Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: From Provence to the Catskills – a Voyage from David to Bertolli

table cheers

You can sense it in American kitchens, our restaurant conversations, and across the food blogosphere: a newfound appreciation of good food prepared from fresh, local ingredients. This trend has been building for a long time, and no figure has played a more inspirational role than Alice Waters, chef/owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Waters is part of a long lineage of culinary masters inspired by the food from the south of France – that amazing intersection of French, Italian and Mediterranean flavors, and where fresh and local are a way of life.

We were thrilled to participate in Foodbuzz’s 24, 24, 24 blogosphere event, astounding in its scope, with 24 food blogs around the world experiencing and sharing 24 meals over a 24 hour period. What better way to take part than to celebrate Alice Waters and her place in this historical line of chefs bringing the south of France to the world. In doing so, we wanted to transport a taste of Provence to Stone Ridge, NY, a small town in the the foothills of the Catskill mountains.

We crafted a meal tracing the development of this movement, with each course inspired by one of four culinary greats, in chronological order:

24, 24, 24 menu
For those less familiar with some of the chefs named above, Elizabeth David first published Mediterranean Food in 1950, followed by French Country Cooking in 1951. In her foreword to the American compilation of David’s cookbooks, Alice Waters writes that meeting David was “the thrill of my life.” Waters was also tremendously influenced by Richard Olney, the American who lived near the Domaine Tempier vineyard (hence the choice of wine for the main course) in the south of France, and who wrote such well-known books as the incongruously named Simple French Food (his recipes are anything but simple). And completing the nexus of people around Alice Waters, we have Paul Bertolli, a well-known chef who worked for Alice at Chez Panisse before spreading his own wings. In 2003, Bertolli published the fascinating Cooking by Hand cookbook.

The Dinner
Our goal was to work with as local and fresh ingredients as possible. The growing season here in the Catskills is winding down, but still strong. We started out with a trip to a local farm, Gill’s, and made our final meal decisions based on the bounty laid before us.
farm bounty

Also in keeping with the local theme, our pork came from a New York farm, courtesy of the fabulous Fleisher’s butcher in Kingston. We fended off hunger in the countdown to dinner with a cows milk cheese called Toussaint, from the Sprout Creek Farm in New York.

We were joined at this feast by four good friends, Mike and Rebecca G, and Mike and Sumi D, who showed angelic patience as we cooked and plated and paused for a photograph here and there.

In order to keep length manageable, and thus this all readable, we have described each dish making up the meal in the six following posts, and listed out the recipes.

amuse grouped
Potato, Leek and Onion Soup, topped with alfalfa and cherry tomato

zucchini pudding
Zucchini Pudding

pork serving dish
Pork Shoulder Braised with Dried Chiles

shell beans plated
Fresh Shell Bean and Green Bean Ragout

risotto chard done
Chard Stuffed with Fennel and Lemon Risotto

panna cotta plated
Lavender Panna Cotta with Peaches

We hope you enjoy the above posts, which include more pictures and thoughts, and you can also see the full set of photos from the dinner at our flickr set. We will leave you with a few favorite shots.

sauternes and glasses
A taste of the past

morning after
Morning light and a memory of the meal

In Conclusion
I want to end by commending and thanking Foodbuzz for challenging its community to produce an ambitious global food event. This project was a huge undertaking, but tremendously fun at the same time. I can’t wait to read the 23 other posts that all were written today, and I hope to update this post with links to the other 24, 24, 24 posts as soon as I can. For now, check out the list at Foodbuzz’s 24 page.

Lavender Panna Cotta

panna cotta plated
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

For dessert, we turned for inspiration to Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand. This is a wonderfully personal and entertaining book, its recipes interspersed with interesting concepts and stories, such as the letter to Bertolli’s newborn son about aging aceto balsamico, or the concluding Conversation with a Glass of Wine, in which Bertolli creates an imaginary opera of the interactions of the various courses of his meal with a bottle of Barolo.

The dessert section (which is organized into full menus to highlight the place of dessert in a meal), contained a recipe for rose-scented panna cotta with a compote of white nectarines. We just missed the Catskills nectarine season, but the peaches are still magnificent. Instead of roses, we used French lavender from the garden to continue the Provencal theme. We were not disappointed – the panna cotta was delicate and refreshing, the peaches sweet and cool, a perfect end to a rich meal.

