Keeping it on the Cape

As a child growing up on Cape Cod, “organic” and “local” were one and the same. We bought free-range chickens and fresh farm eggs from Joe Rigazio’s farm on the other side of the bridge.

Bill Atwood Jr., owner and chef of the Red Pheasant Inn in Dennis, chooses organic lettuces for his restaurant at the Seaweed & Codfish Herb & Flower Farm in West Dennis with farm owner Veronica Worthington.
(Staff photo by Kevin Mingora)
Most people had their own vegetable gardens in the back yard, free of pesticides and chemicals. I picked blueberries in the woods and sold them for carnival money. (Half the berries went into my bucket, half went into my mouth.) These were the ways of Sagamore’s Italian village by the bridge, now extinct except for a few older women who still remember the good old days, and the fresh produce we enjoyed.

Today ”organic” is a different story. With the exception of what is grown locally (and intentionally without pesticides) during the Cape’s short growing summer season, organic produce is flown in from faraway places, and we pay dearly for that transport. I say, let’s go local again. Many supermarkets import unripened produce from other regions or other hemispheres. By the time it reaches us, the produce may look good but it lacks most of its original, vibrant flavor and often has lost substantial nutrients en route. Plus, the amount of fuel required to transport produce adds to its cost, and wastes precious fuel. Buying locally connects us to the region where we live, bolstering the Cape’s economy and supporting our community. Buying local ensures that the money we spend goes directly to the farmers, helping them stay in business.

In researching this article, I talked to chefs and other people involved in the Cape’s food scene. I realized I am not alone. There is a movement toward changing our eating habits, reflected by a strong interest in local organic farming, an awareness of high-quality foods and having local ingredients served in restaurants, and a thrust to educate the public – mostly through leading by example. The ”slow food” movement that started in Europe also stresses this.

Edible Cape Cod
I began by interviewing Diane and Doug Langeland of Cummaquid. The Langelands’ passion for exploring, discovering and sharing the best of Cape Cod comes through clearly in their magazine, Edible Cape Cod, which they started in summer 2004.

Buying locally
Here are some places to buy Cape and islands produce:

The Seaweed & Codfish Herb and Flower Garden, 89 Fisk St., West Dennis, or at the Mid-Cape Farmers’ Market, starting June 14

Cape Cod Organic Farm, 4035 Main St. (Route 6A), Cummaquid

Buzzards Bay Farmers’ Market, Main Street, Bourne, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays

Mid-Cape Farmers Market 500 Main St. Hyannis 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays, starting June 14

Nantucket Farmers’ Market Main & Federal streets 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily

Orleans Farmers’ Market, Old Colony Way in Orleans Center, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, starting May 21

Woods Hole Farmers’ Market, Water Street (at old fire station), 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, starting June 17

Andrews Farmstand, 394 Old Meetinghouse Rd, East Falmouth. Bay End Farm (Saturdays only), 400 Head of the Bay Road, Buzzards Bay

Checkerberry Farm, 46 Tar Kiln Road, Orleans

Cloverfield Farm, 133 Cloverfield Way, Hatchville

Cricket Hill Farm, 69 Sandwich Road, East Falmouth

Crow Farm, 192 Route 6A, Sandwich

Elsie Mello’s Farmstand 42 Old Barnstable Road, East Falmouth

Fran’s Farm, Route 6A, Brewster

Green Hill Farm, 38 Church St., Yarmouthport

Hart Farm Nursery, 21 Upper County Road, Dennisport

Hillside Farms, Route 6A, Truro

Kelly Farm, 50 Marston Lane (at Route 6A), Cummaquid

Log Cabin Farm, Route 6A, Eastham

Matt’s Organic Garden, 40 Upper County Road, Dennisport

Tisbury Peachtree Circle Farm, 881 Palmer Ave., Falmouth

Pleasant Lake Farm Stand, 2 Birch Drive, Harwich

Rich’s Fruits & Vegetables, Route 6A, Wellfleet

Romiza’s Farm, 236 Carriage Shop Road, East Falmouth

Rose’s Farm, 271 Trotting Park Road, Teaticket

Satucket Farmstand, 76 Harwich Road (just of Route 6A,) Brewster

Teixeira’s Farm, 159 Fresh Pond Road, East Falmouth

Tobey Farm, 352 Main St., (Route 6A) Dennis

Webster Collins Farm, 1009 County Road Cataumet Martha’s Vineyard

West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, Grange Hall, 2:39 toi 5:30 p.m., Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays

Whippoorwill Farm, Old County Road, West Tisbury

Allen Farm, 421 South Road, Chilmark

Middle Road Farm, 9 Middle Road, Chilmark

Morning Glory Farm, 290 West Tisbury Road, Edgartown

Murphy Blueberry Farm, State Road, Chilmark

Native Earth Teaching Farm, 94 North Road, Chilmark

Nip ‘n Tuck Farm, State Road, West Tisbury

Northern Pines Farm, Northern Pines Road, off Lambert’s Cove Road, Vineyard Haven

North Tabor Farm, 4 North Tabor Farm Road, Chilmark

Norton Farm, off Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs

Thompson Farm, Northern Pines Road (off Lambert’s Cove Road), Vineyard Haven

Their mission is to bring together the community’s farmers, fishermen, food artisans and chefs with consumers like you and me. In talking with the Langelands, I was struck by how these two people are doing what they love, and it shows. Their knowledge, responsiveness and involvement in all aspects of growing, publicizing and distributing local and organic foods on Cape Cod is extremely exciting – both to them and to many of us.

”To me, it’s extremely important to know where our food comes from,” Doug says. ”I prefer to eat a non-organic fresh peach from our area rather than an organic one grown in California.”

He went on to say, ”Bringing sustainability to the local organic food industry is only going to happen if people think it is a good thing. The food has to be delicious and tasty, but it has to work from an economic standpoint as well. The consumer has to demand – and be willing to pay a little bit more for – food that is local and high quality.

”Eric Janson at The Wicked Oyster (in Wellfleet) knows that local greens are substantially more expensive, but when he comes out of his kitchen and hears people raving about their salads, it gives him an indication that people are aware of the quality he is serving. Knowing this, he can price it a little differently and he can buy more and more of it.”

In December, the Langelands and Restaurant 902 Main in South Yarmouth hosted a meeting to bring together local farmers and chefs. Out of that meeting came the region’s ”Farmers & Chefs Collaborative.”

”The ultimate goal of the collaborative is to help develop best practices for farmers and chefs to work together in order to increase the use of local produce on Cape menus,” the Langelands write on their Web site,

Edible Cape Cod is affiliated with Edible Communities Inc., a member-driven organization with 16 food newsletters across the nation, from California to Maine. Published quarterly on the Cape, the magazine’s annual circulation is about 40,000, the Langelands estimate. The magazine is free and available through advertisers, specialty food stores, visitors’ centers, and farmers’ markets. Edible Cape Cod is also available by paid subscription for $28 per year.

”We don’t write reviews, and we don’t consider ourselves ‘experts.’ We come at it from the role of the passionate home cook,” Diane says. ”We write about people who make and sell food: the farmers, fishermen and artisans. We want our publication to be the definitive resource of information about where to find fresh local foods.”

Talking to chefs
When I interviewed several Cape chefs, I asked each to give me a recipe using local and organic products, in which the flavor of the food comes through rather than being camouflaged with spices, overpowering sauces or other ingredients. A salad of fresh greens need only be dressed with a good olive oil, a splash of your favorite vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper. A fresh piece of fish is best when sautéed quickly, drizzled with a little melted lemon butter and garnished with a few capers.

Chef Gilbert Pepin, owner with wife Kolleen of Restaurant 902 Main, provided an excellent example of ”less is more” with his simple, light and healthful spring recipe, ”Baked Native Haddock with Asparagus and Greens.”

The Pepins, who offer seasonal, local, organic cuisine, take it a step further when it comes to ensuring a steady supply of the best produce available. Working with local growers, Gilbert selects seeds from catalogs that the farmers plant so he can serve the selected produce at 902 Main the following season.”The farmers are very willing to work with me,” Gilbert says. ”We choose baby vegetables like beets, carrots and beans, as well as a variety of unusual and tasty greens.”

Salad days
A few nights ago, I had dinner at 902 Main and was served a delicious salad of assorted greens Gilbert purchased from Veronica Worthington, owner of the Seaweed & Codfish Herb & Flower Farm in West Dennis. The salad was topped with a small wedge of a creamy Vermont goat cheese and a sprinkling of caramelized walnuts, and was tossed with a simple dressing that let the flavors of the fresh greens come through.

I had to meet the person who grew these unique lettuces. The next day I was off to see Worthington. I was escorted into the greenhouse where she grows everything from seed. ”I grow all winter,” she tells me. ”This is how I supply the restaurants. Chefs like Pepin will call and say, ‘Whatever you have, I’ll take it!”’

She keeps lists of what has been seeded so she knows what will be available when. ”The only things I grow are things I personally like to eat. They are all heirloom, unusual, colorful and tasty. If I don’t like something, I get rid of it. I don’t have enough land here to grow things I don’t like.”

Outside the greenhouse is a small lettuce garden filled with an array of beautiful greens.

”Are those the greens that were in the salad last night at 902 Main?”

”Yes,” she replies, as she cuts and describes three beautiful heads of unusual lettuce. ”This one is from Italy, called Cappuccino. This one is also an Italian, called Lolla bionda. But this is my favorite and the seed seller calls it, ‘Merveille de Quatre Saison.’ The original strain is direct from France and has not been polluted by other seed providers. All are European-certified organic,” she said as she hands them to me to take home.

Bill Atwood, chef/owner of The Red Pheasant Inn in Dennis, cooks with fresh herbs, strawberries and raspberries from his garden. His wife, Denise, also has a prolific English flower garden that contributes to creative menus in season.

”I like the freshness of herbs picked outside my door,” she says. ”I create a honey lavender glaze for an organic salmon, or a lavender beurre blanc, and when the nasturtiums overrun the garden, I bake them with native oysters. The peppery flavor of the flowers complements this simple oyster appetizer.”

When I talk to Michael Pirini, chef at Abbicci’s dramatic reconstructed space in Yarmouthport, set to open early next month, he shares a recipe for oysters on the half shell using Barnstable Seafarms Oysters, topped with lemon-and-chive-infused oil and fresh chive blossoms. All herb blossoms are edible and are wonderful mixed into salads. Besides adding flavor, they are beautiful. Once you’ve tried these recipes, I think you’ll agree that ”fresh and local” is the way to go


”For this dish I use Chatham day boat haddock (caught and brought to shore each day) and Tim Friary’s organic asparagus, arugula and fresh herbs. It is the perfect spring treat, accenting the fresh flavors of what can be found on the Cape,” says Gilbert Pepin, chef/owner of Restaurant 902 Main.

Baked Native Haddock with Asparagus and Local Greens

2 pounds select local haddock, cut into 4 pieces

1 pound asparagus, cleaned with ends cut off

1 pound organic arugula

For the dressing:

2 shallots, minced

Juice of 4 lemons

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and white pepper

5 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, reserving a few sprigs for garnish

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking dish large enough to hold the haddock with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Coat fish with a little oil, season with salt and white pepper, then place in baking dish. Bake about 12 to 15 minutes until fish flakes with a fork.

Meanwhile, steam asparagus and make the dressing.

In a small jar with a cover, add the shallots, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper to taste; shake vigorously until well combined.

To assemble the plate:

In a large bowl, toss the arugula with half of the dressing then divide evenly between four plates. Place several stalks of asparagus over the greens, place fish across the asparagus and garnish with the scallions and a sprig of thyme. Makes 4 servings.

Wine suggestion: A crisp, light, dry Trimbach Pinot Gris.


”This is a great springtime dish as the chive blossoms are in season and growing in our gardens and the oysters from the Barnstable Seafarms are still at their peak. Any number of herbs could be substituted for the chives, such as basil in the summer and watercress in the fall. I believe the most important factor in a recipe such as this is the freshness of all the ingredients,” says Michael Pirini, chef at Abbicci.

