Monday, September 21, 2009

The last night of summer

We were at a friend’s house last Saturday night, where dinner was a fabulous boeuf bourguignon. This Saturday, I am dining with friends where the main course already has been announced to be … boeuf bourguignon. This may well be the autumn of Julia Child’s signature dish, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But it makes me wonder whether this tender, fragrant and disconcertingly hip beef stew will become 2009’s version of the 1960s’ impossibly hip shrimp cocktail.
All of which brought me with a fresh state of mind to the pages of “A Platter of Figs.” It’s been one of those months, days spent at the Minnesota State Fair, as both reporter and food demonstrator, then a week of vacation. So it’s been awhile since I went to the book, which is more a reflection on my life than its worth.
Finally, I was going to get at a recipe I’d eyed for weeks: Corn, Squash and Beans with Jalapeno Butter. It’s basically really good mixed vegetables, even prepared in the Birds Eye dice of my frozen childhood, with a great butter.
Actually, I ended up preparing David Tanis’ whole “slightly all-american” (I’m still hating the all lowercase) menu: sliced tomatoes with sea salt, grilled chicken breasts (although mine were pan-seared), and the vegetable dish, stopping only at the blueberry-blackberry crumble. I will have to try one of his desserts before September ends, but not now.
Quick verdict: The vegetables were terrific – of the “make this again” spousal request. I was not surprised. It was one of those recipes that you can taste as you read it. I just knew it would be good, with the right combo of veg – although he promotes playing with the mix – and a butter of hot peppers, lime zest and juice, snipped chives, salt and pepper that will definitely be slathered on the corn on the cob I have in mind for tomorrow night.
It was, I’m learning, exactly the sort of menu that epitomizes Tanis’ approach. I could almost have made it without ever cracking the book. Ironically enough, eh? Slice tomatoes and sprinkle with sea salt. There actually are several paragraphs of recipe/philosophy here, mostly about never refrigerating, mixing heirloom varieties, slicing a half-inch thick. Intuitive, instinctive…but for some people, this may be the first time they grasp how to stay out of a tomato’s way.
Same with the chicken: season with rosemary, heat until done.
The vegetables were the “recipe” of the day, and yet I prepped most of it from memory. The cookbook was open, sure, but did I really need to look at it for directions on the length at which to snap the green beans?
And this – I think – is Tanis’ point. In other words, I think he would nod in approval at my gentle freelancing of snapping at will instead of slicing at a half-inch. He inspires, I get dinner on the table. I did very much pay attention to the proportions for the jalapeno butter, even as he then was saying how it could be adjusted for heat with more pepper (or, I suppose, more butter, which brings us back to Julia………..)
In any case, a true hit, and what proved the perfectly perfect meal for the last day of summer. As I’m writing this, it’s starting to rain. The zucchini plants and broccoli were given last rites yesterday, and most of the tomatoes are in. It’s the turn of the season. Nice to have the hot shimmer of jalapeno still on my tongue.

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