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Vintage California Cuisine: 300 Recipes from the First Cookbooks Published in the Golden State


By Hans Rockenwagner




California Cuisine With a German Touch

Red-Wine Poached Figs
Pear Compote
Basil Sauce

Hans Rockenwagner, a German-born, French-trained chef who has lived and cooked in Los Angeles since the mid-1980s, explains what drew him to California in his recently published cookbook, which like the chef and his restaurant is called Rockenwagner. "California was on the cutting edge of the culinary revolution in American regional cuisine, and I knew it was where I wanted to be," he writes.

The cooking style that has evolved since then is "a mixture of old European and Pacific Rim cuisines," Rockenwagner says. "That’s why at Rockenwagner you can order a ‘pretzel’ burger with Swiss cheese, onions, and french fries or a rock shrimp samosa with lemon chutney and cucumber raita for lunch."

His cooking is both earthy and sophisticated, he says, fitting adjectives for the following recipes from the book, published by Ten Speed Press.

For those without the hours it might take to bring all three parts of the pear-fig dessert recipe together, each component can be prepared and served separately. The poached figs go well with a wedge of cheese, Rockenwagner writes, while the pear compote "is a wonderful topping for waffles or pancakes at a sophisticated brunch."

Red Wine-Poached Figs
on Pear Compote With
Passion Fruit Whipped Cream

18 large or 24 small figs
3 cups dry red wine
cup sugar

Pear Compote:
6 large yellow pears, peeled, seeded and cut into -inch dice
1 vanilla bean, split
2 star anise
1/3 cup fruity white wine
2 tbs sugar or to taste

Passion Fruit Whipped Cream:
cup whipping cream
2 tbs passion fruit juice
6 flat Hazelnut Tuiles for garnish

cup granulated sugar
cup corn syrup
cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
3 tbs unsalted butter


1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut off the stem and about inch of the top of each fig. Cut a shallow cross into the top of each, cutting down about one-third of the way into the center. In a large, nonreactive saucepan, combine the red wine and sugar over low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to high and simmer until the liquid is reduced to three-fourths of its original volume. Place the figs in a large ceramic or glass baking dish that will hold them snugly in one layer. Pour the hot wine into the dish (it should reach about halfway up the sides of the figs).

2. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1-1/2 hours, or until the figs are tender but not mushy. Remove from the oven and set aside. (The figs can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 8 hours. Return to room temperature before continuing.


1. In a medium skillet, combine the pears, vanilla bean pod and seeds (scrape the seeds from the inside of the bean into the pan), star anise, white wine, and sugar, adding more sugar as needed to sweeten the pears.

2. Over medium-low heat, bring the liquid to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the pears are almost falling apart. Set aside. (The pears can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 8 hours. Return to room temperature before continuing.)

Passion Fruit Whipped Cream:

1. In a chilled bowl, whip the cream almost until soft peaks form. Add the passion fruit juice and continue whipping until soft peaks form.

2. Remove the vanilla bean pod halves and the star anise from the pear compote. In each of 6 shallow dessert bowls, make a bed of the pear compote and place 3 large or 4 small figs on top. Top with a dollop of the whipped cream, garnish with a Hazelnut Tuile, and serve immediately.

3. When passion fruits are in season, I recommend making your own passion fruit juice. To do so, simply collect and strain the juice that runs off when you open and slice the passion fruit. Each passion fruit yields about 2 tablespoons of juice. If you must use regular store-bought passion fruit juice that has been sweetened, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice for each tablespoon of the juice.


1. To toast the nuts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread the nuts evenly on a cookie sheet. Toast for 10 to 12 minutes, turning them over halfway through if they are whole. The nuts should be just golden, as this increases their flavor, but no darker or they will be bitter. When toasting hazelnuts, remove them from the oven and wrap in a kitchen towel. Let rest for 10 minutes, then rub vigorously in the towel to remove most of their skins.

2. In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, combine all the ingredients and mix at medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, or until evenly blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 weeks.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter 1 or 2 nonstick baking sheets (only use a nonstick surface). Make -inch balls out of the tuile mixture and set them 3 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake them until the balls have spread out perfectly flat and become crisp and golden around the edges. They will be a dark golden color, and very lacy and shiny.

4. With a flat-ended spatula, remove the cookies one at a time. Immediately mold over a lime to make small cups or over an orange to make larger cups (depending on how many berries you will be serving). Working quickly, repeat until all cookies are molded. (Alternatively, mold the cookies over a rolling pin for a "taco" shape, or leave them flat for Napoleons.) Remove the cookies from their mold as soon as they have cooled.

Rockenwagner writes that this fluorescent green sauce "has all the qualities of a good sauce: great consistency, color, and flavor."

Made without the butter, the sauce can be frozen for future use. When ready to use, bring to a simmer and whisk in the butter.

Basil Sauce

1 cup dry white wine
2 small cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
cup heavy cream
1-1/2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
cup milk
tsp. salt
freshly ground white pepper to taste
2/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces

1. In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the wine and garlic; bring to a simmer and reduce by half. Add the stock and return to a simmer. Reduce to two-thirds of the original volume, until 1 1/3 cups of liquid remains. Add the cream and return to a simmer, them remove from the heat and set aside to cool, uncovered.

2. Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil. Add the basil and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove the leaves with a skimmer and, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible,. Immediately combine the blanched basil with the milk in a blender (this will stabilize the color of the basil). Blend for about 3 minutes, adding more milk if necessary to make the mixture move easily, scraping down the sides of the container as necessary. When the mixture is bright green and the basil is completely pureed, gradually add the cream mixture with the motor running. Add the salt and white pepper and strain the sauce into a clean pan. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. To complete the sauce, bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Stir in half the butter and continue to stir until all the pieces have been absorbed. Immediately remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining butter, whisking until all of the butter has melted and the sauce is emulsified. Taste, adjust the seasonings if necessary, and use immediately.

Recipes reprinted with permission from Rockenwagner, by Hans Rockenwagner, Copyright 1997, Ten Speed Press, P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley, CA, 94707. Available through this Web site or from your local bookstore, or call 800-841-2665.

Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef