Tag Archives: french

catch of the day: my life in sourdough

In the world of “food television”, there’s not much I like to watch. I’m easily bored by cooking shows, get aggravated by nearly all reality television (thought I did have my Top Chef moment), and am wholly persuaded by Michael Pollan’s observation that more time spent watching food TV inversely correlates with more time in the kitchen (not to mention general culinary proficiency).

But I am an avid fan of culinary cinema, works that seek to tell a story beyond who can quickly bang out canapés for 500 guests and actually delve into the story behind the food—see Hiro Dreams of Sushi, Toast, or Kings of Pastry. That said, I don’t often have the time to watch a two hour film, and wish there were more short-form cinematic food programs.


Enter My Life In Sourdough , a just-launched cooking show by filmmaker Marie Constantinesco, a French transplant and baking aficionado living in Brooklyn. Admittedly, if there was an equation for things that are likely to please me, Food + French + NYC would be a pretty good bet. But there’s an elegance and quirky honesty to Marie’s work that speaks to both an intelligent, subtle French sense of humor (that I very much appreciate) and the wondrous absurdity of being young today in Brooklyn.

I had the pleasure to meet with Marie and speak about the series, her own experience with cooking and the differences between home-cooking culture in New York and France:

What inspired the series, and how did it come to be?
My Life In Sourdough was inspired by my love for food and film. I wanted to do a new kind of cooking show involving a narrative and decided to tell the story of a girl looking for food and for love in NY. Food was going to be the link between the characters. The series was developed as an independent study at NYU (I’m a thesis student in the Graduate Film Program) and we started shooting the series with a really small budget and a tiny crew of very talented fellow filmmakers.

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Is this your first foray into the food world?
Prior to the series, I had already been playing with food themes in previous short films (Too much strawberry jam, which involved an intense making out/bread kneading session) and I have been shooting food and blogging about food for a while—but food was never really the sole focus. So yes, the series is my first real food world adventure.
 
Any particular funny/interesting stories about the production of the series?
There are a few! From shooting at 6 am in Choice Green in torrential rain (It was literally raining in the store and, if you look close enough, you can actually see the rain in the scene with the made-from-scratch guy!), to feeding the crew prop food to save money (we used the pasta we made in the scene for lunch!).For episode 4, we also needed one shot in the waiting room of an ER. I scouted a grungy hospital, but there was a lot of security and I thought we would never get away with shooting there without permission. On the day of, we went in with a tiny camera. We sat down quietly, I hid the microphone in my handbag and we stole the shot in less than 10 minutes. The security guards couldn’t care less. 

What’s already in store for the future of the show/where would you like to see it go?
I’m planning on shooting another season in the fall in NY – it’s my favorite season on this side of the Atlantic and I can’t wait to shoot in corn fields and apple orchards. A season in Paris is also on my mind. Eventually I would love to develop the series in a longer format. I’m currently looking for producers and investors.
 
Are there any food films/series that you particularly like and respect?
I love In the Mood for Love, which is not a food film per se, but I particularly like the slow motion scenes where Maggie Cheung goes down the stairs to buy her daily dose of noodles. The sensual atmosphere that comes with slow motion was an inspiration for the food videos of My Life in Sourdough, shot by Chananun Chotrungroj who brought her great sense of framing and aesthetics to the series.I also really like Rachel Khoo’s BBC series, and while not a film, Clotilde Dusoulier’s series on French food idioms is quite fascinating!

When and how did you start baking?
I started baking and cooking fairly young, watching my parents cook. My Romanian grandmother was also a serious baker, and I would make hundreds of biscuits with her every Christmas. My first cookbook was called La cuisine sans maman (“Cooking without mum”), but my first cooking endeavors quickly became family gatherings over mini-disasters. I once attempted to make some powered sugar and mint syrup candy balls that would refuse to come into shape. My mum invited along the postman to help out, and the green liquid paste magically turned into candy—but they tasted horrible. 

The kitchen has always been a place of exploration for me. It’s the place where I go when I’m down, and I’ll make a rhubarb jam to cheer me up. The place I like to invite friends—to cook with me or eat the new cheesecake I’ve just made. It’s also the place where I can close the door, turn on the radio, and create something. I also love how you know very quickly when it’s working or when it’s a fail, and sometimes I wish making films would resemble that process.

