Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Salad (not Niçoise)

Eastside Road, April 30, 2014—
BEAUTIFUL, ISN'T IT? It reached 94° here today, and Cook thought, quite rightly, a not-quite-Niçoise salad would be refreshing. Why isn't it Niçoise, I asked her: no anchovies, she said; no olives…

She's right, of course; she generally is. But if it's not Niçoise it's the next best thing. Or, in fact, quite as good; simply different. We're lucky to have a grocer in Healdsburg who finds local produce when possible, stuff with good flavor and fresh fresh fresh, and lately his butter lettuce has been soft and sweet, with that silky finish to the leaf that comes only soon after a rain, I think. Good canned tuna. Good Yukon gold potatoes. Good green beans — perhaps not local, but certainly not tired. The cherry tomatoes are from Baja California, but organic. They don't have a lot of flavor, of course. but they add nice color and texture.

Afterward, a bowl of our own applesauce…

"Meritage" blend, Cyrus (Alexander Valley), 2006: good fruit, good cépage, well made; full and mature (thanks, Donna)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Oakland, April 28, 2014 —
¡AY CARAMBA QUE BUENO comer con amigos aqui! Another trip to the East Bay, and a far too belated return to a restaurant we really like. Of course it doesn't hurt that it was opened, a little over a year ago, by a friend, a cook whose passion and enthusiasm and optimism are second to none.

His restaurant, in downtown Oakland, is big, popular, a little noisy when full, and dramatic, with bold décor tending to reds and blacks. There's jazz in the air: Paul is a man of serious musical tastes. The bar is well stocked. And the cuisine — forgive the phony Spanish at the top of this notice — is assertively, imaginatively, resourcefully Catalan. Ai caram que bo menjar amb amics aquí!

Since there were four of us at table, we began with several pintxos, servings a little more generous than tapas, less overwhelming than raciones, beginning with asparagus, smoked beets, and blood oranges, with a scatter of chopped black moroccan olives and pine nuts.

We simply asked Paul to send out what he wanted us to have, barring arthropods of course, and we continued with beautiful little glasses of ajo blanco y erizo de mar, a sort of gazpacho made of almond milk, garlic, the roe of local herring, and chives — inspired and delicious.


There was green salad with green almonds and goat cheese; and ensalada de col with Savoy cabbage, Mahon cheese, green olives, and pistachios; and a fabulous butifarra dulce: sweet house-made (of course) Catalunyan rum sausage (a sort of loose boudin blanc, flavored with currants, sultanas, and dried cherries) with perfectly cooked garbanzos and topped with roasted rapini.
IMG_2352.jpgIMG_2354.jpgThen we got down to business with a fine paella: Bomba rice, Manila clams, chorizo, rich sweet pork belly, English peas and rosemary. Remarkably, the flavor of each of these six ingredients was present, individually identifiable, in every bite; yet the whole was beautifully integrated and balanced. It was deep and smoky, but even though I grabbed every morsel of the pork belly it was not overly rich, cloying, or deadening. It was a superb dish, making you realize a truly fine paella is the equivalent of a perfect risotto or cassoulet — perhaps even a combination (or at least a mediation) of the two.

We shared two desserts, pretending we'd eaten too much to order four: a gateau basquaise with vanilla ice cream, apricot purée, and candied kumquat; and a chocolate cake with coffee-and-orange-flavored whipped cream. They were quite up to the rest of the meal.

What else can I say? Oh, the service: it was friendly, intelligent, and informed — and marvelously attractive. I thought now and then we might have been in an Aldomovar movie except that there was nothing creepy or surreal, just grace and beauty and pure pleasure.

A Fino to start; then sangría
Duende, 468 19th Street, Oakland, California; (510) 893-0174

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Light supper

Eastside Road, April 27, 2014—
AFTER LAST NIGHT'S feast, a light supper seemed appropriate tonight. Besides, lunch had been heartier than usual: some sliced Gruyère on crisp rye crackers, celery stalks, a carrot, a tangerine…

So tonight we made do rather splendidly with this chicken-liver mousse made by our friendly neighbor down the hill, spread on toast; and fresh chard from the garden, braised with garlic and olive oil and flavored with a little lemon juice.

