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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 little feast takes a very deep dive into the spicy umami world of Szechuan cuisine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The three species of tuna that Americans enjoy eating the most are Albacore, Yellowfin (the Hawaiian word is Ahi) and Bluefin (the Japanese word is Maguro). Albacore is the lightest in flavor and texture, with large meaty flakes. The ubiquitous canned version is called “white tuna” but doesn’t come close to the flavor of freshly caught, which is exquisite. The word Ahi has become popular among restaurants because of this feast, Seared Ahi. Seared but left pink in the middle of the filet, it is the best of both worlds, crispy and explosively tasty and umami on the outside, and lush and sashimi on the inside. Bluefin is wildly popular around the world as sushi, called Maguro on the menu, and is the richest, most dense, and most expensive.
On a winter’s evening in Central California, with the fireplace warming the house and lighting up the dining room, a creamy clam chowder is deeply satisfying. And the California twist on the meal, the baby asparagus, gives it a garden fresh quality that cuts against the density of the cream… while the oven roasted garlic and the smoked bacon brings the umami flavors to a sumptuous natural high. It’s like riding a 50 foot wave from Mavericks Beach… right into Boston Harbor.