I took the kid to Italy for his thirteenth birthday; we just got back a few days ago. I realized when we arrived in Rome that it had been fifteen years since I was last there, an inconceivably long time given the crucial part Italy played in forming who I became artistically and culinarily. The visual influences became apparent immediately in my paintings, and that continued until I left figuration behind entirely a few years later. The culinary influence proved to be even more durable, and increased in importance as I began growing and cooking food all the time when we left Brooklyn for the country. Now that I write about food for a living, the Italian approach to ingredients—the simplicity, the honesty, the glorification of peasant frugality—remains one of my touchstones.
As I wrote in the garden post—and countless times beforehand—spending time in the garden (or outside in general) every day inspires plentiful ideas for the evening meal. In any given week (once things get growing) one is confronted with an array of plants at different stages of their lives: sprouts that need thinning, bolting things that need eating, things that bolted and didn’t get eaten so now they have pretty flowers or pungent seeds to use, and always various plants at peak maturity that are ready for their closeup.
Well, that felt good. I was overdue for a tirade, I guess. If I had any savvy I’d rave like that all the time, since those posts (see the “best of” page for all you newcomers) always get mad traffic.
I forgot to mention that a contributing factor to the blogstipation around here has been a matter of simple laziness; since I’m out at least once a week shooting pictures, my tripod, light stand, and other gear tend to stay in the car. So when dinner time rolls around, the prospect of going out to get them and set them up in time to shoot a plate of food seems like too much work. Come summer, this will all be moot in the abundant natural light, but for now it represents an obstacle, if a silly one. I did, however, want to show off this new bowl—part of my first ever firing in a wood kiln.
Corn, beans, and squash are the trinity of native American staple crops. The fact that they can be planted all together—beans climbing corn, squash crowding out weeds on the ground—only adds to their iconic appeal. This meal took shape around the happy presence of all three in the pantry, all in different states, and the result was quite satisfying.
If for no other reason, agreeing to be a part of this contest has meant that you all get at least one post per month to enjoy since I’m not really feeling the blog right now and with a broken flash and darkness falling so early decent photography that coincides with actual dinner time is not possible. Having said that, though, this dish would deserve a post even if there were no such contest. I made cassoulet before my trip to France, and did a decent job of it, but Kate showed me her method and it drove home the importance of having all the component parts be as immaculately sourced as possible. I know she has a cassoulet app coming out soon, so pay attention to her Twitter feed and jump on that when it drops. The fact that her technique has continued to evolve is proof that this is a dish that warrants many repetitions and refinements in your own kitchen. This version was made mostly with lamb, since that’s what they sent me. Cassoulet is superbly adaptable to what you have on hand.
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.
This was a simple one, but made exceptionally flavorful by a couple of small steps.…
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.