I’ve always loved panna cotta as a dessert in restaurants, and was surprised by how easy this was. There is very little “cooking” involved, and the dessert can be made well in advance and kept refrigerated until serving. The only tough part was getting the panni cotti (is that the plural?) out of the ramekins at the end – Bertolli doesn’t give any suggestions for preparing the ramekins to help them slip out; I suppose any kind of lubricant might interfere with the delicate flavors. The Epicurious recipes I looked at suggested warming the molds first by sitting them in some hot water prior to inverting them, which worked after a while, but warmed the puddings up a little. Maybe I was just too impatient to get them served!

Lavender panna cotta with peaches (fills about 10 small ramekins)

6 cups of heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
10 heads of lavender flowers, coarsely chopped
6 tbs cold water
2 tbs gelatin (usually 2 small packets, if using packaged gelatin)
For the sauce:
6-8 ripe peaches
3 tbs sugar
1 cup of cold water

Warm the cream with the sugar and salt over a low flame until hot, but well below a simmer. Turn off heat. Add lavender flowers and steep for about 15 minutes. The lavender flavor should become quite pronounced – if not, leave it for longer, as it will become less strong when cooled.


Strain the flowers out of the warm cream.

Place 6 tbs cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the water. Leave for 5 minutes to soften. Whisk in some of the warm cream to dissolve the gelatin, then whisk the gelatin/cream mixture back into the rest of the cream. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a medium size mixing bowl.

Set out ramekins on a baking sheet that will fit in the refrigerator.

Set the bowl of cream into a larger bowl half-filled with ice. Stir the cream with a rubber spatula, scraping the inside of the bowl constantly so that the panna cotta doesn’t set. When the mixture is very cold and starting to thicken, remove the bowl from the ice and pour the mixture into the ramekins. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

For the sauce, peel and chop half of the peaches into small chunks (about 1/4 inch pieces – should yield about 2 cups), put in saucepan with water and sugar. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer with lid on for 45 minutes. Strain the mixture. Bertolli says to discard the cooked fruit, but I kept it for my 3-year-old – it was great over vanilla ice cream. Chill the syrup.

Peel, pit and dice the remaining peaches into ½ inch pieces (about 2 cups) and add to chilled syrup.

panna cotta de-ramekin

Unmold the panna cotta by running a paring knife around the inside of each ramekin and inverting on a plate. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of peaches and syrup around and over each panna cotta.

panna cotta peaches
Finishing the dish

table panna cotta
At the table

sauternes and glasses
This can be deliciously paired with a dessert wine — in our case we had a 1967 Sauternes saved by Giff’s father and passed down for a special occasion.

Chard Stuffed with Fennel and Lemon Risotto

swisschard colors
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

Gill’s farm had the most beautiful swiss chard, which changed up some of my ideas for a side dish to accompany the pork braise. Lisl thought “risotto” so we decided to make a reprise of one of my favorite meals from the summer, chard leaves stuffed with risotto, from the wonderful Mark Bittman blog Bitten. We kept it in line with the Alice Waters theme by working (mostly) off of an asparagus and lemon risotto recipe from The Art of Simple Food, although we swapped out the asparagus for a subtle amount of fennel. We lightened this dish up by removing the mozarella and parmesan cheese you will find in both Bittman and Waters’ recipes, and by reducing the size of each ball of risotto.

Fennel and Lemon Risotto

1 fennel bulb, including the fronds
1/2 white onion
1 lemon
2 tbsp butter
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups vegetable stock

I made a vegetable broth the day before, which was a simple combination of 2 quarts of water or so, 3 carrots, 3 celery ribs, 1 onion, 3 large cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of thyme and a large bunch of parsley — all simmered together for several hours.

Bring your stock to a boil in a saucepan and cover, turning off heat.

Remove the zest from your lemon, and reserve the juice. Fnely chop up some of the thin fronds from the top of the fennel and save a tablespoon’s worth. Then remove the bottom and any tough outer layers to the fennel bulb and finely chop. Finely chop the onion.

