Music Of The Spheres

This Terry Winters-looking cluster of clusters was actually the inspiration for dinner, unlikely though that sounds when you consider that dinner was a rather Baroque heap of decadence. To witness the lavish feast and learn what these things are, see below.

I can’t get enough of these photos. The wild garlic that I love so well is done for the spring; all the small plants have died back, but the bigger, older ones sent up long stalks that flowered. As with other alliums, these flowers then turn to seeds which get scattered by wind and gravity to grow more. The bulbs also divide, providing them with two distinct means of reproduction. What I have never seen before is the seeds sprouting while they’re still in clusters on the stalks. They’re like tiny garlic cloves with little chives growing out of them: the ultimate garnish.  So I gathered some and pondered a fitting dish for them to embellish.

Continuing my harvesting tour, I gathered a variety of pink spheres: chioggia beet, red onion, and pink currants (along with plenty of white ones, too). I also picked a bunch of selvetica arugula since I needed to make room for summer things. The very first of the blackcurrants also made it into the bowl. I cooked them down with maple syrup, blackcurrant vinegar, and black pepper until they made a thick jam. Besides their flavor and meat-friendly acidity, I love the translucency of currants and gooseberries. They’re very easy to grow, so if your climate favors them stick a few in the ground this fall.

I cut up the beet and onion and caramelized them gently but insistently in some olive oil until they were very tender, then folded in the currant mixture and set it aside while I scored and seared a duck breast and washed, spun, and dressed the arugula with the standard vinaigrette (though using more of the currant vinegar instead of the usual cider).

While the duck had a rest, I browned diced potatoes in the rendered fat. Then I sliced the meat fairly thin and arranged it atop the potatoes, which in turn sat atop the greens. The currant/beet/onion jam went on the duck, and then the little garlic sprouts finished it off.

See how far we have come from the elegant austerity of the first pictures? This looks to be from a different century altogether. I considered doing individual plates with more finesse, but something about a big family-style trough of dinner appealed to me. In any case, the flavors were spot on. Bright, buttery greens with that lovely sharp bite, crunchy potatoes, rare meat with crispy fat, and a sweet-sour-earthy jam and little pops of garlic for some textural interest. This one worked well, and was brilliantly accompanied by another 2010 Eminence Road Cab Franc.

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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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