Saturday, September 28, 2019

Lunch and Lecture with Massimo Bottura

Please forgive me if I seem a little star struck, but it’s not often that I get to meet Massimo Bottura, who has been named number one chef in the world. You may have seen him in an episode of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table,” where he explains the evolution of some of his iconic dishes such as “Oops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart,” or “An Eel Swimming up the Po River.”  His three-star Michelin restaurant in Modena, Italy –  Osteria Francescana – has also taken top honors for best restaurant in the world, and is consistently on the top five list. I still haven’t been to his restaurant on any of my trips to Italy, since snagging a reservation is harder than getting a private audience with the pope. So when I read that he’d be in New York, I jumped at the chance to experience some of his food.

He was in town recently for several reasons — one of which was to lecture and host a lunch at Eataly’s birreria. It was a perfect fall day to sit outdoors on the rooftop terrace (with about 50 other lucky people) and enjoy a sampling of Massimo’s food, accompanied by perfect wine pairings.Massimo’s passion for people and food were evident during the lecture, as he described the various dishes and reasons why he came up with some of his creations. He never stood still, pacing back and forth, gesticulating all the time he spoke, even imploring one of the day’s sponsors who was present, to shift away from its plastic bottles into more environmentally friendly packaging,

He brought many of his staff with him from Italy, and they were kept busy cooking, while Massimo regaled us with stories – some about his food, and some about his employees love life!

After some prosecco and foccaccia to whet our appetites, the first course arrived – a simple halved fig roasted in a wood oven, topped with some aged parmigiano cheese and a drizzle of cherry balsamic vinegar. Never have three simple ingredients tasted so perfect together. 
Massimo is a lover of contemporary art, and his culinary philosophy toward cooking incorporates many ideas from artists who veer away from tradition while embracing its roots. “It’s looking at centuries of history, but filtered by contemporary minds,” he said, citing Ai Wei Wei, an iconoclastic Chinese artist who took ancient Han Dynasty earthenware vases and dipped them in industrial paint.

The first course was a perfect example of that philosophy, and an homage to the region of Emilia Romagna, where Massimo’s restaurant (and my mother’s home town) is located. The innovative chef gave a traditional dish his modern interpretation. The metamorphosis started with two classic Renaissance dishes – sbrisolona, (recipe here) a buttery, almond shortbread-like cake normally served as dessert, and cotechino, a large pork sausage typically eaten on New Year’s eve.  Massimo transformed the sbrisolona into a savory base for this first course, reducing the sugar and adding some salt. Above the sbrisolona was a disc of cotechino, not prepared in the typical way of boiling, but instead, first cooked sous vide (slowly under vacuum in a very low temperature water bath), then browned in a wood oven and finished in ashes. Enveloping it all was an eggy, foamy zabaglione sauce, drizzled with an aged balsamic vinegar, also a product of his home region. Massimo likes to call this a “breakfast dish” that evokes bacon and eggs, but I’d be glad to eat this any time of the day.

For the main course, Massimo broke with tradition again to conjure the ancestral flavors of a typical pollo alla cacciatore made by families throughout Italy. He combined it with trout in an unexpected, but delicious way. “The best part is the sauce, not the chicken,” he said, noting that the cacciatore is slowly cooked in a copper pot, and the flavors are extracted by steam, then dehydrated to make a powder. The trout is seasoned with the powder, and a pesto with those flavors is used to sandwich the two pieces of trout together. A light flavorful broth is poured all around it. “Cooking is like art,” he said, “You have to pay respect to the flavors from grandmother, but use it in ways to break borders, to evolve.”
Dessert was also a tour de force. A edible bright red wafer-like disc resembling a piece of origami was made using flavors extracted from the unusual combination of oak trees, strawberry grapes, roses and bay leaves.
The fragile disc broke away in shards to reveal a small portion of rosemary and olive oil flavored gelato. I could have easily quaffed three more of these.
Osteria Francescana may be the mothership, but he has since branched out to other locales, including a partnership with fashion house Gucci in Florence and a restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey. In the last year, he opened a high end guesthouse in Modena – Casa Maria Luigia – with its own dining venue.

While eating at his restaurant doesn’t come cheap, Massimo is not deaf to those less fortunate. After Milan’s world fair “Expo” in 2015, whose theme was “Feeding the Planet,” Massimo took that project to heart, starting a nonprofit with his American-born wife Lara Gilmore called “Food for Soul.” They opened what they call a “refettorio” (the Italian word for a dining space where monks eat) in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Milan and set out to provide nourishing meals for the underprivileged, using donated food that would otherwise have been thrown away. Since then, they have opened rifettorios around the world, in an effort to reduce food waste and provide multi-course meals to the needy. His visit to New York also included a talk to the United Nations on food and sustainability, and a collaboration with Sotheby’s auction house for its “Contemporary Curated” sale.

As if my afternoon with Massimo and his food weren’t enough, the cherry on the cake was meeting tv personality Phil Rosenthal and restauranteur Nancy Silverton, who are friends of Massimo’s and were in town coincidentally. Phil was a writer on TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” and is the host of the show “Somebody Feed Phil,” where he travels around the world exploring local cuisines, including an episode where he visits Massimo in Modena. If you haven’t yet caught this feel-good show, check it out on Netflix. Nancy founded Los Angeles’ La Brea bakery and Campanile restaurant in Los Angeles, and is co-owner of Pizzeria Mozza in two California locations, and has also been profiled on Netflix.

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Fig Tartlets in Kataifi Cups

Have you ever eaten kataifi? It’s a shredded phyllo dough that’s available frozen in Greek or specialty food stores. Admittedly, it’s not easy to find, so if you can’t locate it near you, use regular phyllo dough instead.

