Of all the regions of Italy, the further South you go, the more things heat up. Our hearts are always with Tuscany, but other regions of our bodies and souls are more South, finally arriving at the epicenter of a dizzy feeling of ardor… Sicily. This dish, Shrimp Puttanesca, is ground zero in sexiness.
This dish is a real classic and very popular in restaurants all over the world. As always with Italian dishes, Scampi requires the highest quality ingredients to be really memorable. Here in our wild savory kitchen, we are always looking to find the most umami flavors possible, along with the most authentic ingredients. We have always felt that the usual Shrimp Scampi you would be served in a restaurant… which is generally just lots of butter, garlic and Italian parsley… wasn’t explosive enough in taste. We wanted to make a memorable version… and this is it.
Of the 14 regions in the city of Rome, my favorite area to wander around with Rebekah is Trastevere, arm in arm, taking our time… strolling within its maze of narrow winding cobblestone streets. We like to get lost there. First we go to the Coliseum, stare in awe, and then we head for Trastevere to eat.
This extravagant and decadent umami bomb feast is simple and quick to prepare but fantastically savory… for us, this is the ultimate comfort food. We have combined the cheesiness of Au Gratin with the creaminess of Scalloped Potatoes, along with smoked meats, wild mushrooms, and herbs of Provence like tarragon, thyme and rosemary.
In our wild savory kitchen, we are always searching for new flavor combos, creating dishes which explode with umami tastes that are unique. This simple little feast is a mashup of different cuisines, like worlds colliding in your mouth.
This is a taste of rustic Italy, where we first learned the meaning of the word “abbondanza”. This is the Italy of our deepest memories, authentic and imposing, like the looming Medieval fortified hill towns of Tuscany.
For us a pot of clams and pasta brings a certain serenity. Living along the coast of the Monterey Bay, we are always amazed at the abundance of the ocean… but at the same time, shellfish makes us ravenous. Sweet, meaty, briny… they embody the taste of the sea. Toss in some chewy spaghetti or some hair fallen from an angel to soak up their natural juices released when steamed, some tomatoes for a summery freshness, each chubby clam simmering in the lemon/garlic/butter/wine reduce sauce… and you have a little feast that is both simple and extravagant.
Some meals are simply perfect. This light pasta is amazing on a lazy summer day with ice cold champagne, or a romantic warm evening with rose. Actually, it’s wonderful any time and any place on Earth, because this little feast will make it a special event.
Cuban hash, called Picadillo, is one of the most popular dishes in Cuba and after making this little feast several times, we are also head over heels in love. Most often we prepare this little feast with pork, but sometimes we use ground turkey thighs from free range and air chilled birds.
Black bean sauce is very deep in our memory, a passionately held love affair from all the fabulous meals we enjoyed in the Chinatowns of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. They were seafood dishes filled with authenticity and gravitas, and packed with Umami. This little feast brings those extraordinary dishes into our own wild savory kitchen.
For years we have returned again and again to this simple savory feast… it’s like an old trusted friend. We just tossed this chubby duck inside the clay pot along with tons of veggies, stuck it a cold oven, set it to 475 degrees and got back to the family fun. An hour later, time to feast. It’s that simple.
Imagine yourself at a beautiful two person mosaic tiled table, in a Greek cafe, leaning back against the cool of the white washed plaster wall, in the shade, away from the blazing sun. There is a glass of ice cold crisp local white wine in your hand, or maybe some tangy ouzo… and across from you is the love of your life. You turn slightly and look out at the turquoise blue sea, the briny air penetrating and clean… carrying the scent of the wild thyme and mint on the hillsides. The waiter with the white apron brings two plates of the house specialty, Greek Shrimp, fresh from the sea. And on the side, marinated gigantes beans and seared arugula. Sometimes life is perfect.
