An Abundance of Oregano

Oregano is a prime ingredient in this salad dressing -- for good reason.

Oregano is a prime ingredient in this salad dressing — for good reason.

 

At this time of year, it inevitably happens: The attack of the oregano.

What started as a teeny-tiny seedling planted years ago has taken on a life of its own — growing with abandon into a dense bush that would over take everything else in my small backyard if I let it.

Sure, I’ve killed hardy cactus, gone through turmoil trying to grow healthy basil at times, and fretted over finicky tomato plants. But my oregano? It’s survived freak frosts, spells without regular watering, and downright neglect. I half think it secretly considers every other plant in my yard a wuss. After all, Mr. Oregano is a survivor. He’s the king of this domain, for sure.

It looks so innocent in my yard, doesn't it?

It looks so innocent in my yard, doesn’t it?

So, at this time of year especially, I find myself adding fresh oregano leaves to pastas, vegetable soups, tabbouleh, roasted chicken, and blistered pizzas. But no matter how much I use, there’s always more oregano where that came from, if you know what I mean.

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Din Tai Fung to Open Its First Bay Area Location, Blue Bottle Comes to Palo Alto & More

Soup dumplings fresh out of the steamer at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia. (Photo by Carolyn Jung)

Soup dumplings fresh out of the steamer at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia. (Photo by Carolyn Jung)

Din Tai Fung To Open at Valley Fair Shopping Center

A Whale of A Meal at La Balena in Carmel-By-The-Sea

A trio of outstanding pastas at La Balena.

A trio of outstanding pastas at La Balena.

 

There are many reasons to adore Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s as picturesque as it gets, full of romance, and boasts a white sand beach that just begs you to doff your sandals and relax a long while.

Now, I have another reason to love it: La Balena.

The three-year-old restaurant is owned by Emanuele Bartolini, who used to work front-of-the-house for Mario Batali in New York. After vacationing here regularly with his wife, Anna, the couple finally decided to make the leap to this West Coast hamlet.

Bartonlini named his restaurant La Balena (“The Whale”) after those magnificent sea creatures he used to view when he served aboard ships in the military in Italy. It’s also a nod to the giant whale in his favorite story of “Pinocchio,” which was written by Carlo Collodi, a children’s writer who grew up in Florence, near where from Bartolini hails. In fact, his second restaurant, set to open in April just steps away, will be named Il Grillo (“The Cricket”), in reference to Jiminy Cricket.

La Balena's namesake.

La Balena’s namesake.

The pretty back patio.

The pretty back patio.

This is Italian food with true soul wrapped around an abundance of fresh, local ingredients. Executive Chef Brad Briske describes it as “Monterey Bay Tuscan” food. He buys whole and half pigs, and butchers them, no easy feat in such a compact kitchen. All the salumi is made in-house, as well as almost all the pastas, with the lone exception being the spaghetti. But that may change in the future, as the restaurant just purchased a pasta extruder.

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Noodle Bowls Are A Breeze with Oakland’s Nona Lim

Miso Ramen in a flash -- with the help of Nona Lim.

Miso Ramen in a flash — with the help of Nona Lim.

 

Bowls of brothy noodles are the ultimate comfort dish. But you can work yourself into a tizzy in the time and care it takes to create one from scratch.

Oakland’s Nona Lim makes it easy to enjoy your favorite Asian noodle bowl in a flash. Lim grew up in Singapore, and worked as a consultant in the tech industry, all the while training competitively in fencing. After moving to the food-centric Bay Area, she knew she wanted to start a business built around healthful and tasty food.

Her broths, soups and noodles are made in small batches. Find them in the refrigerated section at such stores as Draeger’s, Sigona’s, and Whole Foods for about $4.40 per package.

I had a chance to taste a couple of samples recently. The broths are super convenient — all you have to do is warm them up in a saucepan. The noodles — wide Pad See Ew, flat Laksa ones, and thinner Pad Thai ones — are all made from rice, so they’re gluten-free. Just boil them in water for a minute, drain, then add to your bowl of broth.

Then, get as creative as you like by adding tofu, chicken, mushrooms, cabbage, Sriracha, green onions — or pretty much anything you like.

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Presenting Carrot Tarte Tatin

A pretty -- and savory -- tart tatin to dig into.

A pretty — and savory — tart tatin to dig into.

 

It looks like a sweet. But eats like a savory.

That’s exactly what this lovely “Carrot Tarte Tatin” is.

It’s from the new cookbook, “My Little French Kitchen” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy, by Rachel Khoo. The cookbook author, who also has starred on cooking shows on BBC2 and The Cooking Channel, chronicles her travels through France through these rustic recipes that capture the ease with which Europeans cook and entertain at home. They always make it look easy, don’t they? Enjoy everything from “Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Cod” to “Red Wine Roast Chicken” to “Chocolate and Creme Fraiche Tart.”

MyLittleFrenchKitchen

Unlike a classic apple tart tatin, this carrot one is not drenched in sweet caramel syrup. Instead, it lets the purity of the carrots shine through with just a touch of honey, red wine vinegar and fresh thyme to awaken their flavors even more.

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