Chez Panisse 40th Menu: Shaved Fennel, Artichoke and Parmesan Salad to start

How do you turn a love of French food into a successful restaurant that celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend?

Alice Waters has the answer. After studying in Paris in the sixties she took home with her a love of French food, a love that she eventually planted and, with more than a little help from her friends, got to flourish as the restaurant Chez Panisse, in Berkeley California.

Who would have thought that a restaurant that started out serving just one three-course menu with no choice, every day, would be here forty years later? A three-course menu with a heavy French accent though, that changes every day, and uses the very best seasonal ingredients sourced and foraged locally as much as possible. Principles that Alice has nurtured, being recognized as the mother of Californian Cuisine and going on to establish the Edible Schoolyard project at a local school which multiplied elsewhere in the country, to set up the Chez Panisse Foundation, and become involved in the Slow Food Movement. Not to mention the collection of cookbooks she’s written.

I got engrossed in the story of Chez Panisse and Alice Waters (by Thomas McNamee) this summer doing my daily shuffle back and forth to work, and was astonished to realize that the restaurant is almost as old as me (I’ve got about six months on it at the time of writing). As the pages turned and the years advanced the story became less about the restaurant, and its changing face that somehow stayed the same, and more about Alice’s philosophy as it developed. It’s one we should just be adhering to, the world would be so much simpler.

The anniversary is being celebrated this weekend with numerous events, centered around the restaurant and with private dinners cooked in “Famille Panisse” homes, with all proceeds going to the Chez Panisse Foundation. Which should harvest a great amount seeing the prices.

Obviously I can’t go to any of the numerous celebrations this weekend, but I love to cook food with flavour for people, and a three-course menu à la Chez Panisse seemed a fitting tribute. It’s not quite the same menu as that served 40 years ago – paté was served to start, and the tart for dessert was plum and not almond, but the main course was duck with olives (canard aux olives), which will be served next.

Instead of the paté to start I foraged on the internet and was immediately inspired by this shaved artichoke, fennel and parmesan salad, a tumble of paperthin sliced vegetables dressed with truffle oil and lemon juice published in Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters.

Shaved Fennel, Artichoke and Parmesan Salad

From Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (Harper Collins, 1996), via Epicurious

Serves 6

– 2 lemons
– 2 artichokes
– 2 fennel bulbs
– 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 to 2 tbspns white truffle oil
– Salt and pepper
– 1 small block of Parmegiano Reggiano parmesan cheese
– A few stalks of flat leaf parsley

 


 

Preparing the artichokes for slicing
First prepare a dish of water with lemon juice and a slice of lemon in it. The artichoke is like an apple when you cut it: it will start going brown quickly as soon as is exposed to the air.
Cut or break off as much of the tough leaves around the base as you can. Then keep snapping off the leaves – they’ll get easier to snap as they get thinner – until you get to the furry choke. It feels and looks a bit like a shaving brush.
You need to “pluck” the “hair” of the choke out; a serrated grapefruit spoon or similar works well, pinching them between the spoon and your thumb. You need to work fast, it goes brown quickly – rub occasionally with the slice of lemon (I didn’t work fast enough!).
Pare all around the base of the artichoke, leaving the stalk but stripping the outer layer off.
Put the base in the lemon water until you’re ready to finely slice it.

Preparing the fennel bulbs for slicing
Choose fennel as white and fresh as you can find. I find the taste intensifies the older it is.
Cut around the top, removing the stalks and fronds, and cut off the base.
Remove the outer layer.

Preparing the salad
1. Finely slice a layer of fennel onto a large plate, or individual plates for a more formal dinner. A mandolin is really the best for getting a micro thin slice. I use a Microplane handheld mandolin that’s adjustable, with a dial you can turn to set the fineness of the slice, which I left barely open to slice it as paperthin as possible.
2. Dress it with a drizzle of the olive oil and truffle oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkling of fleur de sel and a twist of the pepper mill.
3. Do the same for a layer of artichoke.
4. Continue alternating the fennel and artichoke, dressing each layer.
5. Make shavings of parmesan with a vegetable peeler, or the mandolin, and scatter them over the top.
6. Scatter the parsley over the top.
7. Finish with a final drizzle of oil and lemon juice.

