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 of Acadia and thus are the remnants of the Acadian people, who were cast out of their homes and lands by the English army in 1755 to wander unwanted along the Eastern seaboard of America for decades. They finally found a home in the bayous of Louisiana, so it’s completely understandable that traditionally the Cajuns are a people who wanted to be left in peace.
This beautiful and savory dish is served in most local restaurants in Spain, it is a national treasure of their cuisine. This intensely flavored dish is made with one single large cast iron or enamel pan, what could be more simple.
This dish is so much fun, and kid approved in our home. These jumbo pasta shells are stuffed with tasty Italian sausage and three of our favorite Italian cheeses… ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella.
This is the perfect dish for using leftovers in the frig, especially rice, and staples in the pantry. This is our take on a street food legend… spicy fried rice!
Paella is the signature meal of Spain, a national pride, and yet almost no one fully agrees on how exactly it 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 a dish we love to make for its gorgeous look and amazing flavors. We use olive oil, Porcini mushrooms or cremini mushrooms, Giant Beans from Greece for their incredibly dense creamy flavors, red, yellow and orange bell peppers, Cara Cara oranges for their unique flavor, Spanish chorizo with its smoky paprika flavor, and we sometimes use Cajun Andouille sausage for it’s immense smokiness and depth of Cajun flavors.
The Cajun people of Louisiana have a long, proud and emotionally powerful history and tradition… and they are a strong part of my Mother’s side of the family. She was French-Canadian, and was born within the bloodline of the Acadian people.
When we think of the Oktoberfest, we always think of Smoked Kielbasa, seared on the grill and then simmered in sauerkraut with caraway seeds. This is Grandmother approved as the real deal. On a hot buttered bun with mayo and/or mustard it is umami bombi. This feast causes a kind of crazy desire in the crowd for more… until food coma ensues. If the weather at your home is getting colder, rainy, blustery, snowy or just kind of lacking any sunny stuff… this is the ultimate comfort food. If you want to enjoy an October feast at home, this one is so much fun. Don’t forget the beer! Enjoy! Ingredients… 2 pounds Kielbasa sausage (grilled or broiled until charred)2 pounds sauerkraut (purchased in a glass jar or from a deli)1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (steamed or boiled until just slightly tender)1 tablespoon caraway seeds (slightly ground)1 tablespoon light brown sugar1 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon black pepper2 ounces unsalted butter Cooking… Steam or boil the potatoes until just slightly tender, cut into quarters and set aside. Grill or broil the Kielbasa sausages until charred and juicy, cut into halves or thirds and set aside. In a stockpot or large pan, on medium heat, simmer the sauerkraut until it just begins to bubble. (Please don’t drain or rinse the liquids that come with the sauerkraut, they are wonderfully tart and packed with nourishing probiotics and umami flavors.) Add the caraway seeds, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, butter, potatoes and the Kielbasa sausages. Simmer on low heat for at least 20 minutes, we prefer to simmer for a least an hour. This is how Grandma makes this legendary meal. She approves!
This bad boy is not your momma’s Sloppy Joe’s… no ketchup, yellow mustard or chili powder. This version is super umami, with wonderful complex flavors and by far the best one we’ve ever tasted.
Every once in a while we like to look back at some of our favorite savory homemade pizzas and share them. We love homemade pizza, it brings the family together like no other meal!
Some years ago Rebekah and I were in Paris, gathering ideas for new meals to make and to our surprise found inspiration in the ubiquitous French classic, the quiche. We had just left the Picasso museum and we found ourselves in a light drizzle, so throwing on our raincoats we headed out into the streets, but being hungry, we ducked into a nearby bakery right on the corner, that specializes in quiche. The glass case held six different styles, and they were sold by the slice. So we sat outside, under an umbrella in the warm gentle rain and dove into three or four different tastes… their version of the Lorraine, the St. Jacques and the Ratatouille, as well as other versions unique to their bakery. We were astonished at the tastes. The only word that fits the moment is savory. And, of course, romantic in a way that only Paris can be.
Shakshuka isn’t just for breakfast anymore! This fabulous Middle Eastern feast is also a wonderful stuffing for grape leaves. Give it a whirl, these are the best stuffed peppers we ever had!
This is an authentic fiesta from central Mexico, it is not Tex/Mex in origin. This deceptively common meal takes its inspiration from the varied dried chilies, spices, fresh vegetables, jungle fowl and wild pig (peccary) perfected by the Aztec Empire. The spices they treasured are actually closer to the exotic and aromatic spices of India than the flavors from the beef culture of West Texas. Coriander, allspice (the taste of cloves), oregano, anise, cinnamon bark, wild onions and garlic vine were all available to the Aztec people, and they cooked over a smoldering fire, which made their chili perfectly smoky as well.
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.
Pasta e Fagioli translates as Pasta and Beans but this dish is so much more than that. It’s a feast! This classic Italian dish 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 stuffed with lots of savory stuff like spinach seared in tons of garlic and Italian olive oil, smoked sausages, lots of feta cheese along with two other cheeses like Pecorino Romano grated inside with smoked Provolone or Gruyere on top, which got all melty and aromatic, 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.
We are simply addicted to this savory spicy 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 (Red Boat) and lots of ginger, garlic, sesame oil and exotic Vietnamese flavors, with the addition of seared smoked Kielbasa sausage, colossal shrimp and a creamy soft boiled egg for fun. All piled onto our favorite ramen noodles, tasty chewy crazy curly Chuka Soba noodles. Enjoy!
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
We 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.
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 we think of this meal, Red Beans and Rice, we 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.
We 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. This feast 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.
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. And this is that recipe, Italian grandmother approved!
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.
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.
This feast comes from the heart of the North Country pines… northern Minnesota, the place where I did my real growing up, from boy to man, hunting and fishing in the wilds. This iconic feast, legendary among the native peoples who live there, is the essence of wildness. When you prepare the ingredients, and then feast on it, you can almost hear the cry of the loons out on the lake, in the dusk… and again at first light, as you ease your boat into the lily pads, casting for large mouth bass and northern pike. It is so deep in my heart that every scrap of my DNA cries out to be there again, one day.
We searched many years for a stuffed grape leaf that was mind blowing… and we never found one. We wanted Dolmathakia that was exploding with the flavors of Greece… lemon, dill and garlic, Greek oregano and mint from the hills above Santorini, and spicy sausage that tasted handmade. One day our son Tyler came home from having dinner with his buddy down the street, and he spoke with wonder about the stuffed grape leaves he had been served by that Lebanese family. So of course we went straight over there and asked the cook for the secret of her grape leaves. She reluctantly revealed the secret ingredient, after much imploring…
I grew up in a time and a place where the possibility of experiencing exotic or umami infused cuisine was just about zero. The little town in Illinois I come from had 500 residents, a couple of coffee shops, one family restaurant specializing in deep fried food, and was more than an hour from the closest big city. But when I still a little kid, I began to realize with a kind of bewilderment, that other people didn’t seem to be amazed by food quite the way that I was.