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How would you compare home cooking culture in France vs. New York?
Typically in NY people have less time—they drink or eat their breakfast on the street, and tend to eat out or do take out for dinner. The tradition of home-cooked meals is not as rooted as in France, but it’s changing, as there is a growing movement towards home-cooking in NY, and farmer’s markets are becoming more and more popular.In France, where a croissant used to be the only thing that was acceptably eaten on-the-go, people now tend to devote less time to eating lunch. For instance, the two hour lunch break has often been reduced to one hour, hence more and more sandwiches eaten on the street. However, it seems that the tradition of family dinners remains somewhat unshaken, even though the communal table is often facing a television.

Eventually, the main difference is that in France, people are so obsessed by food that they can’t stop talking about it. Even in a “non-foodie” family, it’s not rare for a dinner conversation to focus exclusively around food. Reminiscing over extraordinary food experiences makes the best dinner conversation!

MLIS - bleu (1)

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eater’s digest: buvette

There are some restaurants that fit like a glove. Barely through the door, even without seeing the menu, you sense familiarity. It’s not quite déjà vu, because you’ve rarely seen this before – your kind of restaurant, manifested in the flesh.

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Now that doesn’t mean this is the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten in. Of course, it has to be great. But a restaurant that feels like you imagined it yourself is not a constant succession of “wow!” moments. Like Alice in Wonderland, you’ve tried the bottles that made you bigger and smaller. That was good fun, but this is the bottle that will turn you back to “just right”.

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Getting to the point, this restaurant – for me, in New York – is Buvette. The first time I went there, I had only a glass of wine and two small plates, but that was enough. From then on, I called it “my favorite restaurant in New York”. Sure, I cock my head to think after saying it, knowing I’ve had more earth-shaking meals elsewhere, but that’s not the point.

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The point is the charm, the desire to return, again and again. The waiters and bar staff that range from pleasantly gruff to more than accommodating, all dressed in dapper ties and half-aprons. The random assortment of ceiling mirrors that reflect the hustle and bustle of the small space. The conscious and obvious eaves-dropping of the conversations around you. The bathroom whose haphazard “je ne sais quoi” qualities make you wish you had brought your camera.

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But for all my affection, it was just this month that I ate a full, proper meal at Buvette. I brought along one of my favorite eaters – a friend whose wealth of cultural experiences has not dampened her enthusiasm for simpler pleasures (case in point: her favorite food is macaroni and cheese). I introduced her to brandade de morue, a long-time provencale favorite of mine. Buvette’s was an appropriate balance of creamy and light, briny and balanced. We followed with more seafood, an octopus salad with celery that stunned with its simplicity. If there was a dish of food to eat every day it might be this. Tender, crunchy, refreshing, textural.

sides

As for sides, I insisted on poireaux. To get properly cooked leeks is always a pleasure, and these were cooked in the traditional French vinaigrette style, tender (but not mushy) with an ample dose of whole grain moutarde. As for the cauliflower gratin (chosen by Ms. Mac n’ Cheese), it was a reminder of this overlooked vegetable’s myriad magical qualities. I’ll take mashed, steamed, pureed or roasted cauliflower over the omnipresent potato any day.

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And then, the pièce de résistance. I had heard rumors about this chocolate mousse – that it was whipped by hand in copper bowls to achieve a most wonderful texture. However, I could never have imagined what I was about to experience. Luxurious, dense, creamy, resistant and yet yielding – I’m not sure you can even legitimately call it mousse. It’s too intense to eat alone, even with its dollop of exquisite whipped cream. The essence of dessert, hailing from a time before we decided to emulate the hyper-sweet, high fructose corn syrup universe in which we currently live. In short – and in summary – it’s not to be missed.

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eater’s digest: calliope

One of the (only) downsides of having lived in Paris is that New Yorkers assume I’m an authority on French food in New York. Truth be told, I’m a “when in Rome” kind of eater, and have rarely discovered NYC eateries that resemble the fresh, creative and elegant preparations I grew to love in France. Instead, I typically find fussy, heavy cuisine – a fault I assign not so much to the chefs, but moreso to American diners’ expectations of “French” food.

Anchovy toasts with raw radishes

That said, every once in a while – and often when I am least seeking it – I discover a restaurant that so utterly embodies the food of France that it bypasses nostalgia and heads straight to simple pleasure. No restaurant in New York has done this more for me than the recently opened Calliope, in the East Village.

A few weeks before Calliope opened, I saw chef Ginevra Iverson speak at a panel about the Farm Bill, where I was impressed by her no-nonsense views on sustainability in restaurant cooking. I thus came to her restaurant expecting something akin to Northern Spy Food Co (which I also love), but discovered a more subtle approach to seasonal eating. In fact, it resembled the perspective of the Parisian chefs I know: that we should eat seasonably because it tastes better, requiring no further, self-conscious examination of edible ethics.