Oysters on the Half Shell with Lemon- & Chive-infused Olive Oil

24 Barnstable Seafarms oysters

2 lemons

1 small bunch of chives, snipped finely

1 shallot – peeled and sliced

1 anchovy

4 chive blossoms

3/4 cup high-quality Italian extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Crushed ice

Grate the lemon skins with a fine grater and squeeze the juice from both lemons. Place the grated skins and juice in a blender with the anchovy, shallot, chives & extra-virgin olive oil. Puree on high until the oil is emulsified. It should turn to a bright green color. Season with pepper. Don’t add salt as the oysters already have a naturally briny flavor.

Place crushed ice on a platter that can be garnished with lemon slices and radicchio leaves. Open each oyster by holding it in a folded towel and carefully inserting an oyster knife into the hinged part of the shell while twisting. When the shell pops open, scrape the top and bottom shells, being careful not to puncture the oyster. Leave the oyster on the bottom shell and place directly on the ice. Spoon infused oil over each oyster and sprinkle with picked chive blossoms.

Wine suggestion: A dry Prosecco or a Vemaccia di San Gimignano from Tuscany.


”This dish lets the flavor of the fish and the brightness of the herbs shine. I substitute other fish and use different herbs but the key is the incredibly fresh herbs. The recipe is simple, but I found it is important to chop the herbs at the last minute and then heat the vinaigrette just until it is barely warm so that it doesn’t break,” says Doug Langeland of Edible Cape Cod.

Grilled Striped Bass with Warm Herb Vinaigrette

1 small shallot, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds striped bass in one or two fillets, preferably with skin

1 tablespoon EACH fresh tarragon, parsley, chives and chervil

Preheat gas grill or prepare a charcoal fire. Place shallot, mustard, vinegars, salt and pepper in a small bowl and stir briefly. Whisk in olive oil in stream to create an emulsion. Taste for seasoning and set aside. Clean and oil grate on grill. Lightly oil fish and grill skin side down with grill cover closed for about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove fish and hold while you warm the vinaigrette. Chop fresh herbs at the last minute and stir into vinaigrette. Immediately put dressing in a small sauce pan. Heat gently over medium-low heat for just about 2 minutes to barely warm it. Don’t heat too long or dressing will break apart. Remove from heat. Arrange fish on a serving plate, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with warm vinaigrette.

Wine suggestion: Un-oaked chardonnay would provide body to highlight the fish in this dish while also being light and crisp enough to avoid getting in the way of the fresh flavors of the herbs.


”Fluke, also known as summer flounder, is caught in Nantucket Sound and waters around the Cape … It is a firmer filet than other flat fish, and I like pairing it up with Tim Friary of Cape Cod Organic Farm’s native asparagus and peppery baby arugula, and simply dressed with a fresh herb vinaigrette made with my 8-year-old balsamic vinegar,” says David Kelly, chef at The Naked Oyster in Hyannis.

Sautéed Day Boat Fluke

2 pounds skinless boneless fluke fillets (1/4 pound per person)

4 tablespoons olive oil or clarified butter

1 pound asparagus, grilled

1/2 pound baby arugula

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

2 shallots minced

2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs: basil, thyme, chives and parsley

Dredge the fish in a little flour, shaking shacking off excess. Heat a large sauté pan with oil or butter and once the pan is hot, add the fillets, a few at a time. Cook two minutes on one side until lightly browned, turn over and cook for another two to three minutes until lightly done. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.

To assemble:

Put the arugula in a saucepan, add 1 ounce vinaigrette, place pan over heat, tossing arugula until lightly wilted and warm.

Place a bed of arugula on each of four plates, top with grilled asparagus and top with fillets and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serves 4.


”This is a wonderful sauce to serve over any white fish like striped bass. It also works with lobster and shrimp. For the most flavor, I recommend picking the lavender early in the day just before the buds are fully open,” says Bill Atwood, chef/owner of The Red Pheasant Inn in Dennis.

Lavender Beurre Blanc

8 to 12 lavender sprigs

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

2 tablespoons white wine

Juice from 2 or 3 oranges and zest of one

1 small bay leaf

8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into cubes

2 ounces heavy cream

3 to 4 crushed black peppercorns

Pick the lavender flowers off of four sprigs and set aside to use with finished sauce.

In a small sauté pan, heat the orange juice with the zest over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes until zest is softened and juice has reduced to half.

In a small non-reactive sauce pot, add remaining orange juice, vinegar, white wine and remaining lavender sprigs, shallots, peppercorns and bay leaf; reduce until 2 to 3 ounces of liquid remains. Add cream and reduce slightly; lower heat to very low and gradually add cubes of butter, stirring or whisking constantly until all the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, then strain through a fine sieve to remove shallots and whole sprigs. Whisk in the reduced orange juice with the zest and lavender flowers. Makes about 1 cup.

Grilled Local Asparagus, Organic Arugula, Spring Onion, and Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 pound asparagus, washed and ends cut off

1 bunch spring onions, sliced

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 pound arugula, washed and dried

1 bunch basil

To make vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

4 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

6 ounces extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

To make vinaigrette, mix together mustard, shallots, and vinegar in a small pot. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat gas or charcoal grill to medium heat. Lightly coat spring onions and asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill onions quickly, about one minute, and remove.

Grill asparagus, about three minutes. During this time, dice onions and add to vinaigrette.

Heat vinaigrette slightly, and carefully toss with arugula, just enough to coat greens. Place on plate and set warm asparagus on top and garnish with basil leaves.

(Published: May 24, 2006)

An Italian Adventure

Because my interest is food, travel is a culinary adventure for me. I’ve been to Italy several times and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I can only make a very general plan of what I want to do and eat, because once I get there I see and taste everything in a new and exciting way. Rather than trying to fulfill my expectations, I find the best thing to do is to be adventurous enough to go where my instincts and heart take me.

After a seven-hour plane ride, my partner, John, and I arrived at our hotel in Bologna at 1 o’clock (7 o’clock in the morning, Cape Cod time.) We checked in, had lunch and took a casual walk, reacquainting ourselves again with the beautiful city. The next day was Saturday and we were off to the small town of Tarvanelle Val di Pesa in Tuscany, where the villa we had rented was waiting for us.

As we drove out of Bologna, I realized I had mislaid the directions to the villa, which was called Santa Lucia-Crema. I wasn’t too worried — it was a small town; I had the name, a picture and a description of the house. What more would I need?

Well, it seems I needed a lot more.

Time to slow down
We arrived late morning in Tarvanelle Val di Pesa and managed to find the church, which was called Santa Lucia, but we couldn’t find anyone who knew of Santa Lucia-Crema. After many frustrating hours we decided that the only thing to do was to get a hotel. John declared, ”This is NOT going to ruin our trip,” and pulled out the 2005 Gambero Rosso, ViaggiarBene. It is the restaurant and hotel guide to Slow Food. Slow Food is a movement that began in Italy. Chefs are going back to food preparation using local, organic ingredients. It’s starting to become popular here in the U.S. as well.

We found a restaurant called Osteria di Passignano, located in a former monastery high on a hill not far from where we were staying. The monastery is owned by the Antinori family, who also own all of the surrounding vineyards. The wines are aged in cellars under the monastery, so we accompanied our wonderful meal with wine by the glass and sampled several of the wonderful Chiantis and special wines of the area.

We spent two nights at the hotel, until Katia, the owner of Albergo Vittoria and Ristorante Borgo Antico where we where staying, did a thorough investigation and found Santa Lucia-Crema. She is now a new friend! Over the weekend we had driven by it at least six times. When we finally got to Santa Lucia-Crema, it was time to start enjoying our vacation. We unpacked and organized the kitchen. I laid my knives out on the kitchen counter and then went on a shopping adventure in our temporary hometown.

Finding food
With my broken Italian, a few wrong words, and hand gestures I found fresh pasta, porcini mushrooms fresh homemade sausage, broccoli rabe, breads from the bakery, wonderful olive oil, a Crème di Tartuffo (cream of truffles), and wine from the local producers. I bought everything, brought it to our new home, and set it on the counter, wondering how my cooking was going to taste with all these fresh local Italian ingredients.

As I started to cook, the aromas filled the house. When we sat down to eat, I was surprised and amazed at the extraordinary flavors, which seemed to leap off the plates. At home I sometimes have a similar experience during the summer months when I get produce from my own garden and local farm stands. Italians have it year-round.

Each day was another adventure into the Italian lifestyle. Cappuccino on our patio with a cornetto, visits to the smaller surrounding towns, an outdoor lunch in the piazza in Siena. We spent a day visiting San Gimigano, a very beautiful ancient village filled with tourists, even in mid-winter. We took a trip to Florence for lunch with our new friends Jan and Roberto Martini. Jan is an American and was a producer on ”Saturday Night Live” during its heyday. She’s lived in Italy for 25 years with Roberto, her Italian husband. Talking to them gave me another perspective of what it would be like to live in Italy.

Heading home
Before we knew it we were on our way back to Bologna for a few days before catching the plane back home. But first, of course, a few more good meals, including one at Trattoria Anna Maria. It was a lively place at lunch or dinner. Lace curtains decorated the windows and autographed photos of famous opera singers covered the walls. What could be a better combination then food and music? The menu consisted of typical northern Italian dishes: roast rabbit, guinea fowl, tripe with beans, or tortellini with ragu.

One special of the day caught my eye, sausage with cardoons. Cardoons are a late-winter early-spring specialty and usually found in our grocery stores around this time. They are a cross between an artichoke and celery and look like a giant bunch of wide celery. I saw them everywhere but did not have the opportunity to cook with them. Following is a recipe that I developed when I arrived home. And what would visiting Bologna be without a good Ragu alla Bolognese? This was served in the lasagna John had. I have included my version below.

Think about eating

Looking back on the adventures and dining experiences I had in Italy I realize how different our eating habits are here in the U.S. In Italy, you know where the food comes from. Whether it is a single artichoke bought in the local outdoor market or meat purchased from the macelleria everything is fresh, local, and, for the most part, organic. In the U.S. most of our meat products are mass-produced and much of what we purchase in the grocery stores is processed. It makes me question what the chefs are doing with food in this county, not only with Italian American food but food in general.

Many American chefs are adventurous but have an overabundance of culinary ambition. I personally do not like overly complicated food: By that, I mean dishes that try too hard and have too many ingredients. I have always said, give me a good roasted free-range chicken, but do it well.

We have to alter our thinking about the food we eat. Aligning ourselves with the Slow Food movement here in this county is a good start. This awareness and education could start with responsible restaurant chefs, the cooks in the home and then, hopefully, it will change the tastes of the American public. Let’s take a lesson from our Italian neighbors and be adventurous by taking a positive approach. Let’s do slow food, not fast food.


Most good produce markets can get you cardoons this time of year. The one I got was grown in California. They also make a wonderful vegetable side dish tossed with butter, salt and pepper.

Sausage with Cardoons

2 cups cut up cardoons

1 pound Italian sausage, cut into 1/2- to 2-inch pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

To prepare cardoons, rinse head well and discard any discolored outer stalks. Trim base, tips and outermost stalks, removing strings from stalks as you would celery.

Cut crosswise into 1- to 2-inch lengths. Soak in salted water (1 tablespoon salt to 2 quarts water) several hours or overnight in refrigerator. Drain and simmer in water until tender — about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a 10-inch iron skillet. Add the sausage and sauté until brown. Add the onions and sauté until they start to brown, then add the white wine, cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Mix the tomato paste with the chicken stock and add to the sausage-onion mixture. Add the cardoons, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with good Italian bread for dunking and a Chianti Classico. Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course.


When you are making this ragu, it is important to building the sauce by adding each ingredient and cooking it so the flavors meld and blend together.

Ragu alla Bolognese Style

4 ounces fresh pork or fatback, finely diced

2 medium-sized onions, finely diced (about 1 cup)

1 medium-sized carrot, finely diced

1 celery stalk with leaves, finely chopped

12 ounces lean ground beef (chuck is good)

12 ounces ground pork or sweet Italian sausage mixture, preferably without fennel and spices

Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 can (28 to 35 ounces) whole tomatoes, preferably imported Italian San Marzano

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh oregano

4 tablespoons coarsely chopped Italian parsley

1 or 2 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup half-and-half or light cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the chopped fatback in a large (6- to 8-quart) heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the chopped bits are golden brown and all the fat has rendered out.

