ROBERT ST. JOHN: Eating Europe – Family and I to hit the road

By Robert St. John

On Aug. 18 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 year-long 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 fifth-grader and a ninth-grader. Prayers needed.

In Italy, I will be gathering recipes for the new cookbook, but also for our Italian restaurant, Tabella. I will visit Mt. Vesuvius where our San Marzano tomatoes are grown, meet the people who bottle our olive oil and make our cheese and travel to Vinci to work with the family who makes our pasta.

One day I might be in the kitchen of a Michelin-starred chef in Lyon researching a delicate soup for the Purple Parrot Café, or establishing supplier relationships with the Iberian pig farmers in Spain. While in Spain we will research paella preparations and compare them to the methods used in preparing jambalaya at the Crescent City Grill.

This trip has been in the planning stages for more than 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, head on.

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 e-mail your suggestions and recommendations. I’ll do my best to add it to the itinerary.

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 seat belts, make sure your seats and tray tables are in the locked and upright position, and get ready for a wild ride.

Artichoke Tart

q 2 6-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts

q 1 cup yellow onion, minced

q 1/4 cup red pepper, finely diced

q 1 Tbl garlic, minced

q 1/8 tsp thyme

q 1/8 tsp oregano

q 4 eggs

q 1 tsp creole mustard

q 1 tsp creole seasoning

q 1/2 cup Japanese bread crumbs

q 1/4 tsp hot sauce

q 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

q 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

q 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

q 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

Robert St. John, restaurateur, chef and author, is a world-class eater.