Over the holidays, my brother gave me a box of family photo albums he's had since our maternal grandmother passed away in the summer of 2012. Between pages sticky with scratchy lines of yellowed glue and crackling sheets of protective plastic was a photo of grandma, younger than I can remember her, cooking with Aunty Surinder. Aunty was a close family friend, if not an actual relation.
The shot belongs with a few others in sequence. My grandfather, dressed in a pale yellow golf shirt with the collar neat, sitting with his elbows on a table, talking to a man whose back is to the camera. Another with grandma and aunty outside a small cottage, wearing sunglasses and smiling broadly at the photographer. My mother thinks the cottage must have been a rental of some sort, a forgotten holiday somewhere. Wherever it was, it looks green and temperate. And they look happy.
That one photo has stood out to me for the last two weeks, how the highest points of their smiles are just visible, the way their attention is on the stove and to each other. The particular blue on the carton and the eggs in the pan. Friends are going to India in a few weeks, and talk of their trip has had me thinking about my childhood visits there. I've been missing my grandmother in that hollow, aching way that comes with time, especially the feel of the skin on the back of her hands, her laugh, and her way with a good scramble. That photo, among all the others, even the ones where she's fully facing the camera, shook any dust off her memory.
Benjamin and William know of our friends travel plans, and that some others are newly engaged, and that another couple just bought a house. While the boys don't call Sean and my friends aunties and uncles, they do call them mister and miss. So it's Mister Jason, for example — I can't get past my upbringing of children not calling adults by their first names alone. What's more, in the naming of their misters and misses in the world, I hope the boys feel they've claimed the adults that are theirs, besides just Sean and I, our parents, and their aunts and uncles by blood.
For the last little while, William has held the firm belief that yellow soups are his favourite. I often make ones with squash or carrots, garlic, ginger, and cilantro, then chilies and coconut to take us somewhere in the area of Thailand, if not quite there. After last week's successful khao soi/squash experiment, I continued the streak with this Indian curried one.
Molly wrote about this soup more than two years ago; it is as simple as you'd want yet so bang-on exactly what it needs to be. The oomph comes from curry powder (honestly, I keep curry powder in the house for the aforementioned khao soi, mum's dry fried noodles, and this soup), but then its made all the more interesting by a partnership with maple syrup (!) and fish sauce. The maple syrup, and grade B is really the way to go here, has a darkness that is brought out by the savouriness of the fish sauce, so its sweetness melts into the background. Lime juice and Sriracha further sharpens the focus right at the front. It is the type of soup you make with such regularity that you take for granted how good it is. Which I totally did, until I was texting about it Sunday night. I'm glad I remembered. I won't soon forget.
(ROASTED) WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK
I like this soup with accompanied by a little bulk — a rag of griddled naan, a mound of brown rice or crisped quinoa in the bottom of the bowl. Or, as shown, with chubby cubes of firm tofu slathered in the same flavours as the soup (maple, Sriracha, fish sauce) then bronzed in a hot skillet until leathery-edged. I had the last of some cooked lentils knocking about, so stirred them through with yogurt, cilantro, mustard sprouts and a pinch of Kashmiri chile powder, then spooned them over the tofu for another collection of textures. Cashews worked over in a mortar and pestle would also be nice.
The method for the soup was barely changed by me in roasting the squash first, but everything else is an adaption by Molly Wizenberg from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens via Lisa Moussalli's own adaptation. I agree with Molly in that butternut is the best squash for the task, but red hubbard and butterkin aren't bad. Acorn makes the soup a bit more khaki and it somehow tastes it, too. The ace method for roasting squash entirely from Molly Hays at Remedial Eating. The squash is roasted whole — no peeling! No hacking! No scraping of seeds still stubborn! Wins all around! — then split once soft enough to do so without resistance. It is brilliant.