Heat up the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and add the onion and fennel. Cook until the onion is translucent, then add the rice. Cook the rice, periodically stirring, for about 4 minutes until the rice turns mostly translucent. Do not let it brown.

risotto stirring

Stir the lemon zest and fennel fronds into the rice, then pour in the wine. Stir almost continuously until wine is absorbed, and then add your stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring as continuously as you can bear. When the rice starts to thicken, add another 1/2 cup, and do not let the rice dry out. Cook until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 25 to 30 minutes in all. When the rice is almost done, stir in the lemon juice and carefully add salt (the amount will depend on the saltiness of your stock), then remove from heat to cool.

Stuffing and Cooking the Chard Leaves

Large bunch of swiss chard
2 cups of vegetable broth

With a sharp knife, remove the stalks running up the center of the chard leaves and discard. Boil a pot of water and parboil the leaves for about 30 seconds, then remove to cool.

Preheat oven to 400F.

With your hands, make small balls of risotto, about an inch or so in diameter, and tightly wrap each one in a strip of chard leaf. You can also combine two strips if you have smaller leaves — this does not need to be perfect and impeccably wrapped by any means. It’s not a Tiffany’s box. Repeat “country cooking!” to yourself until you decide that taste is more important than impeccably wrapped spheres.

risotto chard rolling

You should have enough risotto and leaves to make over a dozen wrapped balls. Place closely together in a baking dish and pour the broth over top. Bake for 10 minutes at 400, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for 10 more minutes. Plate on a serving dish, and dribble some of the broth from the hot baking dish over top.

risotto chard done

Fresh Shell Bean and Green Bean Ragout

shell beans plated
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

While we knew that the main course for our feast was going to feature a braised pork shoulder, we waited to select the side dishes until after we had seen the produce coming off of Gill’s farm. Among our bounty from the farm stand was some beautiful fresh cranberry beans and thin just-picked green beans. As the components of the main course were to be inspired by Alice Waters, that led us towards this recipe from The Art of Simple Food with big flashing lights. While I changed up the proportions somewhat and added a bit of lemon at the end, I left most unchanged and this recipe produced a lovely, clean flavored dish that complemented the braise nicely.

Fresh Shell Bean and Green Bean Ragout

1 1/2 cups of freshly shelled cranberry beans
4 cups of green beans
1 white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon

cranberry beans shelled

Place the cranberry beans in a medium saucepan and cover with water about an inch over the tops of the beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a light boil / heavy simmer and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat when tender. Strain the beans, saving 3/4 cup of the beans’ cooking liquid for later, and run cold water over the beans to stop the cooking.

Top and tail the green beans and cut into 1 inch pieces.

audrey helper
It helps to have a good helper!

Refill the saucepan (or use a different one) with a couple inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the green beans and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then strain, and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

In a large saute pan, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil and saute the onions and garlic over medium-low heat until the onions turn translucent. Add in the parsley, green beans, cranberry beans, and the reserved cooking liquid. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat. Add the juice of 1 lemon and taste for salt and pepper as it cooks for a minute or two more. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

kitchen prepping main
I finished this dish while Mike G lent a hand carving the pork braise.

Pork Shoulder Braised with Dried Chiles

pork serving dish
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

The main course was inspired by Alice Waters, working off of a recipe in her fabulous cookbook The Art of Simple Food. While we diverged in several ways from Waters’ recipe, the biggest point of departure was that while Alice cooks her pork at 375F for about two hours, we did a longer, slower braise at lower temperature. I will have to say that this was one of the best braises I’ve ever made, and I’ll give equal credit to the flavor combinations and to the quality of the pork. We got our pork shoulder from Fleishers in Kingston, NY, which is an amazing butcher I’ve written about previously that only deals in grass-fed and organic meats.

Dry Rub (made the day before)
3 dried ancho chiles, with seeds and stem removed* (see footnote)
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
1 large bay leaf

1 6 lb pork shoulder, bone-in

Combine everything into a food processor and pulse until the chiles are reasonably chopped up.

pork shoulder

If you have a lot of excess fat on the pork shoulder, trim it down but do not remove it all as it will help the flavor enormously. As I was trimming some of the fat from my pork shoulder, I was imagining Josh Applestone leaning over my shoulder going “you’re killing me! that’s the best part!”

pork dry rub

Rub the spice and chile combination all over the pork shoulder, then wrap it up and place in the fridge overnight.

