priced and conveniently located near the outskirts of the city. The center of the city was a five-minute stroll away, yet it was easy to get onto the circumferential highway to drive to the countryside. Future posts will visit specific producers, the wine-making school and vinoteca of Prosecco, and hit on on some of the scenic highlights of the region.

a-making tiramisu at Al FogherOne evening in Treviso, I dined at Al Foghèr Ristorante (Viale della Repubblica 10, +39-0422-432-950, www.hotelalfogher.it), which figures in the origin story of the now-ubiquitous dessert, tiramisù. The grandmother of the current owners, who had a more modest restaurant in the 1950s when the queen of Greece visited Treviso, concocted what she called an Imperial Cup. This link to gastronomic fame (or infamy) serves as a lure to the restaurant, which serves excellent Trevisano food. I caught just the tail end of the local radicchio season and enjoyed a couple of light dishes (including an excellent squid ink pasta with fresh vegetables) with a bottle of Bosco del Merlo Prosecco DOC (about $12 in the U.S.).

Periodically, the restaurant gives demonstrations of making tiramisù and I took furious notes. Here’s my translation into American measure based on a rapid-fire presentation in Italian. It goes very well with an extra-dry Prosecco DOC (which is sweeter than a brut).

TIRAMISÙ AL FOGHÈR

Serves 8

Ingredients

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brandy
4 large egg yolks
12 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup espresso
package of ladyfingers or champagne biscuits
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, grated

Directions

Whisk together sugar, brandy, and egg yolks in heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and whisk until well dissolved and mixture reaches 170F (77C) on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and beat in the mascarpone. Reserve mixture.

Dip a ladyfinger briefly in espresso, turning to coat, and place in clear glass serving bowl. Repeat until entire bowl is lined with espresso-saturated ladyfingers. Pour half of mascarpone mixture over them. Then make another layer of espresso-saturated ladyfingers, and top with remaining mascarpone. Grate chocolate over the top and refrigerate overnight.

14

09 2014

Lake Placid Lodge honors Adirondacks style

Lake Placid Lodge
Rainy weather showed me just how good the rebuilt Lake Placid Lodge really is. I say “rebuilt” because the original 1880s rustic lodge turned 1940s resort hotel burned down in December 2005. An exemplar of the Adirondacks rustic style, it had been a great example of American vernacular vacation architecture. The owners rebuilt, opening in 2008, and I’d put off a visit for fear the new wouldn’t live up to the old. Then Truman Jones — a talented chef I met some years ago when he worked for Gordon Ramsay — took over the kitchen and Cape Air launched 90-minute flights between Boston and Saranac Lake, a half-hour drive from Lake Placid.

It was only raining lightly when I flew up, and the pilot did his best to minimize the Peggy-Sue moments going in and out of weather. It was still raining lightly when I arrived, so I went out in the lodge’s classic style diesel runabout for a quick tour of the lake. Hence the view from the water (above) with plastic over the porches to keep them dry.

Lakeside room at Lake Placid Lodge I was barely settled into my sumptuous lakeside room (two-sided wood-burning fireplace, hand-carved bed, private porch overlooking the lake) when the heavens let loose. The rain didn’t let up for the next two days, which is how I discovered how much I like the lodge and how true it remains to its roots. Rather than go kayaking on the lake or hiking in the woods, I hung around the property and discovered a thousand little craftsmen touches that make the current Lake Placid Lodge a worthy successor to the original.

headshot of Truman Jones With the weather putting a true damper on outdoor activities, the lodge offered an unscheduled cooking lesson (almost always available on request) with chef Jones (left). About a half dozen of us signed up. The menu was lamb two ways with spring vegetables. Morel mushrooms and wild ramps foraged on the lodge property were paired with green peas, fava beans, and cherry tomatoes roasted for 45 minutes in a 250F oven with garlic. The peas, favas, and ramps were all quickly blanched by dipping in boiling water for about 10 seconds, then in ice water. The morels had been carefully scrubbed under running water, then roasted lightly in the oven. Ultimately, Jones simmered the vegetables in some vegetable stock, finishing with a little butter and salt to glaze.

