Mason jar salads

Springtime is the time for light pasta dishes and very green salads.

All the fresh seasonal spring vegetables:
Fava beans and leaves
Flowers: borage, calendula, chives, fava, pansies, peas, rose, wild mustard, wild turnip, etc.
Green garlic
Green peas and pea shoots
Spring greens
Spring onions
The first cherry tomatoes,

as well as late season winter produce:
Bitter greens: arugula, baby kale, chicories, etc.
Root vegetables and their tops

– all work well in both salads and pastas.

Recently some of my clients asked me to lighten their spring menus, and to replace the soup with a fresh salad that they can enjoy all week, and take to work for lunch. For this, mason jar salads are a perfect solution. These salads have been a trend in the last couple of years, and they make a lot of sense for busy people who like to eat healthy and well.

The idea is that you pack your salad in a mason jar, 1/2 pint, 1 pint or 1 quart, depending on your appetite, in an order that helps to keep it fresh in the refrigerator for the whole week. The dressing goes on the bottom of the jar. Then you add a vegetable, legume, or protein, to separate the dressing from the greens, so that the greens don’t wilt, and the greens, nuts, and edible flowers go on top. When ready to eat, turn the jar out onto a plate, and it will dress itself. Or, mix it and eat it from the jar. Pack the jars tightly: the less air there is, the slower will the salad dry out.

– Greek yogurt, mint, lemon juice, minced garlic or spring garlic; fava and garbanzo beans; grilled chicken; fava bean tops
– White wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, minced shallot, olive oil; quail eggs; mâché
– Balsamic vinegar, olive oil; fire roasted peppers; prosciutto; cannellini beans; wild arugula, pine nuts
– Lemon juice and zest, garlic, olive oil; olives, feta; red onion slices, rinsed, bell pepper strips, cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumber (sliced, salted, and left to drain, then squeezed dry); baby spinach, borage flowers
– Strawberry infused balsamic vinegar, walnut or olive oil; strawberries, goat cheese; walnuts, baby greens
– Orange slices and juice, olive oil; steamed green beans or cooked cranberry beans; shaved fennel; baby arugula

Please go out into the garden or to the farmers market, get whatever looks the best, and improvise! Don’t forget to add some edible flowers, to make the jars more fun to open.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Tiburon, CA

Salad for Melanie

Melanie, a life-long salad hater, recently discovered a salad that she actually enjoys.

Here is the recipe.

Use leftover roasted duck meat, or duck confit legs – in this case make sure to check and adjust the seasoning, most store-bought duck confits are very salty.
Usually there is enough duck fat clinging to the meat to crisp it. If the duck looks dry, add a little olive to the pan to prevent sticking.

Duck, fig, and walnut salad
Serves 4

5 oz mixed baby greens (arugula, red and green leaf lettuce, baby romain, oak leaf lettuce, mizuna, mâché, etc.)
1 large or 2 small roasted duck legs
1 tsp olive oil (optional)
1/2 cup walnut pieces
8 figs, quartered

For the dressing:
2 figs
1 Tbsp chopped shallot (1 small shallot)
1 Tbsp champagne vinegar
3 Tbsp walnut oil
Salt, pepper

Divide the greens between four plates.

Remove duck meat (with the skin and fat) from the bones. Discard the bones. Tear the meat into bite-size pieces.

Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, if using. Add duck meat, cook, stirring occasionally, to warn through and crisp, about 3 minutes. Add walnuts, stir to warm through, about 1 minute. Divide warm duck meat, walnuts, and figs, between the salad plates.

Make the dressing: puree figs, shallot, and vinegar in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add walnut oil, blend on low speed to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the salad and serve.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Oakland, CA

Grilled corn polenta

The summer version of the favorite comfort food is made with fresh corn, and it’s a completely different animal. It’s fresh, sweet, tender, a little crunchy, smells like magic, and, in my case, it’s also smoky – instead of cooking the corn for the polenta on the stove, as many recipes suggest, I choose to grill it on the cob. Because it’s still summer (MB, take notice).

Todays farmers market only had white corn, so this is what I made my polenta with. I suppose it could be even better made with yellow corn, although it’s hard to imagine something better.

Allow 2 corn cobs per serving.

Preheat the grill for direct grilling. Remove the husks and as much silk as you can from the corn, rub with salt and olive oil. Grill, turning a few times, until tender and slightly charred on all sides. Let cool.

Working over a large bowl, cut off the kernels off the cob with a small sharp knife. Then run the back of the knife along the cob to get what’s left. Make sure you go from the stem end to the tip, going in the opposite direction can create a splash of flying corn!