Braising the Pork

2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
2 dried ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed
1 dried chipotle chile, seeds and stem removed
1 head of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
8 black peppercorns
4 oregano sprigs
4 to 6 cups chicken stock**

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Combine the onions, carrot, chiles, garlic, peppercorns, and oregano in a large dutch oven and stir together. Nestle the pork shoulder fat-side down on top of the vegetables and then pour the stock** over the top – enough to reach a quarter of the way up the pork shoulder.

pork vegetables

Cover your dutch oven and place in the oven. After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 320F. Cook for two hours. Every hour, check the pork and pour some of the broth over the top with a spoon (be careful not to burn yourself!). At this point, turn the pork shoulder over, lower the oven to 300F, re-cover and return the pot to the oven. Cook for another 2 1/2 hours, again checking the pot halfway through to pour some broth over top.

pork partially done

Remove from the oven. Place the pork shoulder on a large chopping board and lightly cover with aluminum foil while you create the gravy.

pork cooked

Making the Gravy
Using a large spoon, skim as much fat off the top of the liquid as you can. Then spoon the vegetables and a fair amount of the remaining broth into a food processor. Lightly puree and pour into a pitcher or gravy boat. The chipotle chile will give it a slight kick but not overwhelmingly so.

Remove the bones from the pork shoulder and “carve” — as much as one can carve meat that is falling apart so deliciously! Place the meat on a platter, lightly salt, and serve.

pork carving

pork gravy boat
To die for.

* In keeping with our goal of using as much local ingredients as possible, I had dried a bunch of poblano peppers (which, dried, are called ancho chiles) several weeks ago when they were in season. I still ended up needing a couple extra dried ancho chiles and a chipotle chile from the market, but the effort was made! To dry your own peppers, place in the oven at around 175F all day long (and you might decide you need to let it go all night as well).

* In our case, we had a couple cups of homemade chicken stock in our freezer which I doubled by combining with a vegetable stock the day before, which was a simple combination of water, 3 carrots, 3 celery ribs, 1 onion, 3 large cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of thyme and a large bunch of parsley — all simmered together for several hours.

table eating main
We served this with a full-bodied red wine, accompanied by a shell bean ragout and some risotto wrapped in chard leaves.

Zucchini Puddings

(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

Following on from Elizabeth David, Richard Olney was assigned the entrée (in the French meaning of the term). Flipping through his cookbook Simple French Food for inspiration, I came across this description: “one of these little puddings, prelude to an amicable chunk of rare meat, might take many a jaded gastronome by surprise.” Well, zucchini are abundant at Gill’s farmstand, and our menu certainly included an “amicable chunk of meat,” so Dick’s zucchini pudding soufflés sounded just the ticket.

Well, delicious it certainly was, but as a soufflé, it was something of a flop (pardon the pun), hence the renaming of the recipe. As an aside, if you’re ever tempted to cook from Richard Olney, bear in mind that “simple” is a complete oxymoron for this publication. Any recipe that reads in part “prepare the béchamel as usual” with no further guidance is not for the novice. These recipes also require a fair bit of stamina and concentration.

Zucchini Puddings

1 lb of zucchini
2 tbs butter

2 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
¾ cup milk

3 eggs, separated

2/3 cup tomato puree (home made – see below)
1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

The first step is to prepare the zucchini: grate about one pound of peeled zucchini (Olney recommends hand-grating or using a Mouli-julienne, but he was writing in 1974; two cycles of the Cuisinart saved me about 2 hours). Arrange the grated zucchini in layers in a bowl, sprinkling each layer with salt, and let stand for 30 minutes. Then work the zucchini with your hands to get the liquid out of it: squeeze it repeatedly “until it is swimming” in juice, strain it a couple of times through a sieve, and press well “to rid it of flagrant moisture.” This is a fairly labor-intensive step and takes a while to get the zucchini properly dried out. Next, sauté the zucchini over a medium flame in a generous amount of butter (well, it is French cooking) until well dried out and starting to color, about 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Next, the béchamel. In a saucepan over a medium flame, melt the butter, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for a minute or two to make the roux. Turn down the heat and add the milk to the roux a little at a time until well combined (this works best if the milk is warmed up for about a minute in the microwave first. Continue to stir until thick and creamy – this will happen fast with only 3/4 cup of milk. You can also use a whisk to keep the sauce free of lumps. Remove the saucepan from heat as soon as the béchamel has thickened and let it cool slightly. Then, mix in the 3 egg yolks one at a time. Season with salt and pepper. Then stir in the cooked zucchini.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add about a third into the béchamel/egg/zucchini mixture to loosen it up, then gently fold in the rest of the beaten egg whites. Take care with this step – do not let yourself become too distracted by interesting political conversations or attention-seeking 3-year-olds and over-mix the egg whites, or the puddings will not rise and you will have to change the name of the dish from souffle to pudding. Don’t worry if you do – they will still taste good.