- 1 winter squash (about 2 pounds / 500 g)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium or large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 or 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 cups (475 ml) chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha or other Asian chile sauce
- Juicy wedges of lime, for serving
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Place a whole winter squash on a rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet (see note, below). Bake the squash until tender enough to be pierced deeply with the tip of a knife with only modest resistance, about 30 minutes. Carefully split the squash down its length, being careful of the steam. Flip the squash facedown on the pan and pop back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes more until squash tender but still firm. Turn the squash so their faces are now upturned, and roast for 10 minutes more. Set aside until the squash are cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a 4 to 6-quart Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or 2 more. Sprinkle in the curry powder, and stir around for 1 minute. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. If using an upright blender, transfer onions and coconut milk to its carafe, along with the broth. Scrape the seeds out of the squash and discard, then spoon the flesh into the blender as well. Purée until smooth and velvety (alternatively, do all of this in the pot with an immersion blender). Pour the soup back into the pot, stir in the maple syrup, fish sauce, and Sriracha, and check for seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer, then serve with fresh lime wedges alongside for squeezing on top.
- When I roast winter squash this way I tend to do a whole bunch all at once — basically however much my oven can hold. This way it justifies turning the oven on, and then I'm set for soup (or whatever use you might have for roasted squash) for the week.
If I had shown you the collected plates of our last week or so, it would have made for the most boring slideshow in the history of the world. It's been pretty much one word, four syllables, at almost every meal.
Asparagus. Daily. There's been no complaints.
There it's been, with oozy-yolked dipper eggs to start the day, shaved into emerald-edged ribbons as a lunch salad, stir-fried with ginger, sesame and soy for dinner. When baking a cake left me with egg yolks left over, I took it as a sign and lickety-split made a herb-specked, lemon-heavy Hollandaise to drag our stalks through.
I was tempted to tell you the way I've liked it best, but it's not much of a recipe. Just a knob of butter melted in a heavy skillet and allowed to begin to brown, then stopped from going overboard by a scant pour of olive oil. In goes trimmed asparagus and another scant pour - water this time - quickly simmering/steaming the stalks to tender-crisp and setting their colour at its brightest. Once the water's bubbled away, the asparagus goes off the heat and onto a plate. There's salt and pepper to finish, along with a squeeze of lemon, an extra drop of oil and broad, lacy shavings of Parmesan. No trick to that.
And so instead, I thought I'd tell you about a dish that has a bit more going on but shares the same quick time from counter to table. It may not be my full-stop favourite, but it's up there and gaining a following.
It starts with a winner of a sauce - David Lebovitz's sauce gribiche. Like he says, it's one of those keep-it-in-your-back-pocket recipes that makes something kind of spectacular out of a few everyday ingredients. It's French in lineage, a loose sauce-meets-vinaigrette, with an emulsification of (cooked!) egg yolk and mustard to start, a good measure of olive oil, chopped egg, capers, cornichons and herbs.
That was where I was heading. Then, thumbing through Canal House Cooking Volume No. 3 - the winter and spring edition from last year - I was reminded of their take on the iceberg wedge; sharp, crunchy radicchio garnished with hard-boiled eggs, scallion and crisp pancetta. It's gorgeous. Their vinaigrette and garnish shares a lot of qualities with sauce gribiche, and that's when I decided to change course and take the best from both.
This vinaigrette ends up eggier than his sauce gribiche, and the cornichons are swapped out for the fresh pungency of scallion - that's the Canal House influence at work. My only original contribution was to fleck the dressing with dried red pepper flakes, which spark here and there.
We ate it at lunch yesterday with nothing else necessary than a slice of toasted granary bread as raft for the spears. The crumb opened up to the spiky, supple dressing, and the crust afforded the dish substantial chew. Use the last of your bread for sopping up all the extra bits and dregs of dressing - be greedy with the bread, I say.
One note on the asparagus itself; you can prepare it however you prefer, but can we talk about matters of size? Go straight for the thicker stalks, the kind that almost require a fork and knife when eating with anyone aside from the closest of company. Dainty, they are not, those sturdy ones.
The fat, juicy stalks really have the most flavour, and it's their fleshy sweetness that stands up to the piquancy of this dressing best. If those spindly stems we often see are thought of as pencil-thin, the sort you'll want here are more the magic-marker variety.
As with a traditional sauce gribiche, this vinaigrette would be happy to pal around with some boiled new potatoes or a nice bit of fish. Or, to tweak the Canal House example, I'd like it this over grilled wedges of radicchio at the next barbeque. I've got ideas of blanched green beans when they're around.
That said, I've not tried any of those suggestions. We've only gone so far as asparagus and stopped quite stubbornly there. For right now, in this asparagus season that is so quickly passing, that's far enough for me.