Puree in blender. As a lucky owner of a Vitamix blender, I just dropped the corn into the blender cup and whizzed it to the desired consistency. My challenge was not to over-blend and still have some texture. In fact, I saved a handful of whole kernels to add to the polenta after blending. And I didn’t even need to reheat the polenta – the blender did the job. if you are using a normal blender without super powers, you may want to add a little water (or milk), to make blending easier, then to cook the polenta for 10-15 minutes, to evaporate the water and to reheat the polenta.

Here it is, served with basil pesto, poached quail eggs, and parmesan.

Other topping ideas:
Fresh berries (breakfast?)
Fire-roasted peppers and pine nuts
Fresh tomato sauce
Meatballs and tomato sauce
Grilled baby octopus
Grilled eggplant and feta
Herbed goat cheese
Grilled prawns, herb butter
Sautéed mushrooms
Grilled chicken
Whatever your heart desires

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Summer squash “spaghetti”

Are you wondering what else to do with all these summer squashes that your garden keeps producing (or your neighbors pushed them on you, or you overbought them at the Farmers Market)?

These beautiful and tasty green spaghetti are cut out of a zucchini with a julienne peeler. A julienne peeler looks like a vegetable peeler, but it has additional teeth next to the blade that shred the vegetable into thin strips. There are many models, mine looks like this:

I lightly cook the “spaghetti” to soften (sauté, microwave, or plunge them into boiling water for a minute or two, then drain), and season with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. They work with any pasta sauce, homemade or store-bought. Use 1 medium zucchini per serving. Slice off as much off all the sides as you can, discard the core with seeds. I feed zucchini cores to my Japanese quails, they love them!

Here I serve them with meatballs in tomato-pepper sauce. My meatballs are a bit unorthodox, I add shredded sautéed carrot, celery, onion, and garlic, and minced fresh parsley to the mix. This makes them super-juicy, and adds flavor, but it also makes them somewhat trickier to shape. Make sure to dip your hands into cold water before shaping meatballs, so that the mixture doesn’t stick to your hands.

The meatballs are good with regular pasta, too!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA

Grill everything: Vegetables

Because it’s summer, I am re-posting here the “Grill Everything” series of posts from my personal food blog,

Here is one on grilling vegetables.

Since all grills are different, I cannot give the exact cooking times. Mine is a Weber Q 320 gas grill that goes from zero 65 to 600 in 15 minutes. Probe your vegetables with a fork from time to time to find out right cooking times for your grill.

I like to prepare assorted vegetables, then brush them all together with light olive oil seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper just before placing them on the grill.

Artichokes: Peel off tough outer leaves. Cut off the top 1/3. Cut in halves. Remove the choke with a spoon or tip of a paring knife. I don’t bother to rub the cut surfaces with lemon juice to protect them from discoloration – they are going to charr anyway. Parboil until almost tender, 10-15 minutes. Shock in ice water. Brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until the heart is tender and the leaves are charred, 5-6 minutes.

Asparagus: Break off tough root ends (if you have a powerful blender, save the roots for a cream of asparagus soup). Toss with seasoned oil, grill until tender, 2-3 minutes, turning once or twice to get nice grill marks.

Bell peppers: Core, slice into 6 segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until tender and the skins are lightly charred, 4-5 minutes. Remove skins if desired.

Carrots: trim the root and the greens, leaving 1/2 inch of the greens attached (for presentation). Parboil until almost tender, 15-20 minutes. Shock in ice water. Brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning, until tender and marked on all sides, 5-6 minutes.

Corn: Select young, tender corn. Peel off husks and silk. Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, grill, turning, until cooked through and well charred on all sides, 4-5 minutes.

Eggplant: For grilling, select slender Japanese or tender Italian eggplants. Slice into 1 inch wheels, either straight or on diagonal. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender and lightly charred, 4-5 minutes.

Fennel: Trim off the green tops. Cut the bulb into six segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until almost tender but still crunchy, 6-8 minutes.

Lemons: Cut in halves, brush the cut side with oil, place on the grill with the curbside down. Grill 1-2 minutes just to soften. Squeeze over your grilled meats, fish, or vegetables.

Mushrooms: Trim the roots even with the cups. If the gaps in the grill are large and the mushrooms are small, thread them on bamboo skewers soaked in water. Brush with oil, cook 3-4 minutes, turning once. Cook portabello cups on the cooler side of the grill 8-10 minutes, until soft, turning once, brush with white wine vinegar or balsamico, if desired. Slice before serving.

Radish: Trim roots and greens, cut in halves, brush with seasoned oil. Grill on the cut side, just to mark, about one minute.

