When Venice restaurant Gjelina opened in 2008, it drew comparisons to power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: exceptionally good-looking and ardently invested in the global good. (Bran-Gjelina, anyone?)
Seven years later, chef Travis Lett’s brand of well sourced, artfully prepared California fare has only grown in appeal, especially with this year’s arrival of deli-bakery Gjusta and, now, a cookbook.
Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California is a collection of gorgeous recipes inspired by the restaurant’s menu and a meditation on the chef’s investment in the sustainable food revolution he has helped nurture. “These recipes are a reflection of the changing dialogue about what we eat,” writes Lett. They promote the use of ingredients that make a minimal impact on the environment and a maximum impact on health.
Pan-Roasted romanesco with golden raisins, tahini and sumac (recipe below).
Seasonal vegetables are the centerpiece of the Gjelina menu and, fittingly, the “vegetable” chapter is the cookbook’s largest. While at the restaurant vegetables are often prepared in the wood-burning oven, here Lett adapts his rustic recipes—such as romanesco with golden raisins, tahini and sumac (recipe below)—for the home cook. The creative “salad” chapter encourages the use of greens with personality, such as little gems with Fuyu persimmon and pomegranate.
Lett treats meat as a delicious “accessory” to the veggies, and his whole-animal philosophy is reflected in recipes like pan-seared calf livers with leeks and red wine. There are also recipes for enduring Gjelina favorites, including ocean trout rillettes and thin-crust pizzas.
Overall this is food that, as Lett describes it, is “relaxed, not too showy”…unlike a certain power couple we know.
Romanesco with Golden Raisins, Tahini and Sumac
Excerpted from Gjelina
by Travis Lett
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
¼ cup tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium heads romanesco, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch florets
¼ cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon ground sumac
Flaky sea salt
Best-quality olive oil for drizzling
1. In a small bowl, combine the tahini with the lemon juice, garlic, and cold water.
2. Whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. The sauce should be thin enough to drizzle with a spoon. (If it is too thick, add in more cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time.) Season with kosher salt and pepper.
3. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Add enough extra-virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and warm until hot but not smoking.
4. Add the romanesco, cut-side down, and cook until deep golden brown in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir with tongs or a wooden spoon and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer.
5. Turn the heat to medium and add the raisins. Season with kosher salt and cook, stirring, until the raisins soften, 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Add the stock and allow the ingredients to steam briefly. Taste a piece of romanesco for seasoning and doneness; it should be tender.
7. Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle the tahini sauce on top, sprinkle with sumac, and garnish with sea salt and a drizzle of best-quality olive oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Excerpted from Gjelina by Travis Lett, photographs by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott (Chronicle Books, 2015)