Remove and discard the pork bits, leaving the clear melted fat. Add the chopped onions, carrot, and celery. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent.

Add 1/4 cup of the white wine and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high; add the ground beef and pork and sauté, stirring continuously, until the meat is lightly browned.

Drain off and discard any excess fat.

Add the nutmeg, garlic, and remaining wine. Mix the tomato paste with the chicken stock and stir into the meat mixture. Add the basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and quickly reduce the heat to very low. Simmer, partly covered, for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

In a small saucepan, warm the half-and-half to a little more than lukewarm and set it where it will stay warm without boiling. When the meat mixture has cooked for about 1 hour, stir in about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the warmed half-and-half: again partly cover the pan and let summer as before.

Continue stirring in the half-and-half in the same way, about 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, roughly 20-minutes intervals until it is used up.

Remove the thyme and bay leaf; taste the sauce for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 2 quarts.

(Published: May 4, 2005)

Handle With Care

Now more than ever, home cooks are filling their kitchens with the latest in equipment and gadgets.

Perhaps some people are under the illusion that the ”latest” will make them a better cook – or is it just a status-symbol thing? Who knows, but I was inspired to write this article after paging through several mail-order catalogs and realizing how many new types of equipment there are.

In re-evaluating the gadgets I have in my own kitchen, some of which are new but many of which are old and treasured, I was forced to ask myself why I have them, what the usefulness of each is, and whether all this stuff makes me a better cook.

A week ago, I ventured into All Cape Cook’s Supply in Hyannis looking for a simple plastic fat separator. Pam Cooney, owner of the best-stocked cooking equipment store this side of New York City, pulled out the plastic one I had in mind – $4.95 – but then she showed me an exquisite tall glass structure of German design costing $20.

”This is the one you should have,” she said.

I bought it. Does this one separate fat better than the plastic one? No, but I bought it anyway because of its beautiful design.

I asked Cooney which cooking items she sold the most of. ”Micro planes, believe it or not,” she told me. ”That is absolutely my No. 1 seller, followed closely by a little Swiss vegetable peeler, a cheapo for $3.99. The single best inexpensive kitchen gadget is a 79-cent pot-and-pan scraper.”

What also really sells on the Cape, she continued, ”is the 40-quart stockpot for steaming lobsters at home. We also sell quite a few turkey fryers, as well as those double-burner cast-iron griddles. Then anything silicone, like tong handles for high heat, along with spatulas. These have all been hot for the past couple of years.”

Justin Fisher, sales associate at the Cooks Shop in Brewster, concurred on the appeal of silicone.

”We’re selling all things silicone, from measuring cups to oven mitts to cooking utensils. Ten years ago, everyone was buying nonstick pans and vinyl cooking utensils that would not harm the pans. Now the silicone cooking utensils do the trick better, since they don’t melt as easily.”

In addition, he finds people buying Japanese cooking knives, panini presses and a ”whirly pot popcorn maker – an old-style, top-of-stove crank popcorn maker.”

With this in mind, I took a good hard look at the equipment in my kitchen. My eyes settled first on my hard-to-miss, expensive stainless steel and copper pans hanging over the breakfast nook. While I use them often, they constantly need polishing. Hanging on an adjacent wall rack

is an array of seasoned cast-iron skillets in all shapes and sizes. I use these most. A few came from my grandmother’s kitchen, a couple from flea markets and friends, and one, the very largest, I found in the local dump. Over time, it has become one of my favorites.

Mixing with memories
Some of my favorite cooking tools are cherished mementos of friends and family. They resonate with tradition and flavors of the past, like my grandmother’s 12-inch well-worn chipped blue-and-white enamel spoon she used to stir her pasta sauces, soups and anything else that need stirring, as well as the pasta machine belonging to my dear friend Laura Borghi, who passed away several years ago and left it to me.

I also own several gadgets bought because they were beautiful as well as functional – the blown-glass fat separator mentioned earlier is the latest. It joins a truffle slicer, used not only for truffles but to shave chocolate, and a marble mortar and pestle for making pesto and crushing spices I bought on a recent trip to Italy.

I called my friend Mafalda ”Muffie” Maiolini to ask her what she uses for cooking equipment. Muffie, 93, who has known me since I was a child, is one of the best cooks in the village of Sagamore, creating Italian food that is simple and delicious. She told me, ”The pots and pans I use and feel comfortable with I have had for 65 years. They are mostly aluminum, although some are enamel. A man came around the village years ago when I first got married selling these pots and pans. Many other women in the village also bought them, but they got tired of them and threw them out. I held on to mine.

”I have three different sizes of pots: big, small and very small, as well as fry pans. I use them all the time for making stews, my polenta and everything else. They are still in good shape.”

Have you bought anything new since then, I asked her. ”No, I am comfortable with them and they work,” she said. ”Why buy new ones?”

My friend Judy Papi’s favorite cooking tool is her large wooden spoon, which has provided nonculinary utility through the years as well.

”It’s my everything spoon. It is a comfort thing, too. It stirs well as long as my arm keeps moving it. I think I whacked the kids with it when they were growing up, and still managed to get it in the pot, and it has not broken.

”I also have my mother-in-law’s crimper. I always think of her when I am making my raviolis.”

Chefs’ specials
Chefs have their favorites, too. David Kelly at the Naked Oyster confided, ”I am a nut about my wooden spoons. And I am very particular about my tongs. The ends of my tongs have to meet and touch exactly at the ends or I won’t use them.”

He added, laughing, ”My kitchen help thinks I’m nuts because I am so compulsive about my tools.”

And Jeremiah Reardon, chef-owner of Brewster Fish House, uses sterling silver spoons instead of tongs.

”I have a favorite one that’s been with me from San Francisco to New York to here. I also have a favorite pepper mill, a Peugeot, which has been with me the same amount of time. I cannot live without it.”

People who love food and love to cook infuse their cooking with their energy, lending it a highly personalized sense. Using a special spoon, ravioli crimper or other piece of favorite equipment heightens the experience, often bringing back memories of a person or recipe from the past, and helping to rekindle that bygone connection. So our favorite tools and equipment, whether old or new, help make our cooking our own.


I asked Judy Papi for a favorite recipe she cooks with her old wooden spoon. She shared her recipe for ragu, which she uses in pasta dishes like ravioli and lasagna.

”It’s very simple. I put about three to four tablespoons olive oil in the pan, add one large onion, chopped, and I let that cook for five to six minutes. Then I add a couple of cloves crushed garlic and sauté that for a few minutes. I add a half a pound of Italian sausage meat and 1 pound good hamburger meat. I mash it up and stir it with my nice old big brown spoon. I then add some fresh basil because I love basil, some Italian seasonings and a little rosemary, salt and pepper. When that cooks down and is lightly brown, I add a large can crushed tomatoes and a small can of tomato puree. Then I cook it for one to two hours.”


Here is one of Muffie’s favorite simple sauces, as told in her own words:

”In a small saucepan I heat a couple tablespoons or so of olive oil. Get an onion and a stalk of celery, dice them up and put it all in the pan along with a handful of minced parsley. Cook it until soft and tender. Mix in one or two tablespoons tomato paste and add a little water (three or four tablespoons.) Stir and cook a few minutes. Then stir in one small can (6½ ounces) of tuna fish in oil, undrained. Cook for a few minutes. Pepper to taste. If it gets a little dry, add a little water. Add to 1 pound of pasta cooked al dente and drained. I prefer spaghetti to macaroni for this dish because it tastes different.”


Finally, David Kelly says he could not make this dish without his special tongs. In his recipe he uses them when grilling the asparagus, turning the flounder and sautéing the arugula.

Sautéed Flounder

2 pounds skinless boneless flounder fillets (1/4 pound per person)

Flour for dredging

4 tablespoons olive oil or clarified butter

1 pound asparagus, grilled

1/2 pound baby arugula

For the vinaigrette:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

2 shallots, minced

2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs: basil, thyme, chives and parsley

Place the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, shallot and fresh herbs in a small jar and shake until well incorporated.

Dredge the fish in a little flour, shaking off excess. Heat the oil or butter in a large sauté pan. Once the pan is hot add the fillets, a few at a time, and cook two minutes on one side until lightly browned, turning over and cook for another two to three minutes until lightly done. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.

To assemble:

Put the arugula in a saucepan; add 1 ounce of vinaigrette and place pan over heat, tossing arugula until warm and slightly wilted, about one minute.

Place a bed of arugula on each of four plates, arrange the grilled asparagus over it, then lay the fillet on top and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serves four.


This is one of my favorite winter soups. I use my grandmother’s enamel spoon to stir the ingredients frequently, then I lay it beside the stove as a little reminder of her and the food she loved to cook.

Escarole and Bean Soup

1 cup dried cannellini beans (white kidney beans)

3 tablespoons finely diced pork fatback or salt pork

1 large onion, diced

2 medium-sized carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 pound escarole, rinsed and coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup white wine

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon fresh marjoram

4 cups homemade or canned organic chicken broth

2 to 3 cups water

Salt and pepper to taste

Extra virgin olive oil

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 tablespoon per person)

Place the beans in a deep, medium-size bowl with enough hot water to cover them by 2 inches. Let stand overnight, drain and rinse periodically.

Place the diced fatback or salt pork in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the fat is rendered out and the pork bits are brown. With a large spoon, remove and discard the browned bits, letting the fat drain back into the pan. Add the onion, carrots and celery to the hot fat. Reduce the heat slightly and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent.

Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the escarole, and cook just until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well, reserving the cooking liquid.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a small sauté pan. Add the garlic and sauté until light brown. Add the drained escarole and cook, stirring once or twice, another 5 minutes.

Drain and rinse the soaked beans, discard the soaking water.

Dissolve the tomato paste in the wine and add the sautéed onion mixture along with the beans and escarole. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the escarole cooking liquid and chicken broth plus 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium; cook, partly covered, until the beans are tender, 1½ to 2 hours; season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, drizzle each serving with olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Makes about 10 cups.

(Published: February 7, 2007)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Guess who’s coming to dinner
A menu of lobster, crostini and clam fritters sets the course for smooth sailing when (yikes!) an old love meets a new one.

My guests at this dinner will be my ex-wife, who left several years ago, and my current partner of thirteen years. This will be their first meeting. So, what do I serve at such a “civilized” occasion? Uncharted territory. I check my trusty Amy Vanderbilt. No suggestions. I’m on my own.
My former wife, Marci, who lives happily in Cincinnati with her husband and a menagerie of pets, is coming to the Cape for a physiotherapy conference. She has asked if we can get together for supper one night. Rather than going out, my partner and I have decided to host her for dinner here, in the house she hasn’t seen since she left all those years ago.

I extend the invitation via e-mail. She accepts. She requests clam fritters, a recipe I have not thought of since we were a couple. This is a problem. I’ve already planned the menu. Clam fritters are not part of it. The thought of interjecting clam fritters into my perfectly planned menu throws me into a little tailspin, not just because of the culinary discord the thought creates, but also because of the memories the recipe evokes. Interesting, how certain foods can trigger memories of happy and pleasant times in one’s life. But she asked; I can do it. I want to do it.

The day arrives. The table is set, flowers arranged. A three-layered chocolate cake sits in the middle of the table, piled high with dark chocolate curls and a light dusting of powered sugar. Next to it stands a small blackboard reading, “Welcome Marci.”

The evening begins with my introducing my past to my present.

We sit on the deck over looking the ocean, three very different individuals drinking three cocktails of our individual choice: a margarita for Marci, Sauvignon Blanc for my partner, Campari and soda for me. As we munch on flavorful crostini – garlic-flavored toast rounds, topped with freshly chopped, slightly spicy tomatoes, crumbled Gorgonzola and shredded fresh basil, I sense a common bond building among the three of us, an odd sensation of the past and present merging as one. Is it our shared love of food? I wonder. Or is there something else?