Don’t delay in serving! (It’s too good!)

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Thai Green Papaya Salad for travelling light

I try and travel as light as possible, miniaturizing everything as much as possible. Even my knickers.

I never take full-sized toiletries, try to have 2 in 1 shower gel and shampoo and no longer know how to pack a suitcase with clothes, keeping to a capsule wardrobe that is usually black.

So in packing for the Lebanon trip back in May when all I had to put in the suitcase was my clothes, they almost got lost in it, and I still didn’t wear all of them. I’d asked, “what do you wear in Beirut,” and my aunt had said “you can never be too overdressed”. My eyes bulged. I took FIVE pairs of shoes for the outfits. Despite having more shoes than Pierre has bicycles, and Pierre has a lot of them, and the fact I only wear about two pairs of my shoes.

Why do I prefer to travel so light? Usually because I like to weigh my suitcase down with kitchen gadgets rather than shoes (on that occasion it was more zaa’tar, sumac and loukoum – turkish delight about 4 kilos, plus rose syrup and petal confit…but that’s another story).

When heading for the UK, with a 20 kg check-in allowance I usually put a suitcase in a suitcase and stuff both full on the way back, maxing out that weight allowance. And not with clothes. Cookbooks, groceries and the latest not particularly useful but wonderfully gimmicky gadget from Lakeland.

This time on the way there though, I stuffed it with Som Tam, or Thai green papaya salad. Deconstructed. Well it’s a nice light salad. Sometimes I could almost happily chomp away on a bowl of it rather than chocolate. Almost.

(Think I need to reduce the size of the photo)

However not knowing if I’d find a green papaya in the Yeovil Tesco I dashed out before leaving for the airport to get one from my local Thai/Japanese store. But it being August: congés annuel and vacances oblige, it was closed of course. Luckily the mini Tang Freres store opposite was open. I also grabbed a small pot of shrimp paste, which has to be one of the stinkiest things you can get in an Asian grocery. That and fish sauce, which I knew I could get in the UK.

My suitcase weighed in at 19.4 kg filled with ingredients for Som Tam (prelude to the next post), gifts from Lebanon for the family and outfits with colour for FBC 2011 this weekend. Like I indicated I’m a lightweight champion.

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

(Ok so I forgot the peanuts and basil!)

Som Tam is one of the classic starters to any Thai meal. It has a slight sweetness over a tangy slightly sour base. A host of deep pungent flavours that probably shouldn’t go well together but when they mingle over crunchy strips of green papaya sprinkled with crushed peanut… Wow. When you fork the firm green papaya strips into your mouth you give your taste buds an oh yeah baby moment.

You can also add prawns, and eat it with a bowl of sticky rice.

Makes a large bowl of Som Tam as a starter for about 4, or a main for 2

Ingredients

For the vinaigrette
– 2 cloves garlic (or 1 tbsp of a cheat’s chopped garlic or paste)
– juice of 1 lime
– 3 tbsps fish sauce (nam pla) (3 tbsps soy sauce if vegetarian)
– 2 tbsps brown sugar
– 1 tbsp liquid honey (or to taste)
– 1 tsp shrimp paste (or a tspful of a bean sauce if vegetarian)
– 1 Thai red chili (or a pinch of chili flakes)

For the salad:
– A small green papaya (make sure there are no bad parts when buying. Green mango works well too)
– 1/2 cucumber
– 2 tomatoes
– A handful of bean sprouts
– A small handful of fresh coriander
– A small handful of fresh basil (if you can get Thai basil, all the better)
– 3 tbsps peanuts, crushed

Optional:
Prawns

1. First mix all the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar and shake well. Leave aside for the flavours to mingle.
2. Prepare the papaya by peeling it, cutting it open and scooping the seeds into a compost bin preferably, and shredding it in a food processor on a coarse setting. Or with a coarse grater, but beware it doesn’t bite you. Add to a large bowl.
3. Slice the cucumber into matchsticks. Add to the bowl.
4. Cut up the tomato into small pieces. Up to you if you keep the pips. Add to the bowl.
5. Add the bean sprouts to the bowl.
5. Strip the coriander leaves from the stalks and coarsely chop the leaves (keep the stalks if you’re making a Thai Green curry). Tear the basil leaves. Scatter both over the contents of the bowl.
6. Pour over the vinaigrette and mix well.
7. Serve and sprinkle the peanuts over each serving.

Grapefruit, mackerel and quinoa salad with BLUE SKY

France is famed for its holidays, and in particular the summer Grands Vacances when the cities empty and coastal town populations swell up to tenfold. Traffic fluidity is classified like a traffic light: green, orange and red plus the ominous black – noir, for very very bad traffic. Traffic on the autoroute ends up being the top item on the Friday evening news, with one poor reporter posted out by the A6 out of Paris which links up at Lyon to the A7, l’autoroute du Sud. (Funny how they never report on the auroroutes running north out of Paris.)

The biggest chassé croisé weekend of all, when July meets August in the middle of the holidays, is normally classed noir dans le sens des départs et retours (traffic out (Friday) and back (Sunday). It’s the busiest time on the roads in France in the summer, when all those lucky enough to take all or part of July off – the juillistes – vacate their holiday dwellings, chased away as such by the aouticiens – those who holiday in August, and basically coming across each other en route.

No doubt the juillistes were glad to pack up and go home this year, having spent a very wet July holiday almost wherever they were in France.

And no doubt the aouticiens were doing a (not rain) dance to see August 1 bathed in blue sky:


Unfortunately their dance did invoke the rain to come back with a vengeance, and August continues to be mostly soggy.
It’s hard to believe that back in April the news was full of the worry with the prospect of drought and a canicule (heatwave) with worried farmers showing stunted lettuces to the camera. Since June I think they’ve been more worried about waterlogged fruit and crops destroyed by hailstones.

Normally for a sure bet on rain free blue sky in France you’d brave those A6 and A7 autoroutes to head south. But not even the great South has been spared, with those expecting blue sky lamenting the amount of free showers they were getting from the energy-zapping dull grey sky. However it looks like the Med has recovered, with temperatures back up to “les normals de saison” (what they should be for the season) and much drier skies.

But why stuff yourself into a car and drive for 8-10 hours when you can hop on a TGV high speed train and be down in the south of France in 3 hours and 15 minutes?

You get off the TGV in France’s second largest city, Marseille, walk out of the station onto an esplanade and…breathe. You shoulders go limp as you’re hit by the view of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the city (Marseille’s Eiffel Tower equivalent) and contemplate the blue sky spread before you. The blue sky, the sunlight infused with…light… Pure heaven.

In case you’ve been missing out on blue sky this summer, here’s some more, with just a wisp of cloud:


And in case you were wondering, me, I’m an aouticienne, and this summer instead of Marseille, unbelievably I’ve found blue sky in South-west England.

Grapefruit, mackerel and quinoa salad

Pierre has a cousin in Marseille, and sometimes we go down to squat her box room when we need a shot of blue sky.

She has coeliac disease, and has adapted her diet herself by cutting out gluten and dairy as unbelievably her doctor doesn’t believe that her condition is affected by diet. Although he has observed the improvement as a consequence. (And yet French doctors recognize spasmophilie as a condition, getting panic attacks and the like, which no other doctors anywhere else recognize as a condition, go figure).

On one visit I very much liked a simple quinoa salad she prepared with grapefruit and which I’ve adapted here by adding flaked smoked mackerel fillets (you can leave them out to make it vegan). I used red and white quinoa because it was what I had in the cupboard, but black quinoa would make it far more dramatic.
To supreme the grapefruit segments would be better, but I cut it in half and scooped, and it’s important you keep whatever juice comes off from hacking the grapefruit. If you supreme it, crush a couple of segments for the juice.

All the flavours meld together for a fresh, light salad. Just what you need when it’s 35°C outside.

Serves two as a main or four as a starter

For the salad:
– 80g quinoa
– 1 red onion
– 2 tomatoes
– 1 pink grapefruit (reserve the juice that runs out)
– one smoked mackerel fillet or other mackerel fillet, flaked
– a handful of pumpkin seeds

For the vinaigrette
– 3 tbspns olive oil
– the juice from the grapefruit (crush a segment if you need more)
– a pinch of salt

1. Cook the quinoa as per the packet instructions.
2. Chop the red onion finely and put it in a bowl.
3. Chop the tomato finely and put it in the bowl.
4. Cut the grapefruit in half and scoop out the segments, using a serrated knife and a spoon. Put the segments into the bowl.
5. Mix in the quinoa, flaked mackerel and pumpkin seeds.
6. Pour over the vinaigrette and mix well.