This is the Holy Grail of Chanterelle mushroom feasts, the intensely fruity and haunting flavors of this wild mushroom combines magically with the fresh corn cob kernels and the smoked bacon umami flavors… along with the sweet briny rich crab taste of the sea… all in a creamy herb broth. It’s one of the top ten chowders we’ve ever made.
We love the delicate finessful flavor of halibut, but there was always something slightly missing in its depth of flavor. Without the powerful umami flavors of tuna or swordfish, the rich exquisite oil-rich salmon, or the dense flavorful flakes of snapper, sea bass or mahi mahi, halibut seems to need some umami richness. Usually in restaurants, halibut is drowned in creams or butter to avoid its tendency to dry out. This little feast solves all those problems… with Italian prosciutto!
This little feast explodes with flavor because of the wildly contrasting tastes… the buttery rich umami seared scallops match perfectly with the spicy red curry, crunchy green haricot vert green beans and the bright sweet cherry tomatoes bursting with flavor, all contrasting wonderfully with the richness of the coconut cream and the savory fish sauce.
Over the years, Rebekah and I have probably made this easy evocative feast more than any other… literally hundreds of times. One reason for that is that when I go out fishing on the ocean, I bring back light flaky fish which are perfect for this meal. Whether I catch Vermillion Red Rockfish (two filets are pictured on the black plate pic), or Ling Cod, Red Snapper, Sea Bass, or Halibut, they all are very elegant, and in this meal, exquisite.
This classic Italian feast is perfect when there is a bite to the air, and the dry leaves are blowing past the door. Build a fire in the fireplace and sit down to this classic rustic comfort food at the weathered kitchen table. This is an authentic Italian umami bomb, so rich and savory, often served with rosemary and garlic focaccia, or toasted Kalamata olive bread with cheese, and a rich red wine to stand up to it all.
These crunchy juicy sweet red bell peppers were just asking to get stuffed and baked, so we obliged with lots of savory stuff like spinach seared in tons of garlic and Italian olive oil, smoked Cajun sausages and Italian sausages, lots of feta cheese along with three other cheeses like Pecorino Romano grated inside with smoked Provolone and Gruyere on top, held together with our own spiced Jasmine rice… all made really creamy with roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. They are crazy tasty awesome wonderful.
Lately we’ve been simply addicted to this Umami Bombi little ramen feast, simmered in our own chicken bone broth and our own seafood broth from boiled down shrimp, crab or lobster shells. We add Vietnamese fish sauce and tons of ginger and garlic and lots of Vietnamese flavors, with the addition of seared smoked Andouille sausage, Red Argentinian shrimp (which taste like lobster) and a couple creamy soft boiled eggs.
It’s summertime… and the livin’ is easy. This is a down-home feast from one of the most soulful cities in heartland America.
Of all the fabulous dishes from the Middle East, this is one of our absolute favorites. Packed with exotic spices and savory flavors, it makes a perfect brunch on weekends and a fun breakfast for the whole family.
This is the Chicken Roulade of our dreams, the one we first experienced in Florence and the hill towns of Tuscany… the extravagant chicken roll that incorporates every savory ingredient we ever wanted to include.
We first saw this gorgeous meatloaf (named Polpettone) in Tuscany, when we came across one of those big glass storefronts you find on the main streets in Florence, and the hill towns, with endless mind boggling dishes of food stretching from the doorway all the way across the wall, behind glass cases, with the whole store a dizzying aroma of umami goodness. When I tasted the amazingly complex flavors of this meatloaf, I instantly realized this was not my mom’s meatloaf.
