365 – The book is out!

A couple months ago I was in Malta and I received a message: THE book had arrived. I should pick up the first printed copy of 365 at the airport. I screamed. It was a busy Wednesday, the peak of Mediterranean summer, and it was boiling hot. Begging my boyfriend to drop everything and drive me immediately, we rushed outside to the car. In 14 years I successfully managed to avoid driving on my beloved Mediterranean archipelago. There are many things I love doing in Malta, driving isn’t one of them.

My hands were shaking and I couldn’t think. I worked on those pages for 18 months, day and night. They made me laugh, they made me cry. I cooked and baked 365 recipes, I bought so many vegetables, fruits, filled our fridge with meat and seafood, until I ran out of storage space. There was food everywhere in our flat in Berlin, raw and cooked. In the kitchen, in the hall, in the living room, bedroom, and on the balcony. Constantly spread out on our long wooden table were plates and bowls filled with colorful salads, fragrant quiches and cakes, pasta dishes, hearty roasts and wintery braised beef, Mediterranean fish and seafood creations, soups and sandwiches. We had friends over every day to keep the constant flow of food under control. It was a feast – which feels strange to say when one works on a cookbook – but it did feel like a true celebration of food, every day. Although I prepared and shot eight dishes a day and went through my recipes, notes, and photos often until midnight, I had the best time of my life. I felt exhausted but happy.

Working on a book is tricky. You have your vision, your ideas, how it will look and feel when you hold it in your hands, but unless you have the physical hard copy in front of you for the first time, it’s all guesswork. And that’s scary. Sitting in the car, waiting and finally getting to the shipping depot, made me feel both excited and anxious. Would I like it? Would it be what I had in mind when I decided to turn a year of cooking and baking into a book? Standing in a dusty warehouse without windows in the middle of Malta, I gently yet forcefully peeled 365 out of its cardboard package. It was too dark, I couldn’t see it properly. So I ran outside into the blistering hot sun and as soon as the bright Mediterranean midday light hit the cover, it made the shades of blue and orange shine even more. I laughed. I quickly leaved through every page, counting the recipes from 1 to 365 making sure that no page got lost. It was all there. 365 is complete. Breathe.

Today, on the 8th October, the book is out in English (365 – A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking) and in German (365 – Jeden Tag einfach kochen & backen) all over the world. And it’s already on The New York Times ‘The 13 Best Cookbooks of Fall 2019’ list (click here for the list). You can either grab a copy of the book at your favorite bookstore or order online (click here for some of the links).

My book tour already started and I’m soon going to share the pictures here and on social media from my book launch events in Berlin, Malta, and London but if you happen to live in New York, you can still join me today (8th October) at Rizzoli Bookstore Broadway where I’ll be holding a talk with Susan Spungen (and there will be wine from Meridiana Wine Estate!). On the 16th October, I’ll be at Now Serving in Los Angeles (in conversation with Alana Kysar) and on the 17th October in San Francisco at Omnivore Books (in conversation with DavidKurtz/ Homage). These are all free events, so please come and join us:

October 8th, 7-8pm | NEW YORK CITY | Rizzoli Bookstore
– In conversation with Susan Spungen

October 16th, 7pm| LOS ANGELES | Now Serving
– In conversation with Alana Kysar (Aloha Kitchen)

October 17th, 6:30-7:30pm | SAN FRANCISCO | Omnivore Books
– In conversation with chef David Kurtz (Homage)

I want to thank you, my loyal readers of this blog, for following these pages since I started Eat In My Kitchen in November 2013. For your constant support, your trust in my recipes, and above all, for your love for home-cooked food. Without you there wouldn’t have been my first book, Eat In My Kitchen, that won the 2017 James Beard General Cookbook of the Year Award, and there also wouldn’t be 365. We share a great passion and a belief, and that’s that no food in the world tastes as good as the food that we prepare in our own kitchens. I hope that this never changes and that the dialogue stays as fruitful and delicious as ever. Enjoy!

365 is dedicated to a woman who isn’t here anymore. A woman who deeply touched and inspired me with her love for food and for the truth. The Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia will always be in my heart and her unforgettable strength keeps reminding me that there’s always something worth fighting for.

A book isn’t born out of one mind, it’s created and shaped by the hands and minds of many. My deepest thanks go to these wonderful people who shared their creativity, patience, criticism, and persistence with me:

My editor Holly La Due, everybody at Prestel in New York, London, and Munich, Lauren Salkeld, Tanja Kapahnke, Sven Lindhost-Emme, Jen Endom, Monica Parcell, Djan Sauerborn, Marlon Bertzbach, Seb Tanti Burlò, Iggy Fenech, and my man, Jamie, for being there 365 days and nights for so many years. Thank you, all my family and friends, for being my inspiration and support – and for your unstoppable appetite!

Happy cooking & baking!

Meike xxx

Apricot and Basil Galette

Summer baking is the best baking, you can reduce additional sugar to a minimum and focus on some of nature’s greatest gifts: stone fruit and berries. They are so packed with sweetness and flavor that adding too much sugar would be like insulting their creator. However, sneaking in buttery pastry – no matter if it’s a crunchy crumble, fragile short crust tart, or rustic galette – fortifies the produce’s qualities and has only one effect: you’ll want to extend teatime into dinner and just keep nibbling until the sun sets and the last crumb vanishes.

I went for a galette for this recipe because of its summery, picnic-style look but I sneaked a herb into the topping that gives it a slightly unusual touch. Apricot and basil is a fantastic combo for salads and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t mingle in a fruity tart topping. It’s fresh, it’s earthy, sweet, and sour, it tastes like a hot day in Tuscany.

