It has been 8 years since Chef Donia Bijan sold her celebrated Palo Alto restaurant, L’Amie Donia, to concentrate on her family, catering and writing. She occasionally does Cooking School demos at Draeger’s Market in Menlo Park where she puts on her chef’s jacket, breaks out her knives and feeds 32 students with a multi-course meal. In keeping with her tradition of creating seasonal menus, the focus of this summer meal was tomatoes.
The cornmeal crusted fried heirloom tomatoes served with peppery watercress salad was one of the most popular dishes at her restaurant. This dish has definitely withstood the test of time:
A warm tomato tart with black olives was more like a pizzetta made with a thin pastry crust and topped with a garlicky good tapenade and cherry tomatoes:
The chilled tomato gazpacho used day-old bread loaf as one of the main ingredients which made it taste like a puréed Panzanella salad. Chef Bijan has graciously given permission to reprint this recipe which can be found at the bottom of this post. Served in a chilled glass, it was accompanied by an eggplant caviar bruschetta:
The Niçoise napolean of Ahi was a California variation of the classic Provençal salad featuring a slow roasted tomato confit. The oven-dried tomato was a nice addition to the green beans with tarragon, hard-boiled egg, baby Yukon gold potatoes and barely seared tuna (she described this technique as the fish saying “Hello” and “Goodbye” to the pan):
The last course featured tomato jam served with perfectly ripe Pont-l’Évêque and Brillat-Savarin cheeses with Acme Bread’s Walnut Levain:
It was a nice opportunity to experience the ageless Chef Bijan’s food once again. She was asked if she would ever consider opening another restaurant. She replied that after 25 years of cooking in restaurants, she would not for various reasons.
All of the dishes are easy for any home cook to make and most of the recipes are included in Chef Bijan’s memoir/cookbook, Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen.
Donia Bijan’s Chilled Tomato Gazpacho
2 lbs. ripe, peeled tomatoes
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 ribs celery
1 red pepper, roasted and peeled
1 loaf day-old Pugliese or sourdough bread
2 cups reserved tomato juice (from fresh tomatoes or bottled)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 Tbsp. fresh basil or tarragon
Salt (to taste), pinch of Sugar (more if the tomatoes are not as ripe and sweet)
Make tomato filets by cutting it in half (or fourths) and hand squeezing the juice and seeds out of the tomato making sure to reserve the juice. Strain the reserved juice to get rid of the tomato seeds.
Chop the tomato filets, onion, celery, garlic and pepper evenly in 1/2 inch pieces and toss together in a large bowl. De-crust and cube the day-old bread and add to the vegetables with the tomato juice, olive oil, seasonings and basil. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Purée the marinated vegetables in a blender or food mill until smooth. Taste for seasoning and serve in chilled bowls.