And then, because you've got to keep up with the leftovers, a plate of barley pilaf from the other night, none the worse for having waited.

Rosé: La Ferme Julien, 2012

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Judy's roast chicken

Eastside Road, April 26, 2014—
HERE YOU SEE an unusual photographic perspective on roast chicken. I carved it in the kitchen, and Cook scattered the meat on a bed of arugula, bread, pine nuts, currants — well, for the details, let me simply refer you to one of the great cookbooks of the last twenty years, Judy Rodgers's Zuni Café Coobook. Judy died tragically early last year; she was a friend and an associate; she was a magnificent woman — and her book is a perfect portrait of its author, strong, informed, down to earth, engaged.

Lindsey followed the recipe quite closely, and while for some reason I've never ordered the "signature" roast chicken at Zuni, the result, on our own dining table, immediately took me to that special place, one of the top restaurants in a city not known for its paucity of interesting and rewarding dining spots. We had a couple of friends to dinner, and they'd been to Zuni a few times over the years, and they felt the same way.

zabaglione.jpgThat was it: the roast chicken, and a nice green salad afterward, and then zabaglione with strawberries. Lindsey's a fine cook, whether on the savory side or the sweet. I don't get enough of her desserts. This zabaglione was first-rate.

Pouilly-Fuissé, Clos Reyssié, 1999: mature, full-bodied, coasting on the peak of its curve; "Bordeaux blend,"Cabernet Sauvignon, Caberne Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Cyrus (Alexander Valley), 2006 (deep and full, not quite ready, strong)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Barley pilaf

Eastside Road, April 25, 2014—
OOOF: HUNGRY as I was last night at dinner, I wound up eating too much (and undoubtedly taking in a little more wine than necessary), and today was at the desk and the workbench all day rather than working out in the yard. And then Cook set down this fine bowl of barley in front of me. Well, you gotta eat.

The recipe is from Marion Cunningham; whether from one of her books, or a newspaper column, or simply shared woman to woman, I don't know. I can tell you it involves barley, butter, and chives, and it's delicious and rib-sticking, and I could happily dine on it every Friday night. With it, nicely steamed-in-butter asparagus; afterward, the obligatory green salad. And dessert: an ice cream sundae, with Lindsey's chocolate sauce, and cream, and chopped nuts. Maybe I'll skip lunch tomorrow.

Rosé, La Ferme Julien, 2012

Italian again

Santa Rosa, April 24, 2014—
THIS DATELINE DOESN'T turn up that often. Santa Rosa's our local provincial capital, the county seat of our Sonoma county, a bustling center boasting 170,000 souls — but we don't get into town for dining that often. Healdsburg is much tinier, not even 12,000; but as a tourist town it's managed to develop a much better-known restaurant scene.

And it's probably too bad: I'm sure there are a few Santa Rosa restaurants we should get to know better. Well, anyhow, tonight we were dining with a dear friend recovering from a painful loss, and we went to a known quantity, a local white-tablecloth Italian restaurant we've been to before with her, in happier days; and it was gracious, comfortable, quiet enough to talk, completely pleasant.

The dining rooms are in the ground floor of a stately old quasi-Victorian house that must be a century old. The ceilings are high, and the walls are covered with quiet, bucolic murals. There's a fine cozy little bar, but we went straight to our table, in a bow window looking out onto rosebushes.

dolci.jpgLindsey and I began by sharing a Caesar salad, only slightly below the mark, and a vitello tonnato, quite nice. I went on to this spaghetti alla carbonara. I was hungry after a day's work, and needed a bit more protein, so gladly dug into my third of a plate of fine tiramisu and panna cotta. I know we'll be back.

Gavi, Villa Sparina, 2011 (very nice, crisp, good flavor and acid); rosato, Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo, Cantina Zaccagnini, 2011 (bone-dry, light, pleasant)
Ca'Bianca, 835 2nd St, Santa Rosa, California; (707) 542-5800

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Steak and potatoes

steak and potatoes.jpg
Eastside Road, April 23, 2014—
POOR COOK HAS A BAD cold, and hasn't felt like cooking. This is very rare: since she's a cook, and not only a cook but a pastry cook, she's almost never under the weather. This can be attributed to her habits of cleanliness: her hands are cleaner than a raccoon's. Still, we were traveling last week, and even she runs into a virus from time to time.