Taking some time off for such a rewarding endeavor is the best therapy for a weary mind and soul. And I needed that. I lost my rhythm in the kitchen a little over the last year and half. I created new recipes every day, felt excited about the results and was pleased about being productive. All for my new book, for 365. However, my natural flow of shopping, of planning our dinners, of meeting my man in the kitchen after work and pouring us a glass of wine before starting to cook, this wonderful ease has been disrupted. So much so that it’s difficult sometimes to find my way back to my routine, a routine that became the compass of my days over the years. Always pointing towards my next meal, always pointing towards the kitchen. That is my comfort, my safety, and I’m trying to regain orientation.

What I love so much about cooking, about preparing my own food, is the fact that it’s totally in my hands. That I can make myself – and others – so unbelievably happy by only throwing a few ingredients together and indulging in this experience on an emotional, sensory, but also intellectual level. I can’t think of anything more satisfying than creating a meal that reflects the seasons, my mood, and the desires of my taste buds. This galette tastes heavenly, there’s no doubt, it also let’s July’s plump produce shine, but it challenged me to be experimental, to rethink combinations of ingredients that seem a bit farfetched in the beginning. To combine fleshy apricots and fragrant basil – which usually shines atop my summery Caprese salad or Pizza Margherita – meant I had to open up for a new idea. And that’s a good lesson. Always. Even in the most trivial situations. And by doing this, I’m slowly finding my orientation again. Towards the kitchen.

Apricot and Basil Galette

Makes one 23cm / 9″ galette.

For the pastry

180g / 1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour (I used white spelt flour / type 630)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
125g / 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold
2 tablespoons water, cold
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

For the galette

4 large apricots (320g / 11 ounces) , pitted and cut in half,
plus 2 large apricots (160g / 5 1/2 ounces), pitted and cut into small cubes
50g / 1/4 cup light brown sugar, plus 1 teaspoon for the topping
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 heaping tablespoons roughly chopped basil leaves
1 large egg, beaten

For the pastry, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and use a knife to cut it into the flour until there are just small pieces left. Quickly rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until combined. Add the water and vinegar and quickly mix with the paddle attachment until combined. Form the dough into a thick disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze for about 15-20 minutes, or until firm.

For the galette, in a small saucepan, heat the apricot cubes (not the apricot halves), the sugar, and vanilla seeds over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the apricots are soft and golden. Reduce the heat if the fruit starts to turn brown. Stir in the chopped basil, transfer to a medium bowl, and let the compote cool for a few minutes.

On a work surface, place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to roll out into a 30cm / 12″ disc. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and replace it with a piece of parchment paper. Flip the pastry disc over, transfer to a wooden board, and remove the remaining layer of plastic wrap. Spread the apricot-basil compote on top of the pastry, leaving a 5cm / 2″ rim, and arrange the apricot halves, cut side down, on top of the compote. Fold the edges of the pastry up and over the fruit then gently press to seal the folds. Chill the galette, on the wooden board, in the fridge for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is firm.

Place a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).

Brush the pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Pull the parchment paper with the galette onto the hot baking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Let the galette cool for about 10 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or cold.

Hawaiian Lomi Salmon

My mother makes fantastic gravad lax. It’s one of my family’s favorite dishes whenever the whole bunch gathers to feast. When I was younger, I would watch her prepare it and it fascinated me how she managed to turn two raw salmon fillets cured only with salt, sugar, dill, pepper, and juniper berries into something so fine and flavorful. After a few days they were firm yet tender, with hints of the sea yet at the same time tasting slightly sweet – it felt like magic. Salt-curing fish was the only way to preserve the daily catch from the sea in the pre-fridge era. It’s deeply rooted in various cuisines, and thanks to its taste and texture, oily salmon remained a popular candidate keeping this ancient technique alive. Beyond gravad lax!

Alana Kysar had already introduced me to a new fish recipe when I met her in LA for our Meet In Your Kitchen feature back in 2017. Her Ahi Poke Bowl expanded my repertoire of recipes that use the fruits of the sea without adding too many ingredients, which I prefer, especially in summer. Her poke was quick to prepare and extremely delicious, and I immediately knew that I’d always want to go back to Alana’s ‘Hawaiian kitchen in LA’ whenever I’d get the chance. In the meantime, she was busy and put together the most scrumptious cookbook: Aloha Kitchen. The book feels like having Alana in my kitchen and of course, I couldn’t help but go straight for her recipes celebrating the sea.

Although Alana told me that Lomi Salmon is a side dish, traditionally served with poi – pounded, steamed, and peeled taro (kalo) root – or rice, or kalua pig (you can find all these recipes in her book!), I dared to turn it into a main, and almost ate it all by myself. The salmon is cured in salt for 24 hours and then soaked in water for 1 hour. Then it’s ready to be used and assembled in just a few minutes.

Lomi Salmon is so pure, so good, it respects and puts the spotlight on each single ingredient; and there aren’t many. Exactly this kind of cooking became my favorite way of enjoying food over the years. No distraction. Here, it’s just the sea, chunky, tender salmon with a subtle saltiness that – to my surprise – is not overpowering, plus the sharpness of onions, juicy, fruity tomatoes that mellow them, and peppery hints from the chili flakes (Alana suggests gochugaru, Korean red chili pepper flakes, but I only had the more subtle Piment d’Espelette in my spice box). Just keep in mind, these kind of recipes using a handful of ingredients only really work if you go for high quality ingredients – to maximize flavor and pleasure. If you follow this rule, it’s heaven.

Leafing through the colorful pages of Aloha Kitchen not only made me want to hop right on a plane and visit Alana’s home islands, it also made me want to cook all the food that this inspiring woman put together. Alana was born and grew up in Hawai’i. Her life there, her family’s stories and their recipes shaped her style of cooking that’s as versatile as her home islands’ culture: a rich melting pot, influenced by Polynesian settlers, by British, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, and Filipino immigrants, explorers, workers, and sailors, all of them leaving marks in the islands’ eclectic food culture. The local recipes are fresh and hearty, complex and simple, there’s tender meat, light seafood, dumplings, noodles, and veggies. It’s a vibrant kitchen cosmos that proves that we are at our best when we allow cultures and traditions to mix and create pure delicious beauty!

Lomi Salmon

from Aloha Kitchen by Alana Kysar, Ten Speed Press, 2019

Mind that the salmon needs to be cured for 24 hours and then soaked in an ice-water bath for 1 hour!

225g / 1⁄2 pound salmon fillet, skinned and boned
50g / 1⁄4 cup Hawaiian salt (‘alaea) (I used my flaky sea salt from Gozo)
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 small Maui onions, peeled and chopped (I used 1 medium yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced)
6 green onions, green parts only, chopped
1⁄4 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red chili pepper flakes) (I used 1/2 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette)

Place the salmon in a nonreactive rimmed dish or pan large enough for the fillet to lie flat and evenly coat both sides with the salt. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

The next day, prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with a handful of ice and water. 

Rinse the salt from the fish and soak the fish in the ice-water bath for 1 hour. Slice the salmon into 0.5-to 1.25-cm / 1⁄4-to 1⁄2-inch cubes and place them into a nonreactive bowl. Add the tomatoes, Maui onions, green onions, and gochugaru and gently toss with your hands. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Lemon Cinnamon Sorbet & a new book: 365-A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking

One of the first things I did, once I was done proof-reading my new book, was to pull my boyfriend out into the sunshine and straight to my favorite ice cream shop. I’m not really an ice cream person, but this place makes me happy. Their lemon cinnamon sorbet was the first of many chilled scoops of sweet bliss, and it stayed my favorite. It’s very lemony and the aromatic spice is confidently present. I’ve been wanting to create my own lemon cinnamon sorbet recipe for years and here it is: Chilled heaven on a spoon!

So now that the endless dark months of proof-reading and correcting my new English and German book are over, days and nights of finding and fixing mistakes and driving everybody (!) around me absolutely crazy with my German hardheadedness and my unbreakable belief that there’s always (!) a mistake to find, I’m finely starting to think clearly again, slowly. I’ve been wanting to share so much about the process of writing a new book here on the blog but at one point I had to accept that there are only 24 hours and 7 days a week. After Eat In My Kitchen, my first book, was so joyfully received and even won a James Beard Award, I wasn’t sure how it would feel to start this process all over again. Would I feel intimidated by my own work? No, I wasn’t, but I thought it would be just as easy to fill a book with 365 recipes as it felt to share one recipe a day in the first year of this blog in 2014. It wasn’t easy back then (I just suppressed the memory) and it was almost insane to do the same thing all over again, just physically, in a printed book.

The new book is done, and it has a name: 365 – A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking. I’m in love with it now but I hated it at times. I put everything that I am and that I love about food into its pages and I’m happy, overwhelmed, and also scared to see it come into the world (soon, I still have some time to get used to it, it’s at the printer right now). I cooked, baked, and shot the pictures about a year ago and – thanks to the wonderful people around me – we managed to make preparing and shooting 8 recipes a day feel like fun. I don’t know how, but thinking back on this time still gives me goosebumps. It was magical. I just did what I love the most and fed the people around me with far too much food – it was the best. But then, the time started that I fear the most about working on a book. Turning 365 recipes, hundreds of pictures, notes, and thoughts into printable pages without adding mistakes yet finding the ones that sneaked in, is one of the scariest things. I started dreaming about words and measurements at night! I guess I have to admit that I find comfort in perfectionism (or in the rare moments when we believe we are close to it). But that’s not what creating a book is about.

I pity my editor at Prestel Publishing in New York, Holly La Due, who had to go through so many discussions with me about the structure of this book, the cover (a broad field of debate for months!), and all the time have me bagging her to let me triple- and quadruple-check things again and again (until she drew the line – she knows how to deal with her German author).

I’m not yet ready to distance myself and reflect, to see the greater picture, and just chill and let things happen. I’m scared, but I guess that’s fine, and despite the inner struggles I can’t wait for the day when I can hold the first copy of 365 in my hands. For now, all I can do is share the cover with you (below), and my favorite sorbet recipe.

The book will come out in autumn (English book: October 8th / German book: September 23rd) and – if you’re as impatient as me – you can already pre-order it here:

365 – A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.de

Lemon Cinnamon Sorbet

Serves 4

270 ml / 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
130 g / 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 generous tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (about 1 large lemon),
plus more for serving (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
A pinch of salt
240 ml / 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 5 large lemons)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan, bring the water, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, and salt to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, transfer to a medium bowl, and let it cool for about 10 minutes then chill in the fridge for at least 40 minutes.

Once the mixture is thoroughly chilled, remove the cinnamon stick, whisk in the ground cinnamon, and transfer to an ice cream maker then freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions (it took about 25 minutes in mine). Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and freeze for 2 to 3 hours. Serve sprinkled with a little freshly grated lemon zest.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, transfer the lemon mixture to a shallow pan and freeze for a few hours or until firm, stirring with a fork every hour to fluff it up.

Swirly Peanut Butter Plum Buns and the blissful lesson of taking a break

I started writing a new book eleven months ago. Actually, eleven and a half months, it was Christmas Eve. The moment I decided to dive into this intense adventure again, I couldn’t stop writing down one recipe after the other. It felt like the dishes had been inside my head, waiting impatiently to come out. And all this happened during Christmas 2017, my man thought I was crazy. At a time that’s supposed to be calm and serene, surrounded by our sparkling Christmas tree and piles of cookies, listening peacefully to angelic carols, I stuck my head into my recipe notebooks and discussed undiscovered flavor combinations with my mother. By New Year’s Day, I had an exaggeratedly long recipe list together and felt ready for a new book – and a holiday.