We were recently interviewed as a guest on The Storied Recipe and our episode went live today!! Here’s what the host, Becky Hadeed, had to say about the episode and the highlights of our interview… “John and Rebekah are both Emmy-award winning screenwriters. They are parents to 4 children, doting grandparents, and absolutely passionate home cooks. In fact, I think they’re the most passionate home cooks I’ve ever met. John and Rebekah believe feasting together is the path to “creating family”. While Rebekah uses inspiration and solid know-how to use up leftovers in exciting, delicious ways, John takes a meticulously researched approach to his cooking. They combined their gifts, styles, and experiences to self-publish a cookbook titled Our Wild Savory Kitchen. Today, they’re sharing John’s jambalaya recipe, born one magical evening in the Bayou, perfected in long conversations with famed chef Paul Prudhomme, and now enjoyed together by Paul, Rebekah, and their children as a way of celebrating life and, as they say, “creating family”. Highlights •Home cooking is “making family” •How food brought John and Rebekah together and how they catered their own wedding •Memories from a garden •Cooking and the creative/writing process •John and Rebekah’s different approaches to cooking •A magical night in the Bayou followed by magical lunches with famed chef, Paul Prudhomme •A history lesson on Cajuns and Cajun cooking •John and Rebekah’s approach to sourcing the very best and most authentic ingredients You can listen to it several ways: From The Storied Recipe Website: In Apple Podcasts https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-028-time-in-kitchen-what-we-will-remember-always/id1482179289?i=1000478287502 Or simply search for The Storied Recipe in any podcast player Thanks for listening! John and Rebekah
For Rebekah and I, this dish is our most intensely romantic meal… it was the meal that began everything for us as a couple.
This feast is a charred meat umami bomb straight out of West Texas, originally made in the 1800’s with beef strip steaks… in fact sometimes cowboys were paid in meat and not money. Those were tough times, and it was a harsh rugged job. So if you want to cowboy up, or just enjoy a real fiesta, this is the real deal. This time we switched it up and used seared chicken! You can also use shrimp! Serve with tons of salsa, sour cream, cilantro, guacamole, hot sauce and warm tortillas. And several ice cold beers. Enjoy!
I have always been fascinated by the Basque people, not just for their unique soulful cuisine, but also for the fact that no one really knows for sure where they come from or even where their language originates. Whenever folks go looking for the Basque origins, it turns out they were right there in their Basque Country homeland in the Pyrenees mountains all along, bordering both Spain and France, long before the French or the Spanish even existed.
For a long time, we have been passionate lovers of the fusion cuisine that spreads out from the South of India, across the Malaysian Islands, and is greatly influenced by nearby Thailand and Vietnam. Combining the coconut cream, saffron and warm aromatic spices of Southern India, the lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, tomatoes and vermicelli of Malaysia and Thailand, to the pork sausage and umami fish sauce of Vietnam, this amazing feast is one to cherish for your own wild savory kitchen.
This meal is real soul food from the heart of central Mexico and very different from the familiar restaurant style Tex/Mex cooking. Rebekah and I have been making this little feast for at least twenty five years… I think a good portion of our four kids’ DNA is made up of this family favorite. We always make two or three casseroles at once, and it makes endless lunches and dinners, and if frozen in the glass casserole dish, is an easy dinner for four any time you need it. It is hearty, healthy, spicy, addictive and deeply satisfying, a comfort food that is a real protein bomb… in which the flavors are both separate and yet married in a magical way.
We love wild Sockeye salmon for its intense flavors and deep orange-red color. Happily, with this Yakitori feast, Sockeye filets are just the right size for pineapple planks and the wonderful full flavor stands up well to the intense umami flavors of the Yakitori sauce. And the bright crisp tropical flavor of the pineapple is a perfect contrasting flavor sensation to the salmon and the intense Japanese sauce, causing a delicious tension in the taste. With the pineapple salsa piled on top, it’s a really delightful feast.
This deceptively simple South Central Mexican feast gets its intense flavors from the reducing of tomatillo and green chili sauces, and the patina that is formed by simmering chicken with this reduction sauce in a cast iron pan. I find tomatillo sauces very seductive, smoky and exotic, and they penetrate the chicken in a nearly magical way.