And so I got to cook today. Not only cook, but market as well, and plan the menu. I defaulted to the dinner I so often prepared when I was alone up here on Eastside Road, twenty-five years ago, building the house on weekends or, occasionally, four or five days at a stretch.

Steak, potatoes, onions. This is a two-skillet meal, and of course I mean black cast-iron skillets. I slice three good-sized white potatoes fairly thin, tossed the slices in salt and olive oil, and put them to cook in the bigger skillet.

I'd salted the small round steak on all surfaces as soon as I got it home, loosely re-wrapping it and leaving it in the fridge until time to cook. Then I sliced it and tossed it into the smaller skillet, already hot, but dry. I seared each side of the meat, then reduced the heat.

I had three good-sized fresh onions, stalks attached. I rinsed them, trimmed their whiskers and the ends of their greens, then cut them in half lengthwise, and put them on top of the potatoes and the steak. I covered both pans and began neglecting everything.

In good time, with occasional flipping of the potatoes and control of heat, everything was done. The water left in the onions from their rinse was all the moisture the steak ever saw, but it stewed nicely. When I served things out I peppered the potatoes and steak strips a bit, and drizzled olive oil over the meat.

Green salad afterward. Delicious, if I do say so myself.

Barolo d'Asti

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lunch back in the café

chicken confit.jpg
Eastside Road, April 22, 2014—
BACK TO BERKELEY yesterday, so lunch upstairs in the café, with a couple of acquaintances I'd like to get to know better — farmers, travelers, bons vivants. I began with a delicious little pizzetta with tomato sauce, brandade, green olives, and mint — an interesting and refreshing combination.

Then, because the next few weeks will be devoted to chicken research, this Riverdog Farm chicken confit, sliced breast and the drumstick, tender and nicely flavored, with good texture. On the plate, lentils and — a favorite of mine — celery root remoulade; with judicious capers and fried sage leaves. Almost makes me want to cook!

• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

For supper, all we needed was a small green salad from the garden and a couple of slices of toast with olive oil. And a glass of Barolo. We'll fast today…

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter al fresco

easter dinner.jpg
Eastside Road, April 20, 2014—
WHEN WE'RE IN TOWN on Easter Sunday — if we're not traveling, I mean — we're always grateful to accept the annual invitation to an al fresco supper at the Healdsburg home of a couple of friends, she a fine baker and seamstress, he a remarkable sculptor. They have a marvelous, spacious back garden, a small park really, a huge lawn set about with small fruit trees and vegetable beds, and sculpture standing everywhere, and a majestic ancient black Labrador.

We began with wonderful spanakopita and dolmas — Easter always seems to bring out a Greek note here — cheeses and home-cured olives, breads and crackers, helping ourselves variously to beer or cider or soft drinks, white or red wine — including an unlabelled bottle of white brought by a neighbor who'd made it, a delicious, soft, fragrant wine I'd buy if I knew where to find it.

Soon it was time for the obligatory egg hunt, each of us finding a beautifully decorated egg with our name on it — I made the entire circuit of the front lawn before finding mine, finally, in plain sight, under a shrub near the starting point. (I'm afraid I cracked and flattened mine a bit, having forgotten it in my pocket — good thing it was hard-boiled!

eggs.jpgThe dining table stretched out in the shade of a walnut tree, set for twenty-eight guests, most of whom had brought some delicious thing to eat or drink. There were four generations present, babies sleeping on the grass, toddlers climbing ladders, young couples, their parents, us ancients.

Pork and lamb was grilled over wood fires, and asparagus; there were delicious red potatoes with strong aïoli; there was a fine mess of pot greens; there were good white beans and sauces and salads. And then the desserts: fruit compote, lemon tart, rice pudding, and a superb egg custard in phyllo.

Nothing is better, I think, than a gathering with friends and family, on a beautiful warm afternoon, in a garden with plenty of shade, with delicious and lovingly prepared food, and banter and conversation. And then cookies afterward. Thank you Paul and Becky!

