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August 19, 2014

At Home with Diana Kennedy

Inside the Chili-Filled Kitchen Garden of Mexican Food's Grand Dame

“In 1976 I decided to create a centre for my learning and cooking,” says Diana Kennedy, the 91-year-old doyenne of Mexican cuisine and culture. “I bought some land and gradually built my ecological house.” Quinta Diana in Mexico’s Michoacán state has been the longtime home of the legendary food writer and culinary anthropologist—and following a private lunch and post-prandial stroll through her garden—is explored in today’s film by James Casey, founder of New York-based Swallow Magazine. Kennedy’s publishing career began in 1972 with the epicurean classic, The Cuisines of Mexico, most recently winning a James Beard Award for her 2010 journey into the heart of her adopted country’s eating, Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy. Nestled in the verdant hills above the small town of Zitácuaro, the fertile grounds of Kennedy’s home support an embarrassment of riches. Vast selections of meticulously sourced chilies are flanked by numerous edible plants, herbs and fruits, celebrating Mexico’s extreme biodiversity in miniature. “There’s a lot I want to do,” she says. “When I make this place a foundation it will keep my ideas of conservation and sustainability alive.” Plans are afoot to turn the property into the Diana Kennedy Center, a non-profit space housing Kennedy’s vast archives of literature, writing and collecting, a fitting tribute to a life’s work both edible and otherwise.

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Mediterranean in Manhattan

Melia Marden Invites Us Over for Her Greek Island-Inspired Home Cooking

Photographer Stefan Ruiz visited the sun-drenched apartment of Melia Marden, chef at New York City’s hipster culinary mecca The Smile, and her DJ husband Frank Sisti Jr. for today’s color-happy culinary portrait. The couple’s downtown home is infused with delectable smells such as onions being sauteed for a fanciful frittata, and brims with trinkets and ephemera. “We collect elephants and giraffes… and crustaceans, ducks, anything polar, peanuts, books—we just collect,” Marden says of her quirky décor. In addition to helming the kitchens of The Smile and The Smile To Go, the 32-year-old chef also runs the catering at fashion photography headquarters Milk Studios. Her first cookbook, Modern Mediterranean, is due out this week. It’s a culinary scrapbook of Marden’s favorite recipes, many of which derive from summers spent with her family on Hydra—her father is artist Brice Marden and her sister Mirabelle is a photographer. The old world Greek island is void of vehicles but rich with local fish and produce, and Marden cites the environment’s clean flavors and simple cooking techniques as huge influences on her approach at the stove. “It’s not super layered and complicated, so you really taste the ingredients. I want my recipe to be the simplest version of itself that it can be,” she explains.

Sausage, Red Repper and Onion Frittata

Serves four


  • 10 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red ball pepper, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 4 ounces spiced pork sausage meat, removed from casing

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).
  2. In a bowl, combine the eggs, milk and ½ teaspoon of the salt and whisk vigorously until completely blended.
  3. In a well-seasoned 10-inch ovenproof (preferably cast-iron) frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Add the onion, pepper, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent, about four minutes.
  4. Add the sausage and cook breaking it up with a spoon, until completely cooked through, two to three minutes.
  5. Add the mixture. Stir gently with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as you would with scrambled eggs. Cook until the eggs are just beginning to set, about two minutes.
  6. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook until the frittata is puffed up and firm, about 10 minutes.
  7. Let it cool slightly. The frittata will deflate and the edges will shrink away from the sides of the pan. I like to bring the whole thing to the table and slice it into wedges directly into the pan. Use a spatula to lift out each piece and serve.

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La Batalla del Vino

Northern Spain’s Wine-Soaked Region Paints the Town Purple

Every year on June 29, legions of locals and exuberant tourists congregate in the Spanish town of Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja, for the La Batalla del Vino festival. Celebrating el Día de San Pedro [the Day of St. Peter], the crowds douse each other in local red wine. Catalan photographer Coke Bartrina captures this euphoric tradition that was born in the 18th century, when the usual celebratory procession broke into a light-hearted and very wet tinto fight. NOWNESS asked Tarajia Morrell, writer and founder of food blog The Lovage, whose family wine store Morrell & Company has been a New York City institution since 1947, to share her love of Rioja.

Dedicating a day to joyful soaking in wine is no surprise in a country that approaches life’s simple pleasures of eating, drinking and celebrating each festividad with the utmost reverence, and this wine festival is the calendar highlight of Spain’s most treasured wine making region. In Rioja, a love of the land and its produce dominates the culture, Tempranillo and Garnacha commands the grape varietals and conviviality. Deliciously spicy and earthy, Tempranillo is the principal grape used in Rioja, often blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano for balance—for Riserva and Gran Riserva, they are aged in oak barrels, which lends toasty vanilla flavors. Characteristic notes of berries, leather, and tobacco with spices such as nutmeg, clove and cardamon are also prevalent. 

Discovering Tempranillo was a revelation. The thick-skinned, garnet-purple grape exquisitely counterbalances the strong flavor profiles that excite me in terms of eating, and my affinity for La Rioja’s wines grew the more I paired them with my favorite foods. Charred meats and vegetables, strong cheeses and powerful flavors like anchovy highlight the unique balance of acidity, fruit and spices in Rioja wines. My wine philosophy echoes that of my father, Peter Morrell: “Wine brings out the best flavors that food has to offer and compliments and reflects it,” he says, “just as food livens one’s palate to better appreciate wine.” Wines from the Rioja elevate my experience of food as much as food teases out the greatest impact from Rioja wines, and for me, there’s no relationship like one that is better than the sum of its parts. 

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