The Farmers in Chief + Turnip & Potato Gratin

The Farmers in Chief + Turnip & Potato Gratin

I am nominating Eero Ruuttila and Liana Eastman (from Nesenkeag Farm, Litchfield NH) as Farmers in Chief!
If you wonder what I am talking about you must read Michael Pollan excellent article published in the New York Times Magazine : Farmer in Chief and/or listen to Michael Pollan interview on Fresh Air.
Pollan article is an open letter addressed to: Dear Mr. President-Elect
“As most of us already know the next president’s food policies, will have a large impact on a wide range of issues, including national security, climate change, energy independence and health care”.

Indeedy! If you follow my blog you know that I was at Nesenkeag Farm Day last week end.
I will try to keep the account of the event concise, but the colors, tastes, warmth, inspirations are still so vivid that I am having a hard time sorting out what to write.

The trip started by collecting a few things to bring to the farm:
Spicy olives from Aunt Alime’s Halal meat market in Bay Ridge & a big Balthazar Pain de Seigle.
Then I met Simon Pettet at the Fung Wha bus terminal and we hopped on the bus to Boston. The conversations and the gorgeous colors of nature made the 4:30 hours ride go like a flash. Once in Boston we transfered to North Station via subway where we caught (almost didn’t) the train to Lowell. It was my idea to have cocktails to make good use of the 20 minute wait… we barely made it to the train but broke a big sweat and had great laughs. Pierre (Joris) was waiting for us at the Lowell station and we drove to our destination: Nesenkeag Farm in Litchfield NH.

We were greeted by Erick Ruutilla, the bright and handsom younger son of Eero and Liana; the farmers still had many errands to run to get ready for the next day. We settled ourselves in the house, opened wine, beer, bread, olive, cheese, did a little cooking prep until the farmers arrived for a splendid dinner of -never so fresh- stir fry greens, bacon & potatoes. After dinner we took a walk on the farm grounds. The night was bright & cold under an 89% Full Hunter’s Moon. While Lydia the dog takes a swim in the Merrimack river -Thoreau stopped here in September 1839, see One week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers- we watch the reflections and Eero tells us about the three “one hundred years floods” he experienced in the last eighteen months, the damages he had to face and how red clover is a better green manure/cover crop for climate change. I was fast asleep when I hit the sack, the warm wooden fire took me away in minutes.

When I got up Saturday morning everybody was buzzing around getting things in motion for the visitors. My assignment was to make a Turnip and Potato Gratin. Liana and Karen -the catering coordinator for the event- provided me with a recipe that I loosely followed because I had to make it for a bigger crowd. Pierre assisted in the cooking and Simon peeled potatoes.

Nesenkeag Turnip and Potato au Gratin:
5 medium Yellow Finn or Russet potatoes
10 medium turnips
2 cups of grated Dubliner cheddar or Swiss
2 cups of Heavy Cream.

Preheat oven to 375ºF
Peel & slice potatoes & turnips (only if skin is tough) 1/4 inch thick.
Butter the sides & bottom of dish.
Layer potatoes and turnips seasoning each layer and dividing the cheese.
Pour cream, cover with the rest of the cheese, disperse small nuggets of butter on top. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes & rotate the dish if your oven cooks unevenly.

The gratin was for the evening gathering so we headed back to the event location for the -daylight- farm tour and delicious food cooked by the Cambodian farm workers that have their imprint all over the farm. I particularly liked the sour chicken soup. Then came poetry & music. The readers were Nancy Henry and Joseph Torra. Nancy read funny personal poems and Joe, after treating us with a few Chinese farm/food related poems, lifted us off to Boston; the intensity of his performance was a true act of deterritorialization. Then Vincente Lebron, Russ Gershon and their friends accompanied the sunset to Latin rhythm. The next day was Chef’s Day. Nesenkeag Farm delivers their gorgeous veggies to the best Boston & New Hampshire restaurants (click here for list). One of the chef brought a 150 lbs pig that he smoked all night long. Another restaurant owner barbecued Lamb Kofte that he served in warm pita bread with stewed shredded tomatoes, yogurt sauce and a dash of mint oil on top. That was so tasty! Then there were salads, soups, wines, cider, pies, apples to die for…and the company. Poets, farmers, musicians, chefs, young people, older people all mingled and feast. Eero’s older son Jesse brought a horde of young brooklinites that were a lot of fun to hang out with

