Cristina Sciarra knows a thing or two about the seasons. She’s lived and breathed them in a score of cities where the rise and fall of summer to winter is acute, from Washington DC, where she grew up, to Madrid, where she met her husband, then Paris, where he hails from, and now Jersey City, where they live. Naturally, it also defines the Le Cordon Bleu trained-chef’s cooking, as she scours local farmers’ markets for seasonal produce and prepares casual meals to match the mood outdoors.
These vibrant dishes – think springtime trevisiano and blood orange salad, a summery cardamom, orange and pistachio ice-cream, an autumn vanilla, rooibos and apple rum punch, and ham and cheese buckwheat waffles for winter – form the backbone of The Roaming Kitchen, a truly inspiring and beautifully written food and travel blog documenting her intrepid adventures across the globe (she also has a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing – is there anything Cristina hasn’t done?!).
You can also armchair travel with Cristina on the far-flung food adventures she frequently takes with her husband. As the seasons turn to spring and summer in the northern hemisphere, Cristina is prepping for warm days ahead with thoughts of impromptu picnics in the park, hikes in the mountains and easy, bountiful meals to go with: barbecued pizza with roasted tomatoes and garlic scape pesto, radish and burrata salad, farro with marinated zucchini, and coconut and strawberry ice-blocks. We still have a bit of sunshine left in us here in Australia, so we’re borrowing Cristina’s menu for a few last meals before the comfort food begins. If you want to daydream of summer days for even longer, you can follow Cristina on Instagram @theroamingkitchen.
I use picnics as an opportunity for informal get-togethers with friends. Many of us are city dwellers, and thus garden-less, which makes a central park the perfect place to meet.
“There are few greater pleasures than eating outdoors when the weather's sweet. When my husband – I call him the Frenchman – and I have access to a barbecue, this often means produce-topped pizza or sausages zazzed up with a slick of herbaceous pesto, followed by homemade ice-cream or popsicles for dessert. Otherwise, if we're off for a hike to the beach or to the park, I pack a bevy of sturdy salads; chips; snappy cucumbers or peppers [capsicums] for crunch; punch; and something sweet, like brown butter rice bubble treats, or fresh fruit crumb bars.
"To me, it's a shame to stay inside on a warm, sunny day, so I use picnics as an opportunity for informal get-togethers with friends. Many of us are city dwellers, and thus garden-less, which makes a central park the perfect place to meet. Particularly before winter hits, when there are a million easy (and inexpensive!) ways to toss grains, fresh vegetables and herbs, nuts or cheese, and vinaigrette together to satisfy a swelling crowd.”
The must-cook recipe on my website is… This chocolate cake. It's so good! It packs strong chocolate flavour – thanks to a glug of coffee, dark chocolate and cocoa powder – but the cake itself is light, almost spongy. To simplify, you can switch out the compote for the (seasonal) jam or marmalade of your choice. I like the whipped cream to have a sour note, but the crème fraîche can be exchanged for mascarpone or sour cream.
I learnt to cook at… Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, plus a whole lot of practice/trial and error in my home kitchen.
Friends always ask me to cook my… Garlic scape pesto. Garlic scapes are the green, curly cue shoots that grow from hardneck garlic plants, where flowers might otherwise sprout. Farmers cut away these scapes regardless, so that all growing energy is diverted to the garlic bulb growing underground. Scapes make for delicious eating on their own though, so they need not go to waste. In the northeast, garlic scapes appear in June and July. Raw, they taste like a fresher, greener, less astringent version of mature garlic. Cooked, they have a garlicky, lemony-leek flavour. It's become a bit of a joke with a group of friends – it's amazing how many applications we found for garlic scape pesto in one weekend! Best effort: grilled venison sausage (sourced from my favourite farmer at the market), plus grilled potato buns, plus a generous swipe of garlic scape pesto. My choose-your-own-adventure grilled pizzas are quite popular, too [see recipe, below]. I also make a lot of homemade ice-cream.
My most sauce-splattered cookbook is… Any and all books authored by Nigel Slater. I also refer to classics new and old: The Food Lab (J. Kenji López-Alt), various Cook's Illustrated, Fannie Farmer, Canal House, The Last Course (Claudia Fleming), The New York Times Cookbook, and the Plenty series (Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi)
My current food obsessions are… Sour beers, hot honey and learning to use the slow cooker we were gifted for our wedding – recipe recommendations accepted!
When I go back to… My (husband's) home town, Angoulins-sur-Mer, France, the first things I eat in summer are: cherries from the tree, garden lettuce with mustard vinaigrette, honey-sweet local melon, Pineau des Charentes [aperitif], langoustine with mousseline, tiny local mussels, and grilled rib eye from the farm down the road. In winter: oysters, foie gras, roast goose, figs made jammy by heat and Monbazillac [sweet white wine], Champagne, and simple vegetable soup with shredded Emmental stirred in.
Travelling is… Essential to my happiness / my favourite hobby, aside from food / an opportunity to experience new ingredients and cooking methods / and create experiential memories.
Nugget of cooking wisdom… Practise. Cooking, like playing the piano, is a skill that improves with repetition. Re-try foods you don't like every couple of years. And always be generous with salt when it comes to beef, tomatoes, avocado, and pasta water.
I always have… Finishing and cooking oils, good beans (canned and dry), various vinegars, kosher salt and sea salt flakes, a pepper mill, homemade tomato sauce and good-quality canned tomatoes, za'atar, hot sauce, a couple of varieties of dried pasta, and good bread in my pantry; farm eggs and milk, lemons, whatever herbs and vegetables are in season, and a couple of hard and soft cheeses in my fridge; and homemade chicken stock, pastry dough, meat from the farm, and ice-cream in my freezer.
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