While I wrote my first book, Eat In My Kitchen, I often crossed my limits, I refused to respect them and felt totally squeezed out by the end of it. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. So I asked for help and found the best kitchen assistant I could have asked for. He made the whole process of cooking and shooting a book far more smooth than I thought was even possible. He also took care of an impeccable playlist filling my kitchen with the most energizing tunes and making me dance around boxes of vegetables and bowls of cooked dishes. But most importantly, he taught me to take a break once in a while. We often went to a tiny coffee shop around the corner for an espresso and a chat to clear our heads. We started working on the book early February and since then I managed – more or less – to stick to this new ritual in my life: allowing myself to take a little break every day.

Sometimes, after an early morning cooking session followed by an extensive shopping tour for meat, fish, and vegetables, we’d get a bit more excessive and head over to a Berlin bakery famous for swirly buns. Whenever I felt tired and empty, a bite of their spongy cinnamon buns put me back on my feet and felt better than the most sumptuous meal in the world. That’s the bliss that you can find in food – and in a break – it will always impress me how good it feels.

It’s been a while since I cooked or baked for the blog, and for months now I had a flavor combination on my mind that I wanted to turn into a sweet treat and share: peanut butter and plums. We need to hurry, it’s getting late, plum season reached its end, but you can still find some very ripe, sugary stone fruits at the markets. I decided to combine the duo with a recipe that Sofie Wochner from Marigold restaurant in Rome shared with me last summer. The Danish pastry chef treated me to the most wonderful, fragrant cinnamon buns in her kitchen, so I took her recipe for the yeast dough and turned it into Swirly Peanut Butter Plum Buns.

I will keep you posted about my new book, but it’ll still take a lot of time until it comes out, as a book does when you want it to be a part of what you truly are. To be continued …

 

Swirly Peanut Butter Plum Buns

Mind that the dough has to rise in the fridge overnight before you bake the buns.

Makes 10 swirly buns

For the dough

500g / 3 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
75g / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 (7-g / 1/4-ounce) envelope fast-acting yeast
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
255ml / 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk, lukewarm
1/2 beaten large egg (about 25 ml)
60g / 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided into 6 portions

For the filling

250g / 1 cup creamy peanut butter
200g / 1 cup light brown sugar
300g / 2/3 pound pitted fresh dark plums

For the topping

1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, cinnamon, and salt. Add the lukewarm milk and 1/2 beaten egg and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes or until smooth. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes then continue mixing, adding the butter, 1 portion at a time, incorporating each portion of butter before adding the next one. Continue mixing on medium speed for another 3 minutes or until smooth. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover, and let it rise in the fridge overnight.

Take the bowl out of the fridge and let the dough sit at room temperature for about 1 hour. Line a 24 x 18cm / 10 x 7 inch baking dish with parchment paper.

For the filling, combine the peanut butter and sugar. Cut the plums into small cubes.

Knead the dough for 30 seconds with your hands. Lightly dust a work surface and a rolling pin with flour then transfer the dough to the floured surface and, using the rolling pin, roll it into a 33 x 33cm / 13 x 13 inch square that’s roughly 0.5cm / 1/4 inch thick. Spread the peanut butter mixture on top of the dough, leaving a 2cm / 3/4 inch border, then sprinkle the plums over the peanut butter, gently pushing them into the peanut butter. To fold the dough, divide it into 3 rectangles, don’t cut the dough, just leave a thin mark on top of the peanut butter. Starting with the long side of one of the rectangles and dusting off excess flour, fold the first third of the dough up and over the middle third of the dough, then fold the other outer third of the dough up and place on top of the 2 layers of dough to end with 3 layers of dough. Using a very sharp knife, cut the layered dough into 10 slices.

Quickly pull and stretch each slice of dough then twist into a long spiral, close in a loose knot, and transfer to the prepared baking dish. It’ll be massy, don’t worry, you can sprinkle any peanut butter and plums that fall out on top of the buns once they are arranged in the baking dish. Cover the buns with a tea towel and let them rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until puffy.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F.

Brush the buns with the egg wash then bake for 25 minutes, cover the top with aluminum foil, and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown and firm. Rub the warm buns with 1 tablespoon of butter and let them cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Love, Rome & Gnocchi

Imagine your friends throw an opulent dinner party in the pulsing heart of Rome on a Saturday night und you take over their kitchen hours before the guests arrive with a film team of four to peek over your hosts’ shoulders into their pots and pans. Sofie Wochner and Domenico Cortese dealt with our little invasion with remarkable patience. They even welcomed us with big smiles on their faces and a plate full of fresh buttery Danish cinnamon buns in their hands.

The passionate couple is a confident team in the kitchen, they complement each other and combine two worlds that are geographically and culturally far apart, but somehow match smoothly. Sofie is a Danish baker and pastry chef with the impulsive temper of an Italian Signorina, self-taught Chef Domenico comes from Calabria, from the southern tip of Italy, but totally lacks the Mediterranean drama that one would expect. His voice is calm and his movements are concentrated, he’s quiet and focused when he works in the kitchen. He says he was born in the wrong country, he feels much closer to the northern European mentality, whereas his woman only feels as free and inspired as she wants to be when she’s in her adopted city, in Rome.

A city kitchen is often a space of improvisation and elaborate compromises, the smallest but also the most charming room of an apartment. It’s the place where everybody meets at a party, making use of every square inch, squeezed and snuggled in, the happy crowd talks, eats, and drinks until dawn. Our hosts’ kitchen is just such a magical place, but it’s also a room where the two chefs manage to create the most wonderful dishes for private gatherings, catering, and highly anticipated supper clubs. When it’s time to open the doors for their Eatery In Rome pop-up restaurant in their flat’s dining room, the kitchen turns into a busy laboratory functioning like clockwork. Loaves of bread and cakes baking in batches in the single oven, pillowy gnocchi rolled and shaped on the wooden board at the window, and bell peppers roasting in the flames of the old gas cooker. The room is bright, facing the pretty balcony, Domenico’s beautiful little herb garden where basil, thyme, and rosemary grow happily under Rome’s ever shining sun – all waiting to be used in the masters’ glorious recipes, like their Stuffed Gnocchi with Mozzarella di Bufala, Confit Tomatoes and Flame-roasted Bell Peppers (you can find the recipe below). The potato gnocchi melt in your mouth like fluffy clouds, the creamy filling makes it smooth and fits perfectly to the candy-like tomatoes and smoky peppers. It’s a delicious stunner, a colorful homage to the beauty of Italian cuisine.