Chardonnay, Château St. Jean, 2010; Pinot Noir, Trecini, 2012; Prosecco, Zonin, nv

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chickpeas with Potatoes and Tomatoes

Eastside Road, April 19, 2014—
COOK RETURNED TONIGHT to a favorite cookbook, Deborah Madison's: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone — a cookbook everyone should have. (You can slip a little beef stock into almost anything.) Deb calls this a Lebanese stew, good cold, garnished with lemon wedges, as well as hot — but we have no leftovers tonight.

You brown a chopped onion in olive oil, then add cubed potatoes, carrots cut into pieces, a small dried chile, and a couple of cloves of garlic mashed with some ground coriander. Cook that for a few minutes, then add a cup of peeled, diced tomatoes and two or three cups of chickpeas, salt and pepper, and some water or broth. Simmer until tender; garnish with chopped cilantro and parsley.

Green salad afterward, because we need a little raw garlic every day, as Richard Olney pointed out yesterday, for the heart.

Barolo d'Asti

Lunch at the beach

grilled cheese sandwich.jpg
Eastside Road, April 18, 2014—
THE PHOTO OF COURSE has nothing to do with the beach. The beach was San Francisco's "great beach," where we lunched, with friends visiting from out of state, at a place I think all such visitors should see; and there we sat at a window overlooking the grey Pacific, and I had a fine mushroom-and-garlic soup, then a Caesar salad.
• Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, 1000 Great Highway, San Francisco; (415) 386-8439

WHAT THE PHOTO does have to do with is Cook's way of making a grilled cheese sandwich. That's what closed out the day — a day which had begun, oddly, with another Gruyère sandwich, taken with a cappuccino at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland. (Gruyère and cappuccino is a better combination than you might think: it takes me back to breakfasts in Netherlands.) All she does is put slices of cheese between slices of bread, butter the outside of the bread lightly, and grill the sandwiches, turning them once, between two hot cast-iron skillets, the upper one slightly smaller than the lower. One of the Hundred Plates, I'd say.

Cheap Barbera d'Asti

Dinner in the café

roast pork.jpg
Berkeley, April 17, 2014—
AND CONSTANT READER will know just what café is referred to. We dined at length and too well with an old friend who grows tangerines and avocados, and with two friends of hers who sell said produce at various Bay Area farmers' markets. We began with a bottle of rosé, is how well and extravagantly we ate and drank, and a fine pizza featuring, let's see, cavalonero?

[later edit: no: nettles, and perhaps feta. Thanks, Melissa!]

I set a photo of the last little bite of it down at the bottom of the page; the crust was perfect…

But for me the main course was the, well, main course, this succulent roast pork, with a delicious, tangy marmalade of savory grapes and currants — I'm working from memory here, and things got a little hazy toward the end of the evening… Fact is, another old friend, a winemaker, was in the next booth, and sent over some splendid bits of his work…

Rosé, Domaine Tempier, 2012; Chardonnay, Neyers "Chuy's Vineyard,"2012; Pinot noir, Neyers "Roberts Road," 2012; Zinfandel, Green and Red, 2012
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525pizza.jpg

Garlic soup

garlic soup.jpg
Eastside Road, April 16, 2014—
NOW THEN, a little more on that delicious garlic soup. After writing about it yesterday I took the trouble to verify, rather than simply make assumptions. Yes indeed: it does involve egg yolk.

The recipe comes from Richard Olney's marvelous book Simple French Cooking, where it appears with the following note:
Aïgo-bouido is Provençal for "boiled water."It is believed to be a cure-all. The rustic accompaniment is always dried bread crusts. The simplest version — reserved for those who are seriously ill — is nothing but a couple of cloves of garlic boiled in a quart of water with a branch of thyme and a sage leaf, strained over some olive-oil-soaked crusts of dried bread… The following recipe is a "super"version, as aïgo-bouidos go. For those who fear raw garlic, it cannot be too highly recommended. Whether or not one likes raw garlic, there is no doubt that it is powerful and aggressive in flavor and difficult to digest (although good, they say, for the heart). Cooked garlic is delicate and subdued in flavor, an aid to digestion and a "calmative".
I quote at this length to entice you to buying and reading this marvelous book, which speaks naturally and informatively and entertainingly about important things. Olney goes on, of course, to give the recipe itself, which involves bay, sage, thyme, lots of garlic, all cooked in water; a binding pommade of egg and egg yolks; olive oil of course; bread of course of course. Cook has a cold: this will offer relief — and, I hope, a calmative.

