Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Simplicity and muscle

Two phrases are scrawled through the pages of my journals, wedged between recipes, sketches and ramblings. Strive for simplicity. Strive for muscle. Written in confident, looping letters, these are big ideas which haunt me in the small, quiet hours of the morning. As though the action of tracing the letters over and over will allow them to seep into daily life. But the art of reduction is as elusive as it is desirable. ‘Strive for muscle’ is a phrase borrowed from Francine Du Plessix Gray, found when rifling one holiday among the pages of The Writing Life. Wrangling words, dancing with language – the ‘muscle’ or strength, simplicity if you will, of which Gray speaks is worth striving for. An idea linguistically stripped back to its essence, one that inevitably spills into other areas of thinking. Simplicity. Muscle. Both require courage.

Harmony, mindfulness. Lately these have taken a grip on my thinking, edging, as we are, toward the introspective darker days of winter. It’s all too easy to be swept up by the confusion of bells and whistles in the kitchen; to be seduced by long lists of the exotic, the obscure. Time to step back. Time to breathe.

Simplicity in the kitchen is about developing intuition and confidence. Listening to the language your ingredients are speaking. How else will they shine? It’s about taking pleasure in small things, like running your fingers through the verdant pots of parsley, beads of water showering your good shoes in the process. Or sipping green tea in the afternoon and watching chickpeas slowly, very slowly, swell in a dish of cold, clear water. Simplicity is washing the dishes by hand because the dishwasher is, sadly, far too complicated. And simplicity is having the courage to place a bowl of homemade smoky eggplant puree on the table with some buttery, slow-cooked chickpeas and happily call it Dinner.

Drifting back, nose first, to the musky fug of chickpeas and bay quietly simmering in the oven, I know instantly what is needed. A bowl of herbal, fresh, flavour-lifting persillade to cut through that richness. Simple. Muscular. We ate in contented silence and both agreed it a meal fit for company. Hunks of crusty bread, or soft fresh pita, optional.

Simplicity is persillade. Parsley, from the garden if you’re lucky, washed and carefully dried, pine nuts from the pantry and a clove, maybe two, of garlic. The zest of a lemon sometimes goes in depending on the sort of lift a dish needs, but essentially this is an intuitive thing. A very worthy, but vastly different, substitute for parmesan cheese.

Palmful of pine nuts
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2-3 large handfuls of parsley leaves, washed and well dried

Toast the pine nuts to a pale shade of gold in a heavy based frying pan. Cool on a plate. Chop the garlic roughly, then chop everything together, running your knife back and forth, over and over, until it’s all quite fine.

Smoky eggplant puree
Not quite the classic Babaganoush, this is adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s simple, delicious recipe. Her suggestion to serve with a separate bowl of sour cream into which you have stirred some finely chopped fresh ginger and another, smaller, bowl of sliced hot green chillies is Highly Recommended.

3-4 eggplants
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt
2 lemons, juiced
Tahini, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

Trim and quarter the eggplants lengthways. Nestle them in a single layer in a large baking dish and drizzle with a little olive oil, just enough to lubricate the pan. Roast, turning once, for 40-45 minutes, until the wedges are cooked all the way though. Cool, then peel away and discard the skins. Place the softened eggplant flesh in a colander and press down with the back of a spoon to expel as much liquid as possible.

Puree the eggplant with the garlic, a little salt, the lemon juice and a tablespoon, to begin with, of tahini. Whiz to a puree, adding a little more tahini if you like. Serve topped with a thread of extra
virgin olive oil.

Gum blossom.

Photographed while watching Oscar play football, I'm rather sorry to say, badly.

Poor lad...


grocer said...

beautifully written.

Reading that I wanted to live somewhere colder to get indulging in this kind of food.

Ricki said...

Just gorgeous, Lucy. Your photos make me want to go make some persillade now! Loved the image of the chickpeas slowly swelling--just beautiful. Ah, simplicity and mindfulness--I'm craving them even more, now.