We finish our aperitifs and appetizers and move into the kitchen for clam fritters. Marci confesses that she has felt slightly guilty for suggesting them, and feels even guiltier when I tell her I harvested the clams myself. I add that while clam fritters didn’t fit into my planned menu, once she requested them, it felt perfectly natural to include them. Where would she get authentic clam fritters in the Midwest? And after all, this is a special occasion. A one-of-a-kind.

Marci remembers clam fritters being the size of golf balls. She is right, that is the way they should be made. I went a little overboard. These were much bigger. We don’t eat many, but savor the few we do consume.

Our dinner continues with grilled scallop-stuffed lobsters served with a New Zealand Tohu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002, a delicate wine, one with a distinct, pleasing quality. It is a perfect match for grilled lobsters and is also enjoyable as a cocktail wine.

Next, I serve a crispy salad of mixed greens tossed with a light oil and lemon. This definitely aids in the digestion of this rich meal.

The perfect ending is a small wedge of chocolate cake topped with a dollop of whipped cream, accompanied by soothing chamomile tea.

Later that evening I look back over the meal’s eclectic menu, the different personalities involved, and the experience of bringing the past and present together.

The food was fun, the energy high, new friendships were made, and once again I was reminded of how food brings people together, no matter what the occasion or situation might be.

Following is a letter I received from Marci after our dinner:

Dear John,

I’m still thinking about the wonderful time I had with the two of you last week. I was touched by the magnificent meal of grilled stuffed lobster, crostini, wonderful chocolate cake and of course the clam fritters, all topped off by the “Welcome Marci” sign, wine and roses. Really I will never forget it.

When I asked you to make me clam fritters, John, and you did, it was like when my mother would ask me what special thing could she cook for me. It has to do with memories, I think? It was so sweet of you to do it.

Love Marci

I am giving the recipe for one lobster. You can double the ingredients for two.

If you prefer baking the lobsters instead of grilling them, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover the lobster stuffing with a lettuce leaf for the first 10 minutes to keep the stuffing moist and prevent it from overcooking. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Grilled Lobster With Scallop Stuffing

1 (1 1/2 to 2 pound) lobster

6 tablespoons melted butter

2 teaspoons lemon juice


1/4 cup chopped scallops

3 tablespoons dry sherry

1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme

1/2 cup Ritz cracker crumbs, crushed

1/4 cup potato chips, crushed

Fresh ground pepper to taste

Prepare lobster according to instructions in box.

Combine melted butter and lemon juice: set aside. In a bowl mix the scallops, sherry, thyme, three tablespoons of the butter and pepper. With your hands, lightly toss in the cracker crumbs and potato chips. Keep the mixture light.

Placing the lobsters on their back on a baking sheet, sprinkle the lobster cavity with fresh ground pepper and drizzle with two tablespoons of lemon butter. Fill the cavity with the stuffing. Do not pack it. Drizzle with remaining lemon butter. Take a small skewer and push it through the tail to hold the tail down. This will prevent the tail from curling when cooking.

Place (each) lobster on its back on a well-heated grill 5 to 6 inches from the heat source. Cover the grill and cook 25 to 30 minutes. Check the lobster frequently and move it around the grill to insure that the lobsters cook evenly.

This is a treat in the summer when tomatoes are ripe and juicy and basil is fragrant.

Crostini With Tomatoes And Gongonzola

1 (23-inch) baguette, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch slices (it should make about 26 to 28 slices, 3-by-2-inches)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

6 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

Crumbled gorgonzola

1 bunch fresh basil, slice into strips

Red pepper flakes to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat broiler.

Mix garlic with the olive oil and generously brush each slice of bread. Place on a baking sheet and grill or broil until light brown.

Mix the tomatoes with red pepper, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.

Place about 1 heaping tablespoon of the tomato mixture on each piece of bread.

Top each with about 1/2 teaspoon crumbled gorgonzola. Place on the baking sheet, and put under the broiler until slightly melted.

Remove from baking sheet, place on a platter and scatter the basil leaves over the Crostini. Serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10 as hors d’oeuvres.

I suggest serving either the Crostini with Gorgonzola or these fritters as hors d’oeuvres. Each is a rich starter on its own. Clam fritters are terrific on their own, served with a salad and a nice chilled glass of the New Zealand Tohu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Clam Fritters

2 eggs, separated

1 cup minced clams (sea clams or quahogs*) seasoned with salt and pepper

1/2 cup clam juice

1/4 cup milk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Vegetable oil for frying

Beat the egg whites until light. Add clam juice and milk. Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper. Add to the wet ingredients. Stir in the seasoned clams. If the batter is too thick add a little milk. Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil, turning once, until golden brown. Makes about 20 fritters.

*If you do not wish to buy and steam the clams yourself (about seven pounds of quahogs will average about one cup), it is also possible to use 2 (61/2-ounce) cans of clams and the clam juice for this recipe.

(Published: August 6, 2003)

Fire up the Grill

My introduction to grilling started when I was a very young child. My grandfather would place a large steak in a grill basket, take my hand and lead me down the narrow cellar stairs to the coal furnace that heated our home.

Vegetables are grilled over direct and indirect heat in this photograph from “Food Photography and Styling” by John Carafoli.
(Photo by Brian Hagiwara)
He’d open the door, look in and know instinctively when the coals had burned down to the right heat for cooking that night’s dinner. I would sit quietly while he held the handle of the grill basket over the coals, first one side then the other, until the steak was perfectly cooked to his taste.

Grilling food has become very fashionable and quite different from the days when my grandfather cooked on the hearth of our furnace. Shops are glutted with fancy gas, electric, and charcoal grills. There are portable ones for the beach and elaborate ones for decks in every imaginable price range to suit a

variety of needs.

All about coals
Most Americans think of outdoor grilling as charcoal briquettes doused with lighter fluid. Many times the food is put on the grill before the fluid has burned off and the coals are still black. This can be a health hazard, and should be avoided.

I prefer natural hardwood charcoal, available at whole food grocery stores and many hardware stores. I use a chimney starter about 25 to 45 minutes before I actually want to put food on the grill. When the coals have burned down to a bright orange glow, I know, like my grandfather did, the coals are ready and I start to cook my food.

I am not going into the particulars of how to grill from start to finish; my interest here is to suggest some of my favorite recipes for summer grilling. Two good books on grilling I can recommend are ”How to Grill” by Steven Raichlen, published in 2001 by Workman, and ”The Thrill of the Grill” by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, published in 1990 by Morrow.


This is a simple marinade but it can also be used on other meats, like lamb and pork chops. Most stores have Herbes de Provence, but you may substitute Italian seasonings.

Grilled Marinated Filets Mignon

4 (8 ounce) filets of beef

For the marinade:

1 cup dry red wine

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 shallot finely minced

1/4 teaspoon Herbes de Provence (see note)

2 tablespoons coarse pepper, freshly ground

1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix marinade ingredients together. Place the filets in a glass dish and pour the marinade over them, making sure all surfaces are covered. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, turning two or three times. Remove from marinade, let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Place on a pre-heated grill and cook to desired doneness, brushing often with the marinade. Serves 4.

Note: Herbes de Provence are a variety of packaged dried herbs such a basil, bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, parsley, savory and thyme.


Preparing this marinade 1 hour before using allows the ingredients to blend together for a more flavorful marinade.

Marinated Grilled Shrimp

For the marinade:

1 bottle (12 ounces) beer of your choice

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/2 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

8 large jumbo shrimp

4 (8- inch) wooden skewers

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients for the marinade (everything but the shrimp,) mix well, and set aside.

Soak the wooden skewers in water.

Remove shells, devein the shrimp, put them in the prepared marinade, and marinate 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature.

Remove shrimp from marinade and thread the shrimp on the wooden skewers, two per skewer. To cook, place the skewered shrimp on the grill, about 4 inches from heat source. Cook about 5 minutes per side until pink and delicately browned. Serves 4.


This savory infused red wine butter (or compound butter) adds the perfect touch to grilled meats. Once the mixture is chilled (or frozen) a small slice placed on a broiled or grilled lamb steak or chop adds a delicious and surprising note.

Red Wine Herb Butter

1 cup red wine

2 tablespoons shallots, finely minced

1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, finely minced

1 medium garlic clove, finely minced

1/3-cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened to room temperature

Put the wine, shallots, rosemary, and garlic in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce to one-third of a cup. Add the chicken stock and reduce again to one-third of a cup. Let cool. Then add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating slowly with an electric hand mixer to incorporate the wine mixture with the butter. Add the paprika and pepper; beat until well combined.

Spoon the butter mixture onto a sheet of wax paper and shape into a log about 6 inches long. Roll up to enclose, twisting the ends to hold in place. Chill or freeze until needed.


This is the time of year when the striped bass are running on Cape Cod. If the bass is not available, you may substitute wild Alaskan Salmon, which would be perfect for a Fourth of July celebration.

Charcoal-Grilled Whole Striped Bass

1 whole striped bass, gutted (see note)

1/2 cup olive oil

Juice from 1 lemon

Juice from one grapefruit

2 tablespoons EACH chopped parsley, dill, and marjoram

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh sprigs of dill, tarragon, marjoram, parsley, and sage, or any fresh herbs from your garden

1 red onion, thinly sliced

Lemon slices and parsley for garnish

Start the charcoal fire well in advance, so the coals will be bright orange by the time you are ready to cook the fish.

In a small bowl, mix together the chopped parsley, dill, marjoram, and black pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice. Wash the fish inside and out and dry. Then generously coat the inside and outside of the fish with the oil-herb mixture. Let it marinate for 15 to 20 minutes. Then place the fresh herbs and sliced onions inside the cavity of the fish. Brush the grill with olive oil. Baste the fish with the oil-herb mixture and place on the grill 4 to 5 inches above the coals Cook 10 to 12 minutes per inch of thickness. Turn once and baste again.

Serve on a platter and garnish with lemon slices and parsley.

NOTE: When you are purchasing the fish, you may want to use the head for stock. If so have the fishmonger remove the gills or the stock will be bitter and unusable.


Grill more vegetables than you need for this meal: they won’t go to waste. Use them the next couple of days in salads and for side dishes for other meals.

Marinated Grilled Vegetables

Oil and lemon dressing (recipe below)

3 small eggplants, cut in half and scored with a knife

3 small summer squashes or zucchini, cut in half and scored with a knife

1 EACH large red, yellow, and green peppers, quartered and seeded

2 large portabella mushrooms, sliced

1 large red onion, cut into 1/4 inch-slices

6 plum tomatoes

Place all the vegetables in a large baking pan, toss with dressing and marinate 10 minutes.

Place the vegetables on a prepared, oiled grill and cook 12 to 15 minutes, until ”al dente.” Makes four to six servings

Fresh Herb Oil and White Wine Vinegar Dressing

This dressing not only can be used for grilled vegetables but for garden salads as well. Double the recipe and it will keep in the refrigerator.

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs: basil, thyme, oregano and tarragon

1 teaspoon minced green onion

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients in a small jar with a cover, Shake well, and then adjust for taste.

Chill for 1 hour or more then remove the garlic clove. Shake well before using.


This basic sauce is from ”How to Grill” by Steven Raichlen

Basic Barbecue Sauce

2 cups ketchup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

1 tablespoon of Basic Barbecue Rub (see recipe below)

2 teaspoons liquid smoke

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and gently simmer the sauce 10 to 15 minutes until dark and thick. Transfer the sauce to clean (or even sterile) jars and store in refrigerator. It will keep for several months. Makes about 2 1/2 cups


This is one of my favorite versatile rubs. I use it on meats and poultry when I am grilling. It can also be used on roasts.

Basic Barbecue Rub

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon crushed black pepper

1 tablespoon Five Spice Blend

Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator.

To use, brush a little olive oil over the meat to be cooked. Generously coat all sides of the meat with the rub and proceed to grill or roast. Makes about 1/3 cup.

(Published: June 1, 2005)

Feeding Aphrodite and Adonis

Feeding Aphrodite and Adonis
You don’t have to be feeding Greek gods to make this romantic dinner for two

A few generations ago, Valentine’s Day was heralded by the exchange of hand-written sentiments on lavender-or musk-scented paper, decorated with cupids, arrows, hearts, flowers and doves.
In recent years, as the assembly line Valentine card has replaced the personal approach, I think Valentine’s Day has lost much of its significance.