Cheap Barbera d'Asti

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Leaving Pasadena

Eastside Road, April 15, 2014—
Time to catch up again
Los Angeles, April 12, 2014—
LUNCH AT THE MUSEUM today, since we're here anyway looking at a marvelous Alexander Calder show, and have only an hour or two before catching Macbeth back in Pasadena.

I've been eating too much anyway these last few days. I think I'll settle for this Treviso salad: asparagus, feta, boiled egg, gribiche, croutons. What's gribiche? Let Wikipedia explain. Whatever the etymology — Wiktionnaire says "Probable variante de grébiche (« mauvaise femme ») voir l’emploi adjectival culinaire de bonne-femme"— it's delicious.
Arneis, Giovanni Almondo Ïl Ciliegie", 2011
• Ray's and Stark Bar at LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles; 323.857.6180

Pasadena, April 13, 2014—
WE'D HOPED TO DINE at a new place on Colorado Avenue — promising for its reliance on local, sustainable provender, and for its canny North Italian menu — but on arrival found it simply far too loud for a party of four. There was no way we would enjoy an evening here.

I recalled seeing an attractive old-fashioned bar-bistro not far away, with steak tartare noticeable on its menu. Only a couple of blocks away: let's do it.

My Martini was acceptable, and if the tartare wasn't quite up to snuff — made and refrigerated in advance, a cold uninspired patty with the accoutrements mixed in, and cold tired brioche toasts on the side — the room itself was a marvelous study in retro. And we could hear ourselves…
Côtes du Rhône Villages, Château de Bord, 2011
Cheval Bistro, 41 South De Lacey Avenue, Pasadena; (626) 577-4141

Oakland, April 14, 2014—
A DAY ON THE ROAD: "breakfast" in the cheap motel office: a small muffin, so-so coffee, so-so "orange juice." Once in Oakland, though, 11:30 in the morning, we had time for a sandwich involving egg salad made with chopped grilled asparagus, parmesan, and arugula. On the side, pickled radish and carrot, mixed greens, and a first-rate hard-boiled "balsamic egg."

• Wood Tavern, 6317 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 654-6607

Eastside Road, April 15, 2014—
AND NOW WE ARE PUNISHED with the common cold, picked up Aesculapius alone knows where on the travels over the last five days. It's Tuesday; we should be fasting, especially after the feasting of the past few days — but I'm supposed to be minding my protein intake, so we're eating; and we have these colds, so Cook proposes a nice thick garlic soup.

She'd found some turkey broth in the freezer — I think of it as Fortunatus's freezer, it's bottomless. Lots of crushed garlic; maybe an egg yolk or two — I wasn't looking. A green salad afterward, of course.
Red, La Ferme Julien (Rhône), 2012

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Acceptable and reliable

Pasadena, April 11, 2014—

MIDDAY, AND HUNGRY in Pasadena's "Old Town," a busy ode to complacent middle-class consumerism. Plenty of places to choose from, but we're right here at this one, we've tried it before and found it acceptable, why not?

I started with this plate of carpaccio — very thin slices of what's undoubtedly feedlot beef, but I rationalize they're very thin and probably won't kill me. Young, creamy, thin-sliced Parmesan. Arugulal. Lemon juice, and a scatter of capers in the judicious drizzle of olive oil. 

Afterward, orecchiete with sausage and… don't recall; didn't take notes. The theme this week is Calabria; I know it was nicely seasoned with chili flakes…

Acceptable Pinot grigio

• Il Fornaio, 24 W Union Street, Pasadena; (626) 683-9797

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Pasadena, April 10, 2014—

WE DECIDED TO LOOK for a new place for supper tonight, the four of us, down here to see three plays at the rep company A Noise Within. Our cheap motel is a ten-minute walk from the theater, but there's no decent place to eat nearby, so we looked at the map online to see what was close.

Ah; there we are: an Italian restaurant whose website promised comfort and utter lack of pretension. Forgetting for the moment what I'd had for dinner last night, I ordered a dish I like but rarely choose: Fettucini Alfredo. This wasn't bad, though the green salad that came before it was perfunctory. 