The lamb portion of the lesson was more unconventional. He began with a whole saddle of lamb and demonstrated very slowly how to bone it to separate the two tenderloins next to the spine and then the two loins. He reserved the tenderloins to make tartare, and placed the loins in sealed plastic bags with a little olive oil, thyme, and a few cloves of garlic to cook sous vide to medium-rare. A little carrot purée on the plate (below) gave the food a colorful background.
Lamb and veggies 550

04

09 2014

Green tomatoes inspire tequila cocktail

Acqua Fresco at RialtoTwo years ago we passed along Gerry Jobe’s recipe for the Killer Tomato Cocktail, and this harvest season we discovered another way to drink tomatoes, courtesy of the Bar at Rialto, Jody Adams’ terrific restaurant in the Charles Hotel in our hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The smooth and elegant tequila drink with lots of layers of flavor — created by Rialto beverage director Young Won — seemed especially timely since it uses green tomatoes. By the looks of our garden, we’ll still be gathering them right up until frost. Like many craft cocktails, you have to make many of the components well in advance, so plan accordingly.

ACQUA FRESCO… GREEN TOMATO, THAI BASIL, GINGER, MINT OIL

To make the acqua fresco:
4 green tomatoes, chopped to 2-inch pieces
large bunch of Thai basil leaves and stalk, torn into pieces
scant teaspoon sea salt

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor. Puree until well blended. Strain though a conical sieve (chinois) lined with coffee filter. Allow three hours for liquid to strain out. Chill strained liquid.

To make the ginger syrup:
Combine 3 parts freshly pressed ginger juice with 1 part sugar and shake into solution.

To make the mint oil:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
large bunch of mint

Blanch the mint and squeeze out excess water. Warm the olive oil in a stainless steel saucepan. Add the blanched mint and cook for a few minutes over low to medium heat. Set aside and let cool. Strain the oil through a very fine mesh.

To assemble the cocktail:

2 ounces green tomato and Thai basil acqua fresco
1 ounce 123 Reposado tequila
1/4 ounce ginger syrup
Glassware: coupe glass
Garnish: three drops of mint oil or an edible flower

Add first three ingredients to a shaker tin. Add ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into a chilled coupe. Dress with three drops of mint oil or an edible flower.

29

08 2014

Tomatoes meet their match in bacon & basil

Tomatoes
BPL Courtyard RoomFaced yet again with an abundance of tomatoes, we didn’t have to travel far for inspiration. The inventive cooks of the Catered Affair prepare the food for the Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library, including a lovely afternoon tea. Last year when we visited during harvest season, the chefs served a dainty version of a BLT. They placed a mixture of chopped bacon and chopped tomato between two small slices of bread with the crusts cut off. It was a lovely variation on a classic. This year we decided to use some of those prolific garden tomatoes to scale up the sandwich for a hearty lunch. We used English muffins and spread them with homemade basil mayonnaise, since basil is growing far more profusely than lettuce in the August heat. Each was topped with a big scoop of the tomato-bacon mixture for a delicious — if slightly messy — sandwich.

Finished sandwich

BACON, BASIL & TOMATO SANDWICH

Makes 3 English muffin sandwiches

Ingredients
6 strips of bacon cooked crisp and crumbled
3-4 garden tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced small
3 English muffins, split and toasted
basil mayonnaise (see below)

Directions
1. Combine crumbled bacon and diced tomatoes and mix well.
2. Spread toasted English muffins with basil mayonnaise.
3. Divide bacon-tomato mixture in thirds and put between muffin halves.


BASIL MAYONNAISE

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients
1 large egg yolk
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup basil leaves and flowers

Directions
1. In a quart bowl, place egg yolk, garlic, sea salt, sugar, and vinegar. Whisk thoroughly until well blended. Drizzle olive oil into mixture, continuing to whisk vigorously until oil is completely incorporated and mixture thickens.

2. Place basil in a small food processor and process until finely chopped. Add mayonnaise and continue to process until basil is thoroughly incorporated. Basil mayonnaise will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.

20

08 2014