Men Who Like to Cook - David Latt

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Locals Know Where to Eat in the Berkshires

The road to John Andrews Restaurant (224 Hillsdale Road, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 413/528-3469) twists and turns through woods and farmlands.

We arrived at dusk while there was enough light to sit outside on the wooden deck that backed up against a grassy hill. What looks like the decayed remnant of a hundred year old shed leans perilously to one side.
Inside, the restaurant has the cozy feeling of an English road house. The floor to ceiling windows in the dining room open out onto the deck and hill in back.

In the summer, visitors come to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts to escape the heat and congestion of the city.  Offering opportunities to relax and catch up on your reading, a string of small towns with B&Bs cuts through the expanses of woods and farmlands.

With music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob's Pillow, historical sites like Edith Wharton's home, the Mountthe Berkshire Botanical Garden and innovative exhibits at MASS MoCa in North Adams, there's plenty to keep you occupied.

In August I visited the area for the first time. Beyond the charms of small New England towns and the pleasure of world class art, the Berkshires also has great chefs who take advantage of good products from local farms.
Chef-owner Dan Smith at John Andrews Restaurant has his own garden so he can supply his kitchen with fresh produce during the summer and fall. After more than two decades in the area, he has close relationships with local farmers who bring him high quality meat, poultry, milk, cheese, produce and honey.

On that trip in August, we had a tasting of chef Smith's menu that included a grilled eggplant with local heirloom tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and a drizzle of basil,
an artful tempura of squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheeses, seared foie gras accompanied with grilled pears and pickled red onion, salads of beats and tomatoes with corn, sweet duck breast and mashed potatoes with a maple-balsamic glaze and local lamb served blood red and juicy.

All those dishes were delicious. The creme de la creme was Smith's diver's scallops with a risotto of roast cauliflower, leeks and pancetta. This was no ordinary risotto. This was a risotto without rice.

Huh?

Chef Smith likes the creaminess of risotto but wanted a side dish that didn't rely on rice for flavor and texture.

There isn't a good reason to call this a "risotto," but I liked the result so I wouldn't deny him his naming rights.

He pared the creamy cauliflower with tender, sweet scallops. I could easily imagine the risotto accompanying grilled halibut, a thick medium-rare bone-in ribeye steak or a roasted chicken breast.

Happily chef Smith was generous enough to send me the recipe so I could make the dish at home.

Diver Scallops, Risotto of Roast Cauliflower-Leeks-Pancetta, Charred Scallion Oil

The dish can be served as an appetizer or entrée.


Serves 4 as an entrée

Ingredients

16 large diver sea scallops, washed, pat dried
2 leeks
1 head cauliflower, washed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cup olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch scallions
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
Sea salt

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

2. Trim cauliflower, leaving the tender florets. Separate the florets and toss in a bowl with garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Spread seasoned cauliflower on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven 30 minutes until cauliflower is tender.

3. Trim and wash scallions, season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Char the scallions on a grill or roast in the 400 F degree oven until tender. Let cool, chop up and place in a blender with 3/4 cup olive oil. Makes approximately 1 cup scallion oil. Use half the scallion oil for the recipe. Refrigerate the remainder to use with fish.

4. Slice leeks in half,  length wise, then slice across each half to create 1/2" strips. Rise well in clean water and place in a non-reactive sauce pan, cover with water and add a pinch of sea salt. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes on medium high heat. Stir leeks every couple of minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium and cook leeks until tender and most of the liquid has reduced.

5. In a sauce pan, render the chopped pancetta until brown and crispy. Drain well. Discard the fat. Toss together the pancetta, leeks and roasted cauliflower florets in the sauce pan. Stir in the heavy cream and simmer. Reduce the cream to coat cauliflower, stir in Parmesan and chopped parsley.

6. Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron pan on a medium high flame. Season the scallops with sea salt and sear 1 minute per side.

7. Place 4 scallops on each plate on a bed of cauliflower risotto, drizzle with scallion oil.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Looking for Good Reasons to Travel, Visit Northern Spain and Morocco


Summer's almost here and it's time to think about planning vacation travel. Wanting to ease some of the difficulty traveling, I applied for and received a Global Entry pass so at many airports I breeze through domestic security (thank you TSA Pre) as well as international points of entry.

