Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers in Food: #25, Paula Wolfert

Would you believe, when she was first married, Paula Wolfert couldn't boil water? Determined to change, she decided to take cooking classes at Dione Lucas's Cordon Bleu and found her calling.

In 1959, Paula moved to Morocco for 10 years with her husband. While there, she became fascinated with the local dishes and Mediterranean ingredients. As a result, she has written several cookbooks on the subject of Mediterranean cuisine.  She moved to Tangier in 1971 and stayed for five years, during which time she wrote Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (1973) and Mediterranean Cooking (1976). Both books were enthusiastically received by curious cooks who were searching for unfamiliar ethnic fare.

Ms. Wolfert was  criticized for using hard to find ingredients, but remained adamant about using them. "Ingredients from a given region have amalgamated gracefully over the years, and if you change them, you simply won't get an authentic taste," she says. "When people return from their travels they want to replicate what they have tasted. It is my job, as a food writer, to explain how to integrate unusual tastes. Most of the ingredients are now readily available, at least by mail order. But you have to be romanced into searching them out. That's part of the fun."

Wolfert set out to write The Cooking of South-West France in the late 70's after traveling around the region in search of the perfect cassoulet. (And that book is where I found today's recipe.)
More recently Wolfert has been addressing concerns about the benefits of a balanced, healthful diet. When meat is used, Wolfert has a lot of tricks to maximize its flavor while cutting fat. Then, when Wolfert traveled across the Euphrates, she came back with a new daily routine that gets her eating vegetables in the morning in what she calls her Biblical Breakfast Burrito. As a result of healthier eating, she's lost over 30 pounds, slowly---a pound a month over the past couple of years.  

Paula Wolfert has won the Julia Child Award (twice), the James Beard Award (three times) the Tastemaker Award, the M. F. K. Fisher Prize, the Cooks Magazine Platinum Plate Award, and the Perigueux Award for Lifetime Achievement. A regular columnist for Food & Wine, Wolfert lives in Sonoma, California. 

I read an interesting article about Paula's favorite lunch when she's eating alone. It's called Pa amb Tomàquet (In the Catalan language this means “Bread with Tomato ... and Ham.” ) which she says sums up all that is best in the Mediterranean, an area whose cuisines and flavors she's been studying her entire adult life. 
So here's a bonus second recipe today:

"Pa amb Tomàquet 
Cut a rustic style bread with a serrated knife into ½-inch slices. Lightly toast the slices on a grill or in a toaster-oven on both sides. Slather the toasted slices with freshly crushed ripe tomatoes. The layer must not be too thin—or too thick—more like a thin, even red sheen. Sprinkle with fine salt. Slowly drizzle a light, golden extra-virgin olive oil on top on one side.
If you like, you can top the bread off with paper-thin slices of Serrano ham or large, fat fillets of anchovy, preferably imported from l’Escale.
You may want to rub some garlic on the bread as well, but I’ve yet to meet a Catalan gastronome who would approve. Eat with a knife and fork."


Does everyone love a boozy ice cream as much as I do? Especially around the holidays. Now I know Ms. Wolfert is best known for her Mediterranean cooking, but don't forget she also wrote "The Cooking of Southwest France".  And in that gem this recipe for Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream is to be found.  

The prunes have to macerate in Armagnac for a couple weeks in advance, but the wait is worth it. I just kept the jar in the fridge for two weeks and when I opened it to make the ice cream, I took a sniff and was in heaven. My spoon was in that ice cream maker frequently...tasting....tasting. I could barely wait for it to be done. Serving it with extra prunes was suggested, but frankly, in this case, less is more.

Paula Wolfert's Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream

For the prunes
2 pounds extra large prunes  
3 cups warm brewed tea, preferably linden, orange pekoe or camomile  
1 cup superfine sugar  
3  cups Armagnac (or enough to cover the prunes)  

For the prunes:
Soak the prunes in the tea overnight so that they swell up. 
The following day, drain the prunes, discarding the tea. Roll each prune in paper towels to dry well. Place them in a sterilized 1 1/2 -quart wide-mouth canning jar. 

Make a syrup with the sugar and one-half cup water; bring to a boil, stirring. Boil undisturbed for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Pour the syrup over the prunes. Completely cover the prunes with Armagnac; stir. If the prunes rise above the line of liquid, add more Armagnac. Let the prunes soak a minimum of 2 weeks in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator. Use clean wooden tongs or a wooden spoon to remove the prunes as needed (keeps up to one year). 


For the ice cream

1 quart milk 
1 small piece of vanilla bean, split down one side, or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract  
10 egg yolks 
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar 
Pinch of salt  
1/2 cup heavy cream  
30 cup sugar prunes in Armagnac, pitted, plus 1/4 cup of the syrup, plus extra prunes for garnish, if you have them (15 prunes)

For the ice cream

A day before serving, in a heavy enameled saucepan, scald the milk with the vanilla bean; set aside, covered, to keep warm. 
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale and a ribbon forms when the whisk is lifted. Whisk in a pinch of salt. 
In a heavy enameled or stainless steel saucepan, warm the beaten eggs and sugar over very low heat, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the hot milk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon, the froth on the surface has disappeared, and the custard registers about 165 degrees on a candy thermometer. Do not boil. Immediately remove from the heat. 
Strain the custard into a chilled mixing bowl set over ice. Cool down quickly, stirring constantly. If using vanilla extract, stir it in at this point. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. 
Meanwhile, coarsely chop the prunes with a large sharp knife or by pulsing in a food processor. When the ice cream is half frozen, add the prunes and the Armagnac syrup. When almost frozen, add the cream. When the ice cream is done, transfer it to an airtight container and set in the freezer overnight. 
To serve, place a whole, soaked prune on top of each portion and drizzle with a teaspoon or so of the syrup. 
Makes 2 quarts

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Kathleen Van Bruinisse - Bake Away with Me 
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Lines from Linderhof
Amy - Beloved Green

 Ciao Chow Linda


  1. Well, I am a great fan of Paula Wolfert. When I went through my cassoulet phase I wrote her and she was generous enough to respond. I've had her cookbook since, well, forever it seems and it looks well used!

