Chez Panisse


Chez Panisse is a legendary restaurant and café in Berkeley, California. For almost 40 years its simple menu of local, seasonal and organic food has been an inspiration to chefs and cooks, not just in America but across the world. The founder Alice Waters is a hero, not only to farmers and producers for the network she set up and encouraged others to do the same but, also to parents and teachers because of her Edible Schoolyard project which she started way back in 1995.
Alice has been a hero of mine since I first met her in the mid-eighties so you can imagine just how thrilled I was when she invited me go to Chez Panisse to do a book signing and a dinner to celebrate the American edition of my Forgotten Skills book. Better still Chez Panisse featured recipes from my book on their menu all week long and the books sold out on the first evening. It says a lot about what’s happening at grassroots level in the US, that a book which features chapters on foraging in the wild, sausage making, curing your own meat, butter-making, preserving and instructions on how to use left-overs and inexpensive cuts of meat and offal was nominated for an IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) cookbook award. There is a food revolution brewing in the US, all over the country, people from every age-group, race and background are getting involved in initiatives to improve the quality of food in schools. Troops are mobilising to demand reform of the Farm Bill which like European CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) comes up for renewal in 2013. The Farmers Market and Community Assisted Agriculture initiatives, organic box schemes and urban gardens on waste land in cities are gathering momentum. Supermarkets like Whole Foods and Central Market have little stalls inside the door offering a free piece of fruit to every child.
One man I met started a vegetable garden in the grounds of a local hospital; the produce is used by the catering team with very little food waste because it is so appreciated.
All over the country there is a frenzy of growing, in response to the fast food culture of mass produced denatured food. The change is coming from the ground up, not from the top down, although Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden on the lawn of the White House sent a strong message to Americans that it’s time to start digging their own Victory Gardens once again. Everywhere I went I met people who told me the safest food is what you grow in your own backyard, the recent e-coli scandal hasn’t helped and as mistrust in the factory farming systems grows; the movement for do-it-yourself food continues to gather momentum.

Chez Panisse Fresh Mozzarella Salad

This is the perfect recipe in which to enjoy Toby Simmonds Irish mozzarella (see Hot Tips.) As in all simple recipes, success here lies in the quality of the ingredients. You must begin with very fresh mozzarella, the kind still floating in its milky whey. For this reason, locally make cheese is preferable. At Chez Panisse they make their own mozzarella and serve it within hours while it is still soft and creamy.

Serves 4

225g (8oz) fresh mozzarella
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
fresh basil, marjoram, parsley, mint or thyme

Optional: Vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, sliced prosciutto, olives.

Have the mozzarella at room temperature. Cut it into the ¼ inch slices and arrange on a platter. Season very lightly with sea salt and generously with freshly ground pepper.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Roughly chop the herbs (one herb or a combination) and scatter them over the cheese.
Serve the cheese salad very plain, or add an assortment of different coloured cherry tomatoes, sliced in half and salted; surround with prosciutto slices and decorate with black olives.

Chez Panisse Garganelli Pasta with Fava Beans (Broadbeans)

It’s not uncommon in informal cafes in Europe to see waiters peeling garlic during a quiet time. At Chez Panisse, they peel fava beans – lots of them. Sometimes the customers standing at the bar help out. It is a time consuming process, to be sure, shucking and peeling all those beans, but rewarding when you taste a dish like this one. The combination of pasta, fava beans and sheep’s milk is especially delicious when the favas are young and tender. Young fava beans are also good served Tuscan style, eaten raw with salami.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) garganelli pasta (or penne pasta)
extra virgin olive oil
900g (2lbs) fava beans in the pod – to be parboiled and peeled (see note)
165g (6oz) thinly sliced spring onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh savoury
freshly ground black pepper
a few drops of lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
110g (4oz) ricotta salata cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta in the salted water until it is al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare the fava bean ragout. Heat 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over a moderate heat. Add the fava beans, onion, garlic, rosemary and savoury and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Gently cook the mixture until the onions are soft and the fava beans are tender – about 5 minutes. Do not let the vegetable brown much; add a splash of water as needed. The ragout should be a bit moist by the end of cooking.
Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and add the fava bean ragout. Stir over a low heat until the pasta is thoroughly coated, adding a bit of the reserved pasta water if the mixture seems dry. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the mixture and taste of seasoning.
Transfer the pasta to a warmed bowl. Sprinkle the top with chopped parsley. Use a sharp vegetable peeler to cut shavings of the ricotta salata over the top. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve.
Note: To prepare the fava beans (broadbeans), shell them and parboil very briefly in boiling water (30 seconds to 1 minute) Plunge the beans into cold water to stop the cooking. Pop each bean out of its pale green outer skin by pinching with thumb and forefingers.

Warm Lamb Salad with Pomegranates and Walnuts

Serves 4

1 rack of lamb (approx. 2lbs/900g weight)
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons olive oil
a pinch cayenne
a few thyme branches

1 shallot, diced fine
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar (Forum)
2 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 large handfuls curly endive, dandelion, or rocket, washed

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Trim the lamb rack of excess fat and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cut the garlic into fine slices and insert them in to the flesh along the bone. Mix the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and a pinch of cayenne. Rub this mixture over the surface of the meat. Scatter the thyme branches over. Cover and refrigerate for several hours.  Bring back the roast to room temperature before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Roast the rack of lamb for about 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 51.6°C/125°F.

Allow the roast to rest on a warm platter, lightly covered, for 10 minutes or so.