Leek and lobster terrine

The food at Calliope was beautiful, from the complimentary anchovy toasts (saltily paired with peppery raw radishes) to the warm, home-baked madeleines we received as a goodbye treat. But no dish was more visually stunning than my favorite, the leek and lobster terrine. Here, the noble leek (which is so often cooked to smithereens) was allowed a bit of al dente. The lobster was a clean complement with its meaty flesh, tarragon added herbal complexity, and a crunchy dose of sea salt sealed the textural deal.

Chicken with chanterelles

We followed the terrine with the tomato tart, an uniquely red and intensely flavorful use of this omnipresent fruit. Also impressive was the elegant, golden-crusted roast chicken with chanterelles, a dish that harkened back to the true French classics. On the other hand, the less typically French rabbit pappardelle was not a flavor or textural combination I enjoyed, though the rabbit itself was very well cooked and Pete Wells seems to have appreciated it. As for the sides, the chard and sorrel gratin was rich, but less so than expected – a perfect definition of modern French cuisine.

Homemade madeleines

Calliope
84 East Fourth Street
(212) 260-8484

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recipes: cooking with tea

The food-pairing trend may have started with wine and cheese, but in recent years has burgeoned into a full-blown industry, with events featuring products from whisky to kimchi. Tea pairing has become an increasingly popular alternative to alcoholic pairings, inspiring a tangential interest in culinary uses for tea.  At the forefront of this movement is French tea brand, Le Palais des Thés, which recently launched an online US store and has plans for a New York storefront in the coming years.  I sat down with Aurélie Bessière, president of the company’s American branch, to learn more.

I recently learned that tea was actually introduced into France more than thirty years before coffee and made popular by Cardinal Mazarin and Louis XIV.  Can you speak a bit about the French tea tradition?

The French tea tradition, introduced in the 17th century, was always less popular than coffee, but has grown. In France, we always look for the best quality and taste [in food], and it is the same with tea. We want to find the freshest and most interesting product available.

What distinguishes Le Palais des Thés from other French tea brands?

Le Palais des Thés was founded when my uncle, François-Xavier Delmas, first discovered a passion for tea. He opened the first store in Paris and quickly decided to go to the plantations in Asia to select the leaves himself, to pursue the best quality. This was and still is unusual, as tea companies tend to go through intermediaries. He then opened a tea school in Paris, the only institution of its kind in Europe. Students learn about blends, regions and crus, as well as tea ceremonies and food pairing. The most popular class is tea and cheese pairing – very French!

Have you noticed any difference in American tea culture vs. French tea culture?

We didn’t expect this, but in the US there are more male customers (30%) than in France (25%). What remains consistent is that our customers tend to be loyal tea drinkers and that the most popular teas are our signature creations (such as Thé du Hammam, Thé des Moines, and Thé des Lords) and grands crus (such as our Darjeeling first flushes and Korean Jukro.).

Has the growing interest in tea pairing affected your production style?

The growing interest in tea pairings has not changed our philosophy. Our focus is on quality and rarity first. Then, of course, we take an interest in how we can use the teas in cooking and pairings – we’re French after all! What is different is that we have begun to use the teas in more interesting ways, and we now provide suggestions for pairings.

In what ways have you collaborated with other culinary professionals to explore the tea pairing trend?

We have a history of collaborating with chefs in France, most notably on a tea-based cookbook, which is currently only available in French, but will be available in English in the future. We have also partnered with chefs for events. For example, in New York City, we organized a class with the French Culinary Institute and chef Melanie Franks about tea pairings and tea-based cooking. We are also the proud House Purveyor of tea for the James Beard Foundation for all events at their House in New York.

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au marché: richard lenoir market, paris

It is difficult to pick a favorite market in Paris – some have the best prices, others have higher quality or more unusual products and a few have simply incredible ambiance.  But if I had to pick one market in Paris to be the “best” market for first-time visitors to the city, I would pick the Marché Richard Lenoir.