    I for one am extremely grateful that she stuck to her guns and wrote the recipes out as they are really done. I know living in NYC I was always able to get the odd ingredients so perhaps that's not fair, but at least show what the right thing is and offer alternatives. Giving the alternatives without the originals is misleading and inauthentic.

    I've made that ice cream, and even a similar one with Pedro Ximenez sherry and am crazy about it. Now that I got my first real ice cream maker (big as a Mini cooper and nearly as heavy) I am loving making ice cream (turn it on and 15 minutes later 2 c of ice cream... heaven... nothing to freeze for 24 hours!!). I have a lovely bottle of armagnac and am writing about it very soon!!!

    Lovely research... and recipe!

  2. What a beautiful recipe! That ice cream looks and sounds really divine.



  3. I'm curious about that breakfast burrito.

  4. What a fun post! I too am curious about the breakfast burrito.

    Not homemade or even gourmet, but I can vouch for Ben & Jerry's Dublin Mudslide ice cream. Hem.

  5. Such a beautiful write-up on Paula. I am very intrigued by her...can't wait to cook more! This ice cream sounds awesome...very festive and "special occasion" appropriate :)

  6. I always complain about hard to find ingredients, but you Paula Wolfert is right, the "right" ingredient is what makes a recipe special. Beautiful ice cream, sophisticated and elegant flavours.
    Hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving!
    *kisses* HH

  7. What a beautiful picture you found of Paula. The warm colors of her blouse highlight her warm nature. Your ice-cream looks absolutely scrumptious! As good as it looks I bet it probably didn't last too long.

  8. I'm so sorry I missed this week, I just love Paula's cooking. The ice cream is so interesting, and you've styled it just right! This has convinced me to finally get an ice cream maker.

  9. Wow - from not boiling water, to prune and armagnac ice cream? That's what I call progress!

  10. This ice cream looks great. I always love boozy fruit.

  11. Paula Wolfert is a kind and generous woman. This ice cream dusg really does sound like it is worth the wait as well as its weight in gold!

  12. not my kind of woman but definitely my kind of ice cream !!! and i will post soon an armagnac home made ice cream !!
    chhes from sunny paris

  13. Yes, indeed, we like boozy ice cream around here--we also like armagnac! If it's as good as it looks in your photo, we need some.

    The aprons arrived yesterday and I love them--especially the nostalgia of remembering my mother and grandmother wearing them. Thanks so much!


  14. What a lovely recipe and write up about Paula Wolfert. It really sounds festive and worthy of the holidays. We eat ice cream year round her and this one demands to be tried.I hope you enjoy the weekend. Blessings...Mary

  15. I loved learning more about Paula and was amazed to find that she wasn't a culinary genius from birth! It gives the rest of us hope :P

    This ice cream sounds fabulous. Definitely a wintry flavor, if you ask me!

  16. You just might get me to willingly ingest a prune with this recipe! :)

  17. I'm ashamed of myself that although I know the name I'm unfamiliar with Paula Wolfe rt. She sounds fascinating!

  18. There is hope for my daughter, then ;)

    What a delightful ice cream recipe!

  19. All I can say is ... this takes prunes off the oldsters list ... sounds absolutely decadent good!
    I'd saypaula has come a long way from her 'burning water phase'!

  20. nice to see prunes getting some love. :)

  21. Paula Wolfert sounds like another person that's led a charmed life: 10 years in Morocco then touring Southern France and now living in Sonoma?!? It is a dream come true--even better than Bella and Edward Cullen.

    I've seen her books before but don't really know them. I want to check them out now. The toasted bread with tomatoes and anchovy version is right up my alley. I am going to try that one when tomatoes get good again.

    And you're certainly right about boozy desserts--irresistible.

  22. terrific write-up on Paula Wolfert--I love her compelling description of the tomato-serrano ham snack.
    That prune-armagnac ice cream looks dreamy.

  23. Hello,
    I love your blog...it really is sensational.
    I am planning to make this ice cream but when going through the recipe thoroughly I stumbled at the last ingredient in the ice cream "30 cup sugar prunes in Armagnac". I am from Australia and do not understand what 30 cup sugar prunes means. Could you please explain this so I can attempt to make this heavenly recipe?
    Thank you,
    Regards from Australia,

  24. Angela: The prunes have to macerate in Armagnac for a couple weeks in advance so if you would look at the first two paragraphs under the (sorry about that) absent photo it explains how the prunes need to be made. When you are ready to make the ice cream, you use the macerated prunes and some of their juice. I worded it clumsily. You can also find the original recipe here: http://www.paula-wolfert.com/recipes/prune_armagnac_icecream.html



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