Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Aperitifs

The aperitif hour: Marseille's panisse

PANISSE (1 of 1)Nice has its socca, those thin chickpea pancakes. Down the Mediterranean coast in Marseille the classic is panisse, or fried chickpea cakes. I love them both. And while I often make socca, I’d never tried making my own panisse until a few days ago. I hauled out my well-thumbed copy of “Made in Marseille: Food and Flavors from France’s Mediterranean Seaport” by Daniel Young (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2002).

The Francophile author explains that “panisses were particularly trendy in the 1930s around Marseille’s Old Port as a snack, or paired with a salad as a meal .... Prepared with a porridge-like batter of chickpea flour, the interior of a fried panisse is almost comparable to fried cheese in its creaminess.”

Basically, you’re making a chickpea porridge, stirring all the while just like you would for polenta, but in this case, it takes only 10 minutes, not 40.

I opted for the easy method of cutting them -- spreading the porridge out on an oiled baking sheet, chilling it for a couple of hours and then cutting it into shapes with a cookie cutter. 

You don’t need a deep fryer, just a good skillet with 1/4 inch of oil (I used grapeseed oil.) It’s really very easy. The only trouble I had was that my porridge was lumpy. Lumpy! So after it finished cooking, I passed it through a coarse sieve. I emailed Young to find out what I did wrong: Instead of adding the flour all at once as I did, the trick is to sprinkle it into the water, stirring all the while. [Recipe follows after the jump.]

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Packing for vacation? Don't forget your traveling cocktail bitters

Cocktail travels (1 of 1)Packing your suitcase for a quick weekend or a more leisurely vacation? I know you’ve got your miniature shampoo and lotions. But do you have your traveling cocktail bitters?

Yes, that’s right, a special box of bitters in adorable mini-sizes to ensure you can keep up your cocktail mixing skills while away from home. The German bitters company the Bitter Truth has packed up five little bottles, one each of original celery bitters, old time aromatic bitters, orange bitters, Creole bitters and Jerry Thomas bitters, this last named for arguably the most famous bartender of the 19th century, in its Cocktail Bitters Traveler’s Set.

Think what you could do to upgrade an in-flight martini or gin & tonic with one of these kits!

The wonderful thing: Each bottle is 20 milliliters, therefore — hear, hear! — small enough to be carried in your hand luggage. 

Where did I spy them? On the counter at Silverlake Wine. But they should be widely available at fine wine and liquor stores.


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Photos: The Bitter Truth's Cocktail Bitters Traveler’s Set. Credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times.


The aperitif hour: Fennel-spiced cashews

Fennel-spiced cashewsI tasted these fennel-spiced cashews when journalist, cookbook author and cooking teacher Kaumudi Marathé of un-curry brought them to dinner at a friend’s house. They’re a welcome relief from toasted almonds, and I love their subtle spicing of fennel, coriander and black pepper with a pinch of cayenne or chile powder.

They take only minutes to make, too. Just be sure you allow time for the nuts to cool. Not to panic: When they first come out of the oven, they will be soft, she notes, but they'll firm up after 10 minutes.

I served them last week, in fact, with the bottle of Champagne a friend brought to celebrate her new job. The only change I made was to mix the nuts with olive oil and spices in a bowl before spreading them on a baking sheet.

See the recipe after the jump.

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The apéritif hour: Dan Young's feta-shized popcorn

Popcorn ONE (1 of 1)When New Yorker Daniel Young fell in love with a Brit, the former New York Daily News restaurant critic and author ended up moving to London. And re-inventing his career with the social eating site Young & Foodish--"Eat great food. Meet great people."It was slow going at first, but now BurgerMonday, when he invites young up-and-coming chefs to present their variations on the burger theme, sells out in minutes. If you find yourself in London, it’s worth checking the Young & Foodish site to see what events--BurgerMonday, PizzaTuesday, SpagWednesday, WichThursday, FryFriday and CoffeeSaturday pop-ups—are happening while you’re there. You’ll meet some London foodies around the table and glean up-to-the-minute dining tips. Young is my trusted guide to all things delicious in London. (He's also created the Young & Foodish app for iPhone and Android.)

