Saturday, May 20, 2006

Basteeya at Aziza

As any good Tunisian citizen, I'm stubbornly convinced that ours is the best of North African cuisine. More importantly, like many other Tunisians, I am somewhat inclined to believe that those Morroccans are just plain crazy with their sweet & savory mixtures. I prefer the intensely spiced tomato-based sauces with lots of garlic and onions.

Shattering these prejudices, I've eaten twice now at San Francisco's Aziza. Some of the best Morroccan food I've ever eaten is prepared by the somewhat amusingly named chef Mourad Lahlou (which translates to Mourad the sweet one).

There I discovered the basteeya. It arrives piping hot, a buttery phyllo pie filled with saffron braised chicken, ground spiced almonds and a sprinkling of powdered sugar and cinnamon. (The dish is typically made with pigeon, but as I haven't tried that version, I was quite content with the chicken).

The ground nuts and sweet crispy phyllo make this dish taste a lot like baklawa or other middle eastern sweet desserts. The spiced warm ground chicken is at first surprising but then incredibly satisfying and richly savory. The combination is divine.

I was told that couscous was considered by Morroccans to be the peasant food whereas basteeya showed a more elevated social status. Based on this specimen alone (and compared to Morroccan, but not to Tunisian, couscous), I would have to agree.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Argan Oil

I know, I know, the description of how this oil is obtained may frighten some of you off, but be strong, be daring - Don't let it! This oil is a miracle of flavour.

Tonight, I made one of my quick dinner standbys: green lentils cooked with a chopped onion, some herbs and red wine topped with a poached egg. That's the basic recipe, but I always include something else to embellish the dish. Tonight, I broiled some asparagus, chopped them into a bowl and topped them with the lentils and egg, a sliced half avocado on each bowl, then drizzled some balsamic vinegar and Argan oil on top.

The Argan moved this quick meal from pretty good to a culinary treat. It added a certain earthiness, or perhaps, umami. Adding the merest drizzle was enough to change the entire dish, as much as adding truffle oil or a shaving of boutargue. The nuttiness of the oil was perfectly complemented by the slightly sweet balsamic. I need to stock up on this stuff.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Around the World in a Meme

Ann, from A Chicken in Every Granny Cart, tagged me for this meme quite a while back and since I have to figure out how to answer memes properly in the Exploring blog, I've decided that this blog would be my solution. After all, most of the memes usually end up involving things that I like.

1. Please List Three Recipes You Have Recently Bookmarked From A Food Blog To Try.

2. A Food Blog In Your Vicinity.

  • Me Eats
    Discovered through the Food Bloggers Google Map, Me Eats seems to be incredibly close to me. Even more amusingly, seems to have also recently returned from a trip to Europe with luggage full of smuggled foodie bits. But I haven't done nearly as elegant a job of documenting my treats - I should take note!

3. A Food Blog Located Far From You.

  • Sal's Virtual Tapas Bar
    Always a fun read, Sal's blog is currently letting me live my dream of moving to Spain vicariously. Or making me want to move there even more. Either way, I enjoy it very much.

4. A Food Blog (Or Several) That You Have Discovered Recently (and where did you find it?)

  • Life Begins at 30
    I stumbled upon this recently when researching "Eating Locally" and enjoy it very much. I think I'll have to look into taking part in the challenge, if it isn't too late!

5 - Any People Or Bloggers You Want To Tag With This Meme?

  • Anyone I've mentioned in this post can consider themselves tagged!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Panna Cotta

Oh Panna Cotta! Lovely panna cotta, the traditional Piemontese specialty literally translated as cooked milk, was served to us after every meal in Bra. Each restaurant so pleased to introduce us to the local specialty. Each chef so proud of her recipe for this delicacy. Subtly sweetened, smooth and creamy, panna cotta is most often served with fruit or a sweet sauce, such as caramel or a fruit coulis.

This is a dessert that should be eaten oh so slowly, each spoonful savoured as the cream yields to the pressure from my tongue and dissolves in my mouth. In my opinion, the sauce is superfluous - the panna cotta is perfect in its simplest, purest form.

Miracle of miracles, a simple google search so quickly yields the recipe from the restaurant that served me the very best panna cotta I had in all of Bra, The Boccondivino.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

DJ Don Pasta - Le Macabre, Bra, Italy

Opening night of the Bra Slow Food & Short Film Festival, the afterparty at the Macabre, Bra's top night club. Bra's only nightclub.

The jazz band begins to play: an accordian, a drummer, a clarinet and a bass tackling John Coltrane's My Favourite Things. On the screen, a man's hands slice eggplant, beat an egg, hands reach into a bowl of raw ground meat and mix in herbs, bread crumbs, and other seasonings. Suddenly, a man stands up at the mic, scruffy and a bit disheveled. He reads from a sheet of white paper in Italian. He's describing what he's making, but he isn't reading a recipe, it is more like the poetry of cooking. The music plays on - chopping garlic and making a tomato sauce on the stove. The camera pans up to the cook's face and it's our poet - DJ Don Pasta. He's smiling down at the pot. Meanwhile, on the stage, he puts aside the sheet of paper and sits back down, tapping his foot to the music.

On the screen, he fries the breaded eggplant, then he begins to layer the various ingredients in a big ceramic dish: eggplant, tomato sauce, meatballs, prosciutto, grated cheese and so on. Don Pasta stands at the mic again and begins to read again. This time he speaks of the music being played and how it suits what he is making. His voice is hypnotic - I understand most of what he is saying but it is easy to get lost in the crescendo of the music, the frenzy of cooking is also building, the audience around me is rapt, swaying to the music, staring at the screen. Finally, Don Pasta sits down while his onscreen self presents the audience with a finished casserole, fresh from the oven, golden and bubbling, as the band reaches its grand finale. He calls the dish "il castello di leggerissime melanzane" - the castle of the lightest eggplant. The piece is entitled "My Favourite Parmigiana."