Since I have a strong belief in keeping traditions alive, I think it is high time to bring back some meaningful Valentine rituals, albeit with slight updates. So set aside February 14 as an evening just for you and that special person.

Draw the shades, disconnect the phone, and fill the room with soft music and fragrant flowers -especially red roses, which in ancient folklore symbolized secrecy, love and desire. Set a linen-covered table in front of the fireplace, or throw a soft rug on the floor and make this your dining environment. Let the candles glow on your best crystal and china. Place a beautiful flower, such as a small orchid, next to your loved one’s place setting.

Plan to serve sensual, rich and satisfying foods with romantic overtones, presented in small elegant portions. Start with a classic pink champagne as you savor Neptune’s special gift from our own waters, oysters warmed and dressed simply with butter, shallots and parsley. Oysters were once believed to be a potent aphrodisiac.

For the main course prepare a luscious Asian salmon placed on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes with a side of “heart beets” and butter rosettes. Salad is hearts of palm (the edible inner portion of the stem of the cabbage palm tree) on a bed of dandelion greens. Dandelions were considered the oracle of time and love in ancient folklore. Finally, for dessert, bring out a sensual heart-shaped dessert of cream drizzled with red raspberry puree.

Plan for a stress-free feast

Of course, no love feast will feel romantic and relaxing if you’re racing around attending to its details. So plan to do much of the preparation ahead of time to enable both of you to enjoy the experience.

Working backwards from the grand finale, prepare the dessert, including the raspberry sauce, the day before your dinner. In the morning, unmold the heart of cream, place on a decorative plate, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare the salad by arranging hearts of palm on a bed of dandelion greens, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to serve. The tarragon dressing can be made up to several days beforehand. I often make more dressing than needed and keep it in the refrigerator for future use.

A few hours before your feast, shuck the oysters, place them on a bed of crushed aluminum foil on a small baking sheet. Cover them lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Place the salmon in a baking dish covered with the soy mixture on the counter, twenty minutes before ready to bake, pop into the oven just before serving the champagne and oysters.

To prepare the “heart beets” ahead of time, boil beets, cool slightly until you can handle them, slice 1/2-inch thick and cut out hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Just before serving, heat in the microwave, top with a little butter. (For an added touch, put soft butter into rubber mold to form butter rosettes. Place in refrigerator until hard. Unmold when ready to use. (Rubber butter molds are found in gourmet cook shops. See resources.)

Cook and whip the potatoes up to a few hours ahead, then place them covered in a double boiler over gently simmering water an hour or more before serving them. I have found this to be a great way to keep mashed or whipped root vegetables, such as squash and turnips, warm for several hours while you are preparing a meal.


Heart shaped 3-ounce molds for dessert can be found at Nantucket Trading Company on Main Street in Hyannis and Main Street in Falmouth. All Cape Cook on Main Street in Hyannis carries larger molds and also has rubber rosette molds for butter.


Shucking oysters may be a little advanced for some people, but the “Joy of Cooking” will help you along. Once you get the hang of it, the possibilities for eating them are endless.

Hint: Place oysters in the freezer for 15 minutes before shucking. It makes it easier to open them.

1/4-1/2 cup Champagne or white wine

3 teaspoons butter

1 small shallot, finely minced

Freshly ground pepper to taste

3 teaspoons chopped parsley

6 small oysters

Scrub the oysters thoroughly with a stiff brush under cold running water. Open the oysters with a strong, thin oyster knife (I some times use a bottle opener which also works well). Remove the oysters from the shells, discard the top shells, and replace oysters in the bottom shells. Fill a broiler pan with crushed aluminum foil to steady the oyster shells. Splash each oyster with several drops of champagne or white wine, place 1/2 teaspoon butter on each oyster, a little minced shallot, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon parsley. Place under a preheated broiler until the oysters begin to bubble around the edges, about 2 to 3 minutes; do not overcook. Transfer the oysters to a platter and serve them immediately.

Asian-flavored Salmon

2 salmon fillets about 1 1/2-inch thick, 6 or 7 ounces, skin removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup grated onion

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 chopped scallion for garnish

In a medium bowl combine the olive oil; onion, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, pepper and lemon juice mix until well combined. Add the salmon, cover with mixture and marinate for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once or twice.

Place the salmon in a buttered ovenproof dish and put in a preheated 400- degree oven for 16 to 18 minutes until done. Note: if the fillets are thinner reduce timing slightly.

To serve: put a scoop of mashed potato on each plate and place the salmon on top of the potato. Garnish with a little chopped scallion.

“Heart Beets”

Cook 2 or 3 large beets. Slice 1/4-inch thick. With a 3- inch heart shape cookie cutter, cut several hearts from the beets. Put soft butter into rubber butter rosette molds. Place in refrigerator until heard. Unmold when ready to use.

Hearts of Palm on a Bed of Dandelions

There will be more greens and heats of palm than you need for two salads. Wrap the remaining dandelions in a damp paper towel, place them in a plastic bag and refrigerate for future use. Dandelion greens are wonderful steamed and sautéed with minced garlic and olive oil. They can be served as a vegetable side dish.

1 bunch dandelion greens

1 (8 ounce) can hearts of palm

Clean, wash, and dry the dandelion greens. Arrange them on individual plates. Slice the hearts of palm crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds and place them on the dandelions. Pour a tablespoon of vinaigrette dressing (recipe below) on each serving.

Tarragon Vinaigrette

This recipe makes more than what you will need for two salads. Store extra in the refrigerator for use at another time.

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 small garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Put the above ingredients into a small jar with a lid and shake until well blended. This is best made the day before and refrigerated until ready to use. Shake well again before using.

Heart of Cream

This is the French dessert commonly know as COEUR A LA CRÈME. It is a delicious, sensual, creamy dessert perfect for Valentine’s Day. The recipe makes 3 1/2 cups but may be cut in half and put into four individual 3-ounce molds.

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup water

Cheesecloth, found in baking section of the grocery store

1/2 cup yogurt

2 cups ricotta cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

3 1/2-cup heart-shaped mold with holes in bottom*

10-ounce package frozen raspberries or 1 pint fresh berries

*I use a Jell-O mold I found and punched holes in the bottom.

Combine the lemon juice and water. Dip the cheesecloth into the mixture, wring it nearly dry, and line the mold with it, allowing a 2-inch overhand on all sides.

In a medium bowl mix together the yogurt, ricotta cheese, sour cream and powdered sugar with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until light and creamy.

Pour the mixture into the prepared mold, smoothing the top. Cover with overhanging cheesecloth, place on a wire rack over a bowl and refrigerate overnight. The whey will drain, leaving the ‘heart’ of the cheese.

To make the raspberry topping, put the berries into a food processor or a blender and puree. Add sugar to taste. Strain out the seeds and place in a serving pitcher.

To serve the Heart of Cream, open the cheesecloth and invert the mold over a flat dish. Remove the mold and the cheesecloth and pour the raspberry sauce over the heart.

Makes 4 servings, with 2 1/2 tablespoons of raspberry sauce per portion.

(Published: February 5, 2003)

Pros Create Entertainment Poetry

Have you ever wondered how restaurant owners entertain?

I decided to find out, so I asked Gilbert and Kolleen Pepin, owners of the wonderful 902 Main Restaurant in South Yarmouth, to come to my house and create the kind of dinner they themselves would host.

John Murelle, far left, reacts as chef Gilbert Pepin and columnist John Carafoli cook scallops.
(Photo by Matt Suess)
These two creative, talented, high-energy restaurateurs – the Fred and Ginger of the restaurant world, as I call them- danced into my home at 3:30 on a balmy Sunday afternoon last month and choreographed a festive and special dinner party.

After a short tour, Gilbert and Kolleen swung into action. We put on some lively music, Kolleen poured us glasses of Lindauer Brut sparkling wine from New Zealand and offered a toast to the evening to come. Then we got busy. Out of their car came a steady stream of plastic boxes and containers filled with food, wine, cutting boards, knives, and racks of glasses and dishes from their restaurant.

As they do at the restaurant, both partners took over familiar territories and tasks, with Gilbert in the kitchen and Kolleen in the dining room. Gilbert was immediately at home with my six-burner, two-oven Garland range, complete with grill and broiler.

Kolleen took over in the dining room, setting the table with my grandmother’s white damask tablecloth and napkins and my one-of-a-kind Sandwich goblets she found in the cellar while scouting around for other things she could use. She completed the table setting with a unique centerpiece of seasonal berries, small gourds, candles and clusters of glass grapes that came together in a festive and artistic arrangement.

”Entertaining, for me, has to affect all your senses, not just your belly,” Kolleen told me as she put the finishing touches on the table. ”When people come over for dinner, I aim to create a theatrical stage setting that involves the people dining with us. The ambience includes the food, music, candles, flowers and a special centerpiece, but it is really about the people. They are the center of the evening.”

Kolleen went on to say, ”There are always glitches in entertaining, as there are occasionally in our restaurant, and you have to roll with it and keep things in motion. Things do not have to be perfect. I think people put such high pressure on themselves trying to make things perfect. If something goes wrong, you need to be able to improvise and turn your mistake into a positive experience for you and the guest.”

Our guest list that evening included my partner John Murelle, a concert performer and voice teacher, who took care of the music, as well as Arlene and John Carter from Yarmouthport. Arlene, a creative pastry chef, brought one of her special Apple Cheese Tortes, while John, owner of Green Hill Farm in Yarmouthport, brought a gift of special wine.

Since Kolleen and Gilbert strive to have guests feel a part of the event, I was recruited as Gilbert’s sous chef. This was a new experience for me (in my own kitchen, no less), and a real treat, in as much as I respect and admire Gilbert as a creative chefwith a good knowledge of food. Each of the other guests was assigned preparatory tasks as well. Coming together in my kitchen set the tone and mood for the rest of the evening.

Music for entertaining
Singer John Murelle says, “It is important that the music you choose blends in and remains in the background. It should add to the party, rather then drowning out the conversation. I like to select music that people are not familiar with. Beginning with fun, upbeat eclectic music (and moving) to quiet vocal and light jazz as the evening progresses.”
A few of his recommendations:

Pink Martini’s “Hang on Little Tomato” and “Sympathique International” . Perfect for the start of any occasion.

Lee Wiley sings the songs of Rodgers and Hart

“Paris by Night,” a compilation of classic French songs and singers from 1929 to 1964. This is a favorite at 902 Main Restaurant.

Ella Fitzgerald, “The Cole Porter Songbook”

Bill Evans Trio, “Portrait in Jazz”

Tord Gustavsen Trio, “Changing Places”

Tomasz Stanko Quartet, “Suspended Night”

Standing around the large chopping block while jaunty music played in the background, Gilbert and I shucked and garnished the oysters three different ways. Kolleen opened a wonderful chilled bottle of French La Chablisienne Petit Chablis and poured everyone a glass while we nibbled on tasty goat cheese crostini and sampled the fresh briny oysters.

Next, Gilbert fired up the stove, handed me one of the pans, and we sautéed fresh bay scallops in small batches, cooking them fast and easy with fresh thyme and butter. Ladled out onto preheated plates, the scallops were rushed to the table and served with a Clos Du Val Chardonnay from Napa Valley.

While the playful and highly interactive experience leading up to dinner is fun, once you sit down to dine you realize that Gilbert’s cooking is serious. He spent four years in France, and some of his dishes reflect his training there. The chef uses fresh, local ingredients of the highest quality and believes in supporting local farmers, growers and providers. Everything at 902 Main Restaurant is made from scratch, including the breads.

The dinner at my house was much like what I experienced dining at the Pepins’ restaurant.

We eagerly sat down for our second course, which included a salad of local fresh winter greens with a balsamic dressing, topped with Great Blue Hill cheese, and garnished with Cape dried cranberries and spiced nuts.

The third course consisted of a grilled Wolfe’s Neck Farm Rib-eye Steak with a sauce of caramelized shallots reduced with Pinot Noir, and served with braised red cabbage Alsatian-style and fingerling potatoes. Kolleen selected yet another perfect match: a French Domaine du Pesquier 2001 Gigondas.

