Sara Jenkins: Simple Mediterranean Cooking For her new cookbook, Olives and Oranges, chef Sara Jenkins found inspiration in the memories of her childhood, when she traveled across Italy, Spain, France, Lebanon and Cyprus. She has fashioned her cooking style around recollections from that childhood abroad.
NPR logo

Sara Jenkins: Simple Mediterranean Cooking

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sara Jenkins: Simple Mediterranean Cooking

Sara Jenkins: Simple Mediterranean Cooking

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We end this hour with a taste of the Mediterranean. The new cookbook Olives and Oranges offers recipes as simple as its titles, dishes like spaghettini with burst cherry tomatoes and roasted red peppers with garlic and celery leaves. New York chef Sara Jenkins found inspiration for her cookbook in the taste memories of her childhood. Sara Jenkins grew up living and eating all across Italy, Spain, France, Lebanon and Cyprus. The daughter of a noted food writer - her mother - and a foreign correspondent - her father now with NPR's foreign desk. As a chef, Sara Jenkins has fascinated her cooking style around recollections from that childhood abroad.

Ms. SARA JENKINS (Chef): My parents loved to eat, they loved to go out, you know. In France, they loved to go to fine restaurants and small restaurants. And one of my earliest memories is eating in Paris and it must have been the local bistro on our street. And we ate there, I don't know, five nights a week something like that. And I was infatuated with Escargot - that was what I ate. It was the Mediterranean, and even though they were working, there seems to have been lots of sitting at restaurants by the seashore and eating fresh fish and shopping in markets and buying things from local villagers. It was just an abundance of very fresh food, uncomplicated cooking, and lots of olive oil.

MONTAGNE: You speak of fresh figs, sun-kissed figs, is how you describe them right off the tree.

Ms. JENKINS: You know it's something I still miss. I have a hard time actually buying figs in a store because to me nothing tastes so amazing as a fresh fig on a tree. And I live in Astoria, Queens now and there's a lot of old Greek families with figs on their trees that are just starting to ripen. And I hate to say it, but I keep plotting to come down in the middle of the night and start clipping figs off their trees.

MONTAGNE: Your cookbook is titled Olives and Oranges. Why don't we start in a way, backwards with an orange part of the meal. It's a recipe for red onions cooked in orange juice.

Ms. JENKINS: It's kind of a play on a classic Italian dish of sweet and sour onions, cipollini and agrodolce. The onions are sort of brown to become sweet and then cooked out in vinegar and cooked very slowly so that the sweetness comes out of the onion. In this case I just substituted - I think I found some beautiful red onions one day, and maybe we had oranges in the house instead of vinegar - and so I made it that way. And I loved it, it was beautiful. The colors were really vibrant and vivid.

MONTAGNE: And then you can use this in a whole bunch of different ways.

Ms. JENKINS: Hmm. Could be an appetizer by itself, you could put it on a piece of grilled bread or toast. You could use it as an accompaniment to roasted meats.

MONTAGNE: Just a moment ago, you talked about developing a love for Escargot. But in this cookbook, you actually offer something that's not so much about the snails but about the butter that traditionally goes on them. You have a recipe for snail butter.

Ms. JENKINS: Yeah. I mean going back to France as a young adult or as an adult, I was obviously always again tempted by the Escargot. It's sort of this comfort memory. And they rarely taste that good. They're sort of rubbery and bland usually. And I started to realize that it is really all about the butter.

MONTAGNE: So the butter is now, anybody who's ever had escargot knows it's green.

Ms. JENKINS: Its garlic and parsley, and a lot of parsley and butter. All kind of whipped together in a - I mean you could do it by hand with soft butter or you can do it in a cuisine art. Sometimes I like to put a little lemon zest in with it too because it picks things up and adds a little spark. And a little pinch of salt. That's it.

MONTAGNE: That's the butter. You feature it with roasted scallops, which is also a very simple recipe. But tell us how - just a simple version if you have the butter, how you would say roast up some scallops?

Ms. JENKINS: Well, I would preheat my over so that it's about 350 degrees and I would get - I'm very fond of heavy black cast iron pans in the home. I guess one of the big differences between a restaurant kitchen and a home kitchen is your gas and your heat. And so a heavy cast iron pan tends to really hold and retain heat that you don't have as much of it in the home kitchen. Get the pan really, really hot. Put some olive oil down in it. Salt the scallops. Sear them, slowly feeding the pan. You'd put four down and let those start to cook. And then add another three and another four so that the pan doesn't cool down. And then once I have all the scallops in there and pretty close to browned, I dot the butter and throw it in the oven and kind of let the butter melt and it finishes cooking the scallops in about, I don't know, three minutes, four minutes.

MONTAGNE: Well, I think we've reached the point where a dessert is a nice thing to be thinking about - and that gets us to olives or in a sense olives - because one of the deserts you have, which is quite lovely, and it seems very Mediterranean, is lemon olive oil cake.

Ms. JENKINS: One of the things that I love about Italy and the Mediterranean I supposed they're not huge dessert eaters. They don't eat a big slab of chocolate cake after dinner. But they love sugar for breakfast. And this cake is really often served as a breakfast cake with a cup of coffee. It's really like a pound cake using olive oil as the fat instead of butter. And using in this case, yogurt as your liquid, you might more commonly use milk. Eggs, flour, the requisite baking powder, baking soda. And I - again, like to put the zest of lemons in there. You could put oranges, you could, I don't know. I think oranges or lemons would pretty much be it.

MONTAGNE: You know, having worked on this cookbook, is there a memory that speaks to the whole sort of fragrance and flavor that you're trying to offer here?

Ms. JENKINS: It might be the smell of the Mediterranean in the summer, when there's all kind of weeds growing. Wild oreganos and wild fennel, and there's this intense sort of perfume as you drive along the coast between a little bit of salt air and a little bit of wild herbs. And it's really dry and hot. And that just makes me feel like I need to give it all up and move back there every time I think about it.

MONTAGNE: That's the big difference than New York City.

Ms. JENKINS: It is.

MONTAGNE: Sara Jenkins, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. JENKINS: Well, thank you for having me.

(Soundbite of Garage a Trois; Plana for My Grundle)

MONTAGNE: Sara Jenkins with co-author Mindy Fox is out with Olives and Oranges, recipes and flavors, secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus and beyond. You can follow the recipes you've just heard by going to This is Morning Edition from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.