 When I was last there, I asked the passionate expat cook what he serves with drinks when he invites people over. 

 “London food obsessives are always disappointed when I serve them feta-shized popcorn as apéros at our Stoke Newington loft," he wrote. "They never voice their disappointment but you can see it in their expressions: 'Popcorn? How bloody ordinary!'"

"But soon they are diving in, with the hands, naturally. I doubt even the Queen eats popcorn with a spoon. And soon they can't stop themselves from grabbing increasingly larger fistfuls, greasing and salting their fingers with the melted feta and eating the popcorn noisily. No cocktail would loosen up a stiff Brit as quickly or more effectively."

When I made the popcorn last week for dinner guests, we all had that same greedy reaction. I followed his recipe almost to the letter, but used half the oil and added another big spoonful of Espelette pepper after I’d mixed everything together. 

See Young's recipe for feta-shized popcorn after the jump:

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The apéritif hour: pissaladière

I’ve always loved pissaladièrePiss ONE (1 of 1), the Provençal onion tart topped with slow-cooked onions, anchovies and olives, so I decided to make one to go with drinks for a dinner party last weekend.

I was a little under the weather that day, so I got started late. I had all the ingredients — or so I thought. I rummaged around in the cupboard for the 00 pizza flour I’d bought at Surfas months ago, but never used. I still had some salt-cured anchovies lurking somewhere in the fridge, and turned up some Kalamata olives. Not the traditional Niçoise, but they’d be fine.

I started my dough based on a recipe for pizza that Amy Scattergood (now food editor at L.A. Weekly) developed for The Times' Food section a couple of years ago. Except I forgot she leaves the dough overnight in the fridge to develop. I didn’t have a night or even a few hours, but proceeded anyway.

I add 1 package of yeast to 1 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar. After a few minutes, no bubbles, which means my yeast is dead. Sure enough, the packet expiration date reads 2009. Fortunately, I find another packet dated 2011 and start over. Once the yeast mixture begins to fizz, I stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil and then mix in 2-1/2 cups flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt with a wooden spoon. 

After kneading the dough until it’s soft and elastic, I put it in an oiled bowl covered with a kitchen towel to rise. Since I have just an hour and a half before people start arriving, I cross my fingers that the dough would rise fast enough. My alternative? Making a short pastry crust. I bet on the pizza dough.

Meanwhile, I put my husband to work finely slicing three large onions, instructing him to cook them in a large, heavy skillet with a splash of olive oil. They should be tender, but not browned, which could take a half hour or more.

Back to the sink to clean and filet eight or 10 anchovies (the most time-consuming part of the operation). 

I check the dough. In less than an hour, it had doubled in size. Perfect. I just might make it. I punch down the dough, divide it in half, returning the other half to the fridge for the next day. I’m in such a hurry, I don’t even bother to roll out the dough, just stretch and pull it into a thin round to fit my cast- iron pizza pan.

A spritz of olive oil, and leave it to rest for a half-hour, covered. I cut those large Kalamata olives into strips until I have half a cup, and turn the oven to 450 degrees. 

When the half-hour is up, working fast, I spread the onions over the dough, add the anchovy filets in a lattice pattern and place the olives in the center of each square. Guests are on the way. The pie goes into the oven for about 15 minutes, til the crust is browned and cooked through. Almost ready just as the doorbell rings.

My thrown-together pissaladière was a bit of an ugly duckling, but that crust — the best I’ve ever made. Light and crunchy, wonderful with those sweet onions, salty anchovies and olives, and a perfect match for Tablas Creek Vineyard’s rosé.

My question: How did Elizabeth David manage to compress her recipes into one or two prose paragraphs? She's more of a genius than I ever imagined.