ASPARAGUS WITH HARD-BOILED EGG VINAIGRETTE
Adapted from from Canal House Cooking and David Lebovitz, with thanks.
- Kosher salt
- 2 scallions, white and light green parts separated and finely sliced
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/3-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 10 capers, rinsed and dried
- Approximately 1/8 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 1 handful of fresh, flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 1 pound thick asparagus, peeled if needed, trimmed and cooked to your liking
In a small bowl, pinch together 1/8 teaspoon salt with the white part of the sliced scallions. Once the scallion begins to release some juice, stir in the red wine vinegar and set aside.
Separate the egg yolks from the hard boiled eggs. Place one egg yolk in a medium bowl. Chop the other egg yolk and egg whites separately, and keep both aside for later.
Mix the Dijon mustard into whole egg yolk until smooth. Using the back of a spoon or fork, beat in 1/3 cup of the olive oil in a thin, steady stream. Once emulsified, stir in the vinegar and white scallions.
Add the reserved egg whites to the sauce, along with the capers, the chili flakes and most of the parsley. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. It'll be quite kicky. If the sauce seems too thick, loosen with the extra olive oil.
To serve, arrange the cooked asparagus on a plate. Spoon over the sauce, then garnish with the chopped egg yolk, reserved parsley and scallion greens.
It is difficult to come up with something original to say about Heidi Swanson, when she's such an original herself. It's even harder when everyone else is talking about her, and her fantastic new book, Super Natural Every Day, as they should be.
Nonetheless I'll add my voice to the chorus of deserved cheers and say, "wow Heidi, well done."
Like it was for countless others, Heidi's site, 101 Cookbooks, was one of the first food blogs I read. Her photographs were what caught my attention - the simple, honest styling, the softness of light - but it was her that kept me reading. And cooking. There's a laundry list of recipes from 101 Cookbooks that are part of my family's routine. Like the images she captures, the food Heidi creates is beautifully direct. There isn't a lot of extraneous fuss for the sake of fanciness; if she suggests an ingredient or method, you can be well-assured there's good reason behind it.
It is this thoughtful approach to cooking that is so appealing about Heidi; it's as obvious in her meals as it is in the words she chooses to describe them. Her tone is gentle and welcoming, convivial while instructive.
Super Natural Every Day carries on as the elegant extension of Heidi's site, and follows up her highly-acclaimed book Super Natural Cooking. For those unfamiliar with Heidi's food philosophy, she promotes a vegetarian, whole-foods kitchen, with a detailed emphasis on unrefined sweeteners, whole grains, and conscientious choices of fats. That said, Heidi isn't one to sermonize; she lives her life, cooks her food and tells you about it. It's accessible, easy cooking that is delicious first and foremost, full stop, without asterisk or side note - the fact that it's good for you is an added bonus.
The book is an obviously personal one. Heidi shares favourite recipes from her repertoire alongside evocative photographs of her day to day. There's an intimacy to her voice that brings you into her kitchen, and her notes on each dish show an unmistakable familiarity that only comes from a heartfelt enthusiasm. Heidi moves easily between influences - there's dukkah, harissa and gribiche in here, tinto de verano and macaroon tarts. The flavours are varied and celebrated, like the well-worn bits and pieces of a treasured scrapbook, and her recipes are testaments to her affection for them.
One dish that I think serves as great example to Heidi's style is her Little Quinoa Patties. A seemingly humble collection of ingredients, quinoa, eggs, and breadcrumbs, are punctuated by fresh onion, chives, garlic and a grating of cheese. Pan-fried until crusted and golden the cakes get unexpectedly gutsy; the exterior deeply caramelizes, especially where the onion catches, and turn aromatically nutty. The interior is soft and bouncy, with the curlicues (Heidi's word) of quinoa still sweet and mild. She suggests them hot or cold as a snack. We ate ours with poached eggs and broccoli sprouts on a rain-sodden afternoon.
After the plates were scraped clean and the kettle was put up for tea, someone said to me "I would eat that every day."
You couldn't hope for higher praise. I'll say it again, Heidi, well done.
(p.s. and happy birthday today, too!)
I've been having to sit on my hands to keep from telling you all about UPPERCASE Issue #9 - it's the food issue! That's right, page upon beautiful page full of stories on all aspects of food and garden. It's going to be good.
