Mother & Child Reunion

We were away for the weekend, blowing what was shaping up to be a pretty good posting streak, but the 25th high school reunion would not be denied. It’s always fun to go back to Massachusetts, and in this case seeing a wider variety of old friends than usual was an added bonus. Bringing the family made for an even better time; everyone got to see what a fuckup I didn’t turn out to be (probably a surprise) and my lovely wife made some new friends. Having said that, though, a few days of adequate but not homemade food meant that by the time we got home, I was seriously ready for some homegrown fare.

Truth be told, Sunday night I fully intended to make dinner. But a lackluster night of sleeping followed by a three hour drive combined to make me a cranky bastard come dinner time, so we ordered out, which was both crime and punishment after a long weekend of alien food. This here is what I planned on making last night, but didn’t have energy enough to accomplish. Tonight I made extra sure that it was flawless, since I had atoning to do for yesterday’s inexcusably bad husbanding and fathering.

The garden is beginning to offer up some of the brightly-colored treats of summer; I rummaged around the chioggia beet patch and did some late thinning of some of the fatter babies so the rest can expand into their space. The peas are coming in–actual peas, not just pods–so I grabbed the plump ones, and I snipped a few more garlic scapes. The chervil has exploded into a feathery, fractalicious little corner of the salad bed, so I grabbed some intricate leaves for one of my very favorite garnishes. And the galia endive (a darker, thicker frisée) is bangin’ right now, which is good news for those of us who love green mash as an accompaniment to rich meat like duck (which happily includes all three of us).

To begin, I washed and spun both the endive and a bunch of salad greens, then separated them. The endive became mash via the quick method: rather than grinding by hand in the suribachi, I put it in the food processor with olive oil, the monk’s raspberry vinegar, garlic, and salt and let it fly until thoroughly smooth and a vibrant green. This is a condiment that regular readers know is a mainstay here at cookblog HQ, and soon enough I plan to have a page up for it there on top because it’s such a marvelous complement to so many things. Bitterness is by far the most neglected taste, and while I understand why, its careful inclusion in meals brings out the sweetness in other foods.

The strawberries simmered in red wine, black currant vinegar, maple syrup, and a generous twisting of black pepper until soft, dark, and sticky. I scored the duck breast and salted it lightly, then seared it good and hard in the iron pan until it had rendered off a good amount of fat. I removed the fat, saving it of course, and flipped the meat over to brown the other side. Once cooked to a barely medium rare, I took it out and rested it, throwing garlic scapes and peas into the same pan to brighten and bathe in the lavish hedonism of residual duck fat. The beets I blanched in a bit of water, covering them and taking them off the heat the minute they paled slightly, then straining them out of the water and tossing them in a bit of salt and raspberry vinegar to balance their natural sweetness.

Assembly was simple: slice the duck, fan it across some polenta with a blob of green mash, then distribute some beets, berries, and scapes/peas around, followed by sprigs of chervil. The tastes really worked; the sweet-tart-peppery strawberries and the bright bitter mash provided two highly appealing poles between which the other flavors could cavort enthusiastically. The beets were al dente, the polenta toothsome, dense, and creamy, and the duck was perfectly tender with a crunchy rind of fat along one edge of each thin slice. In a way, this was pretty formulaic. I’ve made a bunch of plates like these recently, and this was pretty auto-piloted, though with extra guilt-driven care making the execution perhaps a notch finer than usual. But the key to this sort of food is cooking or preparing each component on its own so that it can be just right; it takes a few more minutes, but pans can easily be reused (and in the case of duck fat, not reusing them is a low-down dirty shame). The result is worlds better than a one-pot wonder, in that the variety of flavors and textures makes for a richly detailed experience.

To embellish this even further, a 2010 Mas de Gourgonnier rosé. I love this wine, and it’s organic, but at $15 retail it’s a few bucks more than some of my newer frugal favorites and as such I haven’t bought as much lately. But sending the wife to the wine store while I cooked had its benefit; she returned bearing a bottle because she knows and loves it too. Bracing acidity to handle duck fat, earthy, herbal minerality for the bitter greens and beets, and that magical wild strawberry nose for the fruit sauce made it a most excellent match. It’s good to be home.

8 comments to Mother & Child Reunion

  • Good to be home indeed :)

  • Yup, duck and polenta. I’m trying that mash this week, will it work with chard?

  • El

    Ugh, I hear you on OPF (other people’s food) when you’re off-reservation. Sucks. My husband would’ve rather been boiled in oil than attend my 25th so I went solo, but I did (for laughs) wear my Levi’s from ’86, paired with my old cowboy boots. You know: the more things change…

    I do hear you about vinegar and/or the bite. It becomes a chicken-and-egg thing though after a while: do we like it because we make and acquire it, or what?

  • Hey, where’d you go to HS? I grew up in MA. Went to Amherst HS until 10th grade, then Walnut Hill (Performing Arts HS) in Natick for 11th and 12th.

  • Peter

    Winnie: You know what I’m talking about.

    David: Chard pesto could be great, but proper mash needs to be made from some form of chicory.

    El: I’m amazed that you still have your jeans from back then.

    Nicole: Concord. Are you back for good now?

  • I am a big fan of polenta with duck ( and now cornbread with cassoulet… who knew?) Lovely dish, Peter… the colors are really superb!

  • Peter

    I’ve been using a lot of polenta lately because it’s local. And yes, it’s wonderful with duck, and chicken too.

  • Not for good, we’re going to be in VA for maybe 2 years. then who knows. hopefully somewhere tolerable…

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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