Blue, white and red salad for Bastille Day

It’s Bastille Day, and what’s more fitting than a salad in the colours of the French flag, blue, white and red. I was going to make one of the typical French dishes in sauce which didn’t seem to fit a summer’s day in the end, hence a salad of blueberries, chicory and tomatoes, in a raspberry vinaigrette. Perfect for a lazy picnic, like Katia and KylieMac’s on the esplanade of Les Invalides each year. Or the white picnic out at the Château de Versaillles, where the idea is that 10,000 people picnic wearing white. Not a good idea with raspberry vinaigrette!

It’s something to wake up on 14 juillet in Paris, to hear military planes droning overhead, seeing as planes cannot fly over Paris on other days of the year. Sometimes I wonder if it’s what it was like in wartime; the only time Bastille Day was not celebrated was for six years during the Second World War. Although it was a hundred years after the storming of the Bastille in 1789 that it started being celebrated annually, from 1880. (Funny, on a school trip to Paris when I was 13 I swear we visited the “Bastille prison”, but I know now that’s impossible as the place de la Bastille was created where it stood.Still no idea what we visited, but I remember Hollywood chewing gum, in Chlorophylle!)

If you’re waking up hearing the planes that means it’s after 10 and the Bastille Day military parade is underway. Climb out of bed and turn on the TV and you get the images that go with the noise. and see the soldiers from various international forces marching up the Champs Elysées in front of the President. This year the pompiers (firefighters) are honoured. Firefighters in a military parade? Yes, in France they’re military, and their training is as military as in any army. Tough. The pompiers are also the first on the scene in any accident, not the paramedics, as they’re also trained as paramedics.

Much more fun is a Bal des Pompiers, when the pompiers turn some fire stations into nightclubs for the evening of July 13 and sometimes the 14th. The bals serve as fundraisers, and the opportunity to admire a lot of fit pompiers. Like the pompiers dancing to Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ as a promo for their bal. (Be patient, you need to get past the intro.)

And after the lazing around, and maybe a walk along the Seine you end up near the Eiffel Tour to watch the annual 14 juillet fireworks, a half-an-hour of ear-pounding and an eye-dazzling explosion of colours over the Paris night sky. Tonight it’s happening from the Trocadero, opposite the Eiffel Tower at midnight French time (GMT+2), and you can watch it live from the special 14 juillet site. Or if you missed it, you should be able to watch it on replay. Alternatively you need to find someone lucky enough to have a balcony or terrace with a view of the Eiffel Tower, or head up to Montmartre and watch all the smaller fireworks displays that are set off in the suburbs of Paris.

So as it’s a day for lazing around, a simple salad seemed good. But how to make one in the colours of the French tricolor? (or the Stars and Stripes of Union Jack for that matter, although I wouldn’t attempt recreating it!) Changing my mind about what to make meant resorting to rummaging in the fridge, which turned up blueberries, chicory and tomatoes, plus raspberries for zing (they toned better with the blueberries but tomatoes are true red). The blueberries and raspberries take the edge of the slight bitterness of the chicory. I thought of using the white of a courgette too, but was tinged a bit too green.

Bonne fête nationale, as only we call it Bastille Day!

Blue, white, and red tricolour salad

Serves 2

For the salad:
– A handful of blueberries (small punnet)
– Two chicories
– 2 tomatoes
– A small punnet of raspberries

For the raspberry viniagrette:
– 2 tablespoons of raspberry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
– 4 tablespoons of good extra virgin oil
– Pinch of salt

Wash and slice the chicories crosswise.
Remove the pips from the tomatoes and finely dice them.
Mix together in a large bowl.
Sprinkle the blueberries over the top.
Crush the raspberries a little bit and mix with the salad.

Prepare the viniagrette buy mixing the ingredients together in a small jar, and shake.
Pour over the salad.