Here is a little teaser from the cookbook. I especially love this photograph. I took it in 2005 during a trip to Italy. Take a close look at these hands. They are the hands of a worker, a very gifted cook.
It’s finally done. A big thanks to Brad Roe and Tim Schamber of Peloton Magazine for making it happen. Tim took our photographs, recipes, and stories and created something very unique and special. The book tells our story and gives away some of our secrets.
The book is being printed and should be ready by December 3rd at the latest. It will be for sale at Fiore Market Cafe and will cost $30 plus tax.
We have been making lots of fig jam this summer. We usually do for a couple reasons. Number 1, figs are very plentiful in Southern California. Many people have a fig tree or know someone with a fig tree. Number 2, fig jam goes well with crispy pork belly. which we also like to make in the summer, or anytime of the year.
I didn’t know much about figs until Anne and I started to go to Italy. There I had a couple of very big fig moments.
We had a neighbor who lived directly across from the apartment we stayed in. She used to sit on a plastic lawn chair right outside her door and smoke cigarettes. When she wasn’t smoking cigarettes she was watering her plants or trimming vegetables. She was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. One hot August day, she knocked on our door and handed me a porcelain bowl of ripe figs. When I say ripe I mean ripe. These figs were splitting in two.
At the time they were too much for me. I couldn’t appreciate them. They were just too ripe for my taste buds. I don’t remember what we did with them, but I brought her clean bowl back to her the next day. I think she assumed we enjoyed them
The second big fig moment occurred a few years later. We were in Italy again. I was at our friends Paola and Franco’s house. Paola was getting ready to do a pizza class for some students that I had arranged to come to her cooking school.. We had made the dough. Franco and I had lit the fire in the wood oven and we had time to spare as we waited for the dough to rise. Franco asked me to follow him out into the fields to help him pick figs.
The fig trees were in a big open field. Three of them sat side by side and they were absolutely filled with figs. Looking up from below the trees all I could see was purple. As I climbed the ladder to retrieve the figs the branches shook and figs dropped exploding on Franco’s truck parked beneath the tree. I climbed to the very top of the tree and peered across the valley. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seem. It was dusk. The sky was reddish orange and the tree was filled with bright purple figs looking for a home.
I don’t remember what we did with the figs. I know that most went uneaten, but at that moment I came to learn and appreciate the fig.
Here is a simple fig jam recipe. It yields a small quantity of jam so you can store it in the refrigerator. It should last a few weeks.
Take 1 pound of figs rinse them, cut off the stem and quarter them. Place them in a stainless steel bowl with 1 cup of sugar, the zest and the juice of an orange. Stir the fig mixture and place in a non reaction sauce pan. Turn the heat to high and gently stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes until the jam thickens. Keep a watchful eye and do not let it burn. When the jam is ready I usually cool it down by putting it in a metal container set in a bowl of ice water.
Rely on your senses to tell if it is done. The color of the jam will darken and become glossy. When you stir you’ll feel the resistance as it slowly thickens. The figs will break down and spread out. They will not completely break down. I like them to remain semi-whole, but well cooked and soft.
Try the jam on a piece of grilled bread with some cheese. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with course sea salt.
I remember as a small boy going out to lunch with my grandmother. She would take us downtown to Marshall Fields. I don’t remember the food much, but I do remember the crowds. I remember the busy restaurant and how good it felt to be in a crowded space with the smell of terrific food wafting through the air. As I grew I was conscious of busy restaurants and the feelings associated with them. They drew me in.
When Anne and I and the boys made it to Italy we discovered or more accurately were introduced to a small restaurant called La Vecchia Quercia. La Vecchia Quercia was not always busy, but when it was it felt fantastic. Not only did it have the sensations of a full house and the smells of really good Italian food it had the sounds of Italian being spoken and at times yelled to fill the space and make it even more comfortable. Being there always made me feel like I was home. I felt good there.
At Fiore Market Cafe, Anne and I never knew what to expect. We knew the space was small. The inside was extremely small with only one large table. The patio had potential. We wanted it to feel comfortable. We wanted the space to be a space where people could hang out and relax. We hoped we would be busy and we are grateful that we are most days, but what I like most is the feeling of the restaurant. I love the fact that so many of the customers are local and are from the neighborhood and more importantly are Fiore regulars. There are too many to name. It brings a smile to my face.
