"YOU know your kitchen is small when you're making salad on the stove," Suzanne Goin says as she pulls a cutting board over to her range and meticulously begins to slice radicchio leaves into long, feathery strips.
It's here in her home in the Hollywood Hills that Goin worked on the recipes for her new cookbook, "Sunday Suppers at Lucques." The little 1920s house is one of those places that could happen only in Los Angeles -- tucked into the hills at the end of a dirt road so remote it feels like another country, yet it's only a 10-minute drive from West Hollywood and her restaurant Lucques.
She's fixing a Sunday supper menu at home now, starting with Treviso radicchio with Gorgonzola cheese. It's the sort of meal regulars have come to expect at Lucques, where Goin has made Sunday suppers a California institution.
And those expectations rise well above roast chicken and pot roast. At Lucques, Sundays mean three-course suppers with dishes such as grilled pork confit with braised rice soubise and roasted figs, or Tunisian lamb-and-eggplant stew with farro, parsley and harissa. Everyone is offered the same menu and everyone seems happy to be having it.
Goin's cookbook is a greatest-hits collection of seven years' worth of menus. And that chef-y zing is obvious in the recipes. Every dish has an intriguing twist, whether it's combining roasted beets and fried chickpeas in a salad, or making perfect little cornmeal-and-almond sbrisolana cookies to go with a Moscato d'Asti zabaglione.
Goin, 39, got her first cooking job when she was in high school, working for Wolfgang Puck at the old Ma Maison. Since then she's worked for chefs as diverse as Alain Passard, Mark Peel, Alice Waters and Todd English.
Her restaurants -- Lucques and AOC, which she co-owns with Caroline Styne, and the Hungry Cat, which she co-owns with her husband, chef David Lentz -- are at the top of the Los Angeles dining scene.
Of course, with both of them working all the time, Goin doesn't spend much time in her kitchen. "How often do I cook at home?" she asks. "Does breakfast count? Maybe once every two weeks."
But even when she is relaxing and cooking in her home kitchen, Goin is in chef mode, working quickly but carefully and every action seeming deliberately thought out. The Treviso she slices in diagonals rather than directly across. "This way it keeps its natural shape," she says. "You don't end up with those stupid ribbons. I have a lot of weird phobias and that is one of them. I hate to cut greens across the leaf. You get all those weird ripples."
Goin slices the shallots for the salad a little thicker than you might expect -- the Treviso is bitter enough to balance it, she explains. If she were combining the shallots with a more delicate ingredient, she'd slice them thinner or even mince them.
The Gorgonzola is another matter. Its flavor is so strong she needs to slice it very thin, so she cleans the knife with warm water between each cut to keep the pieces neat. "You could crumble it, but it wouldn't look as good," she says, tucking the slabs of cheese among the Treviso leaves. When the salad is just right, she dips a fork into the jar of saba and drizzles the winy syrup from the tines, making sure she hits each piece of cheese.
Then she carefully polishes the rim of the plate with a kitchen towel. "Cleaning rims is one of those things you just can't stop yourself from doing," she says. "It's second nature; it's like you don't even know you're doing it."
Maybe putting a menu together is second nature to her too. But Goin has a hard time putting into words exactly what makes one sing. "When I'm thinking about a menu, I usually start with one or two ingredients that I want to use," she says. "I'll find something to do with them and then we'll go from there."
After deciding on one core dish, she builds from that. "I get a lot of hints from the national origin of the dish -- not that what I'm cooking is going to turn out to be authentic, but it will tell me which style the menu is going to be in," she says. "That helps simplify the number of choices."
An inventive hand
BALANCE is important, both of tastes and textures. "If you've got something really heavy for a main course, you don't want to do the same thing for a starter, maybe a salad would be good," she says. "On the other hand, if you're in the dead of winter and you're serving a beef daube, it would be great to do an onion and bacon tart.... The crisp from the tart shell would work before the meat."