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Photo: pissaladière. Credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times


The apéritif hour: Chopped chicken livers on toast

When I got hold of April Bloomfield’s new book “A Girl and Her Pig,” I zeroed right in on the Brit chef’s recipe for chopped chicken liver on toast. Just looking at the picture, I could tell this would be a definitive recipe. And it is. I expected no less from the chef and co-owner of the New York City gastropub Spotted Pig.

Liver ONE (1 of 1)I made the recipe, which calls for 1/2 pound of chicken livers, which is just enough to spread on four toasts yesterday. And I have to confess, as soon as I was done snapping the photo, I gobbled up two of them with a glass of white Rioja. The flavors are so pure, with just a backbeat of sweetness from the port and a bit of nuttiness from the Madeira. I can see these toasts with a glass of Madeira, too. A great way to stave off hunger if dinner is a ways off.

I’ll let Bloomfield explain the recipe: “A staple at the Spotted Pig, this creamy, still slightly chunky mash of lovely, iron-y livers on toast makes a fine snack, but it’s substantial enough to hold you over while you wait for a friend or a table. Just the thing too, with a glass of wine. The liver mixture is a touch sweet from the Port and the browned garlic and shallots, with a whisper of acidity from the Madeira. Best of all, it takes just a moment to make. Be sure you get a nice color on the livers when you cook them. (I like them slightly pink on the inside for this dish). Be sure to take in the aroma as they cook -- toasty browning liver is one of my favorite smells.”

“I’m not much for pomp on the plate, for presentation that says, 'Look how pretty!' ... I like food to look as if the arrangement were almost accidental, as if it all dropped from above and happened to pile elegantly on the plate.”

That said, it’s hard to make chopped chicken liver look like a beauty queen. It is what it is -- earthy and primal. And Bloomfield’s version is one of the best I’ve tried, right up there with AOC’s Tuscan-style chicken liver crostini. You might want to try both side by side to see which your guests like best.

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The apéritif hour: Roast almonds with paprika

Almonds ONE (1 of 1)Apéritif hour has arrived and you have nothing to serve?

No worries. In the time it takes to chill down a bottle of fino or manzanilla sherry, you can make these roast almonds with paprika from Sam and Sam Clark, the genies behind the restaurant Moro in London (and co-authors of the wonderful “Moro the Cookbook”). The two chefs, who are married, have a great affection for Spain and north Africa. And these almonds dosed with smoked paprika are a delicious twist on the ubiquitous roast almonds in olive oil.

They write, “the word for almond — ‘almendra’ — has roots in the Moorish past, for the Arabs were very partial to them and planted trees all along the Mediterranean coast from Tarragona to Malaga.”

Note: To blanch almonds: bring a pot of water to the boil. Remove from heat, dump in the almonds for about a minute. Drain and cool under running water. Slip the skins off by gently holding between the thumb and forefinger and squeezing.  

Serve with a fino or manzanilla sherry, well-chilled.

Almendras con pimentón

Almonds with paprika (adapted from “Moro the Cookbook” by Sam and Sam Clark, Ebury Press, London, 2001, $27.50 paperback)

Serves 6

About 1/2 pound whole blanched almonds

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika*

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (preferably Maldon), ground to a fine powder

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the almonds on a baking tray and dry-roast in the top of the oven for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and stir in the olive oil, paprika and salt. Return to the oven for a couple more minutes. Remove and cool before eating.

*You can find smoked Spanish paprika at Penzeys Spices in Santa Monica and Torrance, and also online at www.penzeys.com.


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Photos: Roast almonds with smoked paprika. Credit: S. Irene Virbila/Los Angeles Times.

The aperitif hour: Tuna bruschetta

Tuna 4 (1 of 1)Last summer, I was invited for a weekend on Lummi Island in the San Juans, where friends from Seattle were restoring an old fisherman’s house a stone’s throw from the water. The first night we ate at Willows Inn, where the young Noma alum Blaine Wetzel is now a big reason to visit the island. The next, we hooked up the stove and cooked in the kitchen still under construction for the first time. 