In the Kitchen column I'll be talking about honey, offering up a recipe for Butter Roasted Walnuts with Thyme Infused Honey and chitchatting about honey varietals.
On top of that, I'm terribly excited to tell you that I was also granted the opportunity to talk with Heidi Swanson, Carrie and Andrew Purcell and Aran Goyoaga to discuss food photography and styling. In the interviews we explore their varied approaches and perspectives when it comes to photographing food; their answers are both educational and inspiring. I can't wait for you to see it and I can't thank them enough for taking part.
Late breaking, and just added, the folks at Saveur magazine were exceptionally nice in asking a few questions as part of their "Sites We Love" series. I'm in better company than I could dream, and thank them for their kindness. If you'd like to see the interview, it's now live.
LITTLE QUINOA PATTIES
From the book Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed Press, 2011).
Anytime I have leftover cooked quinoa, I make these little patties. They are good hot or cold and are well suited to fighting afternoon hunger pangs. It's a bit of a stretch, but they could be described as a (very) distant cousin of arancini, Italy's beloved deep-fried risotto balls. In contrast, these are pan-fried in a touch of oil, and smushed flat in the pan to get as much surface browning as possible. I'm including my basic version, but often times I'll add a handful of very finely chopped this-or-that: broccoli, asparagus, or cauliflower, depending on the season. They're great on their own, slathered with ripe avocado or drizzled with hot sauce. - HS
- 2 1/2 cups / 12 oz / 340 g cooked quinoa, at room temperature
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
- 1/3 cup / .5 oz / 15 g finely chopped fresh chives
- 1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup / .5 oz / 15 g freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100 g whole grain bread crumbs, plus more if needed
- Water, if needed
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or clarified butter
Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the chives, onion, cheese, and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes sot that the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. At this point, you should have a mixture you can easily form in to twelve 1-inch / 2.5 cm thick patties. I err on the very moist side because it makes for a not-overly-dry patty, but you can add a mroe bread crumbs, a bit at a time, to firm up the mixture, if need be. Conversely, a bit more beaten egg or water can be used to moisten the mixture.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-pow heat, add 6 patties, if they'll fit with some room between each, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and cook the second sides for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.
Alternatively, the quinoa mixture keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a few days; you can cook the patties to order, if you prefer.
Makes 12 little patties.
A note from Tara:
- If it's your thing, I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the uncooked quinoa mixture. I think some fresh chili would work too.
Once Molly (Wizenberg) wrote of wanting "pâte brisée for a pillow", and it was a statement so perfectly, poetically apt that it's stuck with me. With ardent hope she doesn't mind the tug at her coattails, I submit that if a puff of pastry is where you'd lay your head, with a bed of onions beneath, you just might desire the layers of a potato gratin for bedclothes.
I see that my addition stretches her neat metaphor into something excessive in it's total carbohydrate intake, but the sentiment holds true - potato gratin and an Alsatian Onion Tart hit very much the same notes of butter, cream and those marvelous, golden flavours brought about in baking. A good potato gratin has a gentle crisp at its top, a smoothly-set layering of potato and cream underneath, where the neat strata of each ingredient may be appreciated by the eye, but is hardly so to the tooth.
This gratin comes by way of David Tanis, from his latest book The Heart of the Artichoke, and it is my idea of what a gratin should be. Too often we're offered watery, weepy versions, where the potatoes are wholly undercooked or are gravely underseasoned. Tanis's gratin is as simple as simple can be, held only to the essential ingredients and arranged in unvarnished, glorious harmony.
Actually, this whole book is my idea of what a cookery book should be. There's an easy conversation to be found on his pages that appeals - the tone is that of reading the words of a friend, a very smart, very talented friend, but a friend all the same. The recipes are arranged in seasonal menus with notes on cooking and gentle suggestion of technique. His tastes are varied, so you'll find jalapeno pancakes, black sticky rice pudding with coconut cream, and roast suckling pig (not all together).
Look at me go on. I've been distracted completely from what we're supposed to be talking about. Let's just say it's a really good book and leave it at that.
This potato gratin. We had this over the weekend, the Jansson's Temptation variation (that's fun to say), if we're getting into details. It was a long weekend; a statutory holiday in some parts of Canada. Such lazy days are the ideal setting to potato gratin, as they do take time. Not to make or eat, but to let them cook slowly and languidly so that they reach the velvety standard we're all hoping for.