The menus in the book are suggestions, not hard rules. In this case, Goin feels more like following the Treviso salad with grilled quail rather than the braised chicken that's called for. And rather than serving the quail with wilted spinach and currant-pine nut relish as written, she's going to use mustard greens and Concord grapes she picked up from James Birch of Flora Bella Farm. (Locally grown ingredients are the key to Goin's cuisine, and "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" is arranged seasonally, with pointers for what is best at the market at any particular time of year. Photos of her favorite farmers dot the book.)
She douses the grapes with olive oil and seasons them. They go into a 400-degree oven with several sprigs of fresh thyme. The greens she wilts with crisped pancetta in the biggest pan she can find -- a 14-inch All-Clad skillet that, when she turns it over, reads "Suzanne Goin: 1999 Food and Wine Magazine Best New Chef" on the bottom. "That's probably supposed to be up on a wall or something," she says.
Goin sears the quail in a cast-iron pan and when the grapes are nearly bursting, she pulls them from the oven. She plates the quail on top of the greens, beside a dollop of ricotta pudding.
At each step of the way in every dish, she takes a little taste to adjust seasoning. The importance of this becomes clear when she samples one of the roasted Concord grapes and pulls a face.
"I can't help it, that smell always makes me think of snack time at school -- Welch's grape juice," she says. "Not exactly what you want with quail.... Well, that was pushing the envelope a little bit, but they were seriously great grapes."
She doesn't push anything on dessert, though, sticking to her tried-and-true olive oil cake. In it is a bit of fine couscous, giving the cake a surprising texture.
The cake was baked the day before, as was the ricotta pudding for the quail. Part of being a smart cook is avoiding loading your menu up with last-minute dishes. And all Goin has left to do now are the final touches for dessert. She breaks tangerines into rough double-segments and sets them to poach in a heavy vanilla-scented simple syrup.
Afterward, she garnishes the cake with whipped cream and the tangerines, which have puffed and glazed. She wipes the rim of the plate, of course. Because Sunday supper, like any Goin meal, has to be perfect.
Grilled quail with Sicilian breadcrumbs, pancetta and ricotta pudding
Total time: 2 hours, 20 minutes plus 4 hours of overnight chilling
Note: From "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" by Suzanne Goin. Make the pudding up to a day ahead; make the relish while the quail are chilling. Goin made several impromptu changes in this recipe based on what she found at the market. She substituted an equal amount of mixed braising greens (mustard, kale, mizuna, etc.) for the spinach. She garnished the dish with roasted grapes rather than the currant-pine nut relish (separate one-half pound red or purple grapes into clusters; toss with 2 teaspoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper; roast at 450 degrees until the grapes begin to pop and shrivel, 12 to 15 minutes). She also seared the quail in a very hot cast-iron pan rather than cooking them on the grill.
2 extra-large eggs
1 extra-large egg yolk
2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta, drained if wet
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme leaves, divided
2 teaspoons salt (may be reduced to 1 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 dried chile de arbol, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the eggs, egg yolk and ricotta together in a large mixing bowl. Add the cream, milk, 1 teaspoon thyme, the salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. The mixture will be a little lumpy.
2. Taste for seasoning and pour into a buttered 9-inch baking dish. Decorate the top of the pudding with the chile and remaining one-half teaspoon thyme. Place the dish in a water bath and bake until the custard is just set, about 1 hour.
3. This dish can be prepared up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered with aluminum foil. Reheat, covered, at 350 degrees until warmed through, about 20 minutes, then remove cover and continue heating for 10 more minutes.
Currant-pine nut relish
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 sprig rosemary
1 chile de arbol
3/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/3 cup dried currants
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Toast the pine nuts until they're golden brown and smell nutty, about 8 minutes, stirring once or twice.
2. Heat a small saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium and add the olive oil, rosemary and chile. When the rosemary and chile start to sizzle, add the onion and season with one-half teaspoon salt. Turn the heat down to low, and let the onions stew gently until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove to a small bowl to cool, and remove and discard the rosemary sprig.
3. Meanwhile, place the currants in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let the currants soak for 10 minutes and drain well.
4. Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan the onions were in, and reduce it over medium-high heat to a scant 1 tablespoon. Stir the reduced vinegar into the onion mixture.