Ramps, baby leeks: Remove outer leaves. Cut off the green part, leaving 1 inch for presentation. Cut lengthwise, rinse, rubbing with your fingers, under running water, to remove the dirt that is clinging between the leaves. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender and lightly charred, 2-3 minutes.

Spring onions: Remove the green tops, leaving 1-2 inches. Trim off the root, but leave the root end intact, so that the layers won’t separate (you can cut it off after cooking). Cut the bulb into six segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until tender and well marked.

Summer squashes (green, yellow, crookneck, pattypan, zucchini, etc.): Slice oblong squashes into 1 inch wheels, either straight or on diagonal. Cut pattypans in halves, or, if small, leave whole. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender, 3-4 minutes.

Sweet potatoes: scrub thoroughly, brush lightly with oil. Grill in their skins over medium heat, turning occasionally, until tender (about 20 minutes). Cut in halves lengthwise, season with salt, pepper, olive oil. Eat out of the skins, or, if organic, skins are good to eat too.

Tomatoes: Cut in halves. Brush with seasoned oil. Place on the cool side of the grill, cut side down, and grill gently, just to charr the cut side.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA

Homemade white or red wine vinegar

Leftover wine is a rare exotic ingredient, I don’t get it every day either. Every time I manage to get hold of it, I use it to make red and white wine vinegars. Homemade wine vinegars are much superior in flavor to store-bought mass-produced versions, because they are actually made from drinkable wines, and they retain the flavor.

The process takes from four to six weeks; longer, if you want to age your vinegar in wood barrels to mellow and enhance the flavor. However, it requires no work at all, and the results are worth the wait.

The same technique can be used for either red or white wine, or even a combination of both, although the resulting vinegar may not have as clear flavor as when you keep the wines separate.

Use the homemade vinegar for salad dressings, marinades, and refrigerator pickles. Most homemade vinegars are not acidic enough to make shelf-stable pickles. One way to make shelf pickles with homemade vinegar is to mix it with distiller vinegar to increase the acidity, and use pH test (available in wine making supplies stores) to make sure the resulting pickle is safe to keep (pH below 4.5).

White wine vinegar
Makes a lot

1 bottle dry white wine
2 cups water
1/2 cup raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar, preferably from the bottom of the bottle ( the muddy residue contains the vinegar starter culture )

Combine wine, water, and apple cider vinegar in a large wide-mouth jar or a wood barrel with a wide opening on top, for air access. Cover the opening with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth to keep out the flies. Let sit at the room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for one month. A semi-transparent raft will eventually form on top of the liquid – it is called “mother of vinegar” and is made up of yeasts and bacteria that transform alcohol into vinegar.

After a month, strain and taste some vinegar. If you like the acidity, pour off and strain the amount that you will use, and replenish the jar with more white wine. If it’s not tart enough, leave it for another two weeks, then taste again.

You can run this fermentation process indefinitely, pouring off vinegar whenever you need it, and adding wine whenever you have leftover wine; the “mother” will consume alcohol and transform it into vinegar, and will keep growing, so at some point you’ll have to remove a part of it (compost, or give away as vinegar starter).

If you want a bottle of clear vinegar to keep in your pantry, pour off and strain the vinegar, then pasteurize it by heating it to 170 degrees and holding it at this temperature for a few minutes to kill “the mother”, otherwise the little particles of the culture will keep growing, and eventually make the vinegar cloudy again.

Pasteurized vinegar can be kept at room temperature indefinitely, although I found that I usually run out of homemade vinegar much faster than I can obtain more of this mysterious ingredient, “leftover wine”.

Pappardelle with rabbit ragu, spring version

Because it’s spring, all the favorite dishes take on the green aspect and the wonderful lightness of the fresh spring produce.

A few months ago I posted a recipe for home-made pappardelle with rabbit ragu and wild mushrooms, a winter comfort food. Here is the same pasta dish, dressed up for the spring. The earthy dried mushrooms are out; the dish is made light and cheerful by adding fresh shelled peas and pea greens. I used spring onions and green garlic in place of regular, dried, onions and garlic, just because I can – both onions and garlic are going strong in the garden.

Pappardelle with rabbit ragu and green peas

Serves 6

For the pappardelle:
1 cup “00” or all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour, plus more for dusting
16 quail eggs, or 4 medium chicken eggs

For the rabbit ragu:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
Salt, pepper
1 rabbit, cut up
2 large spring onions, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
1 green garlic, white and green parts, chopped
1/2 jar passatta, or 1 large can San Marzano tomatoes, or 6 very ripe Roma tomatoes, peeled
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken (or rabbit) stock
2 sprigs thyme
1 small sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves

1 small bunch pea greens, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup shelled english peas

Shaved Parmesan

Make the pasta:

Combine the flours in a large bowl, make a well in the middle. Break the eggs into the well, mix to incorporate and make a stiff but still pliable dough. If the dough is too wet, add more semolina. If it’s too stiff to knead, add a few drops of water. Knead for 5-7 minutes. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30-60 minutes. Using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll out the dough as thin as possible (on most pasta machines, second to last setting). Cut into 1-inch wide strips. Dust with semolina, hang over a back of a chair, or on a pasta-drying rack to dry a little.

