Suzanne has followed up Sunday Suppers with a show-stopper of a second book — the a.o.c. cookbook. It includes recipes of many of the popular small plates a.o.c. serves to its devoted customers. Caroline Styne, Suzanne’s long time business partner, provides informative wine notes for every recipe.
Last week, The Bug and I attended a dinner here in Santa Barbara to celebrate the book’s publication. It was held at The Hungry Cat, one of a trio of Hungry Cat eateries helmed by Suzanne’s husband, chef David Lentz — and one of our favorite restaurants.
We were treated to a flavor-packed, four-course meal. From the savory and sweet Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Parmesan to the revelatory Black Bass with Fennel Puree, Winter Citrus and Green Olives in Green Harissa, to the decadent Spiced “Pumpkin” Fritters with Chocolate Sauce and Candied Pepitas, it was a meal to remember. And, it was a brilliant introduction to a book that I haven’t been able to put down since.
Organized by season, it’s easy to select dishes from the a.o.c. cookbook that can be made with local, fresh ingredients and pantry staples. In her introductions to each chapter, Suzanne shares her thinking behind the dishes, connecting the dots from her early training in Providence during college, through her time cooking in well-known restaurants in Europe and the U.S.
I was intrigued reading about how she puts a dish together, combining ingredients, pairing flavors and textures. The process is thoughtful and interesting, and her food is approachable and inviting. Many of her head notes are funny and self-deprecating — it’s as though she’s coaxing us into the kitchen to enjoy the fun that she has every day. And, did I mention the cheese section? It’s nearly 60 pages and a treasured reference on its own for Suzanne’s personal notes and observations.
I’ve been preparing a mix of dishes throughout the week. Here is a sample of the dishes I’ve been cooking and we’ve been enjoying:
Breakfast-for-dinner is a weekly affair at my house. So, it was fitting that I began with Brioche with Prosciutto, Gruyere and a Sunny-Side-Up Egg.
A buttery, toasted slice of brioche, with its crispy brown edges and tender crumb, is an ideal foundation for what comes next: melted Gruyere, arugula tossed in a bracing, lemony dressing, ribbons of salty prosciutto, and a fried egg. This crunchy, creamy, salty combo is the very definition of three-part harmony.
Matthew, The Bug and I are crazy about tuna. So, Albacore Crudo with Avocado, Cucumber and Ruby Grapefruit vaulted past nearly every recipe on my must-make-immediately list.
Avocado, whirred together with a squirt of lime juice, a generous swirl of olive oil and salt and pepper, is spread on a plate as the base of the dish. Watercress leaves, delicate in feel, but assertive in flavor are scattered over the avocado cream, followed by slices of rosy, sushi-grade tuna. A juicy salsa of sweet-and-tart grapefruit, crunchy persian cucumber, lime juice and a kick of heat in the form of of finely-diced jalapeno, is spooned across the fish. A shower of minced cilantro completes the dish. The mix of textures and bold flavors are as striking on the palate as they are on the plate.
I could go on and on about the glorious Lamb Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce, Mint and Feta,
but let’s talk dessert, shall we? Persimmon Cake with Creme Fraiche and Maple Pecans (pistachios in my case) is a festive dessert, equal parts homey and refined, and it’s a cinch to prepare.
The cake highlights butter in two ways: browned, and stirred into the persimmon puree, and, creamed with sugar in a stand-up mixer until pale yellow and fluffy. The sweet-and-spicy cake, which develops a lightly-crunchy top while baking, is topped with whipped heavy cream and creme fraiche for a welcome, tangy counterpoint. The maple nuts provide crunch and complementary sweetness. This cake should have a place on your holiday menu.
With permission from Random House, I’ve included the recipe below. And, here again is a link to order the a.o.c. cookbook.
Persimmon Cake with Creme Fraiche and Maple Pecans, Suzanne Goin
Crisp, crunchy varieties of persimmons, like Fuyus, are great eaten out of hand, sliced into salads, and diced into salsas, but this cake is the perfect way to show off the softer Hachiya types, which need to be completely soft before they are eaten. My palate has strange textural issues— mostly that I like some oddball ones that other people generally don’t appreciate. Bring on the chewy, the stringy, the slimy, and even snotty textures! The strange gelatinous interior of a super- ripe persimmon reminds me of an aloe plant in a way, and I think it’s that very dense and wet texture that makes this cake so ethereal. This recipe was inspired by farmer James Birch of Flora Bella Farm, who is, shall we say, a little spacey, in the most charming and lovely way—meaning that sometimes he forgets to let anyone know what he’s growing and what he would like to sell. When he comes for lunch, for example, I’ll ask him, “Hey, James, how’s it going?” Then he’ll just happen to mention, “Well, I do have four cases of very ripe chocolate persimmons on my truck.” Thank goodness, Christina and the gang are used to this type of kooky farmer behavior, so she responded, “Great! Let’s bake a cake or two.” I love that these persimmons actually taste of fall and winter— as if they have been grown in fields of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. It’s very strange but so magical to have those flavors reinforced by the fruit itself. This is a great one for the Thanksgiving or Christmas buffet.
wine notes: This cake epitomizes winter with its weighty texture and dense fruitiness. I love how the crème fraîche brings a lightness of body and brightening flavor to the composition, and look for a wine to continue in that mode. Madeira is perfect for this, because, along with its overall nut- laden flavor, it brings a degree of texture and tart acidity to the palate. In this pairing, I opt for one that is in the mid- range of sweetness, made from the Bual or Verdelho grape varieties, which possesses back notes of stone fruits and caramel that will marry with the sweetness of the persimmons and pecans, while its tart acidity works in sync with the crème fraîche.
|Persimmon Cake with Creme Fraiche and Maple Pecans|
- 1 ¾ cups (approximately 3 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus a little for the pan
- About 3 ripe Hachiya persimmons (to yield 1 cup puréed flesh)
- 2 ½ cups all- purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 11/2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 2 extra- large eggs
- ¼ cup crème fraîche
- 1 recipe Maple Pecans
- for Maple Pecans:
- 1 ½ cups pecans
- 2 tablespoons maple sugar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Prepare a 10- inch round cake pan by lightly buttering the inside surfaces, lining the bottom with parchment paper, and buttering the parchment. Cook 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick) in a small saucepan over high heat for a few minutes, swirling the pan, until the butter browns and smells nutty.
- Set aside to cool.
- Scoop the ripe flesh from the persimmons, and purée in a blender until smooth. Measure out 1 cup purée.
- Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, the spices, and salt in a small bowl, and set aside.
- In another bowl, combine the purée, ¼ cup cream, vanilla, and cooled browned butter.
- Paddle the remaining 11/2 cups butter and the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer at medium- high for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each egg. Decrease the paddle speed to low. Alternately add the flour mixture and persimmon- purée mixture to the bowl, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
- Evenly spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour, until cake feels springy to the touch. Whip the remaining ¾ cup cream and the crème fraîche to soft peaks. Cut six slices from the cake (the cake will yield ten to twelve servings), and place on six dessert plates. Dollop with whipped crème fraîche, and scatter the candied pecans over the cake and around the plate.
- Maple Pecans
- NOTE Maple sugar can be found at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, specialty stores, and, of course, online. Although you can substitute turbinado or even brown sugar, the maple sugar makes it extra maple-y and special.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Spread evenly across the prepared baking sheet. Bake, stirring every few minutes, for about 10 minutes, or until nuts are toasted.