I would definitely recommend Global Entry to everyone who travels more than a few times a year. The cost is minimal ($100 for 5 years) and the online paper work isn't too time consuming. Email me and I will give you all the details.
Last fall I took a trip to Morocco on a press trip with half a dozen other journalists. We traveled from Fez in the east to Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains in the west and then to Essaouira on the coast.
In the High Atlas Mountains, we arranged for a cooking lesson in the kitchen of a local cook. To get to her home on the grounds of a remote boutique hotel, we walked underneath walnut trees up a steep dirt switch-back trail we shared with men riding side-saddle on donkeys. "Shared" isn't accurate. If we hadn't jogged quickly to the muddy area to the side of the trail, the men on donkeys would certainly have bumped us out of their way.
The walk up that hill was a challenge. By the time we reached the hotel at the top, we were tired, thirsty and pretty dusty. At that moment the walk didn't seem worth the effort. Then we walked out onto the the wide deck of the Kasbah Toubkal where we were greeted with hot mint tea, Moroccan style--sweet and heavily caffeinated.
In the crisp, clear air, we took in the breath-taking view of the surrounding mountains and the village of Imlil in the valley below.
A few clouds floated by like rafters on inner tubes leisurely drifting on a vast blue lake. We sat and drank our tea and never wanted to leave.

Sitting on squat stools in the concrete floored pantry, Haja Rkia ben Houari and Fatima gave us a cooking lesson. The two Berber woman generously showed our group of journalists how to prepare a chicken tagine, couscous with lamb and potatoes and bread cooked on an outdoor oven.

At another cooking class at the very elegant La Maison Arabe, an upscale inn next to Marrakech's souk or shopping bazar, Amaggie Waga and Dadas Ayada taught us about Moroccan spices and cooking traditions and how modern Moroccan cooking resulted from the many groups who came to call the area home--Berbers, Jewish spice merchants, invading Arab armies and French colonialists.
Besides the historical facts, taking a cooking workshop was a way to learn how to make Morocco's signature dishes, most importantly how to make preserved vegetable pickles, which now I serve at practically every meal, that's how much I think their briny-spicy crunch brightens almost any dish.
For the holidays last year, my present-of-choice was preserved lemons, another recipe learned at the Maison Arabe cooking school.
This year in the spring, another press trip took me to Northern Spain on a wonderfully comprehensive tour with Insight Vacations. From Madrid we headed due north to San Sebastián and then rambled along the coast heading west. In the cathedral town of Burgos I enjoyed an hour's lunch in a small bar with half a dozen men watching soccer and eating tapas. We stopped in Bilbao to tour the Guggenheim and gaze up at Jeff Koons' "Puppy."
We traveled to a mountain top in the Picos de Europa mountains to visit the Cave of Covadonga the 8th century resting place of Spain's first Catholic king, Pelagius.
Our final stop was Santiago de Compostela, the end of the Pilgrims' trail and the Cathedral where it is said St. James' bones are buried. Inside the many rooms of the Cathedral there are statuary created over the centuries. The guide pointed out one that is very unusual--a very pregnant virgin Mary.
The trip mixed history, art and culinary traditions as we moved from tapas to pintxos, the Basque open faced sandwiches that I came to love. Whenever possible, Iberian ham, anchovies, sardines and octopus appeared on our plates along with delicious Galician beer, light and crisp.


From that trip I brought home ideas for appetizers, simply constructed with contrasting flavors and textures. Small plate tapas and grilled bread-pintxos now precede the soups, salads and entrees on our dinner party table. Easy-to-make, full of flavor, a delight to the eye, I took home from Northern Spain a great addition to our culinary vocabulary.
Both trips were for the Sunday print editions of New York Daily News and they showed me once again why it is great to get out town.

Former French Colony of Morocco Has Much to Recommend

Spain's Northern Coast, Far from Madrid, Barcelona and Bullfighting, Has Enticements of Its Own

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What's Up With Spam Comments?

You'd think part of the fun of posting online is hearing back from readers. The whole internet-is-great-for-community-building notion seems like such a good idea. The reality is kind of different.

For articles I wrote for NY TImes Dining and Huffington Post, some people would contribute thoughtful responses. But there were always those people who clearly had a pent up need to vent and my article gave them the opportunity to rant and rave anonymously.

Reading those comments was no fun.

The other sort of weirdness that comes from writing on the web are the spam-comments, sent for nefarious purposes (if you click on the link will your computer become infected and turn into one of the digital zombie hordes enlisted for god-knows-what-purposes?) or to do I-don't-know-what.

And how did the individuals or the bots behind their comments choose my web site and the specific articles? Why did Easy-to-Make Rotisserie Chicken and Roasted Vegetables  attract so many spam-comments?  What does that algorithm look like? Actually, what does any algorithm look like?

There is something like a tone poem in the three comments for the rotisserie chicken recipe:
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