As the evening progressed, the music changed, matched to the mood of the course, and conversation ran the gamut (everything but religion or politics – neither a good topic these days). The grand finales to a memorable meal were Gilbert’s Pumpkin Brulee and Arlene’s Apple Cheese Torte, accompanied by espresso, tea and after-dinner drinks.


Here are some of Gilbert Pepin’s recipes, along with some notes from him. The last dessert is from Arlene Carter.

Cummaquid Oysters, Three Ways

Chilled Champagne Mignonette

4 cracked black peppercorns

1 minced shallot

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

Combine above ingredients in a small bowl, mix and divide among the opened chilled oysters and serve.

Horseradish Cream

2 tablespoons fresh grated horseradish

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Salt and pepper

In a small bowl, fold the horseradish into the whipped cream, add salt and pepper to taste. Place a dollop on each opened chilled oyster and serve.

Baked Oysters 902 Style

12 oysters

4 cups washed baby spinach

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 minced shallot

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 slices pancetta, rendered until crisp and finely chopped

Sauté the spinach in the olive oil and shallot until wilted; strain to remove excess liquid and place in a bowl to cool. When cool, add the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and pancetta. Mix well to combine.

Open oysters, place on a cookie sheet and top each with a tablespoon of the spinach mixture. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Serve warm.


”For my restaurant, I purchase goat cheese from the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company. It is organic, creamy and quite delicious.”

Vermont Goat Cheese Crostini

8 ounces of Vermont Goat cheese

1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped

Toasts made from a French baguette, cut into small rounds, brushed with olive oil and lightly toasted

Shape goat cheese into small balls about 1/2 inch thick and the diameter of a quarter. Roll goat cheese in almond and place on crostini. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for five minutes until warm. Serve immediately. Yields about 16 pieces


”The key to cooking this delicious, sweet, seasonal delicacy is to use a hot skillet, sauté quickly and serve immediately on warm plates garnished with a sprig of thyme.”

Sautéed Nantucket Bay Scallops with Lemon Thyme Butter Sauce

As an appetizer, 3 to 4 ounces of scallops per person

As an entrée, 6 to 7 ounces of scallops per person

Salt and white pepper to taste

Olive oil

Juice of two lemons

1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme

2 tablespoons butter

Season scallops with salt and white pepper.

Heat a cast-iron skillet or heavy gauge sauté pan. Add olive oil to pan, just enough to coat the bottom. Add scallops and shake pan to prevent sticking. The scallops only need about 30 seconds; add lemon juice and chopped thyme. Turn off heat and swirl in the butter until melted. Serve scallops immediately.


I buy most of my organic beef from Wolf’s Neck Farm in Freeport, Maine, and like serving it with the caramelized shallots, fingerling potatoes, and the Alsatian-style red cabbage. Many of the vegetables I use come from Tim Friary’s Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable.

Caramelized Shallots

6 to 8 shallots, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups of Pinot Noir

1 cup chicken broth

In an iron skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat, add the shallots and cook until the shallots turn a rich brown. Add the wine and chicken broth and reduce to a thick consistency. Yields about 1/2 cup. Serve with the rib-eye steak.

Red Cabbage Alsatian Style

4 ounces chopped bacon

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1/2 head red cabbage, also thinly sliced (do not use core of cabbage as it is tough)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup red wine

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup golden raisins

In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the red cabbage, vinegar, sugar and red wine and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes over low heat until tender and liquid is reduced. Season with salt and black pepper and mix in the raisins. Serves 4. This dish can be cooked in advance and reheated at mealtime.

The lettuces I used for this special occasion came from The Seaweed & Codfish Herb Farm of West Dennis. The combination of Great Blue Hill cheese, dried cranberries, spiced walnuts and assorted greens makes a beautiful looking salad any time but it is especially festive this time of year.”

Salad of Local Winter Lettuces

1 pound bag assorted salad greens

Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 shallots, minced

1 tablespoon grain mustard

4 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine the shallots, mustard and balsamic vinegar. Slowly whisk in the oil until well combined. Yields about 1/2 cup dressing.

To serve, coat greens in vinaigrette.

Place on plate, set a wedge of about 1 ounce of Great Blue Hills Cheese on side of greens and add warm walnuts and dried cranberries around salad.

Spiced Nuts

1/2 pound walnuts

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon sugar

Melt the butter in a sauté pan.

Add spices and sugar. Toss until well-coated, then place on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Shake pan frequently. Makes enough for 6 salads.

Pumpkin Brulee

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup light cream

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon allspice

4 eggs

Sugar for caramel topping

Mint for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until well combined. Pour mixture into 6 (1 cup) individual ovenproof dishes.

Set a rack in the bottom of a flat pan large enough to accommodate the 6 cups (a roasting pan works well).

Place the dishes on the rack and put the pan in the oven. Immediately add scalding water to the pan so the water comes halfway up the sides of the dishes.

Bake in a 325-degree oven for about 30 minutes until slightly firmed.

Remove from oven and let cool.

To make caramel topping, cover the top of each cup with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and place under a broiler briefly until top turns a light brown. Garnish with mint leaf. Yields 6 portions.

”This is a simple and easy dessert to make for any holiday party. I top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream,” says Arlene Carter.

Apple Cheese Torte


1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until well incorporated.

Add vanilla and flour a little at a time and blend well.

Press mixture into bottom and 3/4 of the way up an ungreased 8-inch spring form pan.


1 8-ounce package cream cheese (room temperature)

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup slivered almonds

With an electric beater, beat the cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla and egg together until well mixed.

Pour into crust.

In a small bowl, combine sliced apples with 1/3 cup of sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice; mix well.

Pour apple mixture over top of cheese mixture, then sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes.

Note: If almonds cook too fast and begin to brown, cover with a round layer of aluminum foil to prevent burning.

(Published: December 7, 2005)

Exquisite Eating in England

My culinary journey began with a 9 a.m. flight to England. The long but comfortable trip (accompanied by an edible meal, but alas, one not worthy of mention in this story) gave me time to review and refine my presentation of the paper I had prepared for the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery.

This prestigious symposium, held one weekend each September at Oxford University in England, focuses on a single theme chosen two years in advance by its invited participants.

Vongole in Padella (clams with cannellini beans, tomato, chilli, basil, bruschetta, and lemon) is a wonderfully fragrant dish that looks even more dramatic when served with clams in the shells.
(Staff photo by KEVIN MINGORA)

This year, it was authenticity.As a food stylist and writer, I had chosen to write on ”How Do We Communicate Authenticity to the Consumer Through the Visual Presentation of Food?” It is a subject I know well.
The symposium is a wonderful place to meet new people, glean a broader, deeper perspective on food and food writing, and learn what is going on in the scholastic food world.

The conference draws food scholars from around the world. I had the good fortune to meet people like Claudia Roden, famous for her Mediterranean and Italian cook books; Jill Norman, agent, editor and friend to the late Elizabeth David, who gained international attention with her focus on preparing fresh and simple foods; and Colman Andrews, editor-in- chief of Saveur Magazine.

One presentation that particularly fascinated me was ”The Rise of Molecular Gastronomy and Its Problematic Use of Science as an Authenticating Authority.” Despite its seemingly esoteric title, I was intrigued by this lecture because I had lunched just the day before at The Fat Duck, north of London, and had experienced firsthand the ”extreme food” movement prepared by its famed chef, Heston Blumenthal. Defined as a combination of chemistry and culinary science, the extreme food that Blumenthal prepares, along with Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Spain and a few other chefs in the U.S., ventures into provocative and controversial territory. Adria invented the ethereal foams, flavored with fruit and vegetable liquids, that sometimes surround a main course or appetizer or rest creatively on a hot-and-cold soup, a dish that’s cold on the bottom and hot on top. Having been to New York restaurants that copy this concept, with unimpressive results, I was skeptical. But after dining at The Fat Duck, where Blumenthal has gained acclaim for his work in the area, I got a glimpse of how this might work. You have to set aside your expectations of how food should look, taste and smell in order to experience how foods like white chocolate and caviar can go together.

Harold McGee’s ”On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” seems to be the main textbook for this new trend in food.

The Fat Duck

The Fat Duck is a 50-minute train ride, from London’s Paddington Station to Maidenhead, followed by a 10-minute cab ride to the small village of Bray. The five-year-old restaurant is housed in an old cottage that was formerly a pub. I entered the 16-table eatery and was immediately struck by the understated, unpretentious elegance of the place.

The principal dining room has rough beams across a low ceiling – so low that the taller wait staff had to mind their heads when walking through the room. My table for one awaited me.

I had made plans to dine at this restaurant with a well-known food editor who made the reservation months in advance. The restaurant has become so popular that there is a two-to-three month waiting list. Unfortunately, my friend canceled at the last minute due to pressing business. Knowing it would not be the same experience without her, I nonetheless refused to sacrifice the opportunity to enjoy a meal at what is now considered to be one of the greatest restaurants in the world.

As I began my meal with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I looked around and noticed that every detail was carefully attended to. The wait staff, an international melting pot, included a sommelier originally from Turkey with a vast knowledge of wines, a French maitre d’, and other individuals from Holland, Spain, and Italy, all impeccably trained – discreet yet attentive.

A small beautiful square of dark wood was set at the center of the table presenting a tidy mound of unpasteurized butter, in the diner’s choice of salted or unsalted, to accompany a choice of large slices of wonderful light or dark artisan bread.

Shortly thereafter, an amuse-gueule (a tiny taste) appeared in front of me with a flourish. It was a whole grain mustard sorbet (about the size of a jumbo olive) with a cold red cabbage gazpacho poured over it. The overall effect was tasty, different and elegant.

As a first course, I selected a parfait of foie gras sandwiched between two paper thin crackers. A carefully designed fig puree was presented to the side of the parfait, and red wine granité (unsweetened grape ice) was placed on a dish to the side. I accompanied this with a glass of Tokaji Cuvee Szepsy, a sweet wine from Hungary recommended by the sommelier. It complemented the foie gras Although expensive, it was one of the most delicious, creamy, dense wines of its kind, a perfect match for the luscious starter.

My main course was fresh poached halibut on a bed of caramelized chicory, and a nage of cockles (shellfish served in the broth in which they were cooked.). The combination of textures, flavors and tastes, which seem fairly common, were exquisite.

For dessert, I savored an altogether unlikely but transcendent invention: a Carrot Toffee topped with Butternut Ice Cream drizzled with Pumpkin Seed Oil, its serving plate garnished with small squares of poached carrots. The combination of flavors and its unique presentation was both unexpected and delicious.

Creative carrots

To finish the meal, a small bowl was presented to me containing a paper thin, nearly transparent orange rectangle held upright on a toothpick. The waiter referred to it as a ”popsicle,” describing its ingredients as carrot and orange essence. He urged me to pick it up and eat it as a popsicle, using the toothpick to dip it into the small mound of beetroot paste on the plate next to it.

The flavors and experience were whimsical and delicious. I mused on the interesting use of carrots in both desserts. Full of sugars, they lent themselves well to the creativity of this chef.

I was finishing my Earl Gray tea when out of the kitchen came a pre-dessert course headed for the adjacent table. Had I not just finished dessert, I would immediately have ordered what the maitre’d referred to as an experiment. It consisted of a dried cocoa pod filled with crushed cocoa beans. In it were stuck delicate pins with disks floating above the surface, on the small disks were thin round slices of white chocolate, each topped with a dollop of caviar. I had seen this pre-dessert in a magazine and was extremely curious and inquisitive and wanted to experience this different use of ingredients.

I left The Fat Duck feeling completely satisfied in every sense.

The River Café

My second superb dining experience occurred at the River Café, on the day I left London to fly back to Cape Cod. My meal consisted of simple yet delicious, well-prepared Italian dishes using the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. Over the years, I have stressed the importance of high-quality ingredients in creating the best cuisine, and the River Café embodied this maxim. The simplicity and minimalism of the room with its stainless steel counters and bars put the food first and foremost in this very popular London restaurant.

