After 16 cookbooks, PBS-TV Chef Joanne Weir says she had no desire to write another. But memories of her grandparents’ farm in the Massachusetts Berkshires and her family history (four generations of chefs) spurred her to create a book of vignettes with recipes tracing phases of her life.
She shared them with guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events, explaining the title of “Kitchen Gypsy” pays homage to her parents: the kitchen supplied both livelihood and inspiration for her mother, a professional cook, while her father called Chef Joanne his “wandering gypsy” for her restless energy.
Her starter was Carrot Soup with Anise, which derives its flavor from toasted, ground anise seeds and anise-flavored liqueur. Her recipe calls for cream, but Chef Joanne prepared the soup without it and topped it with a swirl of anise-flavored crème fraiche.
To make the soup satisfying, she says, add broth only to the level of carrots in the pot to ensure the purée has body. Asked about wine, she suggests a Viognier or Riesling.
As the chef demonstrated her recipes, students at Fresh Starts Culinary Academy prepared each one and served guests. The Republic of Tea, premier sponsor for the events, provided iced tea to complement the menu.
Although Chef Joanne owns Copita, a Mexican restaurant and tequileria in Sausalito, her focus and specialty is Mediterranean cuisine. Her main course of Grilled Sea Bass with Ribbon Squash Skewers and Pistachio-Mint Salsa Verde showcased the flavors of that region: mint, parsley, garlic, lemon.
“I love this sauce – it’s so versatile,” she told the audience. “You can do it with grilled vegetables, lamb, chicken. I like to have some texture in a salsa verde.” Rather than using a food processor, she chops and mixes the salsa ingredients. Her skewers included thin “ribbons” of zucchini folded to alternate with the fish.
Along with the fish, her Chocolate Pavé (French for “paving stone”) is a favorite from her Chez Panisse days. She passed on a tip for beating egg whites: “Warm egg whites until they’re warm to the touch” to give them more volume.
Before signing books, Chef Joanne and event emcee Micha Berman auctioned off a take-home tray of dessert, raising more than $100 to benefit the culinary academy, a job-training program of Homeward Bound of Marin. She generously donated her coveted recipe. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.
Chocolate Pavé with Mint Crème Anglaise – Serves 12
For Chocolate Pavé –
7½ ounces unsalted butter
7½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
7½ ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 eggs, separated
1 1/8 cups sugar
Melted chocolate for decorating, optional
For Mint Crème Anglaise –
2 bunches fresh mint
2½ cups whole milk
5 tablespoons sugar
½ vanilla bean, scraped
5 egg yolks
1. Butter the sides and the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Line the bottom with baking parchment and flour the pan lightly.
2. Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium low heat. Reduce the heat to low, add the chocolate and stir constantly until the chocolate is just melted and smooth. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate or it will turn grainy. It should not get hotter than 115°F.
3. Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with half of the sugar until a ribbon forms. Beat the chocolate/butter mixture into the sugar/yolks.
4. Warm the egg whites slightly by placing them in a bowl and swirling them above a gas flame or electric burner until just warm to the touch. Do not let any white form in the bowl. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and add the remaining sugar. Continue to beat to incorporate the sugar completely, about 1 minute. Spread the egg whites over the chocolate mixture and fold them together quickly without deflating the whites.
5. For the crème anglaise, begin by using the back of a chef’s knife to bruise the mint stems and leaves. In a saucepan over medium heat, scald the milk with the sugar, split and scraped vanilla bean, and the mint. When the mixture bubbles around the edges, remove from the heat and let sit 1 hour.
6. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up but don’t make foam. Scald the milk again and strain. Discard the mint. Whisk a little of the hot milk into the egg yolks to warm them. Add the remaining hot milk to the eggs, adding slowly.
7. Return to the pan to medium heat and cook the custard, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon. Test it by drawing your finger across the back of the spoon. If your finger leaves a trail in the custard, the custard has cooked to the right point. It can also be tested with a thermometer. It should be cooked to 170°F.
8. Immediately strain into a bowl. Chill.