Friday, December 4, 2020
Dec. 4, 2020

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Eat! (Pray, Love) The healing power of good food

The Columbian
4 Photos
Spaghetti Carbonara and Sunchokes with Peaches, Radicchio and Endive are dishes associated with "Eat Pray Love."
Spaghetti Carbonara and Sunchokes with Peaches, Radicchio and Endive are dishes associated with "Eat Pray Love." Photo Gallery

Whether you loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love” memoir or rolled your eyes over its self-absorbed tone, most of us can agree on one thing: the author knows how to eat.

In the throes of her post-divorce depression, the memoirist immersed herself in Italy’s culture, as well as its flame-torched pizza and icy gelato. She traveled to the land of exotic curries and spicy chutneys to find spirituality, and discovered love in the tropical forests of Indonesia, where the flavors of lemon grass and galangal mingle on the palate.

With the cinematic version of the best-seller now playing, we decided to jump on the “eat” portion of the equation, asking three chefs to awaken our appetite with an “Eat Pray Love” menu of their own.

We turned to the new Mediterranean-inspired Locanda de Eva in Berkeley, Calif., the eclectic Indian Junnoon in Palo Alto, Calif., and the Indonesian-focused Straits restaurants group.

Huw Thornton, executive chef at Berkeley’s Locanda de Eva, skimmed the book’s sections about Italy to come up with his recommendations.

These includes a salad with fried sunchokes and ripe juicy peaches.

“Spaghetti Carbonara is a gooey, lustful pasta,” he says. “And goat stew — or lamb stew, for the home cook — is gutsy and hearty, earthy and rustic.”

To end the meal, Thornton would serve a creamy panna cotta, flavored with honey, orange and fresh mint, the perfect dessert for a home cook. If these flavors and textures don’t reawaken your love of life, he says, a year of globe-trotting won’t do it either.

Passionate India

Kirti Pant, executive chef at Junnoon, Palo Alto’s modern Indian restaurant, came up with a menu that would speak to the author, who discovered in her ashram meditations that contentment lies not just in passion, but in balance.

Indian food awakens the senses with its diversity of spices and flavors, says Pant. “But the underlying common thread is always a good balance between all the different senses, the sweet and the sour, the salt and the sugar.”

He suggests a cocktail party-ready menu of marinated chicken tikka skewers, mint- and cilantro-infused lamb kebabs, and a salad of bean sprouts, oranges, peanuts and ginger that fairly sizzles with flavor.

Beautiful Bali

Gilbert’s year of globe-trotting came to a close in Bali, where she fell in love on the tropical Indonesian island. Located halfway between Australia and India, this nation of islands reflects its position at the crossroads of Indian and Asian cultures. And the food, says Straits executive chef Chris Yeo, incorporates elements of Thai, Indonesian, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines.

“Indonesian food appeals to people because of the ingredients — the lemon grass, the garlic, the Kaffir lime and chiles — melting together,” the Singapore native says.

So Yeo suggests dishes that meld savory and spicy flavors, including prawns in sambal, a spicy homemade chile paste, and tender short ribs bathed in coconut milk and steeped in lemon grass, chile paste and ginger.

Fried Sunchokes with Peaches, Almonds, Radicchio, Endive and Parsley

Serves 4.

From Huw Thornton, executive chef, Locanda de Eva.

A handful of sunchokes

Grapeseed or canola oil

1-2 white or yellow peaches

Half a head radicchio

Belgian endive

A few leaves Italian parsley

Small handful toasted, crushed almonds

Red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

Cut the sunchokes into small chunks, the size of rolling dice. Heat oil to 350 F and fry the sunchokes until they color a bit on the outside, and get a little tender on the inside. Drain on paper towels.

Cut the peaches into desirable chunks, whatever you think looks good for a salad.

Chop the radicchio and endive so they’re a little chunky, but nothing fancy.

Assemble your salad with all the components, adding vinegar, oil and salt to taste. Refry your sunchokes a second time, getting them nice and crispy on the outside, but still tender. Add the hot sunchokes to the salad, toss and serve.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves 4.

From Huw Thornton, executive chef, Locanda de Eva.

1 box semolina spaghetti

1/2 pound hunk of guanciale or pancetta

Black peppercorns, lightly fried in olive oil, then crushed

2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks

Pecorino Romano

Cook the spaghetti in well-salted water.

Meanwhile, thinly slice your guanciale into strips, and fry them until they soften and begin to crisp a bit. Set aside, reserving the fat.

Whisk together the eggs and yolks. Set aside.

Before the pasta is fully cooked, get your guanciale and a generous spoonful of its fat going in a saute pan. Add a healthy handful of fried black pepper. When the guanciale is crispy, remove the pan from the heat and hit it with a little water to stop the cooking.

Reserve a little pasta water. Drain the pasta and add it to the guanciale, along with a little pasta water. Set the pan over moderate heat, tossing the pasta as you go. When almost dry, remove from heat, add eggs, and toss thoroughly until a thick, creamy sauce forms. Serve in bowls with grated pecorino on top.

Braised Goat Shoulder with Summer Peppers

Serves 10 or more.

From Huw Thornton, executive chef, Locanda de Eva.

1 goat or lamb shoulder, with or without the bone

5 pounds mixed summer peppers (yellow and red bell peppers, gypsy peppers, wax peppers)

8 red onions

1 pint white wine

4 quarts chicken stock

1 bay leaf

Freshly torn basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt the goat thoroughly. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove your goat from the fridge. Let sit for about an hour. Set your oven to broil.

Meanwhile, clean and slice peppers into 3/8-inch strips, removing seeds. Set on sheet trays, toss with a little olive oil and salt, and broil, tossing as you go, until soft and a little charred around the outside. Do the same with the onions, sliced the same thickness.

When you’ve finished with the pepper and onions, remove the trays from the ovens. Pour the white wine over the vegetables, scraping the pans with a wooden spoon.

Place the goat on a sheet tray, and set under broiler, rotating the goat until you’ve gotten it nice and brown all over. Keep an eye on it!

Place the goat, pepper, onions, bay leaf and stock in a large Dutch oven and cover. Set the oven to 400 F. Braise until tender, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Remove from braising liquid when finished. If bone-in, wait for the meat to cool and pick it off the bone, then return the meat to the liquid. If bone-out, just shred it up with some tongs. This keeps well in the refrigerator for up to five days.

To serve, heat your desired portion in a small pot. Just as it boils, add some torn basil. Serve in a soup bowl, with a drizzle of olive oil on top. Note: For a heartier meal, cook some fingerling potatoes in the braising liquid after you’ve removed the goat shoulder.