Consistent with the tradition in this house, there was no turkey for Thanksgiving. Turkey is boring and hard to cook well unless you take it apart. We did, however, have Milo’s awesome Lego turkey as part of the centerpiece. Also keeping with tradition around here, the meal was a seven-course exploration of whatever perfervid visions had swum into my insomniac mind during the preceding week. It’s funny; I was listening to the radio as I made the dough for the foie gras oreos—one such idea—and the guest was saying something like “The key to a stress-free Thanksgiving is never to cook something new for the first time when people are coming over.” I think that takes all the fun out of it; three out of the seven courses were things I just made up and figured wouldn’t suck.
I’ve been sick as a dog, so all the festive autumnal posts I had planned will have to wait until I catch up with articles and other stuff that I’m behind on. But rest assured: I have binders full of awesome posts just waiting to be unleashed upon you at a moment’s notice. Meantime, I’ll tell you about this wonderful soup we had the other night, which was made entirely from homemade and homegrown things. It had the deep and vivid flavor of food that you eat on vacation in another country, which imprints itself upon your memory forever as being both emblematic of the place and the definitive version of that dish; you are forever after disappointed by the pale imitations at the restaurants back home, and your own efforts always fall short. This humble bowl of soup was like an Italian vacation in a bowl. Nothing was missing. It was perfect, and it transported me back to the osteria in Florence where I first had white bean and escarole soup.
As regular readers know, I’m a fan of from-scratch standards (often sandwiches, for some reason) as an ideal format for drilling down into the essence of food while following it up the supply chain as far as possible. It helps me understand cooking better. More often than not it also tastes really fucking good, so there’s also that. In this instance, to celebrate the ninth anniversary of our fun summer wedding (we had the legal one the previous December while my Mother was still alive), I prepared what was by any measure a simple meal. But it technically took seven months to make it.
Yesterday Mary came for a visit (and there’s some good news brewing on that front) so I roused myself from a humid torpor and wrangled a few things in the kitchen so we would have substantial yet heat-appropriate fare to buttress ourselves against all the wine she carries around with her everywhere. It was not a day for much cooking, so the sous vide rig seemed like a good choice; it gives off little heat and can be ignored for hours on end. It’s a brilliant way to prepare food on sweltering days. Plus, it’s been ages since I did a charcuterie post, so here you go.
One of the very best ways to feature choice morsels from the garden is on a tangy sourdough crust. I used my standard recipe, but with dried yeast added and a good hard kneading since it was a same-day affair. The one above had asparagus, garlic scapes, and bacon, which I sautéed well before topping it.
A lot of my posts are just descriptions of a single meal, which is a logical format for a blog, especially if one is diligent enough to document them regularly. Ahem. Moving on. I thought that this time around I’d show a little more about how unlike my actual approach to cooking the concept of an isolated, free-standing meal really is.
La foire nationale à la brocante et aux jambons (the antiques and ham market) takes place every spring and fall out in the Parisian suburb of Chatou. It began in the middle ages, when during holy week vendors would gather to sell their hams right in front of Notre Dame. Over the ensuing centuries, the market was subsequently moved to various other spots in the city. Over time, other flea market-type vendors joined the market, and eventually, in 1970, it ended up in Chatou, right under the RER station (which makes getting there from Paris extremely easy).
My high school French teacher left a comment on a recent post asking for a picture of a cassoulet if I happened to stumble across one in my travels. While it’s funny that she’s still giving me homework after over 25 years, it was also lucky; it gave me an excuse to ask Kate to make cassoulet so I could see the whole process up close. So she did. She has made it hundreds of times, and this version represents her easy three to four hour distillation of the essential process. You can read her complete recipe here.
Many recipes for cassoulet begin by saying that it takes three days to make properly, which Kate thinks is nonsense. Sure, if you need to begin by making duck confit, then that’s true, but the nature of the Gascon larder is that there are always various jars of confit in there for just such an occasion. So if you make confit as part of your regular or even occasional routine, save some to make cassoulet. The rest of the process is really not complicated at all.
We began our day yesterday with a visit to the Wednesday market at Laverac, where vendors, including Dominique and Christiane, have tables set up displaying the best of the region and beyond. Besides stopping by to chat with the Chapolards–and so I could say thanks and goodbye to them–we also provisioned ourselves for lunch, dinner, and a final project: cassoulet.
Yesterday I spent all day in the expert hands of the Chapolard family. The four brothers and their wives (and now a couple of kids) all work together on the farm that their Father started, raising pigs and turning them into superb meat and superlative charcuterie that supports all of them with a dignified living: true sustainability. The two kids have started a dairy on the property, with about fifty head of cattle, and they produce raw milk, yogurt, and some cheese. The rest of the operation is all pork, all the time, and I was honored to don a work smock, apron, and boots, and spend a day learning from their expertise, passion, and hard work.