The genius of the Mediterranean

I love the food of the Mediterranean. I lived in France for a year – in the Loire Valley, but I prefer the food of Provence. I’ve never been to Italy or Greece, except in my fantasies, but I have been to Spain and Portugal and Israel and Argentina…cultures that emphasize fresh, delicious, in-season produce in their cooking. Cultures that melt tomatoes in olive oil, that brilliantly combine garlic and lemon parts to make miraculous, simple un-sauces, where perfect olives of infinite variety are tapas…

In all of these places, veganism would seem preposterous to most people. Why would you willingly cut out whole categories of food? No matter. I’m grateful for the inspiration. Grateful for the history and tradition and invention.

And so, voila, my homage to the Mediterranean.

I should note that when my 5-year-old tasted this, she said, unsolicited, “You should definitely serve this to your clients. Definitely.” I also think this would make a super yummy pizza topping. And a little secret: the broccoli and tomatoes were left over from a crudite tray. Ew – refrigerated tomatoes. But in this dish, delicious!!

Mediterranean pasta

  • 1 tbsp + 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, broken into small pieces
  • 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4-5 fat garlic-stuffed olives (or Greek-cured or kalamata), sliced
  • Juice and zest of half of a lemon (I used a Meyer)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 lb whole wheat penne
  • 1/2 cup almond meal

Put a large covered saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Once boiling, cook the pasta (add salt!) until al dente, and then drain. Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron pan over a bit over medium heat and add the tbsp of oil, and then, one it’s shimmering, add the shallots and broccoli. Saute for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the tomatoes, garlic, and oregano. Coax the tomatoes into melting by poking them with a sharp knife. Add the rest of the oil, the chickpeas, olives, lemon zest and juice, and salt to taste. Let simmer and melt while the pasta cooks.

Heat a small cast iron pan over medium heat, and add the almond meal. Toast, stirring often, for about ten minutes until well toasted but not burned.

Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a drizzle of olive oil if you like. Sprinkle each serving with almond meal, and serve.

Heaven Scent

They say your memory is strongly connected to your sense of smell. I don’t know what that means in terms of your brain, but I think for many people – especially for food lovers – it’s absolutely true that a particular smell can bring back a memory you didn’t even realize you had, until you’re there, in the moment, carried to a far away time or a far away place.

For some reason, every time I walk into the Whole Foods in Oakland, I am transported to my mother’s kitchen, where my step-father – who had cerebral palsy, and couldn’t stand for too long without getting very uncomfortable, so rarely cooked –¬†would be standing at the stove making booze dogs. Barbecue sauce, a LOT of Black Velvet whiskey, and kosher hot dogs sliced into bite-size pieces. They were amazingly, absurdly delicious, and had such a distinct smell. And something they make in their kitchen at that particular Whole Foods smells exactly like them. And I haven’t smelled that booze dog smell in my mother’s kitchen in decades, but you better believe I know it when I smell it.

Another smell I’ve never smelled anywhere but at its source, is the fragrant potatoey scent of roasted potatoes made by my first host mother in France. I lived in the Loire Valley for about a year 25 years ago, but the smell of ma chere Gazou’s roasting potatoes is one of my top five favorites (guessing, I’ve never actually counted). Sadly, I have no idea how she made them, other than with some magic. I’ve roasted potatoes many many MANY times, and they always taste and smell great, but not like Gazou’s. Well, at least until today.

Country-style French roasted potatoes

  • 12 red-skinned potatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the potato chunks. Drizzle the olive oil on, rub the oregano between your hands, and sprinkle on, add the lemon zest, and salt, and toss the potatoes with your hands until well coated. Roast for 45 minutes or so, tossing after 20 minutes. They should be crisp.