Sometimes it’s very simple combinations of ingredients that wow the palate; a bowl of perfectly seasoned olives teamed with sliced salami, or wedges of crisp sweet-tart apple paired with aged white cheddar.
Or, in the case of Fig & Olive in Newport Beach, a stunning “carpaccio” made with raw paper-thin zucchini slices, buttery extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and toasted pine nuts. It’s a classic concoction with roots in the south of France.
Watch the short video and see the tricks. I tried making the carpaccio after delighting in it at the restaurant. My version was fine, but not nearly as good as the one overseen by the restaurants’ executive chef, Pascal Lorange. I was delighted when he consented to come to my home and show me the specifics while taping a video.
To start, he showed me that the zucchini needs to be an exact size, the diameter of a quarter, not a nickel or a fifty cent piece. They need to be very thinly sliced, preferably by using a mandolin. He confessed that a vegetable peeler could also be employed to do the skinny slicing.
The components, because there are so few, need to be perfect. The extra-virgin olive oil plays a crucial role. Lorange told me that for the carpaccio he prefers oil that is sweet and buttery, an aromatic wonder sourced from Portugal.
The tasty vegetarian treat may sing of summer, but it is just as delicious as a first course when the weather turns chilly.
Two culinary mentors: Lorange credits two European chefs with putting him on the right track, gastronomically speaking. First, the time spent in the kitchen with Francois Piscitello, chef-owner of Le Jardin des Begards in Liege, Belgium; there the innovative six-course set menus sparked his creative juices. And he credits his training at 18 with legendary three-star chef Georges Blanc in Vonnas, France (the heart of the Bresse countryside). There he learned the culinary fundamentals that are the backbone of his cooking.
Where are they? The local restaurant is in Fashion Island, Newport Beach. Other Fig & Olive locales include Chicago, New York City and West Hollywood.
Fig & Olive’s Zucchini Carpaccio
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound medium zucchini (diameter about the size of a quarter)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: To toast pine nuts, place in small dry skillet on medium heat. Shake handle frequently to redistribute pine nuts, cooking until lightly browned. Watch carefully because they burn easily.
1. Trim zucchini ends. Cut into paper-thin slices using a mandolin or vegetable peeler.
2. Arrange the zucchini slices, slightly overlapping, on a large, flat platter. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
3. In a small bowl whisk the olive oil and lemon juice. Just before serving, whisk the olive oil dressing briefly to blend it, drizzle it over the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, scatter the cheese and the pine nuts on top, and serve.
Source: Pascal Lorange, executive chef Fig & Olive restaurants
…Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s…
Sausage and lentils are a luscious combination, especially if you add apples and celery!
Use ready-to-use steamed lentils and this kind of dish is really quick to prepare. Look for them in the refrigerated deli section at Trader Joe’s, Gelson’s, Mother’s and Bristol Farms.
Sausage with Warm Lentil-Apple Salad
Yield: 4 servings
4 sweet or hot Italian sausages
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 large Granny Smith Apple, finely chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
17 ounces cooked lentils
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or cider vinegar
1. Heat grill. Grill sausages on all sides until cooked through. Place on plate and cover with foil.
2. In large deep skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add shallots, apple, celery, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add lentils, mustard, broth and vinegar; stir to combine. Simmer on medium heat until celery and apple soften and liquid reduces slightly. Spoon into 4 shallow bowls and top each serving with a sausage and a sprig of fresh thyme or rosemary.