Pour the mixture into well-buttered ramekins (or a single larger souffle dish). Place the ramekins in a large shallow baking dish. Pull out the oven rack half-way, put the dish on the rack and then pour in enough boiling water to immerse the ramekins to two-thirds of the way up the sides (a bain-marie). Cook at 350F for 20-25 minutes, until the surface of the puddings is firm and springy to the touch. Take ramekins out of the bain-marie and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Turn the oven up to 450F.

While the puddings are cooling, make the tomato sauce: whisk together the tomato puree and cream, season with salt, pepper, cayenne. You can used canned puree, or make your own as we did by cooking up 2 tins of skinless plum tomatoes, a handful of basil and several sprigs of oregano, a few pinches of salt and sugar. Bring this to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Run this through the food mill, then cook it down further for another hour or two until it has a nice thick consistency (this yields much more than you need for this recipe, but tomato puree is quite useful to have around, so we made extra).

Turn the puddings out of the ramekins and return them to a baking dish large enough to hold all of them comfortably. Pour over enough tomato sauce to coat the puddings well, allowing the sauce to run down around them in the dish. Top with grated parmesan cheese and return to the oven for 20 minutes or so, until the surface is browning and the sauce bubbling. Plate and serve, spooning some of the tomato sauce around the puddings.

table post entre
We served this with a viognier wine with decent acidity. The puddings (aka souffles) might not have puffed up to full glory, but they disappeared quickly from the plates.

Chilled Potato, Leek and Onion Soup (with alfalfa / tomato garnish)

amuse grouped
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

The amuse bouche for our 24, 24, 24 dinner was to be inspired by Elizabeth David, a brilliant chef who by many accounts woke the English up to Mediterranean cooking in the 1950s. We wanted something relatively light that could be served in small portions, and Elizabeth David’s potato and watercress soup in French Country Cooking caught our eye.

In our actual implementation, I took the dish more in the direction of a vichyssoise, and garnished with alfalfa and tomato.

Chilled Potato, Leek and Onion Soup (with alfalfa / tomato garnish)

Serves 2 large bowls or 6 small portions

4 medium red potatoes, peeled
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
2 leeks (white to light green portion), diced
3 1/2 cups of whole milk
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
pinch of nutmeg
Handful of cherry tomatoes, carefully minced
Handful of alfalfa sprouts, chopped

Boil the potatoes until tender. In a separate saute pan, melt the butter on low heat and cook the onions and leeks for 20 minutes, stirring periodically.
amuse cookingleeks

Normally I would just use a food mill for a vichyssoise, but we wanted the texture to be really smooth so I added the step of quickly pureeing the potatoes, onion and leeks in a food processor once everything was cooked. Then shift the combination to a food mill on a fine-mesh setting, and run it through the mill into a bowl.


Add the milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir. Then stir in the white wine. Taste for salt and pepper, and you can err just a little bit on the salty side as its effects will be reduced when chilled. Chill in the fridge.

To serve, chop up some alfalfa sprouts and finely mince up some cherry tomatoes (try not to mush it up with the knife). Garnish the top of your servings with a pinch of alfalfa and then a pinch of the tomatoes. Serve with a small spoon.

One of the key criteria for this first course was that we could make it in advance, and serve it with minimal final prep work, since the second course was a complex pudding / souffle. We served it with white wine and it was a hit at the table. The above amount make enough for two full bowls of the soup, and was more than enough for the 6 portions we needed to kick off our dinner.

table starting