Not the dessert, though: Spumoni! The pink ice cream tasted properly of Nesselrode and a hint of bubblegum; the chocolate was decent; the green pistachio full of nice meaty nuts. I haven't seen this for decades, and was pleased to enjoy it this evening.

Pinot grigio in the glass, the first tasting of refrigeration, the second passable

• Nikki C's Restaurant & Bar, 470 S Rosemead Blvd, Pasadena, California; (626) 792-7437

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Back in Ojai

Ojai, April 9, 2014—

CRASHING WITH A FRIEND tonight.  He had a small jar of smoked salmon on hand, the gift of a friend who works up in Alaska now and then. 

So he cooked half a pound of penne al dente, then added the flaked salmon and maybe a quarter cup of crême frâiche. I shook in a few drops of vodka and ground a good big of black pepper into it. Toss and serve: can't go wrong. Green salad afterward, and for dessert half a cherimoya, with a nice almond tea cake from Crixi…

White Côtes du Rhône, "Heritages," Ogier, 2010 (a little oxidized but serviceable)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Catchup again

Eastside Road, April 8, 2014—
UNUSUALLY BUSY LATELY, but you can be sure we've been eating — up to today, when we resumed our weekly fast. More or less.

Last Thursday we dined at a place we like but, alas, seem to neglect — there are just so many good places to go to these days! I opened with the delicious grilled asparagus you see here, with grapefruit, lovage, and almonds. I never realized it before, but asparagus and lovage is a perfect combination, like lamb and rosemary, or chicken and sage: I'd better get a little lovage into the ground next week…

After that, the perfectly grilled pork leg you see below, with a crépinette alongside, on a bed of farro pilaf, with tiny turnips, sautéed rapini and, most delicious, a little crushed anchovy. What a fine dish — and how I miss the crépinettes we used to get so long ago at Pig by the Tail!
Syrah, Chante Perdrix (Rhone), 2012 (deep, fruity, and delicious)
Camino, 3917 Grand Avenue, Oakland, California; 510-547-5035FRIDAY AND YESTERDAY we actually ate at home — we do that from time to time. And I bet Constant Reader can guess what we had: Friday, penne with Lean Sauce — I call it that because I forgot, though I'd been carefully instructed, to bring a can of tomatoes home, and the usual browned-onions-and-porcini sauce was colored with a bit of tomato paste instead. I must say I liked it very much that way, with shavings of Parmesan on top, and of course a green salad afterward…
Cheap Barolo d'Asti

Last night we had our first chard this spring from the garden, from a volunteer that came up from last year — I haven't yet set any new plants out. Maybe I shouldn't: this is a big healthy chard plant and the insects have left it alone. (Maybe that long string of cold weather a couple of months ago will have thinned their ranks.) The chard is delicious, and it goes nicely with Franco's coriander-flavored "Greek" sausage.

Saturday we saw three plays in Berkeley — Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, excellently produced by Shotgun Players; I hope I'll have time to write about that over at The Eastside View, but don't get your hopes up. Not much time for dinner, as you can imagine: we made do very well indeed with a sandwich from the exceptional Berkeley butcher The Local Butcher Shop: roast beef on a sourdough roll with melted Gruyère, butter, caramelized onions, thyme, raw spinach, sherry vinaigrette — we wanted only a glass of good red wine, but since we were eating in the car…
  • The Local Butcher Shop, 1600 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-845-6328
  • BUT LIFE IS NOT ALL beer and skittles, as my mother used to say; Sunday afternoon we found ourselves at the memorial service for a good friend who we will miss a lot — at table, in fact, as he and his wife were frequent dinner companions. There were hundreds at the service, and afterward a few of us gathered at our friend's home, lifted several glasses to his memory, told anecdotes, and consoled ourselves with a couple of very comforting lasagne. Our Martinis this weekend will be lifted to his honor, though mine won't be Stoli, up, no floaters.

    Grilled pork leg at CaminoChard, "Greek"sausage, cauliflower at homePenne with lean sauce at home

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    Ham hash

    ham hash.jpg
    Eastside Road, April 2, 2014—
    I DO LIKE, said Cook, To be able to step outside and snip all the parsley I need.

    It's one of the pleasures of this time of the year, a time that's come a little later than usual — enough rain has fallen that the Italian parsley that volunteers itself at the base of the cypress near the front door has sprung back up, a week or so after the first timid green leaf-buds appeared on the grapevines. Soon everything will be going full tilt and before you know it… but why think about mowing and weeding now?