In the past few months, the busy duo made their dream come true and started working on their new baby: Marigold. If you would like to support Sofie and Domenico and help them funding their new restaurant and micro bakery in the Roman neighborhood Ostiense, click here.

Many new Meet In Your Kitchen features took me to California, Japan, France, and Italy in the last few months. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Mozzarella di Buffala stuffed Gnocchi with Confit Tomatoes and Flame-roasted Bell Pepper

By Domenico Cortese & Sofie Wochner – Marigold, Rome

You can find the German recipe here.

Prepare the confit tomatoes and roasted bell pepper a day in advance.

Serves 4  

Flame-roasted Bell Pepper

1 large red bell pepper
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 medium bunch of parsley, leaves only, chopped
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
About 150ml / 2/3 cup olive oil

You can either grill peppers in the flames of a gas cooker (that’s what Domenico does) or grill or roast them in the oven (on the highest temperature, turning them every few minutes until partly black), which is the safer method.

Place the pepper on the gas flame of your cooker set on medium heat. Turn the pepper every now and then, mind that the skin turns dark and forms blisters evenly on all sides. Transfer the hot pepper to a bowl and cover with cling film, let it sit for 15 minutes. Use a small, sharp knife to peel the pepper, cut it in half, and scrape out and discard any seeds and fibers. Cut into strips and transfer to a bowl. Add the garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper and cover with the olive oil. Cover the bowl and let it sit for at least a few hours, or over night.

Confit Tomatoes

8 tomatoes, preferably Piccadilly tomatoes
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
3 medium sprigs fresh savory
4 medium sprigs fresh thyme
10 medium sprigs fresh basil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Olive oil

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Clean and score the skin of the tomatoes. Blanch them for 20 seconds in the boiling water, then transfer to the ice water. Use a small, sharp knife to gently pull off the skin without cutting them. Transfer to a small baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and cover with cling film. Let them rest in the fridge overnight.

Take the tomatoes out of the fridge about 1 hour before roasting them. Preheat the oven to 130°C / 275°F.

Spread the herbs and garlic on top of the tomatoes and cover them completely with olive oil. Roast for about 4 hours or until they are soft.

Gnocchi

For the filling

150g / 5 ounces mozzarella di buffala
50g / 2 ounces Parmesan
3 sprigs fresh basil, leaves only, plus a handful leaves for serving
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper

For the gnocchi

500g / 18 ounces floury potatoes
1 small egg
50g / 2 ounces Parmesan
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
100g / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour, type 00

For the filling, purée the mozzarella, Parmesan, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

For the gnocchi, boil the potatoes in unsalted water for about 30-40 minutes or until soft. Drain and let them rest for 10 minutes. Peel the potatoes and press them through a potato ricer onto a large chopping board or kitchen counter, form a little dome. Add the egg, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and, using your hands and a dough scraper, mix everything together. Add the flour in batches and mix quickly until the gnocchi mixture is combined. Add more flour, if it’s too sticky; mind not to over mix it.

Form the gnocchi while the mixture is still warm: Cut off a handful of dough, keep the remaining dough covered with a tea towel, and roll it into a 2.5cm / 1 inch-thick roll. Cut into 1cm / 0.5 inch-thick slices. Using 2 fingers, make a dent in the middle of each slice. Add a tablespoon of the filling and close the gnocchi by rolling it in your hands. Transfer the gnocchi to a baking sheet dusted with flour. When all the gnocchi are filled, cook them immediately in salted water (it should taste like the sea) for about 3-4 minutes or until they raise to the surface; or freeze them, but don’t keep them in the fridge.

Using a slotted ladle, transfer the gnocchi to the plates. Arrange the confit tomatoes and roasted peppers on top, drizzle with the oil used to roast the tomatoes, and sprinkle with fresh basil.

Buon Appetito!

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Sofie Yes, I’m Danish and I moved to Rome four years ago to live with Domenico. Straight away, we started our little pop up restaurant in our home here in Rome. I make the bread and the pastry. So we divide the work between the two of us.

And you’re the chef, Domenico?

Domenico Si! Our work is completely separate. I’m not so good with pastry because I don’t like to follow the recipe, but I like the freestyle more.

Sofie You’re a creative soul.

Domenico I’m a chef and I don’t know how to work with recipes. I need to be creative and use my inspiration – from my work at the American Academy as well as from my Italian background. Now I have arrived at a place in my life where I have really found my own style.

When did you arrive here in Rome? 

Domenico It was in January 2000. Before that, I spent 5 years of my life in Holland and I then decided to come back to Rome – especially because part of my family is here.

Where are you from originally?

Domenico I’m originally from Tropea, a small town in Calabria, where I grew up until I was 18.

Sofie, what made you leave Denmark?

Sofie I’ve always been extremely adventurous and I always felt that maybe Denmark, or maybe Copenhagen, was a little bit too small. That the mentality is – without sounding arrogant – but it’s a bit closed and I’m kind of a loud person (laughing)! So I felt coming to Italy, I kind of came home in a way. Here, there is space to be who you are. You don’t need to fit into a little box. But I still love Denmark and Copenhagen and where I grew up. I go back quite often but I really feel at home in Rome.

Domenico Lucky me!

How do you bring your two worlds together, the Danish and the Italian mentality?