Thank you so much Eero and Liana for the splendid and inspiring weekend.
View all pictures and video at :

Quick Rognons d’Agneau à la Moutarde

Quick Rognons d’Agneau à la Moutarde

Before I take off to Nesenkeag’s Annual Farm Day for a long week end, voilà a quick & easy recipe that I am very fond of: Mustard Sauce Lamb Kidneys .
The most important is to make sure you purchase very fresh kidneys. I buy them from the Aunt Halime’s Halal Meat on 3rd Avenue and Ovinton in Bay Ridge. To insure freshness kidneys have to be firm, with a rich and even color and no strong odor. It is recommended to use them the day of purchase. Lamb kidneys are single-lobed while veal kidneys are multi-lobed.

2 to 3 kidneys per person.
– 1 cup of diced shallots or of sweet onions.
– Melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a skillet and sauté the shallots or onions until translucent.
– While the shallots cook remove the fat around the kidneys. Cut them in the middle, remove the white tougher part in the middle, and cut into four pieces.


-Add the kidneys to the pan and sauté on high heat for 3-4 minutes. Overcooked kidneys will get tough, they should be a little pink in the middle.

-Reserve kidneys in a covered shallow dish so they can stay warm and juices can be collected.

-Flambé the pan with an Armagnac/Cognac type brandy, that will loosen up the caramelized bottom.
-Add 3 heap soup spoons of Dijon Mustard into the pan, stir well.
-Pour 1/2 pint of heavy cream into the pan and bring it to boil. When cream starts thickening add the kidneys and the rendered juices.
-Add fresh ground pepper.
Attention : before adding any salt taste your sauce. Some mustards are already salty enough, others are not, you will have to make a decision about adding salt or not.
-Bring it back to a boil, then lower the flame and watch the consistency. The sauce needs to thickens until it coats the back of a wooden spoon evenly & smoothly.
-I served it with boiled new potatoes cut in half around the rognons. it can also be served with rice of fresh tagliatelles.
-On the picture you will notice that I have added some parsley and few pink peppercorn for garnish. This step is not indispensable.

Bon appetit et bon week-end!

たらこスパゲティー Tarako Spaghettis

たらこスパゲティー  Tarako Spaghettis

photo by Chiaki Matsumoto

Though Tarako spaghettis are part of Yoshoku food (Western influenced Japanese cuisine) it is interesting to note that this dish also has Korean influence.
Tarako is salted Alaskan Pollock roe, most of the time referred to as cod roe. Pollock and cod are member of the Gadidae family, but different genus & specie. The confusion comes probably from the fact that in Japanese, tara (鱈) means cod. Tarako spaghettis is often made with Mentaiko, the spicy marinated roe, and that is were the Korean influence comes into play. Mentaiko originated from myeongran jeot (명란젓) and was most likely introduced to Japan after World War II. Jeotgal or Jeot (명란젓) is used as a condiment in pickling Kimchi and has it’s origin in Chinese cooking. Tarako spaghettis is a transcontinental dish, just the way I like them.

Plain Tarako pix source from Wikipedia

The recipe is pretty standard and simple, depending where you live the most challenging might be to find the Tarako. Korean and Japanese market carry it, just make sure to avoid the ones with MSG and coloring.

This is the recipe I chose from:


  • 2 fish roe, see note 1 (must be Japanese salted cod roe called tarako or karashi mentaiko)
  • 6 ounces spaghettini noodles (or finer)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (or less)
  • 1/4 sheet nori, cut into tiny tiny strips

Note 1: a) Tarako comes in sausage-looking pieces
b)you can choose either the spicy kind (karashi mentaiko) or just plain tarako
c)you can find tarako at the Japanese grocery store, often it is in the freezer.


  1. Cut open the casing on each piece of tarako and gently scrape or squeeze out the roe.
  2. Discard the casings.
  3. Start your water to boil for the spaghetti.
  4. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and add roe, stirring until the color of the roe changes to a pale orange.
  5. Stir in about half the heavy cream until well blended and heated through. As necessary, you can add the rest of the heavy cream.
  6. Turn off the heat and keep the sauce just warm.
  7. Don’t ask me why, but a friend stirs in a spoonful of Kewpie Mayonnaise before tossing this dish together (I love Kewpie mayo, but I haven’t tried this addition).
  8. Cook the pasta to al dente.
  9. Drain pasta and toss with sauce (sprinkle on the nori over the top just before taking the plates to the table) to serve.