From where I was seated I could observe the workings of the entire restaurant. An arrangement of plates of varying sizes displayed gorgeous vegetables and ingredients, like green beans, roasted pepper and tomatoes. I was impressed that after nearly 20 years Rose Gray, one of the restaurant’s well-known owners and chef, could be seen preparing meals at lunchtime. Working under her expert supervision, a group of chefs assisted in preparing orders with precision and efficiency. The people in this place are still at the top of their game.

What better a way to start a meal than with a Bellini-Prosecco combined with fresh white peach nectar, beautifully presented in a tall frosted Italian glass? A crusty piece of grilled bread drizzled with a rich green extra virgin olive oil was brought to the table.

I decided to have two antipasti – the Calamari ai ferri, chargrilled squid with fresh diced red chili and a side of rocket (arugula), as well as the Vongole in Padella – clams with fresh cannellini beans, tomato, chili, basil, bruschetta and lemon (see recipe below).

Instead of a main course, I selected one of the primis, Tagliatelle ai Fungi – handmade pasta with Scottish girolles (mushrooms), butter, garlic and parsley. I was in heaven! Between courses, I had a fresh mixed green salad with just the right amount of dressing.

For dessert, what caught my eye was the Panna Cotta with Grappa and Blackberries. It was truly the best panna cotta I have ever tasted (see recipe below). Following this sublime three-hour meal, I approached Rose Gray, who was sitting at a table with one of the chefs, and thanked her personally for keeping real Italian food and cooking customs alive in England.

It was getting late and I had a plane to catch. I splurged for a cab to the airport – a fitting end to my stellar food experience in England.


This was a new recipe at the River Café and was written down for me by Rose Gray.

It calls for fresh cannellini beans. Cannellini beans are a rarity on Cape Cod but you can soak dried beans. First wash and soak overnight in a bowl of cold water changing the water and rinsing the beans several times. Use them in the recipe the next day. The tomato, lemon, basil and fresh red pepper come together for a unique taste. It makes a light, simple, and healthy supper. I served it with a Joseph Phelps, Napa Sauvignon Blanc and a salad of fresh arugula and mache drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, Balsamic vinegar I purchased in Italy, salt and pepper.

Vongole in Padella

(Clams with Cannellini Beans, Tomato, Chilli, Basil, Bruschetta and Lemon)

3 pounds fresh Little Neck Clams (about 3 dozen)*

1/2 pound dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight

1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes

2 whole fresh red chilies

4 cloves garlic

20 basil leaves

2 lemons

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 thick slices of sourdough or Tuscan bread

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Scrub the clams and discard any that do not close when tapped slightly.

Place the cannellini beans in a medium saucepan with one-clove garlic, one of the whole chilies, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Drain off the water, reserving 2 to 3 tablespoons. Smash the garlic and the flesh from the chili into the reserved water and mix into the beans. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix in 3 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil.

Peel and chop two garlic cloves, finely grate the peel of 1 lemon, and juice the lemon, and set aside. De-seed and finely slice the remaining chili, wash and dry the basil. Blanch, peel, and de-seed the tomatoes, then roughly chop.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large thick-bottomed pan (cast iron works well) and sauté the garlic and chili together for a few seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook together for 5 minutes, add the clams, the lemon juice, and zest, and season. Cover and cook until the clams open (about 2 to 3 minutes), add the beans and basil, stir to combine.

Brush the bread with olive oil and rub each side with a piece of crushed garlic. Place under a broiler, turning once until each side is lightly brown. (I suggest buying good quality bread for this recipe at Pain D’ Avignon in Hyannis. They have sourdough and a good Tuscan, it will make a wonderful bruschetta.)

Place a slice of bread in each bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and pour over the clams and their juices. Serve with a wedge of lemon. Serves 4.

* This dish was served to me with the clams out of the shell. If I get the clams myself and know they are extremely fresh, I go with Rose Gary’s recipe, adding the clams to the sauce and cooking until they open. The whole clams on the plate make a nice visual presentation. Otherwise, I steam the clams first in 1/2 cup of white wine for 3 to 5 minutes, remove from shell, discard clams that do not open, and add 1/2 cup of strained clam broth to the tomato sauce, then add the clams at the last minute to heat. If calms are cooked too long, they get tough.


Here is a wonderful, extremely rich dessert for a special occasion. For the up coming holidays try cooked cranberries, a little sugar and zest of orange. It is important to use a quality grappa, a colorless, high-alcohol Italian drink made from the grape skins and seeds left in the wine press.

This recipe comes from ”The Café Cook Book, Italian Recipes from London’s River Cafe” (Broadway Books, 1997). ”Italian Easy, Recipes from the River Café” (Clarkson and Potter) is the latest book put out by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.

Panna Cotta with Grappa and Raspberries

5 cups heavy cream

2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise

Thinly pared zest of 2 lemons

4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

2/3 cup cold milk

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup grappa, plus extra to serve

1 1/2 pints raspberries

Pour 3 3/4 cups of the cream into a sauce pan, add the vanilla beans and lemon zest, bring to a boil, them simmer until reduced by one-third . Remove the cooked lemon zest and set aside. Remove the vanilla beans and scrape the softened insides into the cream

Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk in a small saucepan and soak until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir over low heat until the gelatin dissolves completely. Add to boiled cream mixture.

Whip the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream with the powdered sugar until it holds its shape,

Fold into the cooled cooked cream, and add the grappa. Place a piece of cooked lemon zest in each of the eight (6-ounce) custard cups, and pour in the cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Run a knife inside each cup, then turn out on to a dessert plates and serve with fresh raspberries. If you desire pour a tablespoon of grappa over the top. Makes 6 servings

Food expert John F. Carafoli’s column appears in the Cape Cod Times food pages on the first Wednesday of the month. Send him your questions about food and cooking by email or by mail to Gwenn Friss, food editor, Cape Cod Times, 319 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601.

(Published: October 5, 2005)

Eating Italian

Sure, there’s pasta. But there’s also fresh-dug shellfish, asparagus, good wine and leisurely conversation as friends share a traditional meal.

A month ago at this time, I was eating my way across Northern Italy. When I think about my trip, I get nostalgic for the food, the flavors and the experiences. For me, Italy is all about eating well. My memories prompted me to call my friend, Franco Romagnoli, to come and cook a lunch with me in the Italian style.
Born in Rome, Franco is an expert on the cuisine of his native country. He and his former wife, Margaret, hosted the PBS series The Romagnolis’ Table and later opened a very successful and popular restaurant (1979-89) by the same name in Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace. He is the author of nine cookbooks, his latest, “Cucina di Magro, Cooking Lean the Traditional Italian Way” (Steerforth Press, 2003, $!8.95).

After going back and forth discussing many exciting course options, I finally said, “Because of the way we cook, we both know our dishes should depend on what is fresh in the fish market and the produce department. I will shop tomorrow and have enough fresh ingredients on hand to create a spontaneous Italian meal.”

He fully agreed.

Digging lunch

Living on Cape Cod, I feel we should eat, harvest and cook with foods from our own land and waters. Working in my office that afternoon, I looked out the window towards the ocean. The sand flats in front of my house were exposed. This only happens in a moon tide. What else could I do but grab my rake, clam bucket, and head for the beach?

Just below the tide line, in a rocky part of the beach, I was able to pick mussels and periwinkles. I walked further down the beach to the sand flats and dug huge sea clams. That night, with a few of the clams, I made a linguine and clam sauce. I kept my bounty of mussels, periwinkles and remaining sea clams in a bucket of fresh seawater in my refrigerator for the night. The next morning, I found the periwinkles had spent the night crawling out of the bucket and all over the inside of the refrigerator. It took me twenty minutes to find each and every periwinkle and put them back in the bucket. This time, I put a plate over the bucket.

At 1:00 the next day, Franco arrived with his new wife, Gwenn, to a wealth of fresh ingredients, artfully arranged in bowls on the countertop. After opening a bottle of wine, Franco and I put on aprons and began thinking about an antipasto. Franco’s view is that “an antipasto is something that is served before the meal to tease the taste buds, not to kill the appetite.” He suggested stuffed squid (I bought some fresh from the fish market) and steamed mussels with a simple topping for our antipasto. I would save the periwinkles for another meal.

Italian structure

As we started to cook, Franco reminded me that an Italian meal is much more structured than an American meal.

“We have very set courses and we don’t deviate from our standards,” he said.

For example: salads are never served before the main course. For the first course pasta or minestra (soup) is served, but not both. The second course is usually a meat, fish or vegetable. Franco notes that in very few instances, in Tuscany maybe, the meat is just grilled. Usually it is served with sauces that enrich the flavor and extend the quantity of the meat.

The cooking and preparation for our spring meal continued. For our second course we decided on pasta, a delicious, quick and easy “Rigatoni with Tomato-Ricotta Sauce”. And for our third course, a vegetable: individual fresh asparagus bundles wrapped in prosciutto, topped with grated parmesan cheese and placed under the broiler for a few minutes. Anyone who thinks they do not like vegetables should try this.

When everything was complete and the table set, our aprons came off and we sat down to a leisurely lunch. While savoring our meal, we compared the experience of dining in Italy verses America. Franco started with this example, “Order a dish of Fettuccine Alfredo in Italy and you know what you are getting. Italian meals are based on tradition. It is what it is! Here in America, things are added to make it something other than the original dish. They add ingredients that don’t really fit together.”

But, Franco said, “I am not stuck in the past. A cuisine has to be alive and attuned to the times; it should be a continuously developing art, aided by creativity and imagination. There are many chefs in Italy today who create new dishes, inspired variations of old themes. I prefer Italian dishes to be part of an evolution, not a revolution.”

The place of subtlety

I agree totally with Franco. For the most part, subtlety is not an American strong point. Most chefs, because of competition, do things to food for the sake of being different. When I read a menu (and there is a technique to writing a good menu), if the descriptions of the dishes are too flowery or complicated, I immediately lose interest. My theory is this: if my mind cannot adjust to all the ingredients, what will it do in my body?

Our meal continued as well as the conversation. I brought out pictures of the restaurants recommended by Franco and Gwen and of the food eaten there. Breaking away from my daily routine and putting aside time to spend with special people over a mid-day lunch, was, for me, eating in the Italian way.

Here are recipes for a spring menu you may like to try. Recipes are from G. Franco Romagnoli’s books “Cucina di Magro Cooking Lean the Traditional Italian Way”, “The Romagnolis’ Italian Fish Cookbook” and “The New Romagnoli’s Table” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988).

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The following two recipes are from G. Franco Romagnoli’s “Cucina di Magro, Cooking Lean The Traditional Italian Way”.

With a little patience, anyone can stuff a squid’s body, which is cooked in a sauce and served as an appetizer.

Stuffed Squid

2 pounds medium squid, cleaned

5 canned anchovy fillets, drained

3 garlic cloves

1 cup loosely packed flat-leaved parsley leaves

2 tablespoons capers

4 tablespoons (approximate) breadcrumbs

4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dry white wine

Freshly ground pepper

Finely chop together the squid tentacles, anchovies, and one of the garlic cloves, the parsley, and the capers. Put the mixture in a bowl and combine it with the breadcrumbs and enough of the oil (1 to 2 tablespoons) to make a paste.

Stuff the body of each squid with only a scant teaspoon of stuffing, because in cooking the bodies shrink about one-third of their original size and the filling expands a bit. If over stuffed, the squid ruptures. Once filled, skewer the bodies shut with a wooden pick. Save any remaining filling.

Put the rest of the oil into a frying pan large enough to accommodate the squid in one layer. Sauté the remaining two garlic cloves in the oil until golden and then discard them. Let the oil cool for a moment, and then add the stuffed squid to the pan along with any remaining filling. Cook gently for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the wine; bring to boil, and cook until the wine has evaporated.

Transfer the squid and sauce to a pan small enough to accommodate the new shrunken size. Add just enough warm water to barely cover the squid, cover the pan, bring to a boil, and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover, taste for salt, and adjust seasonings if necessary, adding a bit of pepper as you please. Bring to a boil for another 10 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced to half its original volume. Serve warm with the sauce and Italian bread. Serves 4.