Sofie In many ways I’m more Italian than Domenico is. And he’s more Danish than I am in the sense that Domenico is very precise and he’s always on time. Yes, you’re quite organized and structured.

Domenico Honestly, maybe too much sometimes!

Sofie You’re too Danish sometimes (laughing)! In many ways, I’m very attracted to the southern part of Europe because you’re allowed to express your passion and your feelings in a way that comes very natural to me. I feel welcome and I feel very much at ease here. For us, I think we meet in the middle. Of course, it’s not always easy…

Domenico No, not really!

Sofie …being from two different cultures. A relationship is always hard work but in many ways we also find a way to balance it out by being attracted by each other’s cultures. Domenico could easily live in Denmark if that happened one day but I prefer to live here!

Can you tell us a little bit about your supper clubs?

Sofie Yes, it started 3 1/2 years ago now. It came a little bit by coincidence. We both had this dream about opening a restaurant. And you don’t do that overnight. So we thought maybe we could just start at home. How many tables can we fit into the living room?

Domenico Yes, let’s try and see how it will work. Which kind of guests can we get?

Sofie So it started a bit like that and from the beginning it’s been quite successful. It really gave us the possibility to try out our own style…

Domenico … to show to our guests what we can do.

Sofie Domenico, you could really try to work on your own style and I think you discovered more and more about who you are through your cooking here than you’ve done anywhere else. And it’s fun! It’s fun to play around with so many things and we are still using the best, seasonal, and local produce. We don’t necessarily cook amitriciana – we try to use the products in a new way, but still keeping the roots in the simplicity of the Italian kitchen…

Domenico …the basis is the Italian cuisine but of course we kind of try to change a little bit or invent something new.

Sofie It’s a feast! In our pop-up restaurant at home we have 12 people sitting at a long table, so you’re eating with people you don’t know but who you get to know very quickly. It’s one big dinner party with people you don’t know which is very unusual here. And every dinner and every evening is completely different to the others, but there’s always a good energy.

Domenico Yes, I can hear it from the kitchen!

Sofie People are chatting away…

Domenico …and laughing! It’s nice!

Did you ever have a funny experience?

Sofie We had a very, very romantic experience! We had two guests, they both came here before, and then one evening, they were here at the same time – they didn’t know each other – and they started to chat over the table. So they met and they got together and then they came back with their parents and they’re in a serious relationship. And they keep coming back! I think they’ve been here like four times! So they kind of grew with us. It was a really cute thing and they are such lovely people.

And then one day they will bring their children!

Sofie Exactly (laughing)!

Do you think that the people who come to Rome, the tourists, have a very clear idea of what they expect to eat when they come to this city?

Sofie Yes. I think it’s fair enough because you come to the most ancient city in the world, so of course it’s not vibrant, modern, things are not changing every half year with a new trend. Of course you know what you’re getting. Unfortunately, because there are so many tourists passing through Rome the quality of even these key dishes in the city is just not good enough. They don’t respect people enough here, and they’re not being proud enough about what they do. I think that’s disturbs us sometimes. Who doesn’t love a creamy cacio e pepe? Or a carbonara? But you don’t need to put cream in there! There shouldn’t be cream in there. They don’t expect that the people coming here to visit can actually taste what they eat. That’s a bit of a shame because Rome also doesn’t have the best reputation. In Paris, there has been this small revolution and I think slowly I can see it happening here too. The younger generations are observing that there is something to be done here, that we’re losing something if we don’t respect our traditions more. Even though the traditions are very strong, it’s not expressed in the actual plate in front of you.

Domenico, what is your greatest kitchen hack?

Domenico  For the gnocchi, you need to have really good, starchy potatoes. You can choose between two kinds of potatoes, but the trick to make really good gnocchi is to have starchy potatoes!

What about you, Sofie?

Sofie Being a Dane, I have to mention Danish butter because I actually use Danish butter here. Italian butter doesn’t have the right structure. It’s really important when you do pastry that you use the right kind of butter. It doesn’t necessarily need to be organic either. Often, organic butter tends to hold too much water which means your pastry or your cake can become wet in a way – it doesn’t get the right structure. I can only use French butter or Danish butter in my pastry. So, I believe the basic key is to use really, really good butter. And lots of it (laughing)!

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Domenico My mom. I have a lot of memories as a child, but I remember I really liked the minestrone. She used to strain everything but it was so good.

Sofie I’m very, very fond of the way Chad Robertson from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco bakes his bread. I even went there to see them bake. But for him to bake a loaf of bread for me, take it out of the oven and serve it to me with Danish butter (laughing), I think I would be in heaven!

Mille grazie, Sofie and Domenico!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Sheep, Peace & Tuscan Pecorino at Podere Il Casale

The light was warm and golden as we drove down the rocky alley to Podere Il Casale. It was late in the afternoon, later than expected, but that’s what happens when you enjoy Tuscany. The sun was so low that it almost touched the Tuscan hills that seem to embrace the secluded farm tucked in between Pienza and Montepulciano. I came to visit the celebrated Swiss cheese maker Ulisse Braendli, to see his sheep and goat herds, and try his Pecorino, but I found so much more. There is a silent peace laying over this farm like a blanket, it calms your mind as soon as you walk past the old terracotta-colored farmhouse. As you stand on the terrace, a breathtaking viewing platform, under fragrant pine trees protecting you like an umbrella, as you see the landscape laid out majestically in front of your eyes, soaked in dimmed shades of green and ocher, you can only smile and thank life for such unbelievable beauty.

All the people and places I visited in Tuscany for my culinary trip around the world together with Zwilling had one thing in common, they all give themselves into the hands of nature with great trust and respect. No matter what obstacles they have to fight, what problems they have to solve, they know that nature gives and takes and that there’s a balance. It’s not an easy life, but that’s also not what Ulisse was looking for when he and his partner Sandra left their home country and started a new adventure in Italy almost 30 years ago. Life is tough on this piece of land that they bought, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. They started with 3 sheep and now there are 200 of them, living an enviably good life under the Tuscan sky.