I’ve been wanting to cook with kataifi for a long time and I finally took the plunge when a friend let me pick figs from her tree. The tartlet is stuffed with an almond flavored pastry cream and I served these as dessert at a dinner we attended last night. You could also switch things up and make this a savory appetizer, using a whipped, herbed ricotta or goat cheese instead of the pastry cream.

Kataifi is really simple to use, but slightly messy. Don’t worry about trying to be neat, because they have a certain charm with their little tendrils sticking every which way. Push the dough down into the tartlet tin, then drizzle with melted butter and bake.They come out a nice golden color and look like pale bird nestsBefore the tartlets went into the oven.

I cut the figs in half, drizzled with a little honey and roasted them on parchment paper for about 15-20 minutes, letting the flavors intensify.
The dessert is a cinch to put together before serving. Just place a dollop of the cream into each tartlet and top with a roasted fig. Drizzle a little more honey over each tartlet. You can make everything ahead of time and assemble before serving.They pop in the mouth like candy, and deliver a great combination of flavors and textures – crunchy and soft. You’ll want to make a big platter of these because they disappear in a flash, if last night’s dinner party was any indication. There were two lonely tartlets left on the platter that nobody had the courage to grab. But the hostess assured me she was going to enjoy them after we had all left.
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Fig Tartlets in Kataifi Cups
Author: Ciao Chow Linda
  • 1 box kataifi shredded phyllo
  • melted butter (quantity depends on how much phyllo you use)
  • 3.4 oz. box vanilla instant pudding
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • fresh figs (quantity depends on how many tartlets you make)
  • honey to drizzle
  1. Take kataifi from freezer and let thaw in refrigerator overnight.
  2. Bring to room temperature.
  3. Place the figs on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and drizzle with honey.
  4. Roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Remove figs from oven, and lower temperature to 375 degrees.
  6. While figs are roasting, start making the kataifi cups.
  7. Working with a small amount at a time, take kataifi in your fingers and press and swirl to fit into small tartlet tins.
  8. When you’re not working with it, keep the rest of the kataifi under a kitchen towel to keep it from drying out.
  9. Drizzle a little melted butter on each tartlet.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, or until golden.
  11. Remove from oven and let rest on paper towels.
  12. Make the pudding according to package directions, but add 1 teaspoon of almond extract.
  13. Whip the heavy cream and fold into the pudding mixture.
  14. Place a dollop of the cream mixture and a roasted fig atop each tartlet.
  15. Drizzle with a little honey and decorate with a mint leaf, if desired.



Saturday, September 7, 2019

Corn Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes


Quick, before fresh corn is no longer available, you must try making this risotto with sweet corn and roasted cherry tomatoes. I know it sounds a little crazy to add carbs to carbs, but it really is a great combination of flavors and textures. The roasted cherry tomatoes on the side add another level of sweetness that you can’t stop eating. I debated whether to add the tomatoes directly into the risotto while cooking it, but decided I didn’t want a pink or red risotto. Besides, they look so pretty whole, clustered on the vine atop the dish.

I grilled the corn, not so much to cook it, but to get grill marks that look nice as garnish. It’s a step you can skip if you want, since the corn will be stripped off the cob and cooked with the rice. But if you’d like to dress up your finished dish, just smear the cob with a little butter and grill for a couple of minutes, on an outdoor grill, or a grill pan.

Strip the corn off the cob, setting aside some of the pieces that have the best grill marks on them. You’ll use them on the top of the finished dish.Don’t throw out the cobs. Add them to the broth or cooking water. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, any little time simmering with the water helps to impart some flavor.

Meanwhile, drizzle the cherry tomatoes with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until the skins start to split open.

While the tomatoes are roasting, make the risotto. I’ve blogged about many different types of risottos before, so I won’t detail it here, except to say that you need the broth to be hot when adding it, ladleful by ladleful. Directions for this risotto are in the recipe below.

Serve with the roasted cherry tomatoes on top, and enjoy this taste of summer on a plate.

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Corn Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Author: Ciao Chow Linda
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • about 4 cups liquid – chicken broth, vegetable broth or a combination.
  • I used two cups chicken broth and two cups of water into which I placed the corn cobs and let simmer for a short while.
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 ears of corn, smeared with a little butter
  • 1 small bunch of cherry tomatoes on the vine, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • fresh thyme and chives, minced
  • fresh black pepper
  1. Smear the corn with the butter and place on a grill or a grill pan.
  2. Sear the corn a couple of minutes until you get some grill marks.
  3. You can skip this step since the corn will cook in the risotto, but I like the look of the grilled corn as a finishing touch.
  4. Scrape the corn kernels off the cob, saving some of the large pieces with grill marks to use on top.
  5. Set the corn kernels aside, but place the cobs in the pot with the broth or water.
  6. Place the cherry tomatoes on an ovenproof dish and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  7. Roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until tomatoes start to split open.
  8. Remove tomatoes from oven and set aside.
  9. While the tomatoes are in the oven, make the risotto.
  10. Melt the butter in a skillet with the olive oil.
  11. Add the minced onion and saute until softened.
  12. Add the rice and stir for a couple of minutes.
  13. Add the wine and stir, then add the broth, a little at a time, stirring constantly.
  14. When the risotto is about five minutes from being finished, add the corn kernels, setting aside the larger “planks” that you will use to garnish.
  15. Finish cooking the risotto with the corn addition, adding more liquid if necessary.
  16. Finally, add the black pepper to taste, the herbs, another tablespoon of butter and the parmesan cheese.
  17. Serve with the roasted tomatoes on top.