Category Archives: Food Spy

Chevrè & Tomato Puff Pastries

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pâte feuilletée avec du fromage de chèvre et tomate

Today is a sad day. Back from France not three weeks and I’ve just realized how low my store of goodies is running. If your obsession with French ingredients matches mine, or if you happened to read this post about last year’s France trip, you get how disheartening a time this is (and it doesn’t help that ‘A Good Year’ is on the tube right now).

Save or use? That’s always the nagging question with the long-shelf-life ingredients we haul back from France. Relying on my formidable will power (I hide things from myself), I usually manage to forget for a time the glass jars safeguarding their various forms of yum. But the fresh stuff, those darlings of the bunch like crème fraîche, canciollotte, the fromages bleus—these require constant attention to expiration dates to thwart any bacteria uprisings.

The last of the chevrè rounds is expired. Not by much, and no way I’m tossing it, but it needs to be used asap. While cradling the precious disk in my hand, I remembered an appetizer served at the alpine B&B we stayed in last month. This is my interpretation of Les 5 Saison‘s tomato & chevrè puff pastries.


1 roll of pasta brisè or puff pastry dough (use store-bought; no one’s judging)
1 small round of chevrè (about 150 grams)
2 or 3 medium round tomatoes


Heat the oven to 180° C (about 350° F). Cut the pasty dough into rectangles about 3″ by 1.5″ and score them lengthwise with a small sharp knife. Slice the tomatoes into thin rounds and gently shake out most of the seeds and liquid. Slice the chevrè into small pieces about the size of a nickel. Layer each piece of pastry with tomato, then cheese, then tomato and so on until each piece is covered. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the cheese gooey. Sprinkle with herbes de provence if you have some. Fresh thyme or chives would also be good on these. If you’re not fond of goat cheese, you could make these pastries with mozzarella or ricotta forte, in which case garnish instead with fresh basil.


Food Spy: Tortiglioni with Asparagus & Porcini Mushrooms


dried porcini soaking, asparagus julienned, fresh thyme

Where Food Spy ate: Enoliteca Ombrone in Suvereto, a town in the Tuscan Maremma.

What Food Spy ordered: Mezze maniche with asparagus, porcini mushrooms, and fresh thyme.

Presentation notes: A large bowl, about 80 grams circa of mezze maniche pasta in an earthy-colored, aromatic sauce sprinkled with fresh thyme.

Food Spy’s recipe for 4 people

350 grams (about 4 cups dry) of pasta such as mezza maniche, tortiglioni, or penne (Food Spy used tortiglioni)
50 grams (about 1.5 ounces) of dried porcini mushrooms
1 bunch of asparagus
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
olive oil
salt & pepper


Put a large pot of water on to boil.

Roughly chop the thyme and grate the cheese. Set both aside.

Rinse the asparagus. Cut off all of the tough ends, usually at least 2 inches, then slice the remaining stalks julienne style (see picture). Put the porcini in a bowl and cover with a ladle-full of pasta water. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the asparagus in the oil about 4 to 5 minutes on medium heat.

The porcini should be softer now. Cut them up a bit before adding them to the asparagus. You can do this directly in their liquid with a pair of kitchen scissors, or by lifting them out with a fork and then roughly chopping them on a board. Add the chopped porcini to the asparagus with about half of the liquid (which will be very brown). Salt and pepper the mixture and cook for a few more minutes.

The pasta water should be boiling now. Start cooking the pasta.

At this point Food Spy noticed the sauce was too liquidy. Maybe it was a mistake to add the porcini liquid? Food Spy decided to make a roux to thicken the sauce: Dissolve 2 Tablespoons of flour in ½ cup tepid water. Turn off the heat on the sauce pan for a few minutes while the pasta cooks. When the pasta is about 2 minutes from done, put the sauce back on medium heat and add the roux. Mix into the sauce gently but thoroughly. Salt again to taste. When the sauce is thick, somewhat gravy-like, turn off the heat and quickly drain the pasta, making sure to save about ½ cup of the pasta water. Toss all the pasta into the sauce pan and mix well. Add spoonfuls of the hot pasta water as needed to make sure you have a smooth, creamy sauce. Now add in the grated Parmesan and some of the thyme. Toss well. Serve with the remaining thyme sprinkled on top.