This renown market is impressive in both its size and the diversity of its products.  Stretching north of Place de la Bastille (under the watch of the famous monument’s gleaming angel), this twice weekly market fills a fountain-lined promenade with a motley crew of both vendors and shoppers.  As you enter on the Bastille end, you will walk past cheap clothing and hygiene/beauty products, followed by kitchenware merchants.  You will then see stands of prepared/hot foods, fruits and vegetables, and eventually dairy, meat and seafood.  Once deeply entrenched in the market, specialty vendors of Italian goods, honey, spices or wine will also dot your path.  (Word to the wise: it is worth walking the entire loop of the market before deciding on any purchases.  And a line typically means that a vendor has good value and/or high quality products).

The ever-elusive olive fougasse.

There are two elusive and addictive foodstuffs sold at this market that I have never found of equal quality elsewhere in the city.  The first of these is fougasse, a doughy webbed bread, that I prefer stuffed with black olives.  This particular Parisian delight is an obsession of my bread-loving sister (who, ironically, doesn’t like olives, but apparently loves olives encased in perfectly fluffy, soft bread).  The second time I lived in Paris, my apartment was steps from the Richard Lenoir market – and I can actually recall waking up at the crack of dawn, rolling my suitcase to the bread stand (before they were even officially set up),  and purchasing still-warm fougasse, just to hail a taxi and hop on a plane back to the ‘States – just so she can have it (relatively) fresh. (Yes, it’s really that good).

Pain au thym, Deliciously bubbling away.

The second of these products is less portable, unfortunately.  Pain au thym  is a lebanese flat bread spread with olive oil and za’atar – a middle eastern spice blend of thyme, marjoram, oregano, sesame and salt.  Heated over a cast-iron dome, the circular flatbread is then folded into parchment paper, piping hot and ready to eat.

Pain au thym, tempting to burn your tongue with briny salt and crispy thyme.

After thirty seconds of impatience (which are necessary, I have in overeager moments burned my tongue), the fragrant bread is ready to bite – inundating your taste buds with an herbaceous, salty and slightly acidic punch.  An empty stomach is an undisputed prerequisite for such a market trip, but filling that stomach immediately with pain au thym more than gratifies the short-term sacrifice (and may help inspire moderation during the rest of your shopping experience).

Famous Foodie Andrew Zimmern, just buying some supplies for a batch of bacon ice cream.

Last but not least, this is a market well-worn by savvy tourists, and thus easier to navigate for English speakers than others (for example, the nearby Place d’Aligre market, which is very popular and often preferred for daily shopping by full-time residents of the quartier).

Scouting the market on a Thursday morning with my fougasse-loving sister.

If you have the chance, check out the Richard Lenoir market early on a Thursday.  It is far less packed than it will be on Sunday, and thus easier to grab the elusive fougasse (which tends to sell out in the first couple hours).

For more coverage of the Marché Richard Lenoir, check out expat foodie David Lebovitz’s perspective.  And don’t forget to visit Catherine, his favorite chicken lady.

Finger-lickin' chicken. Roasting away and dripping all the love and goodness onto some fingerling potatoes.

My mother's favorite RL product - plump, flower-like artichokes

My most famous RL purchase, an octopus! To read about how I cooked it, head here: http://laviefranglophone.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/foodaphilia-poulpe/

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recipe: gluten-free madeleines

Studying food culture in France, it was impossible to avoid Proust.  In fact, I had already encountered his famous “madeleine de Combray” (link to story in english, french) in high school – and recall struggling with his run-on, pensive sentences.

But as I grew older, and more interested in the history of culinary criticism, I began to appreciate Proust’s summary of the essential relationship between food and memory:

“…when nothing subsists of an old past, after the death of people, after
the destruction of things, alone, frailer but more enduring, more immaterial,
more persistent, more faithful, smell and taste still remain for a long time,
like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, upon the ruins of all the rest,
bearing without giving way, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense
edifice of memory”.

I also learned that pondering while dipping a madeleine in a tasse du thé (cup of tea) was an excellent habit to acquire.

I’ve since made quite a few batches of madeleines, and have yet to find a recipe I swear by.  So this time, I adapted a recipe myself – inspired by a Parisian amie who is boldly going gluten-free in the bread-centric capital.

 

See the original recipe posting at HonestCooking.com.

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seen and heard: French & American Perspectives on Food & Nutrition

This week, I had the pleasure of attending a conference on “French and American Perspectives on Food and Nutrition” at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

The French view of "American" Food - BBQ sauce, marshmallow fluff, creamy salad dressing, various canned goods...

With speakers from various sectors and cultural biases – ranging from researchers at the Institut Paul Bocuse to the much-lauded Marion Nestle – the conference covered everything from epigenetics to American terroir.

