by Barbara Adams
Spend an evening with celebrated chef and prolific writer Joyce Goldstein and you'll see why she is known as the American master of Mediterranean cuisine. Read one of her cookbooks, and experience her passion and ability to teach and inspire readers. Eat a meal prepared from her new book, Mediterranean Fresh: A Compendium of One-Plate Salad Meals and Mix-and-Match Dressings, and you'll be a fan forever.
Earlier this week Goldstein returned to Cooks with Books at the Left Bank Brasserie for her fifth event--becoming one of the series' all-time most popular guest authors. Working closely with Executive Chef, Scott Howard, she offered a menu that celebrated the summer bounty and introduced guests to the simple beauty and flavors of well prepared Mediterranean salads.
I arrived early, ordered a glass of wine at the bar and took up residence at a small sidewalk table to peruse the book while unwinding from a hectic work day. Soon the outside world faded as I became absorbed in Goldstein's Mediterranean world. I learned that she originally developed a course on salads for students at the Culinary Institute of American in Napa Valley, then expanded it for her readers. The goal: to get cooks away from the salad bar mentality, encouraging them to try new combinations and ingredients and always taste, taste, taste before pairing.
When the guests began arriving I headed in to get my book signed. Goldstein was seated at a small table inside an intimate dining room welcoming guests, posing for photos and answering questions. I looked forward to meeting her and was thrilled to learn that I'd been seated next to her at dinner. Our table was filled with foodies, writers and a food photographer all getting to know each other. Goldstein finished up her signing duties and joined in our now-lively conversation.
The first course arrived--the "amuse" ("Amuse bouche" is a French term for a tiny first course, literally "to amuse the mouth")--a fluke carpaccio beautifully arranged with tender young greens and mustard shallot dressing. One guest noted that she'd had beef carpaccio, but not tried it with fish. Both of us were pleased as we dipped the mild buttery soft slices of fish into the tangy dressing then went for the crunchy radish slices and peppery greens. I wanted to know what other types of fish worked in this recipe. Goldstein told us, "I usually prefer ahi tuna but Chef Howard has done a very nice job here. You could also use Alaskan halibut or salmon."
Our Spanish-influenced appetizer of chickpeas with squid and chorizo arrived and quickly became one of my favorite dishes at these events. Truthfully, I'd been a bit apprehensive about the combination but was quickly won over with the beautiful colors, textures, and how the tomato vinaigrette tied all the flavors together. Chef Howard surprised us by using fresh green chickpeas that he'd found at the market earlier. Goldstein smiled and let us know "this is really a treat as they are often difficult to find. That's why I call for dried chickpeas in the recipe." Most had never eaten fresh chickpeas and enjoyed the raw crunch they added to the squid and chorizo. Goldstein told everyone that they grew in pods and had to be shelled--a bit labor intensive but well worth the effort.
Throughout dinner, Goldstein regularly took the microphone and talked about the dishes and their ingredients, enriching our experiences with back stories only she could provide. We learned that when training restaurant staffs she begins by setting up a tasting session that includes all of the salad ingredients and dressings on the menu. She's found that most novices don't understand that there is a correct way to pair salad ingredients, and not everything goes together blindly. For example, raspberry vinaigrette appears on many menus but seldom works with standard fare, so why is it included? "Read the book," she enthused. "Read it, use it and you will master salads and dressings."
Chef Howard prepared roasted chicken for the main course and paired it with Goldstein's seasonal tomato and peach salad. As chef at the Cafe at Chez Panisse and at her own award-winning Square One Mediterranean restaurant in San Francisco, Goldstein always demanded first-rate ingredients and helped pioneer the use of seasonal, locally grown produce and ingredients. This meal--especially the tomatoes and peaches--showcased the importance of her philosophies. The celebration of summer continued as chef sent our summer galette of puffed pasty, plump apricots, and fat, juicy blackberries drizzled with creme fraiche.
The evening wound down with both spirits and tummies well nourished. I picked up my copy of the book and knew that the adventure into Joyce Goldstein's world of Mediterranean cuisine had just begun. Inspired, my mind raced: what recipe should I make first? Fattous salad with pita bread is a tempting possibility for tomorrow's dinner. Or, am I feeling really adventurous? Mussels with potatoes and saffron mayonnaise is definitely on my radar. Oh, the possibilities...stay tuned!
Get a printable recipe of Joyce Goldstein's Fish Carpaccio with Mustard Shallot Citrus Dressing!
Check out Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful: Adventures to Savor