In many way, the Creoles of New Orleans may be the most quintessentially American society of all, the original American fusion. Comprised of the descendants of the French and Spanish who were born in Louisiana, it later came to include all races and cultures that shared this general background. They were always a highly sophisticated people, many educated in Paris. The Creole opened the French Opera house in 1859, and the city of New Orleans became the opera capital of America. When I think of this meal, Red Beans and Rice, I imagine the steamy languid Sundays of the Creole world of New Orleans in the 1800’s, ham on the table and French wine to accompany that. And then on Monday, which was called Laundry Day throughout the South, they used the scraps and bones from Sunday’s ham feast, tossed in some Red Beans and seasoning, and as it bubbled for hours, the tedious laundry work was accomplished along with a savory lunch.
This is one of our favorite ways to prepare a whole chicken, a method which is incredibly savory and succulent.
This unique and ravishing feast is one of the top fish meals we have ever had in our lives. That covers a lot of ground and many years of cooking and a life lived fishing on the ocean. The story begins with a restaurant in Hanoi that is legendary. It serves only one dish… this dish… Cha Ca La Vong, which is Turmeric Fish with Dill.
This feast is your ticket to Umami City. This is a fusion feast, as if it were cooked by two lovers, a lady chef from the South of France, bringing her thyme, cream, bacon, duck fat, Dijon mustard, butter and Chardonnay… and her chef lover from Tuscany, with his Porcini powder, Marsala, olive oil and garlic. It’s a magical dish for all lovers.
This Vietnamese soup is easy to make, tasty, enticing, light, healthy, fun and addictive.
Thanksgivings in our wild savory kitchen have been a memorable feast for many years, always featuring our Tandoori turkey.
I first tasted this classic New England meal, appropriately enough, in the food hall of Harrod’s in London, many years ago. It was a revelation. It has a timeless wildness to it, that speaks of a life lived outdoors and long ago, and of the fireplace and hearth, the warmth of home in a rugged country. This is a meal created by rural working folks and those who hunted and labored in the outdoors and in the garden.
This little feast takes a very deep dive into the spicy umami world of Szechuan cuisine.
I’ve always thought of Yakitori as the Bad Boy cousin to Teriyaki. He rides a Harley and he isn’t sweet, except in a kind of dangerous complicated way. This feast is the bad boy of Japanese BBQ. These skewers of little umami bombs have a wonderful tension between deep soy flavors from the Dark Soy (we use the Chinese version of Dark Soy, less salt, more aging), the tasty fresh unique flavor of sake, the nutty sesame, and the complex layered sweetness of the mirin.
The first time I had this classic Italian-American delight was in New York at the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. It was a savory revelation, an umami bomb inside some awesome hot toasted and buttered buns. I was hooked for life.
Beginning in the late 1800s, the commercial fishing fleet out of San Francisco’s North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf was dominated by Italian fisherman, usually from the port city of Genoa. But some boats were manned by a mix of fisherman from many other nations. Working side by side with the Italians were Portuguese from Lisbon, Mexicans from Baja, Spaniards from Barcelona, Frenchmen from Marseille, Chinese fisherman who had been in the city for many years fishing for shrimp, and there were even some highly skilled long range seafarers from Basque. Cioppino became so popular among the families in the bay area that it began to be served as street food for laborers along the wharf and by 1906, after the devastating earthquake, it was served in several restaurants in town. It is a classic San Francisco feast and always eaten with the wildly popular local crusty sourdough bread.
Anyone who enters the fray about which region in America has the best Pulled Pork is in dangerous territory. Passions run high about BBQ and smoked meats, and from region to region, there is fierce competition. That being said, I’ll dive in anyway. I’ve always liked salty sour tangy flavors more than sweet, so I’m naturally drawn to the vinegar based marinades and rubs of Eastern North Carolina versus the sweeter stickier tomato based BBQ sauces of Kansas City or Texas.
