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A COOL STAR : Provocative Italian Cuisine From a Modest Melrose Chef

July 20, 1986|ROSE DOSTI | Rose Dosti is a Times staff writer.

To followers of L.A.'s Italian restaurant scene, Eugen io Martignago, who heads the kitchen at Bocca restaurant on Melrose Avenue, is one of its bright stars. But his unassuming, almost shy manner con trasts with his exciting cooking style. There's always something unexpected, something Californian about Martignago's Italian cuisine.

His culinary training began at age 15, at Venice's restaurant school, Schuola Alberghiera , followed by seven years at restaurants in France and Germany. Locally, Martignago was sous-chef to Celestino Drago at the Side Street Pasta Cafe and then chef at Scalora's at the Rodeo Collection. His cooking evolved dramatically from its strict Italian origins into a zippy California cuisine with sharp French and Italian overtones--a light approach exemplified by the salmon sausage pictured here. Easy-going, yes, but also technically controlled.

Salmon Boudin, a first course based on salmon with caviar, might appear more French than Italian, but the pistachio nuts, basil and garlic used to flavor the salmon push the dish to the borders of the Italian--and California--passion for the daring. Pommery mustard, a French mustard used in one of the sauces, brings the dish unexpectedly back to France. A touch of California caviar is the final fillip.

You will note that the boudin is actually a mousse shaped to look like a sausage by wrapping it in plastic wrap, then simmering in water. This method of cooking mousses and other moldable mixtures in plastic (called en plastique in France) is a simple way to get around shaping mousses or sausages without casings. The mousse is then sliced and sauteed to serve with the two sauces. SALMON BOUDIN WITH POMMERY MUSTARD AND BASIL SAUCES

1 pound salmon fillet

4 egg whites

2 egg yolks

cup whipping cream

cup blanched pistachio nuts

cup chopped chives

pound baby bay shrimp

cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves

Dash salt, pepper

2 tablespoons butter

Basil Sauce

Mustard Sauce

Caviar, optional

Combine salmon, egg whites, egg yolks and whipping cream in food-processor container fitted with metal blade. Process until smooth. Transfer mousse into bowl. Mix with pistachio nuts, chives, shrimp, tarragon and salt and pepper. Roll mousse into 1 1/2-inch-thick sausage and wrap in plastic. Tie both ends of wrapper. Place in large fish poacher or skillet. Add water to barely cover sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Remove sausage and cool until ready to slice. Cut sausage into -inch slices. Melt butter and add sausage slices. Saute lightly on both sides. Arrange sausage on platter and serve with Basil Sauce and Mustard Sauce and caviar, if desired. Allow 2 to 4 slices per serving. Makes 34 slices.

Note: Sausage may be rolled 1 inch thick for cutting into bite-size slices to serve as appetizers topped with caviar.

Basil Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup chopped shallots

1/2 cup white wine

cup fish stock

1 cup basil leaves, packed

1 cup whipping cream

Dash salt, pepper

Melt butter in skillet. Add garlic and shallots and saute until shallots are tender. Add wine and simmer over high heat until reduced to a glaze. Add fish stock and simmer over high heat until reduced by half. Add basil and whipping cream. Cook over low heat 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Place sauce in blender container and blend until smooth. Makes about 1 cup.

Mustard Sauce

1 tablespoon butter

pound mushrooms, chopped

cup chopped shallots

cup white wine

1/2 cup fish stock

1 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons Pommery mustard

Salt, pepper

Melt butter and add mushrooms and shallots. Saute until browned. Add wine and simmer over high heat until reduced to a glaze. Add fish stock and simmer over high heat until reduced by half. Add whipping cream and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced by half. Strain sauce. Stir in mustard. Add salt and pepper. Makes 1 cup.

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