Ulisse loves Tuscany for being real, traditional, and romantically old-fashioned. Electricity only came to Podere Il Casale in 1980, before, it was a very simple, basic life. The farm is the perfect setting for his vision, to “help” nature create beautiful raw milk cheese. All the cheese, vegetables, and olive oil from the farm are organic, but that’s not an option, that’s the standard in his philosophy: “Conventional farming is strange, organic farming is normal. Wasting less of our food than the 40% that actually end up in the bin, is one of the solutions to open the doors for organic, local, and seasonal food for the broader population.” His mother planted the seed for his critically creative mind, she taught him to be open and experiment. “I blame the 60s,” says the cheese maker with a smile on his face.

The cheese at Podere Il Casale is made with just three ingredients: raw milk, rennet, and salt. Every kind of milk is different, depending on the four seasons, the weather, the soil, and the food that the sheep find on the fields. “Great food makes great milk and that makes great cheese – and every season makes a different cheese.” That’s the whole humble secret behind a Pecorino that so many people praise as one of Tuscany’s best. When the animals are outside, when they eat good food and there’s space, you have less problems with diseases, you don’t need chemicals, you can keep it under control with homeopathic methods. The animals eat barley, oats, and beans when they are in the barn, their “power food”, and hay and grass on the fields. Raw milk cheese has a strong connection to the place where it comes from, to the animals and the climate. To taste Ulisse’s sheep and goat milk cheese, young and ripe, pure and refined with white truffle or saffron, was one of the purest pleasures during my trip in Italy. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the farm’s praised restaurant, but eating that wonderful cheese and enjoying the views of Pienza at sunset definitely made up for it.

When Ulisse stood amongst his sheep, playing with his two rowdy snow-white Maremma sheepdogs, the last rays of the low sun in our faces, I asked him what he loves the most about his life and he said: “To be free here on the farm. To do what I would like to do and not to make too many compromises – not to do something because it’s convenient.”

Many new Meet In Your Kitchen features took me to California, Japan, France, and Italy in the last few months. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Homemade Quark (fresh cheese)

By Ulisse Braendli – Podere Il Casale

Makes 1 pound

1.8l / 7.5 cups farm fresh milk, preferably still warm (don’t use ultra pasteurized milk!)
Cheese starter culture (amount according to the package instructions)
Liquid rennet

In a large saucepan, slowly warm up the milk until it’s about 25°C / 77°F, then stir in the cheese starter culture and take the pan off the heat. After 1 hour, add a tiny (!) drop of the rennet, cover the pot, and let it rest at room temperature for about 24 hours. The cheese is done, when the curd pulls away from the sides of the pot.

Transfer the milk mixture to a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. Keep the milk mixture in the strainer at room temperature for 12-24 hours to drain the whey from the cheese, or until it reaches the desired texture; the whey should be clear. Whisk until smooth and transfer to a glass container, cover, and keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.

 

What made you leave Switzerland?

I decided to start a new experience and when you start a new experience, why not change the place? It was more a about the concept. What is also better here is a shorter winter…

And you don’t like winter?

No, I like winter – it’s better for relaxing but here, winter means you have to go in the forest to cut wood. It’s one thing if you have to heat for two months, but if you have to heat for six months, it’s much more work! But it’s better here – you can make olive oil which is a great product. After the butter experience, the olive oil experience is better. It’s great. Tuscany is a nice place – it’s very real, and has an old style. In Switzerland it’s difficult. It’s just another experience. Perhaps next time I wouldn’t choose Italy.

So you never had a close connection to Tuscany? You just looked at the world and said, “Tuscany!”

No, first it was Piedmont because it’s a bit cheaper! But it’s foggy, there are too many Swiss, and the people are really a bit weird (laughing). I would not say that Tuscans are really open, but they are a little bit better! The further south you go, the better the Italians – in my opinion!

When did you arrive in Tuscany?

In 1991.

How did you find this piece of land?

By chance. We were here for the first time. We had a good relationship to the farmer. He gave us time to find the money, he helped us a lot. It was very simple.

Was it a smooth transition? Did you have a chance to grow into it?

Yes, a bit. Obviously, he had helped us more for the network and less for the cultivation. You have to imagine that these farmers are never really learning, they are just doing what they do because that’s how it’s always been done. Their father did it this way, their grandfather did it this way. It was very simple here. There was no tourism here in this valley. Pienza was sleepy so we really had a bit of this old-style life. Imagine, the farm got electricity in 1980. So, before, life was really simple. Basic. Crop-sharing families in the 60s meant that there were 20 people in four rooms. The farmers didn’t read or write – they didn’t go to school. That’s also Tuscany.

How much did you know about farming when you came here?

Nothing. I grew some vegetables at home (laughing).

Did you have a balcony (laughing)?

No, ground and soil but very small! But my mother always taught me about seasonal food, local food. I’m speaking of the 60s! She taught me about taste, that it’s not convenient to eat something that is not good, to experiment, to not always eat the same thing…

Was there ever a moment when you felt like giving up?

No, no. When I decide something, I go.

What do you love most about your life here?

To be free here on the farm. Not to be free with the society, but here on the farm. To do what I would like to do and not to make too many compromises – not to do something because it’s convenient. I do what I like to do. When I do what I like to do, I can convince people. If I have to do things that I don’t like to do, I’m not convincing. I think that’s normal! That’s why evolution or new things are really based on ideas that come from inside.

The cheese that you produce, is it organic?

Sure. Organic in our case is not really a must or even optional. It’s normal. Because who likes to eat chemicals that are used for normal farming? I would say that normal farming is strange. Organic is normal. Just to explain this better, it’s a question of when you want to be convinced of your product, you have to know what you use. The cheese is made with three products: milk, rennet, and salt. Anything more – that might be normal for processed food – is useless. So that’s why real food is organic food – not because organic is really important but because organic is kind of a brand that is about not needing more than what is necessary.