The presenters touched on subjects from food politics in the 1980s to the French preference for three-course meals, but a few key themes emerged from the wide array of research:

  •  The French, on the whole, are more open to the relationship between food and social responsibility.  The American media – despite the increased presence of scholars and journalists who portray these issues as political or systemic problems – continues to portray health as a personal, individual pursuit (especially when it comes to obesity).
  • The French openly flout some of the most common advice provided by nutrition professionals (for example, “don’t eat dinner late in the evening”).  They do, however, maintain a certain reverence for the pleasure of eating, spend more time preparing food, and involve the whole family in the food preparation process.  (Studies have shown that the amount of food one consumes is inversely correlated to the amount of time one spends preparing food.  Aka – the longer you take cooking, the more likely you are to appreciate and value your food – and the less likely you are to overeat).
  • Epigenetics is a field that is likely to take the forefront in the way we understand nutrition, as well as social and personal responsibility.  We are only beginning to realize the dramatic effect that our diet and environment can have on the expression of our genes (and the genes of our future offspring – not to mention the fact that French researchers have found that our food preferences start developing in utero).
  • There is a future for “terroir” in the United States.  In Vermont, initiatives to preserve or cultivate traditional methods for producing maple syrup and artisanal cheese are revealing that the American public has a vested interest in the value of food traditions.  And as the locavore movement continues to pick up speed, (Husk, an uber-local Southern restaurant was named Best New Restaurant in America, 2011 by Bon Appétit), this is the perfect time for local food communities to take pride in products specific to their region.

Parisian "petite fille" joins "maman" at the market.

Yet even more fascinating than the multitude of topics presented by the speakers was the diverse perspectives of the conference attendees.  Their varied backgrounds – from an AirFrance employee passionate about pastry to a landscape designer curious about the social effects of gardens – spoke to the intimate and influential role food plays in the lives of each and every person.

After a few days’ reflection, I find myself lingering on one cultural distinction between the US and France. While I have no statistics to back up this claim, my personal experience and research in Paris has taught me that the French appreciation for the “art of eating” is matched (if not surpassed) by an insatiable desire to talk about food.  Everyone has an opinion, a story, a discovery to share – and the discussion about food reaches far beyond the confines of the table.  Moreover, meals are not one of many possible moments for socialization in France; they are the moment for community and social interaction – so much so that a threat to the quality of mealtime is considered a threat to French-ness itself.

The dangers of letting the media define our relationship with food.

On the American side, we are experiencing a veritable food revolution and the exponential growth in media buzz around food is absolutely astounding.  But does watching the Food Network or Top Chef religiously translate into spending more time in the kitchen or participating in meaningful conversations about food in our day-to-day lives?

Americans may be increasingly food-obsessed, but we are not yet adequately food-conscious.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of the food media, but I fear that, unless we stop primarily taking our cues from the fantasy-land of the “food stars” and start basing our appreciation of food in our own experience (and our own kitchens), we will forever be missing the je ne sais quoi that distinguishes food as culture, rather than a commodity.

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ingredient: cephalopods

I’ve always had a certain fondness for creatures of the deep.  This isn’t entirely unexpected, as I grew up by the water and my grammar school had its own private beach.  I can still toss marine biological tidbits into normal conversation – about the sex lives of slipper limpets, for example, (they’re hemaphrodites of the “sequential” variety) or how to decipher the gender of a crab.  Heck, I summer-camped on a historic schooner, my favorite beany baby was “Inky” the octopus, and even my college application essay began with the phrase “I love tunafish”.  But at a certain point, my affection for all the fishies-in-the-sea became a hierarchy, in which the cephalopod was king.

Random shot from a Parisian photo gallery - I call it "cephalopod clothesline".

Squid, octopus, cuttlefish and their ilk make up the class “cephalopoda”.  They are perhaps some of the most “alien” underwater creatures known to man – inspiring everything from childhood curiosity to intense fear (Note to self: do not watch late-night Discovery Channel features on the legend of giant squid.)  So odd are they in form and fashion that, for most, nothing about them inspires hunger.  That is, until you eat them.

For me it started very simply – fried calamari.  By the age of 13, I was a fried calamari authority, preferring the legs to the body and a light tempura-y batter to a greasy, dense crunch.

Yet, for many years, “calamar” (as my American-Italian-ish peers would say) was my only cephalopod exposure.  That is, until the summer before college, when my family boarded a sailboat from Istanbul to the Greek isles.

"Dinner!", as they say in Oia.

It was on the beach in Oia, on the island of Santorini – largely considered the most photographed place in Greece – that I first was inspired to eat octopus.  As I lay tanning, a beautifully bronzed man with a snorkel mask splashed around in the waves.  Just as I was dozing off, he lept – victorious – from under the waves, exclaiming (in Greek) what I can only imagine was “DINNER!” – for there in his hands was an aubergine, writhing octopus.  After the commotion died down (and my sister got over the fact that she was just swimming around with such creatures), we jumped back on our 4x4s and raced off to eat our own little lunch.  It was that day, in a shack teetering off the cliffs, that I first sampled fresh, grill-blackened octopus.

From there on, calamari took a back seat to its larger, wilder cousin.  From baby octopus slow-roasted in sauce (Trattoria Il Panino, Boston) to refreshing octopus salad (Otto, New York), I preached the octopus gospel high and low, to any fellow eater who would listen.

"Pouple en promotion" (Octopus on sale)

And then I moved to Paris.  It was there, for the first time, that I saw an octopus for sale.  But during those first six months of study-abroad, I was too intimidated by the prospect of de-scaling or de-shelling fresh-caught seafood (let alone butchering and cleaning an octopus) to purchase a single item from a poissonerie.  But the following year, when I returned to study food culture (and had learned that the poissonier would clean and prep your fish for you), I finally attempted to cook my favorite edible beast.  (Click here for more on my octopus-cooking adventure).

Yet octopus was not to be my ultimate cephalopod obsession.  It was on my 21st birthday, in Venice, that I first discovered my true cephalopod love, the cuttlefish.  And in particular, cuttlefish ink.

In the United States, it is often possible (in high-end Italian groceries) to buy dried black pasta.  This pasta is dyed with cuttlefish ink, an ingredient you’ll be hard-pressed to find sold independent of the dyed-pasta format.  But in Venice, nero di seppia runs through the restaurants like water through the canals.  From risotto to spaghetti – if there is a pasta product in sight, it can be spruced up with this dark and mysterious sauce.   It was in a little trattoria off the Campo San Leonardo that I first tried this truly unique Venetian delight.  I can still remember the lighting, where I sat at the table, the way the parsley decorated the plate.  This was a truly incomparable flavor – like none I had tasted before or would ever taste again after.

Spaghetti al nero di seppia (Venice)

Luckily, in Paris, fishmongers sell miniature packets of l’encre de seiche, perfect for a plate of risotto for two.  I seduced all my friends and lovers with black risotto for months on end, excited to introduce them to the little-known ingredient.

It soon dawned on me, upon moving to New York, that I had left my steady supply of cheap, perfectly-sized packets of cuttlefish ink behind.  And for a time, I could not find cuttlefish ink at all, let alone in a cheap or convenient format.  And then came Eataly.  On a whim, I asked if they sold nero di seppia, and the fishmonger looked at me as if I had 5 heads.  But upon consulting with an Italian colleague, he brought me a small (and expensive) jar from the storage room.  It almost seemed a black market for black ink– but I eagerly paid the steep price.  (Note: these days, you can find cuttlefish ink just sitting out by the anchovies and other pre-portioned fish products at Eataly).

And so my days of black risotto, paella, and pasta entertaining resumed.  But my American comrades were less adventurous eaters than my Parisian pals (and more likely to be strict vegetarians), and eventually, my zeal for serving ink-sauce entrees waned to an infrequent whim.

There were glimmers of hope of course.  A squid-ink soup at Kin Shop.  A particularly lovely paella negra dinner party.  Then finally, a particularly unappetizing plate of spaghetti al nero di seppia (in Venice of all places) abruptly brought my affair with cuttlefish to an unexpected end.

Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish, Taste of China

That is, until this weekend.  I was in Connecticut, visiting my parents for a day or two, when they suggested we try out a new “authentic” Chinese restaurant, Taste of China.  Given my previous experience with “authentic” ethnic food in suburbia, I was just hoping for a less-greasy plate of General Tso’s chicken.   And then I saw the menu.  “Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish” – it was too good to be true! For despite my love of cuttlefish ink, I had never actually eaten (but a morsel of) the beast itself.

My mother laughed when it came to table.  Nubby little fried bits of perfectly seasoned cephalopod.  Resistant, but far from rubbery, and served atop a refreshing shaved salad – it was everything I could have ever hoped the little bugger would turn out to be.

So now, a new cephalopod adventure: learn to cook and clean a fresh-caught cuttlefish.  Perhaps by the end of 2013?  I dare say this one might require some traveling…

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