Half Vast

There’s a perpetual struggle between the ideas one might have for a dish or a meal and the realities that impose themselves on the execution thereof. Time, ingredients, fatigue, kids home from school with a fever–life has a limitless array of obstacles that can undermine our vast ambitions and bring them right back down to everyday dimensions. The trick is to retain some shreds of the original glory of the ideas before they got all sullied by the laws of physics and still get the food on the table with a minimum of delay.

The kid’s been home sick with a fever, so I wanted to make something nice for the wife and I so we could pretend for a few minutes that we are elegant, cosmopolitan people instead of bedraggled, exhausted parents who abdicated our responsibilities to a couple of distracting screens for much of the day. I phoned it in quite literally: I see Angry Birds when I close my eyes. (I was frequently called upon as a consultant to help on the harder levels).

Since reading Deana’s post about pigeon, I sort of had it on my mind. And I also happily had one in the freezer, so I was able to formulate a plan of sorts. The original idea involved breaking the bird down and cooking it three ways with all kinds of fanfare, but all that frippery went right out the window along with other extravagant fantasies like taking a shower. Instead of going fancy, I used my favorite trick: divide a simple meal into three courses and serve it on the homemade plates and hope nobody notices that it’s a phone-in.

The bones from those awesome ribs last week became a lovely, smoky stock. I threw in cubes of rutabaga, simmered them until tender, and stick-blended them smooth, pouring them through a strainer for further smoothening. First course done.

Next up, the ricotta I had left from making feta. There was just enough for two little servings of gnocchi, so I beat in an egg yolk and piped the mixture into simmering water. Once floating, I scooped them out and into little bowls with truffle oil, Espelette pepper, and scallions to finish. Cheesy yet fluffy, with snappy garnishes. What’s not to like?

Last, the bird. Pigeons are not very big, which is another reason I stretched this out: to create the illusion of more food. I Pan-roasted it while I got its accompaniments together. Those were leftover lentils that I had cooked with mirepoix and some stock and then warmed up with some homemade cider vinegar. I find that lentils love good vinegar, especially as leftovers; it cuts that mealy, leguminous texture and gives it more of a salady feeling. I folded in a few fresh herbs as well. And the vestiges of my original idea took the form of a kumquat marmalade: kumquat slices cooked with mango chutney and absinthe. About a year ago I made grilled kumquats stuffed with the chutney and absinthe, but since it’s still maddeningly frigid outside I just threw it all in a pan together. The combination is a winner, though. And I shredded some fennel and caramelized it, flaming the pan with a bit of the absinthe to double down on the anisey flavor for good measure.

The bird was still nice and pink, and I carved it into pieces on a board, making an insta-gravy with the rib stock while it rested. All together, it wasn’t too shabby, though the lentils could have stood some more tinkering, like quick-pickled raw fennel mixed in for more saladification. What matters, though, is the quality of the result experienced within the context of a long, hard day: my lovely wife got to sit and eat some decent dinner while I apologized for spending the entire time taking pictures of mine.

5 comments to Half Vast

  • The baby blue serving dish! Since OMG has been added now to the OED, I feel I can use it. OMG!

  • Mo

    Wow, the best I could manage when my kids were sick last week was a frittata. Your meal looks fantastic, well above and beyond what I would have been able to whip out on a kid-sick day.

    Hope your son feels better, sick munchkins are the worst :( my oldest was so sick last week, I barely made it through the first day without an urgent care visit.

    I always swore my kids would never watch TV or play video games, but I gotta say, thank god for iphones and netflix, especially when they are sick.

  • Peter

    Zoomie: I’ve used these before; I thought you’d seen them.

    Mo: Yeah, the phone and netflix make it tolerable.

  • Your plates are gorgeous. I know it’s psychological, but a nice presentation just makes things taste better.

  • Peter

    Thanks. It really does make all the difference.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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