Out Of The Archives:
Zucchini Provencal

Zucchini3645

Zucchini Provencal in my kitchen

One way to use the end of abundant summer growing season vegetables – tomatoes and zucchini – is to make this simple side dish, Zucchini Provencal. French home cooks tend to cook zucchini until it is almost mushy. So feel free to experiment with the cooking time, and make it to your taste and preference.

Ingredients:
1 onion
2-3 medium sized zucchini
2 tomatoes
dried basil
ground pepper
olive oil

Directions:
Chop all of the vegetables in large chunks.
In a saute pan, heat some olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
Add some ground pepper and dried basil.
When the oil is hot, add the chopped onions.
Saute the onions until they start to clear.
Add the zucchini and stir.
Add the tomatoes and stir.
Saute until the tomatoes release their juice, the onions have become clear and the zucchini is soft the whole way through.

Serve hot as a side dish or a big bowl of it for a meal. It goes great with a big chunk of fresh baguette smeared with butter. I’ve also used it as a filling for a savory galette with parmesan cheese.

Et Voila!

Bon Appetit!

Out Of The Archives:
Mara’s Italian Pastries

SFMaraBakery0949

It’s almost impossible to walk by Mara’s Italian Pastries on Columbus in North Beach without stopping in for a pastry, a slice of focaccia or pizza, or a biscotti and a cup of espresso. At the very least you’ll want to stand at the storefront window for a moment and take in the beauty of all that pastry.

Mara’s pastries are crispy and flaky. Squeezing them a little to make them bite size, or breaking them apart, creates a free fall of crumbs. The almond croissants will give you a marzipan hangover, and the raspberry rings with chocolate are just lovely. Cannoli is the reason why many people stop in here after having dinner at one of the nearby restaurants, or before catching Beach Blanket Babylon which is right around the corner.

The pizza and focaccia are made in the Italian bakery style, not the restaurant style, and are not meant to be heated up, but rather eaten at room temperature, whatever that temperature is. Probably another thing to keep in mind is that the French pastries on offer will be made in an Italian style, so purchase without expectations and you might be delighted.

The pastries are not marked with name cards, so pointing here is allowed.

Mara’s Italian Pastries
503 Columbus Avenue
between Green & Stockton
San Francisco, CA 94133
415.397.9435

Hours: Su – Thu: 7am – 10:30pm; F – Sa: 7am – midnight

Out Of The Archives:
Sweet Crêpes

CREPES3484

Chestnut Crêpes in my kitchen

You can find many different kinds of Crêpes in Parisian restaurants and cafes as well as at the to-go windows of the Crêperies throughout the busy sections of the city. Filled with anything from ham and eggs to chantilly – whipped cream – these petite meals, or just plain treats, are easy to make and a truly versatile, standard fare in Paris!!

A Little History

French crêpes originated in Bretagne, in the west of France, although you will find a form of them throughout all the regions of Europe. Crêpes have probably been around since French cooks first started cooking with wheat. They are traditionally thought of as a French dish, but they have history in ancient Rome, as well as every other ancient culture that figured out how to mix up a batter and use a fire. The difference is that the French, of course, have made crêpe making into an art form!

Created as a substitute for bread when wheat was scarce, their main duty is to serve as a vehicle for transporting the fillings inside them. Crêpes can take on two forms, savory and sweet. Savory Crêpes, or Galettes, are heavy and earthy tasting, made with buckwheat flour. Sweet Crêpes are light and sweet and made with wheat flour and a little sugar. A meal made of crêpes can be easy and fun to make as well as filling.

The difference between pancakes and crêpes is that the crêpe batter is thinner and is spread very thinly with a long tongued spatula over the entire surface of the crêpe pan, while a pancake is made from a thicker batter that gets plopped by the spoonful onto a hot greasy skillet.

Crêpes!

A Basic Sweet Crêpe Recipe

This is a small recipe inspired by The Joy of Cooking and is enough for one person. To make more, just double or triple the recipe.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup flour – all purpose or pastry; whole wheat is too heavy so don’t use that
1/4 cup of milk of your choice
1/8 cup water at room temperature
1 egg
3 teaspoons of sugar – fine white sugar is best, turbinado is not a good choice for this recipe
1 tablespoon of melted butter
Pinch of salt

Powdered confectioner’s sugar to sprinkle on top.
Add a pinch, just a pinch, of cinnamon to the batter for flair.

Utensils:
Mixing bowl
A ladle, or 2 cup liquid measuring cup with a spout
Crêpe pan or a seasoned cast iron griddle will do, but a skillet won’t work for this project because it has sides which prohibit turning the crêpe
A long tongued metal spatula

Directions:
Combine all of the ingredients in the mixing bowl and stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened.
Let the batter stand for at least 30 minutes, until the flour has absorbed the moisture.
The batter can be kept in the frigo for up to 2 days.
Have your filling ingredients ready and handy.
Heat the griddle on a medium heat.
Rub the hot griddle with butter until it is covered.
Pour about two or three tablespoons of batter onto the center of the pan/griddle and spread it out with the spatula towards the edges of the pan, making it as thing as possible.
When the crêpe has set and the underside is a bit golden, use the spatula to turn the crêpe.
If you are making crêpes for a meal, then grab a plate. When the crêpe is done, spoon on the filling, spreading out over half of the crêpe.
Fold the crêpe in half, then in half again making a triangule shape.

Fillings:
Spread half of the crêpe with Nutella or another kind of melted or spreadable chocolate.
Warmed fruits such as sautéed apples or peaches, jams, sauces or fruit or nut purees make wonderful fillings.
Simple sweet crêpes can be solely brushed with butter for a simple treat.
Top sweet filled crêpes with whipped cream or dust with powdered sugar.
You can roll the crêpe into a cylinder around the stuffing rather than folding it into triangles.
Variations of crêpes are limited only by your imagination!

Serve warm.

Bon Appétit!

What Is Culture?

The other day, someone asked via twitter “What is culture?” It was asked in the context of travel, in the sub-context of cultural travel.

artist-at-large is all about cultural travel, but even though I can define culture for myself and how I travel, and in terms of this site, the question has had me thinking about the definition of culture, specifically how Americans today think of culture. How deep do they go when they travel for cultural reasons?

The etymology of the modern term “culture” has a classical origin. In English, the word “culture” is based on a term used by Cicero in his ‘Tusculan Disputations’, where he wrote of a cultivation of the soul or “cultura animi”, thereby using an agricultural metaphor to describe the development of a philosophical soul, which was understood teleologically (they involve aiming at goals) as the one natural highest possible ideal for human development. Samuel Pufendorf took over this metaphor in a modern context, meaning something similar, but no longer assuming that philosophy is man’s natural perfection. His use, and that of many writers after him “refers to all the ways in which human beings overcome their original barbarism, and through artifice, become fully human” — Wikipedia

The idea of culture is complex and both broad and simplistic at the same time. It can be defined by one unifying and defining detail of a group – such as language, or diet, or even the landscape where the group resides. Or it can be broad in the sense that it is a common characteristic of all of humanity.

In the sense of cultural travel though, the idea is traveling to really experience the culture of a place – food, language, art, archaeology, history, education, community – not only how people in a certain place live in that moment, but how they have evolved or devolved over time, how they got to where they are.

What does culture, or cultural travel, mean to you?