To make the vinaigrette.
Macerate the shallot in the vinegar with a pinch of salt for 15 minutes. Whisk in the walnut oil and the extra virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

In a large bowl, season the greens lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the vinaigrette. Pile the dressed greens in the centre of a large platter. Slice the lamb rack into chops and surround the salad with them. Sprinkle the salad with the walnuts and pomegranate seeds, spoon some of the roasting juices over the meat and serve.

Pollo al Mattone with French Beans, Roast Onions and Sage, Parsley and Garlic Oil

This Italian stovetop method for cooking chicken under a brick traditionally uses a whole young chicken, split down the back and flattened.  The result is a deliciously crisp, well-cooked bird.  In Chez Panisse café, they adapted the technique for boned chicken legs.

Serves 4

4 organic free-range chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs, attached)
salt and pepper

65ml (2 1/2 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
finely grated zest of lemon

350g (12oz) (8oz) French beans, cooked al dente in boiling salted water (see recipe)
350g (12oz) onions, peeled, quartered and roasted in extra virgin olive oil in an oven at 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 5 until tender and slightly caramelised

Sage, Parsley and Garlic Oil
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Serve
Potato Crips (see recipe)

Lemon wedges

Bone the chicken legs, opening them out into large flat pieces with the skin intact.  Trim the excess fat from the edges.  Season both sides of each piece with salt and pepper and refrigerate.

Put the olive oil in a small saucepan.  Add the thyme leaves and warm gently for 1-2 minutes over a low heat, add the lemon zest and allow to cool, add the chicken legs.

Heat a large cast-iron grill or frying pan over a medium heat.  When the pan is hot, remove the chicken legs from the oil.  Lay skin side down on the pan in a single layer. Lay another cast-iron or earthenware pan on top (a clay brick was used originally).

Cook for about 15 minutes on the skin side, checking occasionally to make sure it is browning evenly.  Reduce the heat if the legs are cooking too quickly.  Turn the legs over and cook for a further 5 minutes, uncovered.  The skin should be crisp and golden, and the flesh tender.  Meanwhile cook the onions and beans and keep warm.

To make the sage, parsley and garlic oil.
Mix the chopped garlic, sage and parsley (these should be chopped at the last minute), add to the extra virgin olive oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To Serve
Put a crispy chicken leg, skin side up on a hot main course plate, surround with a mixture of roast onions and French beans.  Drizzle with sage, parsley and garlic oil.  Add a segment of lemon and a mound of potato crisps and serve immediately.

Homemade Potato Crisps

Making chips at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce
a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers! When these are served with roast pheasant they are called game chips.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes
extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying

Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180ºC/350ºF. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.

If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.

Chez Panisse Apricot Bread Pudding

Apricots are in season at the moment, there are lots in the shops so this is an opportunity to try this recipe from Chez Panisse.

Serves 6 – 8

8 fresh apricots cut in small wedges or150-175g (5-6oz) dried apricots, sliced, 1 ¼ cups of sugar


7 egg yolks
75g (3oz) sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
450ml (16fl oz) half-and-half or whole milk
450ml (16fl oz) cream
grated zest of 1 orange
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon kirsch

Optional: 110g (4 oz) good quality almond paste, cut in pea-size pieces
About 450g (1 lb) brioche, pain-de-mie, or good day-old homemade white bread, cut into ½-inch cubes.

In a small saucepan, simmer the apricots in 225ml (8fl oz) and 60g (2½oz) of the sugar. Poach the fruit until tender, 5 minutes for fresh or about 12 for dried,. Drain the fruit, saving the liquid, and set the fruit aside to cool. Return the poaching liquid to the saucepan and add the remaining 225g (8oz) and 112mls (4floz) water. Boil this mixture, and when it begins to brown, swirl the pan so that it caramelises evenly. Cook to a medium amber colour. Very carefully pour the hot caramel into a 2-quart gratin dish or divide it evenly among six ramekins. Cool.
Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly add 75g (3oz) sugar and mix well. Whisk in the half and half or milk and cream. Add the orange zest, salt, vanilla and almond extracts, nutmeg, and kirsch. Gently fold in the poached apricots, the almond paste, if using and the bread cubes. Transfer the pudding mixture to the gratin dish or ramekins. Let rest at least an hour or refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Mark 5. Sprinkle a little sugar over the top of the pudding. Place the gratin dish or ramekins, on a baking sheet to catch any overflow. Bake until nicely browned, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variation: Substitute prunes for the apricots and Armagnac for the kirsch.

The Irish Artisan food sector continues to excite and innovate. Toby Simmonds has twice imported buffaloes from Italy and now has a 46 strong herd of buffalo.  He followed his dream to make an Irish Mozzarella and now if you rush, the tender hand rolled result can be found on the olive stall at the Midleton and Mahon Point Farmers Markets. It tastes distinctly Irish – tender and delectably herbaceous. Mark Hosford has also been experimenting and he too is making a mozzarella but this time from the beautiful milk of the Kerry cow which is apparently closest to Buffalo. He too sells at Mahon Point, Mallow, Douglas and Emmet Place in Cork City.
Both are well worth seeking out – a wonderful new addition to the artisan offering.
Toby Simmonds – – 087 635 1954.
Mark Hosford – – 086 6351954

When Madeleine Murray and Maire Carney returned to Ireland after their travels (Madeleine was an archaelogisit and Maire was a solicitor) they racked their brains to think of how to make a living in a different way – Madeline learned how to make a variety of sushi and taught her pal. This is traditional sushi, but with an Irish twist, using local ingredients like Roscarbery black pudding or Ummera smoked duck and chicken and the freshest fish to make classic sushi recipes. Find them at Kinsale Farmers Market every Tuesday and Mahon Point Farmers Market every Thursday.  0866620801

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters