Archive for the ‘Simpler Vegetables’ Category

Portrait of a Hotel:

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007


        It’s common, of course, for people to fall in love “across a crowded room.” I fell in love with a hotel looking out a train window: passing through Brive-la-Gaillarde, that pleasant market town between Limoges and Cahors, I was drawn, across the way, to a Late Victorian hotel facing the station, four or five stories, a bit ornate, friendly looking and solid in more than the pure engineering sense.  I made a note of it, as the telephone informationist recommends when giving you a number.  And eight years later, one 10 p.m., I came to know the Grand Hotel Terminus’ birdcage elevator, its varnished halls, creaking armoires, bathtubs long as a yacht if not as sleek; and there was the resident cat to join us for breakfast.  Several visits indicated that the Terminus had few clients, and the formal dining room, once proud I’m sure, stood empty at the lunch and dinner hours.

        Soon the Michelin guide, requiring gleamier, less Titanical tubs, dropped the Terminus as if it were some eccentric aunt not welcome in the parlor.  But the hotel continued to answer my requests for a room, assuring us the “calme” we enjoyed in room 16 which overlooked the garden and was assigned to us “comme d’habitude.” One year the dining room even echoed to a meeting of hearty locals, Rotary members perhaps; they lunched on good roast veal because the aroma of its juices shot up to our little balcony where we were picnicking on a robust Cantal from the nearest fromagerie (just down a bucolic lane) and looking off to Auvergne, or its environs, in the East.  It’s ten years now since we included Brive in an itinerary, and I pray that the Terminus with its lovable anachronisms and pianissimo corridors and Monsieur le Chat and the voice of the station announcer across the way has not been, well, terminated.  Who cares about governments falling?

        Let’s see, is that number 011-33-5-55-74-21-14?


Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        This may be what they serve at the gates of vegetarian heaven.   A raid on the leftovers bin has rarely produced a more satisfying mélange of green.


Steam half a small sliced cabbage and a bunch of chard, washed and trimmed and cut up.  Top the veg with at least 1 thickly sliced scallion and toss rather carelessly with vinaigrette to taste.


Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        And with this recipe you’ll be in step with the increasing population of fava bean eaters, also the new fans of pancetta, Italy’s unsmoked bacon available in most good delicatessens.  But you must love those fava beans because they’re demanding critters, shelling and peeling them will take forever.  Of course you can always take a ringside seat for Jim Lehrer while you’re slaving, or pop a Mahler symphony into that microwave in your hi fi corner. Seriously, though, you can match cooking times to favorite recordings: two rather large chicken breasts will emerge from their pot of boiling water in perfect condition having marched to their destination neck and neck with Hans Knappertsbusch’s Vienna recording of Brahms’ Tragic Overture.  Baked yams of perfect squishyness equal an average tempo’d Shostakovich Fifth, and lamb shanks, I’d say, will win you stars if matched to an uncut second act of Die Walkuere.

        Pinoli toasting in a little pan might, however, outrun Chopin’s Minute Waltz, which usually takes closer to two.


Shell 2 pounds of fava beans and blanch them for about 5 minutes in boiling water; then drain them and when they’re cool enough to handle peel the tough outer skin (although some fava bean eaters don’t mind it).

In a skillet fry a dozen or so little oblongs of pancetta or slab bacon, adding after a couple of minutes half a small chopped onion for softening in a bit of olive oil.  When the bacon is virtually done add a tablespoon of tomato paste diluted with 1-1/2 cups of dry vermouth and simmer all for 2 or 3 minutes, until some of the liquid evaporates.

Now add the beans, 2 minced garlic cloves and some chopped parsley and warm your ragoût, with the skillet covered, for 5 or 6 minutes — except that if your favas happen to be senior citizens they’ll take considerably longer to soften sufficiently for a good dining experience.  Serve the finished product over French bread toasts.

ALTERNATIVE:  You could reduce the bacon content or eliminate it altogether and frame the tomato’d fave with Italian sausages, even puréeing the beans, adding milk as for mashed potatoes . . . another option is Two Bean Salad: simply mix some shelled, peeled, steamed favas with the string beans and pine nuts of the vinaigrette several recipes back.