This won't let those hopes down. It's the gratin to end them all, with my special fondness tied to the Jansson's as said. The onion sweetens the cream slightly, and the anchovies mitigates all with a profound salinity. Eaten the next morning, warmed moderately with a poached egg and a salad of the most peppery, bitterest greens you can find, it's exceptional.
In nice bit of news, Sheri and Shari kindly invited me to visit their marvelous site this joy+ride. We had a chat about winter and cooking, and there's lots of photographs to share. If you'd like to take a look, here it is. You'll note I talk about Tanis there, so sharing this recipe today felt right.
Thank you dear ones for having me.
CLASSIC POTATO GRATIN
From the book The Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis, (Thomas Allen and Sons, 2010).
A good gratin is probably the only thing you can serve at any dinner table that everybody will love. Of all the versions, I prefer this tradition French-style gratin, made simply with potatoes, cream and butter.
- 3 pounds baking potatoes (use medium russet, Bintje, or German Butterball)
- Salt and pepper
- 4 tablespoons butter, plus a little more for the baking dish
- 2 1/2 cups organic heavy cream, or as needed
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel the potatoes and put them in a bowl of cold water. Smear a baking dish thickly with butter. My favorite gratin dish is a circular pan 14 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. If you don't have a large dish, make 2 smaller gratins. Just make sure the dish is not too deep.
To assemble the gratin, place a cutting board on the counter between the bowl of potatoes and the baking dish. Using a mandoline, if you have one, slice a few potatoes at a time, as thin as possible. Quickly lay the potato slices in the bottom of the pan, overlapping them to make one layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Slice a few more potatoes and make another layer. Continue in this fashion, seasoning each layer, until all the potatoes are used.
Pour the cream over the potatoes and tilt the pan to distribute it well. With your hand, push down on the top layer to even out the pile. The cream should just barely cover the potatoes. Add a little more if necessary. Dot the surface with the butter, then cover the dish tightly with foil and put it in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes or so to brown the top of the gratin. Let the gratin rest fot 10 minutes before serving. (The gratin can also be cooled and left at room temperature for several hours, and reheated in a moderate oven.)
Obviously, there are many other delicious ways to make a gratin. For a good cheesy version, sprinkle an assertive cheese, such as a Swiss Gruyère or Raclette, or even Fontina, between each layer of potatoes. You'll need about 2 cups of grated cheese.
There's a Swedish version of the dish called Jansson's Temptation, which calls for anchoivies and onions and is excellent for breakfast or lunch. To make a good approximation of Jannson's, I mix 1 large onion, sliced thin, with about 12 anchovy fillets, rinsed and roughly chopped, and divide the mixture among the layers. Bake as for the classic gratin.
It's the new year. We're one week in and I'm still getting my footing. The bang of fireworks at midnight seven days ago acted as my starter's pistol - the get-go for the clipping pace the days have taken.
I don't know if I can still wish you a happy year, there must be an expiry date on the phrase, just as I don't know if I should be this bouncy over a January salad.
But I am. Smitten with radishes and celery and apple. And I do wish you grand times ahead.
What started me on salads was when we slipped away to Montreal way back in November - even though their first snow had fallen and our cheeks were rusty with the bite of a sharp wind, leafy, green and perky salads were often the unexpected boon at mealtimes. Some peppery, some mild, with shaved fennel and Grana Padano, or a humble jumble of tiny greens in a film of dressing with pickled shallot. In the morning, served with our eggs, there were last September's tomatoes dried and preserved in oil.
The last night was one where the sidewalks were slick with ice and I (firmly) held a gentlemanly arm to maintain my footing. Finally tucked into the warm restaurant, I was playing that game where you scout the menu by taking inventory of the plates of others when I saw a salad - a tangle of mixed cabbages and carrot, nothing more than a coleslaw really - and it was, somehow, exactly what I wanted.
It made sense, really, that in the winter we need some crunch to enliven both our palate and spirits. It is no news that I am a fan of comfort food; braises and slow roasts are often my favourite meals. Against those rich, unctuous gravies and stews a salad brings all that the dish is not - the piquancy of vinegar and punch of freshness resets the taste buds and brightens the meal through contrast. Each becomes essential in the enjoyment of the other.