Thank you Chiaki and Kenji to introduce me to Yoshoku cuisine!

Oeufs Cocotte à la Crème

Oeufs Cocotte à la Crème

Sunday morning I made Oeufs Cocotte à la Crème. This is another dish that was often served at my family hotel-restaurant and below is the scan of a menu from my grand father Joseph Peyrafitte’s menu notebook.

On Thursday May 2nd 1968 Oeufs Cocotte were served as the first course of the traditional five courses lunch menu. As you can see this lunch did not lack proteins!
Jambon de Pays (Prosciutto type ham from the Pyrenees)
First Couse: Oeufs Cocotte à la Crème (see recipe below)
Main Course: Pistache Luchonnaise ( a white bean & lamb stew with pork rind — a specialty of the Comminges region. I will have to do a post on this dish)
Plateau de Fromage : not mentioned here but a given.
Dessert Course: Strawberries & Fresh Quark Cheese.

I served the Oeufs Cocotte for brunch and they were incredibly delicious.

But first, what is a cocotte: it is a small fireproof dish in which individual portions of food are cooked and served.

Escoffier recipe from a second edition of the book published in 1907

-Break 2 eggs per person in a bowl and reserve them for later. Escoffier skips this step but I like to do it for two reasons: 1) the eggs will reach room temperature and 2) it will be easier to remove any egg shell bits and check on the quality of the eggs before pouring them into the final dish.

-Warm up the cocotte dishes in a pan filled with water half way
-In a small pan warm up one (generous) table spoon of the heavy cream per person.
-Pour one of these table spoons of hot heavy cream into each of the warm cocotte dishes. Then add the eggs. Season to taste (Escoffier does not give quantities for seasoning. I used salt & pepper, next time I will add a little paprika), two little pieces of butter (you can see below how much I did put in).
-Cook covered in double boiler for about 4/6 minutes depending on how you like your eggs; the water shouldn’t go higher that 1/2 way up the cocotte dishes. Escoffier doesn’t tell how long it should be cooked; I did mine for about 5 minutes, they were perfect, but that is a matter of taste — I like my eggs very soft.
-Dig in with a spoon and have rye bread toast on the side. Do not butter the toasts! that would be excessive, it is decadent enough as it is! Bon Appetit!

Short Ribs & 콩나물국 (kong namul guk)

Short Ribs & 콩나물국 (kong namul guk)

Last night we were invited to dinner at the home of Joseph & Yoori. Joseph Mastantuono is my older son, and two years ago he and Yoori Kang got married. I am so blessed to have such an incredible daughter (don’t like to say in law, daughter in love would be better!). Yoori came from Korea to study art about 10 years ago; she is a very accomplished cook and I must say that she enchants me with the flavors of Korean food. Joseph and I immigrated from France in 1987. He learned how to cook very young from being with me in restaurant kitchens, It feels like Joseph always knew how to cook, and when he went off to college he cooked for himself very competently and economically. When Joseph and Yoori invite us for dinner usually she or he cooks, but last night it was a combination of both their cooking.

Joseph made Hoisin and Honey Pork Riblets (Gourmet, 1992), a recipe handed on by his good friend Pedro. They were excellent, the sweet & sour marinade & the perfect crispy broiling make for almost addictive morsels: you can’t stop eating them! The contrasting texture of Yoori’s rice & beans opened the palate to subtlety of the ribs. I noticed that the black beans where unusual, Yoori told me that they came from a family farm in Korea, and were sent by her mother. Their Korean name is: 서리페 (suh ree pae). I am curious to find out more about these beans that have a black skin, are greenish inside and have a chestnut like taste.

But what upgraded this meal from excellent to brilliant was 콩나물국 (kong namul guk), a fish & vegetable broth with julienned bean sprouts served cold. A little sip of broth between mouthful of the ribs & rice allowed th palate to reset & refresh for the next one, an experience similar to the concept of pickled ginger between sushi or sashimi.

I ate the salad at the very end as I was so enraptured with the ribs, the rice and the broth. But I do like the salad before desert, this is a French way of having it. For dessert Yoori cut up some nice & crunchy watermelon and while the guys had Armagnac I had green tea.

Merci Joseph et 감사합니다 Yoori for a blissful evening.

PS: Joseph is an online editor and a post-production manager also one of the 4 editors of funnybookbabylon an online podcast on comic books.