Eating Europe

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 at 5:42 PM

This column is about to hit the road.

On August 18th my wife, 14 year-old daughter, 10 year-old son, and I will hop on a jet in New Orleans that will eventually lead us to Istanbul, Turkey. One year later we will board a flight in Dublin, Ireland to return home.

In between Istanbul and Dublin, we’ll travel through 30 countries on three continents learning all we can about the area’s history, the native cuisine, and the local customs.

In addition to this weekly column, I will be writing two books along the way. The first book, “Eating Europe,” will be about the yearlong journey. It will focus on what it takes to uproot a family of four in South Mississippi and live a semi-nomadic lifestyle throughout the continent, with recipes and experiences collected along the way.

The second book will be my third collaboration with, my best friend, the uber-talented watercolor artist, Wyatt Waters. Wyatt will spend two months with the family as we travel throughout Italy. He’ll paint, I’ll cook, and the resulting book, “An Italian Palate,” will be published upon our return.

In addition to writing the two books, I will be interviewing chefs and farmers, learning the local foodways, shopping in local markets, and blogging daily. I’ll have my hands full, but the “true” work will be done by my wife who will be homeschooling a 5th grader and a 9th grader. Prayers needed.

In Italy, I will visit Mt. Vesuvius where San Marzano tomatoes are grown, meet olive oil and cheese producers, go truffle hunting, and travel to Vinci to work with a family who– for many generations– makes pasta the old-world way.

One day I might be in the kitchen of a Michelin-starred chef in Lyon researching a delicate soup, and the next I’ll be hanging out with Iberian pig farmers in Spain. While in Spain I will research paella preparations and compare them to the methods used in preparing jambalaya.

This trip has been in the planning stages for over 30 months, and though I feel like I have covered all of the bases, I am sure there will be challenges that arise the first day, and I have no doubt that we will face obstacles on a weekly, if not hourly, basis. No one in my family speaks a foreign language, unless you count the two kids who will be studying Spanish during the trip, so I expect we will be battling the language barrier quite often. But it’s a challenge I’m willing to face.

If anyone has a friend or relative living in Europe who might have a favorite restaurant, market, farm, or cultural site in a European country or region— or even a personal recommendation— please email your suggestions and recommendations.

One year, 30 countries— no video games, no chicken nuggets, no cartoons, no boyfriends, just a mom, a dad, two kids and a continent.

For 12 years I have written this weekly column— 750 words a week, 52 weeks a year— never missing a column. There’s no way I would let a year in Europe interrupt this weekly appointment that has turned into one my life’s greatest passions.

To my loyal readers: Hold on tight, buckle your seatbelts, make sure your seats and tray tables are in the locked and upright position, and get ready for a wild ride.

Artichoke Tart

2 6-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts
1 cup yellow onion, minced
1 /4 cup red pepper, finely diced
1 Tbl garlic, minced
1 /8 tsp thyme
1 /8 tsp oregano

4 eggs
1 tsp creole mustard
1 tsp creole seasoning
1 /2 cup Japanese bread crumbs
1 /4 tsp hot sauce
1 /2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 /4 cup green onion, minced

Preheat oven to 325.

Drain artichokes reserving two tablespoons of the marinating liquid.

Place the two tablespoons of liquid in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and red pepper and cook three to four minutes. Add garlic, oregano and thyme and cook two to three minutes more. Remove from heat and cool.

Rough chop artichokes. Whip the eggs and mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl.

Spread the mixture into a 9” buttered pie pan. Bake 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Cut into 16 wedges and serve.

Yield: 16 small portions, or eight large portions