Sara Jenkins: Simple Mediterranean Cooking

Chef and cookbook author Sara Jenkins.

Chef and cookbook author Sara Jenkins. Carla Roley hide caption

itoggle caption Carla Roley

Mediterranean Recipes

For her new cookbook, Olives and Oranges, chef Sara Jenkins found inspiration in the taste memories of her childhood — things like tomatoes just off the vine, dressed with olive oil and sea salt, or fish prepared with a touch of lemon.

Jenkins, the daughter of a noted food-writer mother and a foreign-correspondent father, grew up traveling across Italy, Spain, France, Lebanon and Cyprus.

Of traveling — and eating — around the Mediterranean, Jenkins remembers "an abundance of very fresh food, uncomplicated cooking – and lots of olive oil," she told Renee Montagne.

Another vestige of those days is a deep love for figs, which can be so good fresh, Jenkins says, that it's hard for her to buy them in a store. "To me, nothing tastes so amazing as a fresh fig on a tree," she says.

Asked about an image that might sum up her new cookbook, Jenkins describes driving along the Mediterranean coast during summer, through dry air that is both salty and perfumed with the scent of wild herbs.

"That just makes me feel like I need to give it all up and move back there, every time I think about it," Jenkins says.

As a chef, Jenkins has fashioned her cooking style around recollections from her childhood abroad. Below, she shares some of the recipes from Olives and Oranges:

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Lemon Olive Oil Cake recipe i i
Alan Richardson
Lemon Olive Oil Cake recipe
Alan Richardson

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Versions of this simple cake are made all over Italy, to be eaten at breakfast with coffee or tea.

Similar to pound cake, it differs mainly in that the fat used is olive oil instead of butter, which, surprisingly, results in a cake with an even richer and more unctuous character. Yogurt adds a subtle tang. Use your best extra-virgin olive oil here.

Flavor tip: Whether you are baking or making a sauce or salad dressing, capture the flavorful oil that lies just beneath the peel of a lemon, lime, or orange by zesting the citrus directly into the bowl with the other ingredients.

Directions

Put oven rack in center position and heat oven to 325°F. Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

With an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl on high speed for 5 minutes, or until pale and thick. Add yogurt and zest; beat to combine. With mixer on medium speed, add oil in a quick, steady stream. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture just until blended. Whisk batter by hand to make sure that all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour batter into pan. Bake, rotating pan once, until cake is golden, center springs back to the touch, and edges pull away from pan, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan for a minute or two on rack, then release from pan and let cool completely on rack before slicing.

Makes 10 servings

Excerpted from OLIVES & ORANGES by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox. Copyright @ 2008 by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. Reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Roasted Scallops With "Snail Butter" And Mache

Roasted Scallops with "Snail Butter" and Mache recipe i i
Alan Richardson
Roasted Scallops with "Snail Butter" and Mache recipe
Alan Richardson

Ingredients

Scallops

  • 4 ounces field-grown mache, baby spinach, or watercress
  • 2 pounds dry-packed medium scallops
  • Medium-coarse sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Crusty bread, sliced and toasted
  • Heat oven to 350ºF.

Snail Butter

  • 1-1/4 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

One of my earliest memories of living in Paris is entering the local bistro as a three-year-old, being greeted by the courtly waiter, and then being charmed by a dish that immediately caught my eye: escargots on display in a glass case.

The pretty round shells sat face-up and were stuffed with a pale green butter that made them oh-so delicious.

I don't think escargots have ever tasted as wonderful to me since, but I have found that the butter has many tasty applications beyond snails. It goes particularly well with rich seafood, such as scallops.

Try it this way, or smear it over split lobster or shrimp and broil, roast, or cook in a wood oven, should you be so lucky to have one.

Directions

FOR SNAIL BUTTER: Finely chop parsley and garlic together. Place in a bowl, add butter and zest, and mash together with a fork until well combined.

Place mâche in a large bowl. Set aside.

FOR SCALLOPS: Generously season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a large cast-iron pan over high heat until quite hot. Add oil and then scallops, slowly feeding them into pan, being careful not to crowd pan or lower the temperature of it; as scallops form a crusty brown sear on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes, move them on top of each other and add more to the pan. When all scallops are browned on one side, remove pan from heat and dot scallops with snail butter.

Place skillet in oven for 5 minutes to melt butter and cook scallops through.

Transfer scallops and butter to bowl with mache, add lemon juice, toss, and serve immediately, with crusty bread to sop up buttery juices.

Makes 4 main-course servings; 6 small plates

Excerpted from OLIVES & ORANGES by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox. Copyright @ 2008 by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. Reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Red Onions Cooked In Orange Juice

Red Onions Cooked in Orange Juice recipe photo
Alan Richardson

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 pounds red torpedo or other small-to-medium red onions
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Medium-coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • Piment d'Espelette or other crushed dried red chili pepper

This is my play on cipollini in agrodolce, or "sweet-and-sour onions." Browning the onions first caramelizes them, and the orange juice adds both tang, more commonly supplied by vinegar, and a little sweetness.

I like to use red torpedo onions because they're nicely mild and slightly sweet, and because their rich color, once cooked, makes a gorgeous contrast to the burnt hue of the reduced orange juice, but you can also use small red onions, cipollini, or even pearl onions, leaving the smallest varieties whole.

Enjoy these as they are, spoon them onto crostini for an easy cocktail snack, or top fish or game with them for a delicious main course.

Directions

Keeping root ends intact so that pieces will hold together, peel and quarter onions. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, cut side down, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and reduce heat to medium. Cook until cut sides are golden, about 4 minutes per side.

Add orange juice, lemon juice, and bay leaf; reduce heat to low and simmer until juices are thickened and almost completely reduced to a glaze, about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle with chili and a little more salt, and serve warm.

Makes 4 servings

Excerpted from OLIVES & ORANGES by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox. Copyright @ 2008 by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. Reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Books Featured In This Story

Olives and Oranges

Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus, and Beyond

by Sara Jenkins, Mindy Fox and Alan Richardson

Hardcover, 372 pages | purchase

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