    Let's investigate ham hash instead. Another meal that suggested itself from a Cook's tour of the refrigerator, which — relatively small though it be — never seems to tire of volunteering another meal. The hash began with sliced onions browning in butter, releasing a scent that would bring you back from near death. Then potatoes, dried porcini mushrooms that had been reconstituted in water, a little juice left from St. Patrick's corned beef, a slice of ham chopped up, all cooked together in the black iron skillet. Chopped parsley on top.

    Green salad afterward, and then a couple of tangerines. I've said it before; I'll say it again: life is good.
    Cheap Barolo d'Avila

    Away and at home

    Eastside Road, April 1, 2014—
    HERE YOU SEE, no April fooling, a bowl of minestrone, lovingly made by Cook of Things At Hand, and a fine way to end a rainy day — with, of course, a green salad afterward.
    Cheap Barolo d'Asti

    BUT LAST NIGHT, ah, last night, now that was something different. We dined downstairs — Berkeleyans and family will know what that means — on a particularly fine Piemontese-feeling menu:

    Spring vegetable salad with green garlic bagna cauda

    Arrosto di maiale al latte with spinach and grilled artichokes

    Cheese: BoDacious (chevre) (Bohemian Creamery)

    Page mandarin and grapefruit sorbetto with blood orange granita

    Bagna cauda, chez nous, is generally a cup of hot olive oil with lots of crushed garlic and anchovy and maybe, yes these days I would say certainly, a bit of butter, kept hot at table over a flame, into which we dip bread, raw vegetables including certainly cardoon, and other things I'm forgetting at the moment — you could look it up. Hardboiled eggs come to mind.

    At this table though Bagna cauda was much more discreet, as you'll see below. The salad involved green garlic stems, tiny turnips, lettuces of course, and raw early spring green peas, with the tiniest drizzle of perfect Bagna cauda threading its way through: hard to think of a more perfect combination of plates which I'd otherwise have thought mutually exclusive.

    As to Maiale al latte: when I was a boy, roast pork was a frequent luxury at the dinner table. Even more frequent, though almost never served with roast pork, was what we always called milk gravy. (I did not grow up in a kosher household.) To make milk gravy, as I think I've mentioned here before, you added a little flour to the skillet after you've roasted or fried the meat (which has of course been put on a cold plate to get cold and greasy); you scrumbled it around in the drippings with a spatula (in those days called a "pancake turner"); then you poured in some milk, continuing to scrub things around to make a clotted sauce that tasted much better, fortunately, than my description might suggest.

    So meat and milk is a serious and comforting thread in my makeup, unlike meat and cheese, about which I whined the other day. I'm not sure how this Maiale was cooked, but I know (because I asked) that it spent a couple of hours roasting. I don't think we've ever actually eaten Maiale al latte in Piemonte, and I'm not sure we've had it elsewhere in Italy. Roast pork always brings two things to mind: first, my childhood home, when it was usually leg of pork, frequently from one of our own pigs, and had been roasted in the oven of our wood-fired cookstove, and had been flavored with salt, pepper, and garlic salt.

    Second, Rome. Porchetta is a Roman glory, one of many of course, but certainly one. No garlic salt would ever have come near it; there should be as little industrialization as possible. This dish was superb. The artichokes set it off exactly right, recalling the Bagna cauda through mental association with cardoons; the spinach added iron and verdure; the meat itself was beautifully flavored and tender as Fitzgerald's Night.

    And then the sorbetti, made no doubt from those delicious Ojai citruses from Churchill Orchard — lots of pointed flavor, cold and crisp, the tattered granita setting off the scoops of sorbetto as the Bagna cauda had the salad. Menu with memory, that's what I like, and this one will stay in mine for quite a while!
    Seco Ca' del Merlo, Giuseppe Quintarelli (Veneto), 2011 (a splendid apéritif, not quite assertive enough against the Bagna cauda); Basadone (da Pelaverga Piccolo), Castello di Verduno (Piemonte), 2012 (rich, deep, not heavy, fruity and delicious)
    • Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
    salad with Bagna caudaMaiale al latteSorbetti