Lori in Webster Groves said...

I'm a first-time visitor and found your images and words to be absolutely beautiful. I can't wait until we can get local eggplants so I can try out the recipe...

Simona said...

Very nice, Lucy. At times simplicity seems like a distant shore, at other times close and comforting. "Listening to the language your ingredients are speaking" is so important. For that, I need silence, within, mostly, and without as well.

Wendy said...

Winter is an introspective time, isn't it. Almost miss it. But not quite. :)

This sounds like a wonderful meal. Especially with the persillade. Imagine it gives the dish a wonderful lift.

Lisa said...

Inspired and insightful as always Lucy. Funny how simplicity is something we have to strive for. As for your dinner, yes please.

Laurie Constantino said...

Lovely Lucy, you've captured the spirit of late autumn so well. The cooking you describe - in which the ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves - is always the best.

Anonymous said...

Now it is my turn to cry. This is a beautiful and moving article. Simplicity. Stillness. Clarity. Humility. Now I need to add "Muscle" to my list.

I love that you, too, can hear your food talk to you :-) I think I need to put some chickpeas on to soak.

kathryn said...

As usual Lucy, words to make me think. Being in the present, mindful. Enjoying my life and days now, not always thinking about the future. And small pleasures.

I've recently planted a small rosemary plant in my front garden. While I'm looking forward to using the herb, it's mostly there so I can run my fingers through it each day, as I enter and leave the house. Walking away with rosemary fingers, re-connecting with something simpler.

Persillade: what a glorious word that is. Love your meal.

Johanna said...

what a strange world we have created that makes simple good things so difficult to come by! but you are an inspiration where simplicity is concerned and your meals sounds delicious

Suganya said...

Persillade is called gremolata in this part of the world. I love serving it over pasta. The garlic melts as soon as it touches the hot pasta.

Great Big Veg challenge said...

I agree with grocer - beautifully written post.
And you are right - simplicity is best I think.

Callipygia said...

I was recently re-reading Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet and his encouragement to "Live the questions"... Couldn't help thinking of this as I was reading your post. The intention is an ever deepening invitation to go in and listen. Wonderful to hear your process. I am also quite taken by the gum blossom.

Rosa said...

It won't stop raining here and this food sounds wonderful to me, especially brightened with parsley, sour cream and ginger. For me, simplicity wins every time.

bee said...

dear lucy, you have mail.

chiff0nade said...

I use a lot of parsley in my pasta bakes . . . which BF "Big Bear" really loves (despite what he says on the blogs).

But as a PROFESSIONAL CHEF turned collection agency superstar, I don't have time to grow my own. I simply buy it fresh at the Whole Foods market (they take food stamps).

~Madeline~ said...

Wow, your description of this meal has my mouth watering. And then you throw those gorgeous photos into the mix...sensory overload!

kale for sale said...

It's the end of the day in California and one last read before I turn out the light. And I find I'm in tears at your words, how beautiful you see the world and convey it. My dreams will certainly be softer as a result. Thank you.

Alfie said...

Beautiful pictures - very evocative...and lovely words too!

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

How funny to hear you slipping into winter as I (supposedly) slip into summer on this side of the world.

I've recently started putting my aubergine on the barbecue, whole for about 30 minutes, turning half way through. The smokiness that it imparts to babaganoush is nothing short of extraordinary.

Hillary said...

Great looking parsley. I just bought a mint plan so I can now grow my own mint! I'm quite excited!

Nora B. said...

Dear Lucy,

You know, I have to say that I find myself copying certain phrases of yours in my sort-of "crap book". I look to it when I need something to stimulate my linguistic brain cells. I like what you wrote this time about "developing intuition and confidence. Listening to the language your ingredients are speaking". I think that's my excuse for not following recipes very often when I am cooking savoury foods (i tend to follow recipes more closely when I am baking sweets).

Beautiful photos as always.

Have a great weekend. It's sunny in Sydney, I hope the weather is pleasant where you are as well.

xx Nora

Cynthia said...

So beautiful, so poetic, you feed our souls.

winedeb said...

You are always an inspiration for me! Lovely writing! I am into simple in the kitchen right now!

neil said...

Oh, how I wish my better half liked chickpeas, sorrowfully, she can't. Will have to content myself with two obscenely voloptuous eggplants that are in my possession with nothing between them and a naked flame.

Lucy said...

Grocer, pop on down. It's getting chillier...

Ricki, it's such a slow process, the reconstituting of those little bullets. Worth it, though.

Welcome, Lori. Hope your eggplants will be glorious!

Ah, silence. Simona, the older I get the more silence I need!

Wendy, you deserve a warm, delicious summer! It's a great way to lift lots of things, the persillade.

Lisa, whenever you're ready...

Laurie, simplicity never seems right for company, or so I thought. Very glad that things are slowly changing around here.

Vegeyum - I'm so touched. Really I am! I find myself listening ever closer to the ingredients. They know what they need. Isn't muscle a grand word?

Kathryn, I don't think there's a more delicious smell than rosemary on your fingertips. Simple pleasures, indeed. Persillade IS a musical word. I love it.

Oh, Johanna, so true. It's hard at first to be contented with less, I reckon!

Suganya, they differ slightly in that gremolata is Italian (and has no pine nuts) and Persillade is from the Southern regions of France. Love it!

Thanks, Charlotte and welcome. Simple does win out for me. Especially when I'm busy...

Calli, 'Live the questions' is going into my journal IMMEDIATELY. Beautiful stuff. Pretty little tutu of a blossom, she is. Made my day when she stopped dancing in the breeze for long enough to snap her.

Rosa, that sour cream and ginger thing...God, it's so damn good...

Thanks, bee!

Ah, chiff0nade, I'm a lucky woman to have lots of parsley that is going mad right now. Love the stuff, too!

Hi madeline - thank you!

Katrina, darls, thanks! Means a whole lot to me, I can assure you. And I'm very pleased I managed to put you into a gentle frame of mind!

Welcome Alfie, and thanks.

Mari, I know it's freaky, isn't it? Second day of winter here. And loving it!

Hi Hillary. I wonder what you'll do with your new bounty?

Nora, I'm with you. Baking seems to restrict a cook, but savoury things, well, that's play time, I reckon. Glad I've got you listening. Weather is sunny, but there's a chill in the air as soon as the sun starts to sink. Bloody cold at nights!!

Cynthia, thank you! Now that's a beautiful compliment!

Deb - you're back! Hooray! Yep. Simple is best. Oh, yes.

Neil...such a shame. I feed the teenage boys around chickpeas by the bucketload. Keeps 'em full and happy, but I rarely think to serve them for The Artist and myself. You and your uber-sexy eggplants will have a glorious time I've no doubt. Any chance of a smoky eggplant post?!!

Nanette said...

I'm here and I'm in love. At last a foodie blog from someone who can write.

Off in search of eggplants now but I will return..

Susan said...

You would love Duras' "Writing," one of the last things she wrote b/4 she died. A slim, but powerful, volume, just what you would expect of her.

I have several itty, bitty eggplant wanting for a recipe. They are meant, I think, for a good mashing.

Nora B. said...

oooops!!!! Lucy, I am SO sorry, I meant "Scrap book" not crap book. I feel so embarrassed.

Weather here is not that great this week, just when I thought I would start taking photos...just my luck. I guess I should just let go of being a perfectionist.

x nora

Lucy said...

Nanette. Am blushing. Thanks, and welcome!

Susan, I'm going to order the Duras immediately. Your mini eggplants sound intriquing...

Nora! You are so funny! I didn't even read that as crap, at all. Never give up on being a perfectionist - it's one of your charms, I think.