Satisfy the Food Snobs
I really love really good food. I come by it honestly (thanks mom). Any inherited food snob tendencies have been further nurtured through my relationship with my husband Jamie, a food lover and critic, literally and figuratively. I have rarely heard Jamie rave about a restaurant as he did about Gjelina after a recent visit to Venice, California. Given his high praise, I did not wait to get my hands on the recently released Gjelina cookbook, written by Chef Travis Lett and beautifully photographed by Toronto’s Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott.
Like many California restaurants, what really shines at Gjelina is the fresh food. The cookbook follows this philosophy and is centred around grains and vegetables. Even the pizzas have vegetables (in a good way).
I love the chapter on condiments and pickles. These are the extra steps that take food from good to great. Some interesting examples – Carrot Top Pistou, with carrot tops, garlic, cheese, citrus, pepitas and coriander seeds, and Mint-Pomegranate Pesto, with fresh pomegranate and lime, which is a suggested topping for roasted kabocha squash.
There were so many delicious looking salads. I considered Escarole and Sunchoke Salad with Smoked Almonds and Preserved Lemon, but decided on Tuscan Kale Salad with Fennel, Radish and Ricotta Salata. Yes, kale salad is done to death but as the authors point out, Italians have been serving kale with lemon and olive oil for a long time. Massaging the kale makes it less fibrous while still retaining a bite. I really liked this salad and unlike most, it could be made in advance and tossed with croutons at the last minute.
I was tempted by Roasted Yams with Honey, Espelette and Lime Yogurt and Pan Roasted Romanesco (Cauliflower) with Golden Raisins, Tahini and Sumac. But I tried Roasted Acorn Squash with Hazelnuts, Brown Butter and Rosemary. Allergies and preference led me to substitute Delicata squash and almonds and the result was salty, sweet and buttery. This would be a great addition to a holiday table.
For dinner, I made Rustic Corn Grits with Mushroom Sugo and Poached Egg. This dish was (reasonably) healthy winter comfort food that would work equally well for brunch. The runny eggs melted into the warm grits and the mushroom sauce. The grits took time to prepare but you could substitute quick cooking grits or polenta.
There was much to choose from in this cookbook, grains and legumes, fish, meat, pasta and pizza. The recipes range from simple to time consuming but are not difficult. This is fresh cooking at its best. If we can’t be hanging out in California, at least we can make this food at home. It satisfies even the toughest critic.