Do you believe that organic is the future?

I think more local should be the future. Local and seasonal. Organic is already too industrial in certain cases.

Do you think that local, seasonal, and organic works for cities?

Sure.

Do you believe that there is enough food if it is produced organically and locally?

Definitely, because if you are buying food with a certain concept in mind you waste less. We still waste 40% of food. That’s why all this talk recently of “saving the world with genetically modified crops,” that’s all blah blah blah.

Emiko Davies, who introduced me to you, told me that you make the best cheese in Tuscany.

Wow!! (Laughing)

What makes your cheese so special?

Our cheese is raw milk cheese. That means our cheese is connected to the animals – the sheep or the goats. What they eat is transferred into the cheese through the raw milk process, because of the bacteria. You have to know that a rainy day milk is different to a sunny day milk. Spring milk with beautiful clover and grass is amazing milk, but also winter milk is amazing because it’s colder. Summer milk is a bit boring, but it’s still great.

Why is it boring?

There is no food! Look (indicating around him), the fields are all brown! Basically, I always tell people we don’t produce cheese. We just help the great milk to become cheese. The rest is done by the bacteria. The chaos of the bacteria gives the cheese its character. The rest is hygiene, how healthy the animals are…that’s our job. So we create the fundament for a great cheese. But the rest is done by the animals, bacteria, and the environment.

I read on your website that you found truffles on your land and for a long time you didn’t even know you had truffles here! How did that happen?

Because the truffle hunter came and said, “You have white truffles in a really small corner of the forest. Could I have an exclusive deal?” I said, “Sure, I didn’t even know that there were truffles here!” Now, we do truffle hunting with him. He has all the dogs and the knowledge, because you don’t find truffles without it.

You could make a truffle cheese, or are you not interested in these kind of mixtures?

We do a truffle cheese, but a very small, limited edition because the truffle has a very fragile aroma. If you don’t use chemical aroma you really have to use a lot of truffle and that means a lot of money!

Expensive cheese!

Yes, it’s not extremely expensive but it’s not a normal cheese. A few people, for example Russians, they go crazy for truffles. When they see truffle cheese they buy it. But we are here in Italy, not in Russia.

You said that you have a closer relationship to some sheep – do you have a favorite sheep at the moment?

(Laughing) Great! But no, that would be politically incorrect!

If you had one, would you be able to find it?

I have a few that I know very well. There is for example one – now it’s difficult to find her (looking around) – her name is Castagna because she always ate chestnuts. There was a time when we had a period of chestnuts here – not chestnuts in the forest but chestnuts for feeding the pigs. We always gave her chestnuts and she would always follow you if you had chestnuts. But she’s very old – she’s about 8 or 9 years old.

Really? And she is one of them here?

Yes, but she has a bit of a different relationship to humans because she obviously remembers all these chestnuts!

Thank you, Ulisse!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roasted Grapes and Camembert Sandwich with Rosemary

My love for cheese is deep and passionate. I embrace the whole variety of soft and hard, young and old, of cow, goat, and sheep milk cheese without skipping a bite. However, I always had a particular pull towards the oldest, runniest, and strong-smelling examples.

In my late teenage years, I spent a romantic weekend in Paris. Aside from the usual sightseeing spots, the strolls through the stunning Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, long walks along the Seine and busy Boulevard Saint-Germain, I went straight for the city’s boulangeriespâtisseries, charcuteries, and fromageries. It was my first proper food trip, constantly carrying – and nibbling from – bags filled with baguette, croissants, pâté, tartes, éclair au café, and cheese. Whenever I spotted a bench or a park, I declared it my picnic zone and made it a moveable feast. It was summer and I bought so much cheese that I had to find a way to store all these rolls, rounds, and triangles. Our hotel room’s mini bar seemed like the only suitable place to keep my fragrant treasures. Just as we left, as I collected my food and other belongings, I noticed a particularly strong odor of a very aged camembert escaping the tiny fridge. In that moment I pitied the future guests of our room, and it dawned on me that it would take days for it to recover from my visit.

Camembert always had a very special place in my heart. When it’s young and firm, still a bit white and crumbly in the center, I enjoy it at breakfast on crunchy baguette. The flavour is mild and still developing.  But when it’s aged and so soft that it practically melts inside the white rind – my favourite – the cheese is at its tasty peak. Then it needs a glass of full-bodied Bordeaux, or ripe fruits or concentrated chutneys. Le Rustique manages to capture this quality of rich ripeness perfectly, the cheese is strong and creamy, packed with a sharp taste that makes it so special.  So when the cheese makers from Normandy asked me to create a sandwich recipe for their famous round product wrapped in red gingham cloth, I knew it would need a potent partner. Grapes and cheese are a common couple, but when you roast the little fruits in the oven until they shrivel, their flavour concentrates beautifully. I balance their sweetness with fresh rosemary to add woody tones to a rather opulent sandwich of ripe camembert and roasted grapes.

Thanks to Le Rustique for sponsoring this post and reminding me of the little culinary adventures that I have in my life through one of my favourite treats: the wonderful world of cheese.

 

Roasted Grapes and Camembert Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

300g / 2/3 pound seedless red grapes, on the vine
6 small sprigs fresh rosemary
Olive oil
Flaky sea salt
100g / 4 ounces aged, aromatic camembert, such as Le Rustique, cut into thick slices
2 rustic, white buns, cut in half

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F.

Place the grapes and rosemary in a medium baking dish. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, gently toss to coat, and season to taste with salt. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until the grapes are soft and a little shriveled.

Divide the camembert among the bottom halves of the buns. Snip the grapes off the vine and arrange on top of the cheese and sprinkle with the roasted rosemary. Place the top on each bun and enjoy.