5. Add the toasted pine nuts, currants and parsley to the onion mixture, and stir to combine. Taste for balance and seasoning.
Quail and assembly
12 boneless quail
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped rosemary, plus 2 small sprigs rosemary
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, divided
2 chiles de arbol, thinly sliced on the diagonal
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
6 ( 1/8 -inch-thick) slices pancetta (about 6 ounces)
1 cup sliced shallots
1/2 cup currant-pine nut relish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 to 12 ounces spinach
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. If the quail are not boneless, butterfly them. (Using scissors, cut through the cavity down one side of the backbone of the birds. Then place them on a cutting board and gently press down with the heel of your hand to flatten them slightly.)
2. Season the quail with the chopped rosemary, 2 tablespoons thyme, half the sliced chiles and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread them on a baking sheet and toast 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden brown.
4. Light the grill 30 to 40 minutes before you're ready to cook, and remove the quail from the refrigerator to allow them to come to room temperature. (Remember to use extra coals, spreading them out, so the heat is evenly dispersed over the entire area of the grill.)
5. Stack the pancetta slices and cut them into quarters. Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, swirl and place the pieces of pancetta in the pan. Cook 2 or 3 minutes, until the pancetta is crisp, and turn the pieces over. Add the rosemary sprigs to the pan, and cook another 2 or 3 minutes, until the pancetta is crispy on the second side. Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots, 2 teaspoons thyme, and the remaining sliced chile. Saute 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until the shallots are translucent and starting to caramelize. Turn off the heat.
6. When the coals are broken down, red and glowing, brush the quail with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Tuck the wing tips behind the wing joints. Place the quail on the grill, breast-side down if you're using boneless or skin-side down if you're using butterflied. Cook 3 or 4 minutes, rotating the birds a few times, until the skin crisps. Turn the quail over and cook them another 2 or 3 minutes or so, until the meat is just rosy. (Peek inside the legs to check for doneness.)
7. Toss the currant-pine nut relish with the breadcrumbs. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and taste.
8. Reheat the shallots and pancetta over medium-high heat for 1 or 2 minutes, until hot. Turn off the heat and add half the spinach. Toss quickly with tongs to combine the ingredients. As the spinach just begins to wilt (this will happen very quickly), add the rest of the spinach, tossing to coat well with the pancetta and shallots. Season with one-half teaspoon salt, a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning, and arrange on a large warm platter.
9. Place the quail over the spinach and sprinkle the breadcrumb-currant mixture on top. Serve the warm ricotta pudding on the side.
Each serving: 966 calories; 56 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 72 grams fat; 26 grams saturated fat; 359 mg. cholesterol; 1,494 mg. sodium.
Olive oil cake with creme fraiche and candied tangerines
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Note: From "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" by Suzanne Goin.
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
6 tangerines, peeled and separated into double segments
1. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp of one-half of the bean into a medium saucepan. Add half of the vanilla pod, the sugar and the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Meanwhile, remove the large white veins, or pith, from the tangerine segments.
3. Reduce the heat to low and add the tangerines to the syrup. Simmer the fruit until the tangerines look a little puffy and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Strain the mixture over a bowl and discard the vanilla pod. Return the liquid to the pan and reduce over medium-high heat until it's slightly thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
5. Allow the syrup to cool completely and gently stir in the tangerines.
Cake and assembly
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup fine couscous
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup brandy
3 extra-large eggs
6 extra-large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 10-inch round cake pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder together and then stir in the couscous and salt. Combine 1 cup olive oil and the brandy in a small bowl.
3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, yolks and sugar on high speed for 7 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and alternate folding in the dry and wet ingredients, a third at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Tap the pan on the counter three times to remove any air bubbles.
4. Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. The cake should be golden brown and spring back slightly when you touch the center. Cool the cake on a rack for at least 15 minutes.
5. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream and creme fraiche together to soft peaks.
6. Cut slices from the cake and place them on dessert plates. Spoon some of the candied tangerines and syrup over each piece and dollop with the whipped cream.
Each serving: 530 calories; 6 grams protein; 53 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 32 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 244 mg. cholesterol; 187 mg. sodium.