And while we might not think of it, cold winters, those bitterly frosty days, are dry. Skin is chapped, lips are chapped, hair is flyaway and frizzy. I find myself, a person not usually one to keep a carafe by the bed, stumbling awkwardly and squintingly into the kitchen to gulp down glasses of water in the morning. A salad gives a meal an aspect of watery crunch, which is to say it refreshes without the stumbling and the stubbed toes.
The salad we have here is a more recent entry into our canon, inspired by the collected lessons of our trip. I'll offer it up in terms as one should offer to a friend, without quantities or much by way of specification. The salad is best because of its combination. There is a balance of the different sorts of crispness between the supple celery and the assertive radish; the apple falls between the two.
My only true instruction is to slice everything, save the parsley of course, as thinly as you can muster. Shaved wafer thin is where I'd aim, as the textures and flavours seem at their best as such, with it all coming off as ravishingly addicting. Wet, but not sodden, and that sounds funny I know.
With baguette and butter it makes for an ideal lunch, only gaining in appeal when eaten indoors, at the table, by the window, with a snowy landscape on the other side.
RADISH, CELERY AND APPLE SALAD
- A bunch of radishes, sliced thin
- An apple, something crisp and sweet, sliced thin
- A stalk of celery, sliced thin
- A generous handful of flat-leafed parsley, stems removed
- Juice from half a lemon
- Mild honey
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, toss together the radishes, apple, celery and parsley. Squeeze over a bit of lemon juice, a fine drizzle of honey, and a larger splash of olive oil. Toss gently, so that everything is well coated, then add a sprinkle of sea salt and a good grind of pepper. Toss again and taste for seasoning.
Serves 2, I'd say.
Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms on toast! Or, as pictured, mushrooms and toast.
So that didn't work. Nothing I do, no matter how I say it, can make mushrooms on toast sound as though they are all that exciting. But boy, am I excited about them. In fact, they've been all I want to eat these days.
And so, after a too long absence that has me eager to bring you trays of chocolates and sweets, of cakes miles high and swathed in seven-minute frosting, in my way of saying I'm glad to see you, I'm here instead with a plate full of everydayness. But robust everdayness - toasted bread and a tumble of mushrooms, with their tawny edges tanned and glistening.
Though simple, they are far from plain and even farther from boring. From Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver, the mushrooms are meaty, substantial and all-around good stuff.
I made them the first time to share for a November lunch. The next day, I had them again for a solitary late-morning breakfast, free in my singularity to shamelessly drag my toast across the skillet in which the mushrooms had cooked, lest I miss an ounce of their liquor that was left behind.
That first time we ate them as is, piled on slices of grilled bread, and for the second time I perched a poached egg just so. Another time there were irregular chunks of creamy buffalo mozzarella cozied up on the plate.
Never you mind all of that though, to begin I think it best to go with this dish in its purest - straight up, nothing to get in the way of what we have going on here.
What that exactly is, is mushrooms with attitude. The first succulent bite had me sit up straighter and pull my chair an inch closer to the table.
Where I think the draw lies in this dish is in how the the mushrooms are cooked - everything's added in stages to gain the greatest advantage of their qualities. Into a pour of olive oil alone goes the mushrooms, then the garlic, chili and thyme. As they cook, their moisture is released, the aromatics open up and perfume the steam as it puffs from the pan. The liquid condenses soon enough and then it's time to feed in a knob or two of butter, which glosses all, adding richness and roundness. A few drops of lemon, then the transformative ingredient - water - to end. Yes, water.
It's the lynchpin to this whole business of mushrooms on toast, I'm telling you.
That splash of water bubbles up, picking up all the stickiness around the skillet and turning into a surprisingly creamy, absolutely rich gravy. You'll fight for your share. Pick a craggy bread with enough bumps and pockets to catch that sauce and collect it into luscious pools. That's the best way to go.
Since we're chums and catching up, I'll mention that today's toast, the one I'm crummy with right now, is with aged cheddar and chili pepper jam. That one we'll save for another chat. For now, get on those mushrooms.
JAMIE OLIVER'S ULTIMATE MUSHROOM BRUSCHETTA
From the book Jamie at Home (Hyperion, 2008).