Make the rabbit ragu:

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place the flour in a plastic bag, season with salt and pepper. Put the rabbit pieces into the bag, toss to cover, remove from bag, shake off the excess flour, sauté until golden on both sides, 10-15 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add onions, celery, carrot, and garlic to the pan. Sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add passatta, or tomatoes with their juice, wine, and the stock to the pan. Using a wooden spoon or a silicon spatula, scrape all the golden pieces from the bottom and the sides of the pan to incorporate into the liquid.

Arrange the rabbit pieces in a large Dutch oven or a slow-cooker pan. Pour the vegetable, stock, and wine mixture on top. Cook on the stovetop, at a low simmer, 3 hours, or in a slow cooker, at a low setting, 6 hours or overnight.

Remove the meat from the ragu, take the meat off the bones, discard the bones. Using two forks, shred some of the meat. Return the meat to the ragu.


Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until almost al dente, 1-2 minutes. Add peas and pea greens, cook another minute. Remove, drain, place in individual pasta bowls. Top with rabbit ragu, garnish with shaved Parmesan.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Spring moments in the kitchen

Squash blossoms. Stuff them with seasoned cottage cheese and fry.

Heirloom tomato salad, fillet mignonette, new potatoes with ramp pesto


Pappardelle with rabbit ragu. The spring version includes peas and spinach

Spring lamb chops, asparagus with quail egg and ramp-lemon butter

The first heirloom tomatoes with herbs and olive oil

Grilled chicken and bacon sausages, rosa blanca potatoes, heirloom tomato salad

Springtime mirepoix: spring onion, green garlic, baby leeks, carrots

Paella mixta with asparagus and fava beans

Green peas


Baby greens with herbs, flowers, and goat cheese salad

Cowgirl Creamery Inverness cheese
 Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

BBQ pulled pork

This post is for my brother Paul, it continues the discussion that we had last week.

On our family reunion in the Italian Alps last week, my brother and I started talking about cooking pork, and I tried to explain pork barbecue. He thought that barbecue was the same thing as grill! Yes, American BBQ is kind of like grilling, cooking slowly over wood coals; but we also call a BBQ anything seasoned with a BBQ sauce, even if it’s not cooked over the coals. And what they call a BBQ sauce is different in different parts of the country. Now try to explain this to a European.

The BBQ pork that I made today was actually cooked in the oven, then shredded and seasoned with a purchased sauce. My favorite BBQ sauce is the “SFQ”, an artisan-made San Francisco style sauce, but others work well, too. I gave up on making my own BBQ sauce when the first recipe that I pulled from the Internet started with “2 cups sugar”. Wow, this is as much sugar as I use for my morning coffee in 3 month! I went into denial, and now i just go out and buy a prepared sauce. I try not to read the labels on them.

BBQ pulled pork
Serves 6

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt

1 large onion, sliced
4 large cloves garlic

1 cup prepared BBQ sauce of your choice

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season pork with salt and spices. Cook, turning (in batches, if necessary), until browned on all sides, 10-15 minutes.

Transfer pork to a covered braising pan, add onion and garlic, and enough water to cover the meat half-way. Cover, cook in the oven until very tender, 2-3 hours.

Shred the meat using two forks, season with the BBQ sauce. Serve with cornbread, or on buns, or over beans or pasta.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tiny eggs

It’s the end of November, and the girls are slowing down for the winter, but I still get 9-10 quail eggs every day. Here’s what I did with them so far.

Quail eggs fun
 Fried quail eggs with salmon roe and tarragon

Mini Nicoise salad

Quail eggs on toast

Chorizo and quail egg on toast

Salmon roe with raw quail egg

Salad of cherry tomatoes, quail eggs, and microgreens in a noodle “nest”

Quail egg steak tartar
 Deviled quail eggs
 Pickled quail eggs with beets

Mini-burgers with quail egg on potato cakes

Zucchini flower and quail egg pizza

Quail eggs with seaweed salad and tobiko

Quail eggs in a cloud
 Quail egg ravioli

Quail eggs baked in a meat ragu

Chinese tea marbled eggs
 Zucchini and mushroom cups with ham and eggs

Polenta cakes with quail eggs and Parmesan

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone