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Monday, December 3, 2012

The Writing Life: Elizabeth David's Old World Dishes

Don't you just love learning about  

once-upon-a-time-dishes of "old world" cuisine? 


From Elizabeth David's classic book " An Omelette and a Glass of Wine" she mentions a 
wealth of lesser known but interesting books and people; some very spicy and piquant "dishes"with a decidedly old world vein running through them. 

Please consider these for the hard to please Culinarian on your list this holiday season. And 
perhaps for your own library as well. 

A Little Tour of France by Henry James

Written in 1884 about a six week long trip when Mr. James traveled through Tours, Bourges, 
Nantes, Toulouse, and Arles the book paints a delightful picture of the Old Provinces of France.Henry sums it up nicely when he says that "France is not Paris, and Paris is Not France."

So very true, even today!

Elizabeth David's other book "French Provincial Cooking" , check that link for an original and 
signed copy of FPC for anywhere between 1 and 3 thousand dollars. 

French Provincial Cooking includes a story about the first female chef to earn three Michelin stars, Eugenie Brazier or as she is known, La Mere Brazier. In Lyon, there was a grand tradition of women in the professional kitchen  ~ the "Meres" of Lyon were respected and renowned. 


Gault-Millau guidebook co-founder Christian Millau said at the time of her death in 1977. 

"She was an anti-big restaurant, anti-big cuisine person, and their spirit is the same."

Elizabeth David also mentions another work, "Black Mischief", in which a famous Azanian banquet menu is noted. Famous, not for its culinary and goodly extravagance, but for it's dereliction. As you may have guessed "Black Mischief" is not for the squeamish, mind you.




And one more Author to round out our menu. 

Turns out Elizabeth was great friends with Norman Douglas (a rather interesting, if not 
downright scandalous character) whose travel books were written during the Golden Age of 
Travel, which is to say while travel was a welcome adventure. Of course it may be true as well, 
that some of Mr. Douglas's travel was escapism as he seemed to have perfected leaving just 
when he was wanted by the authorities. 

Douglas was well-known for a novel, South Wind, where his character, Count Caloveglia, goes on about the qualities necessary to a good cook.

In "Siren Land- A Celebration of Life in Southern Italy" Douglas makes an explosive 
denunciation of Neapolitan Fish soup.

In "Alone" - another travel book on Italy, there is a passage where he describes pre-1914 
macaroni. And in another section ---

"We found a "restaurant" where we lunched off a tin of antediluvian
Spanish sardines, some mouldy sweet biscuits, and black wine. (Adistinction is made in these parts between black and red wine; theformer is the Apulian variety, the other from Sulmona.) During thisrepast, we were treated to several bear-stories."


Mr. Douglas preferred the study of authenticity, seen also in his work, "Old Calabria" and 
"Late Harvest."

Also published posthumously, was his "Venus in the Kitchen," - a cookery book concerning 
aphrodisiacs written under the pen-name of Pilaff Bey. 

If you've got similar finds from this era, please share your recommendations!

And since a foray into Cookery Books (and especially Venus in the Kitchen) would never be 
complete without cooking, I give you a most appropriate recipe that I learned in Tuscany; 
Naked Ravioli. What a great dish for this time of year. Decadent and Simple. 

You will not soon forget .....

gnudi ravioli with béchamel and bittersweet chocolate

gnudi refers to the fact that theses ravioli are sans pasta, in other words, naked! believe me; you won’t miss the pasta at all - not with the unctuous béchamel sauce and the grated bittersweet chocolate. make this dish today! 

1 pound spinach or Swiss Chard, I like Fickle Creek Farms
12 ounces ricotta
3 eggs
1-1/4 cup flour
few gratings of nutmeg
salt
3 tablespoons parmesan

basil béchamel sauce

béchamel (french) or besciamelli (italian) is one of two creamy mother sauces. the b sauce, as i call it, uses an onion pique, an onion that has a bay leaf nailed into it with a few whole cloves. the other creamy sauce, the v sauce, or veloute, uses stock instead of milk, but both are thickened with a roux.

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups half and half
1 large sweet onion, peeled and quartered
bay leaves and whole cloves (2 each is plenty)
1 sprig fresh thyme
4-5 fresh basil leaves
salt and white pepper
freshly grated nutmeg


gnudi sauce  
2 cups béchamel sauce
4t parmesan
2/3 cup grated pecorino
2 bay leaves
4 ounces half and half
white pepper

garnish: grated bittersweet chocolate



for gnudi ravioli
cook spinach in very little water. drain and squeeze out all excess water. chop finely. place in a large mixing bowl and add ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and flour. blend well. mix and ½ hour in the refrigerator.
bring to boil large pot of salted water. lower to simmer. season spinach mixture with salt and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. form ravioli by using a spoon or using floured hands. drop a few at a time into water. they will drop the bottom and then float to the top when done. let simmer 20-30 seconds. remove with slotted spoon or ladle and place in an oven-proof dish until ready to serve. pour gnudi sauce over and toss gently, and serve with extra parmesan cheese.

for sauce:
make the roux by melting the butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. stir in the flour well till there are no lumps.  cook over low heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently. then bring the half and half to a boil with the onion and the herbs. cover and let this infuse for about 10 minutes.  strain the half and half into the roux, in its original pan, and mix. bring to a boil, and then simmer gently, for 15-20 minutes. adjust thickness with half and half or by cooking a little longer.

then, for the gnudi sauce add the pecorino, parmesan, bay leaves, milk, and white pepper to the béchamel sauce. heat till well combined, simmer for five to ten minutes. serve over ravioli. dust with grated bittersweet chocolate at 
table, passing the block among the diners. 


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