Rigatoni with Tomato-Ricotta Sauce

This is a wonderful easy dish to prepare for a first course


1/2 small carrot

1 small onion

1 celery stalk

3 flat leaved parsley sprigs

4 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter

2 cups peeled fresh plum tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste

5 more basil leaves

1/2 pound ricotta

3 to 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, minimum


6 quarts water

6 teaspoons salt

1 pound rigatoni

Chop the carrot, onion, celery, and parsley to a paste and sauté in the oil (or butter) over medium heat for about 8 minutes until cooked and golden.

Add the tomatoes to the flavored oil. Add the salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes. Tear the basil leaves into pieces and add them to the sauce. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until reduced to a good consistency. Cool a bit and then mix in the ricotta thoroughly.

Cook and drain the pasta. Put in a warm serving dish and dress with the ricotta sauce.

Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese. Serves 6.

This recipe, from “The New Romagnolis’ Table,” is asparagus in one of its most elegant guises: fresh stocks are cooked al dente, wrapped in thin slices of Prosciutto and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Asparagus with Prosciutto

2 1/2 pounds asparagus

1 1/2 teaspoons salt (for the water)

1/4 pound prosciutto

1/4 pound butter

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Break off the root ends of asparagus stalk by stalk and discard them. Wash thoroughly and put in boiling salted water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook about 5 minutes, or until a fork goes through the base of the stalk easily. Take out with tongs and drain on paper towels.

When they are cool enough to handle, divide the stalks into 6 even bundles. Wrap each bundle in a couple of very, very thin slices of prosciutto (the Italian word for ham), securing them with a wooden pick. Butter a cookie sheet and line the bundles up on it, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, and put in a hot oven (400 degrees) for about 3 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, and when the bundles come out of the oven, put on a platter, pour the melted butter over them, and serve. Serves 6.

The recipe from “The Romagnolis’ Italian Fish Cookbook” is an antipasto for a sit-down meal. But it is such a treat that it is well worth the time needed to set the table and begin.

Mussels on the Half Shell

1 pound fresh mussels, scrubbed, “beards” removed

4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

1 dozen basil leaves, washed, patted dry, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove

Freshly ground white pepper

Check the mussels to make sure they are all well closed, discard any that remain open. Pour enough of the olive oil in a big sauté pan to cover the bottom, add half the basil leaves, the garlic, and the mussels.

Place over moderately high heat, cover the pan, and cook for a minute or two until the mussels open. Discard any mussels that do not open. Scoop out the mussels, remove them from their shells, and place them back on half shells on a serving plate.

Strain the pan juices through a very fine sieve, add pepper to taste, and pour a bit on each mussel. Add a drop or two of the remaining olive oil to each and then sprinkle with the remaining coarsely chopped basil leaves. Serves 4 to 6

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John F. Carafoli, cooking expert and food stylist based on the upper Cape encourages readers’ comments and food question on his column that appears the first Wednesday of each month. Send inquiries to “Cooking with Carafoli” care of, Cape Cod Times Food Editor Gwenn Friss, 319 Main Street, Hyannis MA 02601, or e-mail to Tips and information are also available at his Web site,
“Tempting the Palate: The Food Stylist’ Art,” a paper Carafoli presented at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, appears in this month’s issue of Gastronomica, The Journal of Food and Culture.

(Published: May 7, 2003)

Dinner Reading

Through the years I have collected many cookbooks and books about food. No, not many – it’s more like a small truckload. My office is overflowing with books. The other day I looked around at my collection, pondering its variety and scope. As an exercise I started to categorize them, picking the ones I like best, as well as the ones I use most, and spent a few moments reflecting on what each book means to me.

I began my list with books that inspire me to take ideas and concepts further in my work. At the top of the list are my books by cook and food writer Elizabeth David, who along with M.F.K. Fisher is among the most influential food writers of the 20th century. At the same time that Fisher was writing in the U.S., David was creating her body of work in the U.K.

David’s books are not cookbooks in the traditional sense but are more like narrative prose, with recipes written in paragraph form. To follow her recipes, one needs to know what she means by a ”thimble full” of this or an ”eggshell full” of that. She is what I call a ”cook’s cook.”

A wonderful storyteller, David says more with three descriptive words than most writers say in an entire paragraph. I own many of her books, including some first editions. On my night table sit the latest works to be published – compiled by Jill Norman, her editor and longtime friend – ”Is There a Nutmeg in the House?” (first published in 2002 by Viking Penguin) and ”South Wind Through the Kitchen, The Best of Elizabeth David” (North Point Press, 1998).

In general I am not a fan of celebrity chefs’ cookbooks. Many of them are ego-driven, some of the recipes do not work, and often these books do not speak to the home cook. I have worked with the recipes of many well-known chefs in photo shoots. They sometimes use ingredients not easy to find in local grocery stores, and involve procedures and equipment with which home cooks are not familiar.

There are notable exceptions. Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, chef-owners of the River Café Restaurant in London, have put out five terrific books on Italian cooking. Their latest, ”Italian Two Easy: Simple Recipes from the London River Café” (Clarks & Potter, 2006), is the sequel to their first book, ”Italian Easy” (Clarks and Potter, 2004). Both volumes contain many simple recipes any cook can follow. The procedures are uncomplicated and generally foolproof. The one critical element is to use the freshest and the best ingredients available. Either of these books would make a great gift for anyone who loves cooking in the Italian style.

Staying informed

As a food professional, I believe it is important to read all significant books about the state of the food we eat, where it comes from and how it is produced, especially those written by knowledgeable people who have done their research. One such book is ”The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan (The Penguin Press, 2006). This book has inspired many articles about the quality and flavor of meat from grass-fed cattle (their natural diet) versus that of grain- or corn-fed cattle, and the serious dietary consequences of consuming the latter. Pollan begins his book with the history of corn, and traces the ways in which farming changed drastically in the 1950s when synthetic fertilizers were introduced. He follows each of the food chains that sustain us – industrial food, organic or alternative food and food we forage ourselves – from the source to the final meal. Pollan has written an important and timely book, a must-read for anyone interested in where our food comes from, as well as the health implications of modern food-production methods. His book tells the story clearly and concisely.

Baking precision

Most of the time I rely on cookbooks for recipe ideas. Rarely do I follow the recipe religiously, but rather put my own creative twist on it. There are times, however, when I need to adhere to exact amounts and proportions to make a certain recipe work. Baking is a science, and I do follow such cookbook recipes exactly. There are several reference books I use for this purpose. One is ”Joy of Cooking” by mother-and-daughter team Irma Rombauer and Marion Becker (first published by Bobbs-Merrill Co.). There has been a great deal of controversy over the 1997 version (published by Simon & Schuster), as a lot of the content was updated and changed. A 75th anniversary edition recently was published, but I use the 1975 edition, since it has all the original information and has kept its style and flavor. To delve more deeply into the social history of this book, as well as the personal and professional lives of mother and daughter, I recommend the biography ”Stand Facing the Stove” (Henry Holt and Co., 1996), written by my friend Anne Mendelson, an outstanding food historian.

Two other staples on my reference shelf are ”The New Doubleday Cookbook” by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna and ”The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.” For quick definitions of most culinary terms, I have the ”Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst (published by Barron’s) and the ”Wine Lover’s Companion” – a must for all cooks.

Ethnic fare

When it comes to ethnic cookbooks, there are several authors I respect and admire for content, knowledge of their subject and interesting recipes. Topping my list is Claudia Roden’s new book, ”Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon” (Knopf, 2006). I met Roden a year ago in England at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, where I had the honor of presenting a paper. Then, a few nights ago, I had the pleasure of dining with her in Cambridge. Born and raised in Cairo, she now lives in London, and possesses a broad, deep knowledge and love of food. I have several of her other books, including ”The Good Food of Italy, Region by Region” (Knopf, 1990) and ”Mediterranean Cookery” (Knopf, 1987). Her newest, ”Arabesque,” was first published in Europe and has won several prestigious awards. It is a beautiful book with unique, fascinating and detailed recipes.

Another interesting ethnic cookbook is ”The South America Table: The Flavor and Soul of Authentic Home Cooking from Patagonia to Rio de Janeiro” (Harvard Common Press, 2003) by Maria Baez Kijac. A culinary historian, Kijac spent 15 years researching the world of South American food and covers much of it in the large, extensive preface and introduction. Her recipes are delicious and unusual, and most ingredients can be found in local grocery stores.

Madeleine Kamman’s first book, ”The Making of a Cook” (Weathervane Books, 1977), is a favorite standby of mine. My copy is tattered and torn, with pencil and pen underscoring throughout; it was my textbook when I was her student. Madeleine later wrote an expanded version called ”The New Making of a Cook” (Morrow, 1997), which I’ve never gotten into the habit of using. I still go back to the original. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but it’s also the sense that the information is more concise, and I still rely on my notes in the book.

And what would a food library be without Julia Child? I particularly love her small book, ”Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking” (Knopf, 2000).

For the fun of it

For just good fun, I enjoy traveling with several books. Alan Richman’s ”Fork It Over” (Harper Perennial, 2005) had me laughing out loud on my last vacation. His book is a collection of articles published in Bon Appetit and GQ magazines. Another is James Villas’ ”Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist” (Wiley, 2002). Villas compiled essays that were published in Town & Country magazine, where he was food and wine editor for 27 years. He tells the story of his adventures as a student living in France and people he met along the way to becoming a food editor. One of the funniest books I have read is ”Out to Lunch” (Penguin Books, 1986) by Paul Levy. (Although out of print, I found several copies available on

I could go through my whole library, but will save further reflections for future articles. Meanwhile, I’ll end here with recipes from a couple of my favorite books.


Here is a simple, delicious recipe adapted from ”Italian Two Easy: Simple Recipes from the London River Café.” It makes a great first course.

Prosciutto and Radicchio

8 ounces egg tagiatelle

6 slices prosciutto

1 head radicchio

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons rosemary leaves

2 ounces Parmesan

1 stick unsalted butter

Cut the prosciutto and radicchio into ribbons the same width as the tagliatelle. Peel and finely chop the garlic.

Chop the rosemary (see note below). Grate the Parmesan.

Melt half the butter in a thick-bottomed pan. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for a minute. Add half the radicchio and proscuitto. Cook just to wilt. Remove from heat.

Cook the tagliatelle in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain. Add the rest of the butter and half the Parmesan. Put into the cooked radicchio, then stir in the remaining radicchio and prosciutto. Toss thoroughly and serve with Parmesan.

Do not prechop the rosemary or it will turn black.

Serves 4.


Claudia Roden writes, ”The marinade and sauce called chermoula that gives the distinctive flavor to this dish is used in most Moroccan fish dishes, whether fried, steamed, or cooked in a tagine. Every town, every family, has its own special combination of ingredients. Bream, haddock and turbo can also be used.”

Roast Cod with Potatoes and Tomatoes

6 cod fillets (each weighing 7 to 8 ounces) skin left on


For the chermoula marinade and sauce:

2/3 cup chopped cilantro

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground chili powder

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon OR 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 pounds new potatoes

1 pound tomatoes, peeled

Extra virgin olive oil

Slash the skin of the fish in a few places across the thickest part. This ensures that the fish does not curl and cooks evenly. Sprinkle with salt.

Mix all the chermoula ingredients in a dish, and marinate the fish in half the quantity for about 30 minutes.

Peel the potatoes, if you wish, and cut them into slices about ¼ inch thick,, and the tomatoes into slices 1/3 inch thick. Brush the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil, put in the potatoes and tomatoes, and drizzle a little oil on top. Sprinkle with salt, then turn the vegetables so they are well seasoned and lightly coated all over with oil. Put the dish in a very hot oven, preheated to 475 degrees, for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. During the cooking, turn them over once so that the top ones bathe in the juice released by the tomatoes.

Take the potatoes and tomatoes out of the oven, place the fish fillets on top, skin side up, and return dish to the oven. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the fish is cooked through; it is cooked when the flesh flakes when you cut into the thickest part.

Just before serving, pour the remaining chermoula over the fish, letting it dribble onto the vegetables.

Serves 6.

(Published: December 6, 2006)