October 23, 2018

Back in Thyme

Israel’s newest weapon in its battle for economic well-being andworldwide acceptance is a tall, thin New Yorker with a great lambrecipe.

Her name is Rozanne Gold. New Yorkers know Gold because, whilestill in her 20s, she served as the personal chef for the city’s thenmayor, Ed Koch. She went on to develop Hudson Valley Cuisine,spinning the local ingredients of upstate New York intosophisticated, urban menus. These days, Gold is a consultant toWindows on the World and the Rainbow Room and is author of the JamesBeard Award-winning cookbook, “Recipes 1-2-3” (Viking, $22.95).

And she is fast becoming the Julia Child of Israeli cuisine,popularizing its ingredients among American chefs, fusing its flavorswith French, Italian and American techniques.

Two weeks ago, the Israel Government Tourist Office unveiled Goldto a group of food writers during a luncheon in the Beverly HillsHotel’s aerie-like Escoffier Room. Gold cooked.

From the Hilton’s kosher kitchen, she sent several courses ofdishes that make a mockery out of the perceived wisdom that Israelicuisine begins and ends with falafel and kebab.

Early on in the meal, Gold showed her knack for tweakingtraditional Israeli ingredients. She baked plumped-up Kalamata oliveswith red wine and Israeli olive oil from the Greater Galilee OliveCompany. Biting into her stuffed grape leaves, the guests happilydiscovered not the standard rice-and-lamb mixture but fresh chunks ofsardine, bathed in a tomato cumin sauce.

Next out was a Tian of Eggplant with Tomato. Baked for threehours, the vegetables were intensely concentrated and sweet, balancedwith a pungent za’atar-infused olive oil.

Gold pushes za’atar much as Shimon Peres stumped for the Osloaccords. Israelis and Palestinians dip their breads in the powderymixture. Gold blends it with olive oil and drizzles it over fish andvegetables, or rubs it dry into lamb chops before grilling them. Shebelieves that the traditional blend of wild marjoram, sumac (anonpoisonous Middle Eastern spice with a lemon salt-like tang) androasted sesame seeds will soon rival oregano as America’s pizzaseasoning of choice.

The two luncheon wine selections — a Golan chardonnay and anEmerald Hill cabernet sauvignon — didn’t live up to the food. Butthe pre-meal champagne, a brut from Yarden’s vineyard in Israel, andthe dessert wine, a Carmel Private Collection muscat, both showed thekind of promise that Israel’s wine industry holds.

After a course of St. Peter’s Fish with Tahina and Sizzling PineNuts on a Biblical Herb Salad, Gold presented Loin of Lamb withPomegranate Molasses. The molasses is the boiled-down juice of freshpomegranates, a staple in Persian cuisine and a tart, Port-like foilfor the rich, seared lamb. The Timbale of Barley and Dates thataccompanied the lamb married two ancient, fairly mundane Israeliingredients into the kind of earthy, savory and sweet dish thatmodern chefs favor.

The dish also highlighted another aim of Golds’. She set out tocreate a menu that was not only kosher, but used all of the sevenspecies from the Holy Land mentioned in the Bible: dates, barley,grapes, olives, wheat, pomegranates and figs.

The figs appeared as Poached Figs in Honey Sesame Syrup, and thewheat flour helped build the small, fluted Orange-Cardamom Cakes,served with a Med-Rim Fruit Soup, redolent of Israel’s Galia melons.A scoop of silvery Arak Sorbet, made from the anise-flavored liquorof the region, adorned the figs.

After Gold emerged from the kitchen to applause, she explained howher love affair with Israeli ingredients began while visiting thecountry in 1980. The fresh white cheeses, the olive oils, and spicesand fresh produce were intoxicating. “I realized that Israeli food isthe greatest story never told,” she said.

Many cultures and cuisines thrive in Israel — from EasternEuropean to Palestinian, from North African to French. “Israel is theworld’s smallest melting pot,” said the chef. The variety inspiredher to recast the ingredients in the kind of fusion style that hastypified much of the cooking of young American chefs. A newgeneration of Israeli chefs has done the same, interpreting theirnative foods through French and Asian techniques, creating a dozen orso standout restaurants around the country. Gault Millau, the Frenchfoodie bible, has added an Israeli section to its touring lineup.

Whether foodies will trek to Israel as they do to Italy and Franceremains to be seen. Likewise, za’atar and other more exotic Israeliingredients have yet to become staples in Wolfgang Puck’s kitchen.But Ehud Yonay, the founder of the Greater Galilee Olive Company whois authoring a major book on Israeli cuisine, said at the luncheonthat the best way to popularize Israeli foods and ingredients isthrough American chefs. Case in point: Rozanne Gold.

From Israel, Solid Gold

Any of Chef Rozanne Gold’s dishes from her Taste of Israelluncheon would make a novel addition to a Sukkot meal. With theholiday of harvest and thanksgiving arriving Oct. 15, we selectedtwo:

Wine-Baked Olives

This recipe, from Gold’s book “Recipes 1-2-3,” depends ongood-quality olives and olive oil. Seek out Israeli Nabali or Souriolives (available through the Greater Galilee Olive Company,800-290-1391) or Greek Kalamatas.

1 pound good-quality black olives

1/2 cup dry red wine (cabernet sauvignon)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or garlic olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Put olives in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to aboil and boil for one minute. Drain well.

3) Place olives with wine and oil in a small oven-proofnonmetallic dish.

4) Bake 30 minutes, stirring once, until most of the liquid hasevaporated.

5) Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with thyme sprigs.

Makes about 85 olives.

Med-Rim Fruit Soup

2 cups peach or mango nectar

1/3 cup sweet white wine (muscat)

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoon honey

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

4 cups (about 2 pounds) finely sliced stone fruit (nectarines,peaches, plums, apricots)

2 cups finely diced cantaloupe or Galia melon

Seeds from 1 pomegranate

1) In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, put nectar, wine, water,honey, bay leaf and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmerfor 10 minutes.

2) Discard bay leaf and cinnamon.

3) Wash the stone fruit and cut into 1/4-inch pieces. Remove theskin and seeds from the melon and cut into small pieces. Mix thefruit and place in a large bowl.

4) Pour warm liquid over the fruit. Let cool.

5) Refrigerate until very cold.

6) Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

Makes 6 cups.