We wanted to keep it simple, so we spent some time making some simple bruschetta from ingredients we’d brought with us. The island is so small, there’s not much shopping to be done, certainly not for exotic ingredients. But there’s great crabbing and you can buy seafood directly from fishermen.

It was a beautiful day and Jim and Jennifer set a long table out on the front lawn/meadow. We popped open some rosés and sat down to enjoy a platter of mixed bruschetta, including one topped with canned imported tuna, tomatoes and caramelized onions.

StarKist  won’t do it for a dish like this. You need a high-quality ventresca or tuna belly from Italy or Spain put up in olive oil, which you can find at Italian grocers, such as Guidi Marcello in Santa Monica or online at Corti Brothers in Sacramento. It’s expensive, but one bite signals that this tuna has nothing to do with the ordinary stuff.  

Here’s how to make the bruschetta: Dice a couple of tomatoes. Slice half an onion thinly and caramelize in a little olive oil. Slice a baguette on the diagonal, brush with olive oil and toast on a griddle or in the oven. Top with diced tomato, caramelized onion and the tuna. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with chives.


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Photos: Tuna bruschetta. Credit: S. Irene Virbila/Los Angeles Times

The aperitif hour: Fava beans and pecorino

FavasThis time of year, when fava beans are in season, one of the easiest snacks with a glass of wine is the classic fava beans and pecorino. In Rome right now outdoor market stalls display heaps of the fat green pods. And on May Day, legions of Romans will head out to the countryside for a picnic that includes raw fava beans and pecorino Romano.

I’ve got a bed of fava beans growing in my garden right now, but they’re easy to find at the farmer’s market, too. Serve them in the pod heaped on a platter. The idea is to sit around drinking a crisp cool white, shelling the beans, sprinkling them with sea salt and popping them into your mouth. Alternate with bites of pecorino. That sharp saltiness against the slightly bitter grassiness of the beans is wonderful with Sauvignon Blanc. I like one from Venica & Venica in Friuli.

A friend who grew up outside Rome told me that in spring his grandmother would make cacio e pepe (spaghetti with pecorino and cracked black pepper) with fava beans. Sounds good to me.

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The apèritif hour: Egg & anchovy crostini from Chris Cosentino

CosentinoI recently got hold of a PDF excerpt of Chris Cosentino’s new book, “Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal.” It took me awhile, but I finally peeked inside — what a beautiful book! The photography is stunning, but the design and recipes are made much more personal by quirky drawings that illustrate techniques or how to plate a dish.

Cosentino is best known for his tenure as chef at Incanto in San Francisco. He’s also been on television, competing on "Top Chef" and other shows, and has just opened the restaurant PIGG in Umamicatessen downtown. He’s something of a salumi king, proprietor of Boccalone Salumeria in San Francisco. And he tweets under, get this, the moniker @offalchris.

The book actually comes out May 8 in both hardcover and electronic editions. He’ll be at the Los Angeles Festival of Books this weekend at USC too, where he'll be giving a cooking demonstration on the cooking stage at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. 

Because "Beginnings" is all about Cosentino's favorite ways to start a meal, it has a Egg TWO (1 of 1) number of recipes that could be served at the apèritif hour--and probably many more than I was able to see in the book preview. One that spoke to me is his simple and beautiful recipe for egg and anchovy crostini.

“There is no better way to eat an egg with a runny yolk than on a nice piece of grilled bread," writes the chef. "Topping the egg with briny anchovy fillets and fresh herbs makes a great bite, and the bread turns the whole package into an extraordinary handheld snack.”

I made it last night and loved the rich flavor of the egg (make sure you invest in free-range eggs) against the anchovy and olive oil. New trick: he rubs the lemon on the toasted baguette to scent it with lemon zest.

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