I love a full house especially when it’s full of all our friends.
Anne and I have been working on a Fiore Market Cafe cookbook that we look forward to publishing before the 2014 holiday season. We are doing the cookbook with our friends Brad and Tim from Peloton Magazine. It’s been quite an undertaking.
Thankfully, I have taken thousands of photographs since August 2010 when we signed the lease with Lissa Reynolds of the Fremont Centre. Going through those photographs has brought back fond memories. The photographs of the first loaves of bread are amazing. The bread looks dark and almost burnt to me. To think that we have made approximately 55,000 loaves of bread since those photographs were taken is shocking. Each of those loaves has been made by hand. We have never used any machinery for making bread.
The photographs of the patio reveal a very young setting with a very stark garden that has taken four years to mature. It’s strange to see especially now that the garden is full and such a part of Fiore Market Cafe. It was always our plans to have a garden and this garden has grown alongside the growth of the restaurant.
We plan to use a lot of our own photographs and fill in with some new ones that Tim and I take in the next few weeks.
The cookbook will focus on the Fiore Market Cafe recipes, but will have some stories of our adventures in Italy and hopefully a few recipes from some of our wonderful friends that we met while on that adventure.
We will have a few other unique and interesting additions to the cookbook that you don’t normally find in a cookbook, but we will wait to share that.
On my second trip to Italy in October of 2003 I was fortunate to attend and participate in a Polenta Fest with a new friend Luciana Pancera at her Villa called Villa Vallerosa. She hosted the party in a barn like structure with long tables. The tables were fitted with long wide planks of new wood. Outside the door of the barn her husband Luigi cooked polenta in a copper pot over a wood fire. People lingered and nibbled on figs and proscuito while they waited for the polenta to be ready. When it was, Luigi and a couple of others hoisted the copper pot and slowly pour the hot golden polenta directly on the wooden planks. Luciana spread the polenta across the planks and quickly topped it with a rich meat sauce. Sausages were added and platters of cheese were passed to the group of guest who by now had surrounded the long table. As the polenta hardened the guest peeled it from the plank and devoured it. It was quite an affair. Something I have never forgotten.
A few years ago Anne and I recreated this Polenta Fest for a group of Fiore customers. It was a great time, but not quite the same as it was in Italy, but for South Pasadena it was special. We also did this Polenta Fest for our friends Brad and Tim of the magazine Peloton. They did a story about the Polenta Fest for their magazine.
On September 25th we will host another Polenta Fest. If you are interested in attending please stop by to sign up. Click on the link above for more information.
Here are a few photographs from the farm.
New fig tree planted in a whiskey barrel. I have another one if anyone would like it.
Charlyn’s Kumquat Tree
New compost. Come by and help yourself.
The farm is flourishing this summer and the two biggest contributors are blackberries and heirloom tomatoes. I haven’t had much luck with heirlooms in the past, but this year they are fantastic. They are not ripe, but very close. The blackberries are abundant. We have so many blackberries and the vines have spread everywhere. I allotted one raised bed for them, but they don’t want to stay in one place. They remind me of the mint that is now growing throughout the garden.
I have a few Japanese shiso plants if you would like one.
A very healthy shiso plant
I still have compost if anyone needs some.
Summer is here and tomatoes are finally in season and plentiful at the farmer’s market. The heirloom tomatoes at the Fiore Farm are not quite ready, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start running the heirloom tomato sandwich with farmer’s market tomatoes. I picked some up today from the market in Old Town Pasadena. Take a look.
Here are the Fiore tomatoes that we’re waiting on.
New bread class is scheduled for Tuesday July 15th at 7:00pm. If you are interested in signing up please stop by the restaurant to sign up and pay.
Here is a photograph of the first tomato. It is rather small and not quite ripe enough, but it looks good. Spent the last 2 days thinning out the tomato plants. I discovered lots of tomatoes in various stages, but none ready for the homemade bread. I am hoping soon. Here are a few photographs.
I will have pork belly hopefully Wednesday and Thursday. I will serve it on our homemade bread with homemade fig jam and arugula.
Still have tomato plants if anyone would like a few.