Whose was better? Food Spy’s roux was a stroke of genius, as any mushroom-based sauce will always benefit from a bit of creaminess. Yet the chef at Ombrone had an edge on Food Spy: the asparagus. Whereas the store-bought asparagus Food Spy used was clearly cultivated (and likely harvested too early), the dish served by Ombrone was prepared with wild, very tender and delicate asparagus (which might account for the price Food Spy paid for this exquisite dish).


on Food Spy’s plate

Food Spy: Pasta with Radicchio & Speck

Category: Food Spy | Published: March 5, 2013
2011-10-01 13.39.31

spy on this

Where Food Spy ate: Osteria I Buongustai, Via dei Cerchi, 15, Florence. This tiny, teeming-with-locals eatery in downtown Florence is arguably the best lunch-time deal in town. Run by sisters Laura and Lucia, I Buongustai’s daily menu usually consists of four or five choices of primo: a few pasta dishes, a risotto, ribollita or pappa al pomodoro. Some of the sisters’ solid secondi include carpaccio di pesce spada (swordfish carpaccio salad) and cinghiale in umido (wild boar stew); while specialties like their plate of sliced prosciutto crudo with coccoli (dollops of fried batter, fluffy and lightly salted), or a panino al lampredotto (boiled and seasoned tripe-meat sandwich, a Florentine favorite), keep locals coming back. From the simple side dishes like Tuscan white beans and spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic, to the home-made torta della nonna on display tempting you all through your meal, every dish here is a made-to-order delight.

The seating is cramped, the service brusque verging on chaotic, but no one seems to mind. Not the shopping-bag-laden tourists, certainly not the lunch-hour locals. A meal at I Buongustai lingers pleasantly in your memory and taste buds, despite that fellow’s elbow in your side, his jacket sleeve dusting your wine glass as he was leaving. Here, the food is all. And it’s plenty.

What Food Spy ordered: Pasta with radicchio and speck (€6.50) and a glass of house white wine (€2). Cooked up quickly, costing from €5.50 to €7, a plate of pasta at I Buongustai is not only a fast and sure lunch option for working folks; it’s also a more adventurous choice than what’s on offer at other like establishments in town. The sister chefs at I Buongustai flex a bit of creative muscle in their noisy and narrow kitchen (visible to customers, Food Spy is happy to note), adding a dash of boldness to traditional Tuscan recipes. So while the daily menu consists partly of sure things—a pasta al pomodoro for the unsure of stomach; a classic lasagna for the conformist—an off-beat, even quirky pasta recipe almost always makes an appearance on the paper menu posted outside the osteria door. This time it was pasta con radicchio rosso e speck.

Presentation notes: A generous portion of penne (circa 100 grams) cooked al dente and tossed with radicchio leaves, chunks of speck, slivers of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and olive oil. A colorful dish, given the reddish ingredients; served slightly warm to room temperature.

Question marks: The radicchio. The color suggested it was raw, as it was not the deep, purply-brown of cooked radicchio. Yet it lacked the crispy bitterness of raw radicchio. Had it been blanched or steamed prior? A little experimenting at home and Food Spy hit on the answer: the still-steaming pasta tossed over the radicchio accounts for these semi-cooked, perfectly textured leaves.

Food Spy’s Recipe for 4 people

350 grams (approximately 4 cups dry) of penne, fusilli, or other short rod/spiral pasta
100 grams speck (about 1/2 cup cubed or 3.5 ounces sliced; Food Spy used deli-style slices)
half of a radicchio di Chioggia (the round type that resembles a cabbage)
4 Tablespoons olive oil (a really good one)
200 grams (about 3/4 cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano slivers


While your salted pasta water heats to a boil, prepare the other ingredients: Slice or tear the raw radicchio, rinse and drain well. Slice the speck width-wise into half-inch strips. Prepare the Parmigiano slivers using a cheese grate or sharp knife. Place the ingredients, in this order – speck, cheese, radicchio – in a large bowl, making sure the radicchio covers the other ingredients. Cook the pasta al dente, drain and pour the hot pasta immediately into the bowl. Let the pasta rest on the radicchio for about one minute. Toss thoroughly. Add the olive oil and toss again very well. Salt to taste, keeping in mind the cheese and meat are savory. Serve slightly warm or room temp.

Whose was better?
The constant excellence of I Buongustai’s dishes notwithstanding, Food Spy concludes that the at-home version exceeded the establishment’s, for two reasons: Food Spy used a delicious new olive oil, and more of it than I Buongustai did; and substituting the speck chunks with the slices resulted in a more delicate texture and a more aesthetically coherent presentation, given the pasta shape used.