Archive for the ‘Plats du Jour’ Category

A Considerable Postscript:

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        Editors helpfully peering over the shoulders of memoir writers often ask for celebrities, celebrities.  Well, as a newspaper reporter I did interview Admiral Byrd the South Pole man, very cordial indeed; I had an unfortunate brush with John Foster Dulles squired by a disagreeable contingent of State Department huskies; there was a black-haired, eighty-two-year old Leonid Massine who’d danced with Diaghileff’s legendary troupe and answered my questions over tea at the Sir Francis Drake pleasantly but stiffly, in a posture that was arthritically erect, as if he were a talking medallion or de Medici bust; and I knocked on the hotel door of Sir Thomas Beecham, that lovely old tease of a conductor, asking for a few memories of his beloved composer friend Delius, and although it was a nap I think he had in mind he happily obliged, in shirtsleeves.

        But the food connection with these celebs is non-existent, unless one counts Sir Thomas’ remark, heard at one of his Lollipop concerts in London a few years later: “anyone who can identify this next encore will be awarded a ton of chewing gum.”

        In the food world, though — her world, of course, was much bigger than that — I did have the privilege of knowing M.F.K. Fisher a little. It was never for a starstruck scribe, meaning me, a totally relaxed relationship, but as fielded from her end of the court it was certainly a friendly one, with some good fun and gossip thrown in, especially via absolutely inimitable postcards written in her uniquely laidback rhythm and stocked with that fine quirky wisdom of whichn she seemedmfkfisher_postcard_2_back.jpg to be the originator.  I first met M.F.K. (I never really felt I knew her as Mary Frances) about 1955 when a mutual friend dragged her, I suspect, to my mother’s house because my mother was a great fan of hers.

        Thirty years later another mutual friend thought M.F.K. might look benignly on a literary effort of mine (which she kindly did), and when she invited Anne and me to lunch at her unique studio/house in the Valley of the Moon, preparing for us at the kitchen end of her book-lined living room a very tasty tapenade of olives-capers-anchovies as the centerpiece of a light and perfect meal, sort of Panisse Café-ish, washed down with a simple white wine, she recounted for us everything that had transpired at my mother’s house three decades earlier, including a vivid description of my mother’s large in-house feline population.  I guess those cats struck a chord as they say, but then M.F.K. was as observant as the most sensitive detective, or novelist.

        When a large book of M.F.K.’s letters came out not long ago I devoured it, all its knowingness, and I dreamt I told her how much I felt its pull.


Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        When I read in a book about country inns that Todd Muir at Healdsburg’s Madrona Manor had programmed a dish rather like this for a fig festival the wheels of inspiration began to turn.  The result is the adjacent timbale.  Or timballo as the Italians say — I love that word, it sounds like it ought to be the name of a percussion instrument banged lightly in some old baroque suite.  The orchestration of this timbale/timballo is interesting, highlighted by the counterpoint of the mildly sweet corn and the somewhat less mildly sweet figs.  The bacon provides the basso continuo, and the goat cheese . . . but enough of metaphors, let’s eat!


In a skillet sauté a dozen or more smallish cubes of thick cut or slab bacon until they’re almost crisp, then add a good 2 cups of frozen corn. Continue cooking the bacon and corn for several minutes over moderate heat, stirring almost constantly, after which you should stir in 1/2 cup of chopped dried figs (fresh ones in summer!) which you’ve soaked in warm water for an hour or so, and blend in (a really large spoon helps here) 3 or 4 ounces of goat cheese.    Note well: you want a moist, well-aged cheese, not too sharp but really flavorful.  Best to visit a cheese shop whose staff know as much about cheese as your physician presumably knows about your insides.  Next, top all with a thin layer of bread crumbs.

Now off the fire stir an egg into the bacon/fruit/veg/cheese and spoon all into a buttered ovenproof dish — or individual ramekins.  Then top with another film of crumbs and bake at 300°, mostly covered, for 25 minutes.

NOTE:    I don’t see why this dish wouldn’t work well with cubes of leftover roast lamb instead of the bacon; and roast pork would be a natural.   In any event you’ll doubtless want a green salad as a follow-up.

FURTHER THOUGHT:    Since this timbale when served on plates rather than in ramekins looks a bit like a large pillow waiting for some sautéed Calterranean fish or fowl to be laid against it, well, that’s your cue . . .


Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        If the thought of this tomatoes-in-cream as a main course scares you, convert it to an elegant and unusual starter.  Only with good tomatoes, however!   Now come to think of it, you could combine Tomatoes Pomiane, like so many other things, with pasta.  Or rice.  Or poached eggs and bacon on toast — that would be an Old English breakfast taken into a new dimension. Dr. Edouard de Pomiane, Polish-born, was a professor at the Institut Pasteur in Paris and author of a book I’d love to lay my hands on, French Cooking in Ten Minutes, which is not, I’m sure, about FAST FOOD.

        .. . Well, just a few days after writing that sentence I found that this 1930 opus had been awakened from a long slumber by North Point Press; and in it I found not precisely the “Pomiane” recipe Elizabeth David fondly published in one of her books and I for your pleasure on this page had pumped up with added cream and embroidered with herbs — no, what I came upon instead was a tomatoes-and-cream with finely chopped onion added to the pan early on and sour cream some minutes later.

        So now you can enter your kitchen in a delightful haze of pomodoran possibilities.

        Pomiane’s enchanting book, the size of a Beatrix Potter, is, he says, designed for “students, dressmakers, secretaries, artists, lazy people, poets, men of action, dreamers, scientists, and everyone else who has only an hour for lunch or dinner but still wants thirty minutes of peace to enjoy a cup of coffee.”  Sounds very French. And in this book there are revelations — that, for example, Pomiane in 1930 found modern life “so hectic that we sometimes feel as if time is going up in smoke.”  How would he deal with 2002?  Hide in a Trappist monastery, where the cheese is good?  Better, become a consultant to Mr. McDonald or the Colonel who, I think, need help.

        And back in ’30 the French, we learn, were overcooking their pasta and serving it in “a formless mass.” So, announces the cheerful Docteur, “Let’s cook some noodles right.”

       But on to those tomatoes . . .


Melt a good teaspoon or more of butter in a skillet, place therein 2 large halved tomatoes, cut side downward and pricked to let the juices escape into the pan; then warm the tomatoes gently for 10 or 15 minutes, turning them several times.

Stir in 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cream, mix with the juices, and when it bubbles maneuver the tomatoes-cum-juicy cream, which you’ve sprinkled with fresh tarragon and chives, onto diners’ plates — actually I like to serve these tomatoes in soup bowls.