HONEY FROM A WEED
(number 69. september.)
Apologies for the delay! There was a serious reason for it. Our beloved photographer Peter Schweitzer’s hard drive, containing the photos from this dinner, fell from a great height and broke before they’d been backed up. After some ridiculously high quotes from the manufacturer to perform data recovery, and dubious other offers around town, we’ve decided to post the write up without the photos and hope that some day they are restored and can be shared.
We are very lucky that our dear friend and frequent helper Adam Monkaba was in fact there and helping out, and that he took a moment to pause and shoot some film photos of the pasta– so there is at least a little glimpse into the atmosphere of the night.
Nevertheless, I encourage the reader to read this entry a bit like one might read a great menu cookbook of the past. Just imagine it. We have a long living room that spans the length of the house. Our usual dining table, to the far right and under a hanging lamp, was accompanied by the usual Secret Restaurant table and benches, lit with tea candles in glass cups. The tables were lined with bundles of grapes, both green and purple, that we had harvested from wild vines down an alley near Lucas’s house. I played a lot of this amazing soul compilation Love You Save on the record player.
Also consider the absurd scope of this website. For most dinners, there are 60-90 images. With this one, you just get 2, and a menu.
This was our first dinner at Andrew’s new home with Sofie, Bryan, and Vivian– The Whiskey Farm. It is likely each summer’s dinner will be held there, featuring produce directly from the large backyard garden. In the entry below, you can assume all the produce came from the Whiskey Farm, because it really very likely did.
This entry gets it’s title from Patience Gray’s masterpiece, Honey From A Weed, which was published in 1986– the year I was born. I feel as though I discovered it quite late, for how into older food writing I am. When I read it, I was struck with a sort of “this is what I’ve been waiting for” experience. I didn’t consciously feel this way, but it was like I’d been waiting to find some book from the past so casually perfect that it could inspire my work forever afterwards. A few months later Fasting and Feasting: The Life Of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray by Adam Federman was published by Chelsea Green, which solidified my fascination with Patience. Her way of cooking and living settled into a permanent place in my mind. This photo on the menu below is my favorite photo of her. She is eating a meal outside with The Sculptor (Norman, her husband) and their dog. They drink homemade wine and eat a simple meal made from whatever they had. Look at their perfect sweaters and amazing homemade jewelry. The low swooping backs of the chairs and the marble table top. I have had this photo as the backdrop on my phone for years, as a sort of daily reminder that sometimes food, and life, gets to be this way.
Caponata, ricotta, fresh bread
Caponata is one of my favorite dishes of all time. I loved ratatouille and I loved baba ganoush before I ever tasted it, and when I finally did I was like “Holy shit!” Shortly before this dinner I was traveling in Hungary, eating lescos, which is their ratatouille, featuring mostly peppers– so I guess more like pepperonata? This all goes to say: the idea of making it for this dinner gripped me, with the goal of making the best caponata I’d ever had. Enough eggplant, enough pepper, enough brine, deep savor from the large dark red tomatoes from The Whiskey Farm.
I cooked the eggplant three ways: shallow fried, braised (resulting in the creamy quality of baba ganoush without the smoke), and grilled (a little smokiness there). Multiple colors of Italian sweet peppers blistered and then braised with onions from the garden. Garlic and the deep red heirloom tomatoes from the garden. castelvetrano olives, amazing salt-packed capers. A bit of Mama Lil’s pickled peppers. Made the day before so the flavors could mingle.
Fresh ricotta we made from Gary’s Meadow whole milk, lemons, salt, and nothing else.
The semolina bread from Tartine Bread, but with a few modifications. I didn’t want the fennel seed flavor to override the caponata, so I kept seeds to just the outside, and mixed in golden cornmeal in the quantity called for sesame and fennel seeds on the inside. Semolina milled at Bob’s Red Mill, literally just down the road from The Whiskey Farm.
This was inspired by an Instagram post by Rachel Alice Roddy, who I mentioned in the introduction to the last dinner, so clearly her books and approach has been influential. It was a fresh garden tomato salad, accented with red onions soaked in cold water ahead of time for crispness and to lessen their punch. Italian salt-packed anchovies, filleted painstakingly by Adam while I made the pasta. Marinated in good olive oil for a while before serving. Parsley. Red wine vinegar. Black pepper. That’s it.
