Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Off To Turin

Hello Friends,

Thanks for visiting and welcome to my first Chef's Corner blog entry! I wanted to start a blog to give you a look into what it is like to be a chef/co-owner of a restaurant that is committed to buying local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. I also am planning to give tips on what is growing in Wisconsin, what treasures I find at the Dane County Farmer's market, and some delicious recipes for you to make at home. Since I usually stay in the kitchen at L'Etoile, unless I'm doing a cooking class, I don't often get to talk about our dishes, and what the inspiration was behind them. So from time to time I will be doing just that, picking dishes from our current menu and giving you guys the 411 on where we got the ingredients and why I think they are delicious.

This week's Chef's Corner is special because I am fortunate enough to be going to Turin, Italy, representing L'Etoile Restaurant as a SLOW Food USA delegate. SLOW Food is an organization that was started in Italy and continues to grow around the world. In brief, it is a movement that is committed to the preservation of culinary traditon, sustainable agriculture, and to eating food that is grown locally. The event taking place in Turin is called Terra Madre and it is held every 2 years. Terra Madre gives like-minded individuals, farmers, and this year, cooks, the opportunity to meet and share ideas, visions, and stories with people from around the world. The interesting thing to me is that they don't just invite people who are already part of the Slow Food movement, but people who could be and in some cases should be involved. This means that those in attendance get to engage in real debate, learn from people with differing perspectives, and increase their overall knowledge about global sustainability - the obstacles and the success stories. There will be many workshops and panel discussions; Keynote speakers in the past have included Prince Charles and Alice Waters. This is all very exciting and, of course, will all be very enlightening. The other part of the conference is something called the Salon Del Gusto, which is set up to take place in Turin at the same time as Terra Madre. Salon Del Gusto is a huge open air market where Italian slow food farmers and vendors will set up, and will offer samples of their delicious treats. Can anyone guess what I am really excited about?! I have always been in love with Italian food and culinary history. Since I am trained in classic French cuisine, and happen to have a restaurant with a French name, people naturally tend to think of me as a French chef. I personally feel like my style and approach is closer to Italian ideals rather than French, though many of my recipes and techniques come from French techniques. Regardless, I can't wait to see what those guys have to offer! I have heard rumors from Matt Smith at Blue Valley Gardens that there is a whole section of the Salon Del Gusto that is just chocolate makers! That alone is so exciting that I can hardly stand it. Not to mention the salted cured meats, the fantastic cheeses, artisan bakers, wine makers and amazing produce, truffles anyone?

In my next blog I promise to post as many pictures as I can. There are sure to be some familiar faces with such a large group of WI artisan cheesemakers and SLOW food members making the trip with me. Odessa will be there too, so I'll try not to just take pictures of food, but I'm not making any promises.

I would like to sign off this week with a recipe for a soup made with Romanesco, an Italian variety of cauliflower. For you market-goers, it is the vegetable that looks pre-historic, with green cone shaped flowerettes. I spoke with the Martin's at the Jones' Valley Farm stand last week and they said that their romanesco is really starting to get sweet now that we have had a frost. You can also get romanesco at the Harmony Valley Farm and Mammoth Produce stands at the Saturday market. This is a velvety, rich soup that will surely warm you up on a chilly Wisconsin autumn night. Bon Apetito!

Roasted Romanesco Soup with Grated Parmesan Cheese


1 head of Romanesco (you can substitute any cauliflower)
1 small onion -(sliced thinly)
3 cloves garlic -(crushed)
2-3 sage leaves
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
3 Tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream
3 cups of vegetable stock
1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 Tablespoon of chopped parsley


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Separate the head of romanesco into flowerettes. Heat an oven safe saute pan on medium high heat. Add the olive oil, 2 Tablespoons of butter and the romanesco, season it with salt and pepper and begin to brown lightly. Then place the saute pan right into the oven. Roast for about 10 to 15 minutes, the romanesco should be browned and tender. Reserve.

Heat a soup pot on medium and place the other tablespoon of butter in it. Add the sliced onions and a little salt and pepper and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 2 more minutes. Stack the sage leaves on one another and slice them as thinly as you can. Add them to the pot and stir for about 10 seconds. Add the vegetable stock and bring it to a simmer. Add the cream and the roasted romanesco. Simmer the soup for about 10 minutes and taste for salt and pepper. Puree the soup in a blender, food processor or with a hand blender until smooth. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
If you want to be a little fancy, a light drizzle of white truffle infused oil would be a super delicious way to finish this simple soup.


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