Archive for the ‘Salads and Starters’ Category


Saturday, September 1st, 2007

        Almost a red Caesar, this was one of Jeremiah Tower’s famous concoctions in the swinging salad years of his flagship San Francisco restaurant, a slaw he admitted doing differently every time.  The jury computing the legacy of this impossibly monarchical man-about-kitchens — melted butter running down a diner’s wrists was his Henry the Eighthly notion of a blissful experience — is presently out.  Me, I think he was the most interesting American chef of the 80s, cutting edge enough you might bleed almost on some of his ideas.  Whenever I suggest bookending a fish or meat with salsa AND aioli, it’s thanks to JT’s influence.  Recently I chanced to participate in a sybaritic summer evening barbecue high on Sonoma Mountain, that Cal-Provence nirvana, and lo, it felt like basking inside a mellow photo spread across a pair of handsome pages in a towering Tower cookbook, written of course by the inventor of Pleasure.

        I suspect my mother with her pantry-full of cookbooks and crusading culinary spirit might have jumped on the Jeremiahan bandwagon for a while. She would, I know, have considered him a prima donna, but she enjoyed creative people practicing their profession on the edge of a limb with scant concern about doubters ready to saw it off.


Halve, core and comprehensively chop a small red cabbage and toss the shreds in a bowl in 2-plus tablespoons of red wine vinegar, plus some pepper.  Also fry little oblongs of slab or thick cut bacon (a dozen per person) in a large skillet and crumble 4 tablespoons of walnuts.           

Now in the remaining fat from frying the bacon toss the cabbage, bacon and walnuts for at least 3 minutes. Serve your slaw surrounded by large garlic-topped croutons with a 2 oz. pillow of goat cheese in the center of each portion — to make the croutons, preferably prior to the above 3 minutes, slowly sauté French bread rectangles with a little butter in a non-stick pan; for the topping use pressed garlic.


Saturday, September 1st, 2007

        A passion for those homely white beans beloved of the Tuscans can overtake you, and this is the first of several recipes calling them into play.  It’s recommended as an independent main course or a stalwart contributor to an antipasto plate.  Stand reminded that white beans come in several denominations, including “Large Limas” at the heavyweight end of the shelf as well as bean-ettes that look as if they might shrink into lentils — so suit yourself.  We’re lucky in the Bay Area to have a bean emporium extraordinaire, Ratto’s in old Oakland. I like to hop the 10 a.m. post-commute ferry (with the receding San Francisco skyline, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, Belvedere, Mount Tamalpais, the works, all to myself — I could be on some capsule freighter cruise to the Land of Spice, no passengers, no doctor, an almost phantom crew) and rendezvous with Ratto’s burlap lineup, many bags-full of edible pearls.

        Then, outside the beanery, it’s fun to knock resolutely on the verticals of vintage buildings in ornamental iron – Oakland’s Old Town is almost a Tribeca West – and listen to the response, a certain hollow t-h-u-d or k-l-u-n-k that “sings” to the inquiring fists of architectural historians, the one, for instance, that I’ve shared a Victorian with for many years.

        After knocking about for a while it’s home on the bow, dancing spray in the face, the scenery positively Mediterranean, as if those Marin hills looming over the fabled hot tubs were mimicking the Azure Coast where so many inspirations for California Cuisine were hatched. I am not in this rumination traveling on one of the grand old ferry boats of my San Francisco youth, miniature Mauretanias complete with at least a single funnel and lunch rooms serving if I remember right good pub food and beer, but the puny vessels of 2001 will do.


Place 1-1/4 cups of cannellini or Great Northern beans in a saucepan, add water to cover, bring the beans to a boil, cook them 1 minute, remove them from the heat and soak for an hour, then drain them.  Now gently boil the beans in fresh water, covered, for an hour or more (or you could use beans left over from a hot dish), then cool them.

Combine your beans with 2 large diced tomatoes and 20 or 30 small cooked cubes of slab or thick cut bacon or pancetta. Toss with a dressing of 2 parts olive oil to 1 part red wine vinegar with perhaps a dozen large capers and some chopped parsley, and a little minced onion as well.

ATTENTION SYBARITES!   Lightly dressed, this salad may also be put to work as a bed for pan-fried salmon accompanied by dollops of mayonnaise happily invaded by a light squirt of garlic along with a drop or so of lemon juice.  Ah, we’re not in gastronomical Kansas anymore, the Franks & Beans of blue collared yesteryear have given way to a haricotal up-marketing scarcely imaginable in more innocent times.


Saturday, September 1st, 2007

        . . . And here, a salad of a sort probably known in the 1890s.  We’ve named it after a brisk and playful Paris brasserie where you’d have no trouble finding this kind of fare.  Balzar is the sort of place, club-like but not exclusive, where the professor at the next table is likely to be telling her concert violinist companion her book on Goethe will be out next week.

        Meanwhile, an inch to the right, a benignly crusty waiter in long white apron eases a dubious matron into the notion the beautiful-looking sole he’s presently de-boning so artistically is, in point of fact, “très bon, madame, très bon” . . . and behind him a garçon rushes a gravy boat of Hollandaise to the cadaverous editor-type furrowing his brow in the corner . . . Ah, with the Sorbonne and other intellectual hotbeds just around the corner, gt07_la_brasserie_des_beaux_arts_toulouse.jpg the air at Balzar is thick with intelligence.  Enough, it seems, to make the place blow some great fuse of Brilliance and stop the kitchen in its tracks.

        But there’s charm too.  And stylish women as well as forbidding female professors of a certain age.  Combine the ingredients of fascination at Balzar’s address and is it any wonder this is Adam Gopnik’s favorite Paris restaurant?  And mine, too, as you can clearly see.  Except that my favorite Paris restaurant often seems to be in San Francisco where the Euro-vibes are so strong, with a ribbon of fog over the bay for an added je ne sais quoi.

        As you prepare this salad, fantasize in your apron of choice (mine are custom-made from a laundry bag Cecily stole, I believe, from a French Railroads sleeping car) that your dining area has become a Balzarian place of many mirrors, brass rails, and hat stands – and I will sit in the No Smoking zone, thank you, a better one, I hope, than Balzar’s contaminated corner for non-puffers.

        In this context of petty theft, Anne and I must confess to a minor Bonnie and Clyde escapade, lifting a Rome Express signboard from the vestibule of a train crossing Picardie one gloomy February afternoon in 1971, the consist including an Art Nouveau diner when such a delightfully panelled relic was standard equipment, not just for the folks who pay a bundle for a luxury excursion complete with keyboard tinkler and superfluous red carpets.

        Timing was everything as we waited, an invisible Alfred Hitchcock coaching us from the corridor, to see if the coast was clear of conductors, brakemen, food trolley pilots or anyone from mainstream society who might interrupt our crime.  With not too mixed feelings I can report that our mission was accomplished, even with ease.  Well, I would have gladly paid (the offer stands!) $20 for our trophy – if only the French Railroads would accept my offering.


Combine butter lettuce, sardines — or the truer brasserie ingredient canned smoked herring — slices of boiled and cooled potato and hard boiled egg, plus some raw onion rings and, if your teeth will accept them, a few juniper berries. Dress with the same mustard vinaigrette as in the recipe immediately above.