Pressata Patatas + sauce
Another Rachel Alice Roddy-inspired dish, though this one has a deeper lineage. It appears in her first book, and says it was directly influenced by Fergus Henderson’s Pressed Potatoes in Nose To Tail Eating (another favorite book of mine).
Bryan planted some incredible seed potatoes this year, and The Whiskey Farm’s crop was spectacular. I knew I wanted to make a super simple dish to showcase them.
Both golden and red-skinned (so, white fleshed) potatoes were boiled in salted water until tender. They were sliced into 1/4 inch rounds, layered with the same amazing salt packed capers and herbs from the garden (tarragon, lemon thyme, lovage) in loaf pans. Many layers of clingfilm, and a brick on top to weigh them down. Hours later, you invert the loaf pans and make slices of marbled potatoes.
Served with an experimental pesto Lucas made with roasted chilis, basil, parsley, multitudes of other garden herbs, almonds, pine nuts, and parmesan.
We should have squeezed lemon over the slices. Lesson learned. If you make it, I recommend serving with a half lemon.
Greens Gratinato + Greens with pine nuts and raisins
Featuring greens entirely pulled from The Whiskey Farm: collards, chicory, mustard, chard, and kale. Blanched, squeezed, sautéed with garlic and olive oil.
Lucas’s expertly made béchamel. Breadcrumbs. parmigiano reggiano. This was served family style, with a dish delivered to each table, and one guest designated to serve up.
It was followed by another cooked-greens preparation, inspired by a Sicilian way with spinach. We used collards, chard, and kale braised in the pan and tossed with ribbons of sorrel to wilt it slightly. Then dressed with agro dolce Katz late harvest sauvignon blanc vinegar and olive oil. Tossed with golden raisins soaked with the unfiltered wine everyone was drinking and toasted pine nuts.
A week or so before this dinner, I had a night alone at the house, which is rare– because there are 4 of us! I looked out the kitchen window at the tomato row, and saw all the sungolds. I wanted to have a simple, straightforward dinner, but had been eating tomatoes on toast for too many meals already. No pasta in the pantry, nothing but making it myself. Always looking for ways to add something special to a batch of homemade pasta, I put in 1/2 teaspoon of sweet paprika I’d brought back from Hungary. This, combined with the golden yolks from our eggs, made a vividly orange pasta.
I applied the fresh tomato sauce method I’ve been using for years (published in The Myrtlewood Cookbook), making a face-smackingly intense pasta sauce. To make for the large crowd, it took about 5 hours to reduce the tomato juice for the sauce, and the pasta filled the drying rack! Adam helped me roll and cut, with a frantic assembly line.
Finished with grana padano.
Garden vegetables with garlic
This dish showcased perhaps my favorite way to cook in the summer. A medley of garden vegetables– green beans, fresh borlotti beans, sweet peppers, summer squash– all cooked separately until bright and just-tender. Garlic gently melted into butter and olive oil. A tomato or two melted in. The vegetables tossed with this and slowly warmed through– basil and parsley folded in at the last minute. A little bit of vinegar, salt, and pepper. This performed the function of the salad-after-pasta.
Fig and Plum Frangipane Tart
Holly Myers, dear pal and long-time contributor to Secret Restaurant Portland, returned for this dinner! She and I collaborated on making this tart, which came to me at some point walking around the backyard looking to see if any plums were still in our scraggly plum trees. There weren’t, but the idea stuck. Kate and Peter have an overabundant fig tree, so Lucas and I harvested plenty a couple days earlier, and we got really good Italian plums from Zenger Farms.
It was the sweet tart dough from the first Tartine book. All the frangipane fillings we saw seemed too creamy/custardy, so we just winged it with good almonds, good eggs, sugar, and butter. A little calvados for depth, and lemon juice to balance the sweetness. A glaze of honey and wine. Served with jugs of heavy cream passed around for pouring on top.
As usual, our wines were selected in collaboration with Ardor Natural Wines. Unfortunately they were not added to this written menu and the photographs of them are lost with the hard drive break. I remember we did this one using a split case with only one white and one red. The white was cloudy and very unfiltered with just a touch of effervescence, from a longtime producer whose son convinced him to bottle this wine before filtering it. When he did it took off with the cool kids and became a hit! It was here too. The red was lighter bodied and peppery. We drank it all.