In India, on the western coast along the Arabian Sea, lies the city of Mangalore, with it’s ancient traditional cuisine of creamy spicy coconut sauces. I have very strong memories of watching cooks from that region, working as chefs in Los Angeles, throw whole mustard seeds into woks of smoking oils, seeing them pop and sizzle along with curry leaves tossed in and blackening, infusing the oil with powerful flavors. South of Mangalore is the state of Kerala, and all along the coast this Malabar Shrimp is a very popular street food and one of the local home cooks’ favorite meals. The proximity of the ocean with its fresh fish and seafood along with the spiciness from the pungent curry leaves and chilies highlight this traditional dish… and it’s beautiful to look at as well, because this little feast also has an amazing shimmering deep red color from the tamarind.
Everyone who loves crab cakes eventually gets to the big question… which are the best ones in America? For me, it comes down to two candidates… Commander’s Palace in New Orleans… and some dive I stumbled into along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. They are very different but both were so incredible that the memory of them is indelible.
Paella is the signature meal of Spain, a national pride, and yet almost no one fully agrees on what it is or how is should be made. It is a controversial meal for many reasons… starting with the simple fact that it is a huge shallow pan loaded down with complex and expensive ingredients which completely vary from home to home, town to town, restaurant to restaurant, and from region to region in Spain. Paella in Madrid is very different from that in Seville. But at the same time, like Bouillabaisse from France, Paella is a classic meal so identified with the soul of the country that it naturally comes laden with emotion, memory, tradition, pride, and a sensory longing for the authenticity of the time and place of one’s upbringing.
This is one of Rebekah’s signature feasts and one of my absolute favorites. Everything about it is sumptuous and savory and exotic, even the clay vessel it’s made in. The word “Tagine” is used for both the vessel and the meal itself, and a Tagine can be made in a myriad of ways, depending on the available ingredients. This recipe calls for chicken but we have also made it with rabbit and lamb, both of which are fabulous. Rebekah cans the Meyer lemons in wide mouth pint jars and stores them in the refrigerator for about six months, or up to a year, before use. Over that time, as they preserve, the Meyer lemon skins become butter soft and creamy, and the salted juices thicken, developing an ethereal but penetrating aromatic liqueur which has the consistency of syrup. Along with the saffron, green olives, ginger and roasted peppers, they fill the house with an intoxicating fragrance.
Sometimes we steam the mussels we gather on the coastal tidal pools north of Santa Cruz in two copper Cataplana pots, which are made in Portugal. They are wonderful devices… hand hammered copper pots by Portuguese artisans. They have a tin lining inside and are held together like a clam shell with metal hinges, and they sit directly on the flame. The history of the Cataplana is obscure, which is excellent news for me because, as a dramatist, I can tell a good story about the legendary Cataplana that feels true to the time and place it was first recorded… which is the Algarve region of Portugal… and best of all, no one knows if I made it all up or not.
I had a close friend who was Cajun and he once took me to a small village in southern Louisiana where he grew up, not too far from the town of St. Martinville, famous for the statue of Evangeline, the High Priestess of myth and poetic legend among the Cajun and a powerful symbol of the Acadian diaspora. (The real person’s name was Emmeline Labiche, and the truth is better than Romeo and Juliet, but that’s a story for the next cookbook.) I had written about the Cajun people in a novel so I was familiar with their culture, food and society. One reason for my passion for Cajun food is that my mother’s side of the family has roots in the French Canadian community and thus…
Jambalaya is illusive at its heart. It is, in essence, a rice meal… but that’s just the canvas the Creoles and the Cajuns use to paint one of their masterpieces. The rice is there to absorb all the umami juices of the meats and shellfish and seasoning, and in some ways, this meal is the coming together of the two traditional factions of the Cajun people, the Rice Cajuns and the Bayou Cajuns. The Rice Cajuns are those folks who, early on in their resettlement, were able to acquire slightly higher land in the interior, on which rice flourishes. For the folks living on these farms, pork and chicken were just as likely to be on the dinner table as Mud Bugs, turtles and shrimp, which the Bayou Cajuns netted for a living. So Jambalaya is a meal that combines all the traditional strengths of the Cajun people, and finding the authentic ingredients is crucial.