Wednesday, September 30, 2009

my life in food

This past weekend, my sister came to visit from Vermont, and brought with her possibly the most perfect housewarming gift: a copy of Judith Jones' My Life in Food and a Lodge cast iron skillet. I started the book on Sunday, and, if it weren't for a day job, I wouldn't put it down. Jones recounts her time spent in Paris in the late 40s, her first encounters with true French food and how this entire experience shaped her life and her ideas about cooking. I picked up My Life in Food shortly after re-reading "Goodbye to All That" --- Joan Didion's essay on coming to, and ultimately leaving, New York. Both of these women write about a sense of abandon, a surrender to what it is to be in your twenties, just getting by. A graceful carelessness. Either this attitude is lost on my generation, or writing about one's early twenties in a new city is inherently romantic and nostalgic. Probably a little bit of both.

In my early twenties, I find myself writing at work (with no sense of any possible consequences) and spending my eight-hour days dreaming up dinners and sauces and sides. Last week was spent planning the menu for a Saturday evening housewarming party (white bean spread on crostini, rosemary crackers, toasted pepitas), and yesterday, I brainstormed how to use up the oyster mushrooms that had been in my fridge for a few days too long. Most likely inspired by Jones' stories of rich, French food, I thought that they would be best served with shallots and potatoes in a red wine sauce. Unfortunately, I got home to find cipollinis where my shallots usually are, and an open bottle of white wine in the fridge. Not wanting to crack open the nice bottle of shiraz we'd received as a housewarming gift, I decided, like most other days, that I'd have to be adaptable. I'd make it work.

What I wound up with, while not what I necessarily had in mind, was delicious in its own right. The white wine reduction, poured over browned potatoes and onions flecked with mushrooms, pushed the dish into this rich, buttery field that I didn't even know was possible with olive oil. While a red wine sauce would have resulted in a deeper flavor, the white wine's complexity was on the surface, and it was fantastic.

Potatoes, Onions and Mushrooms in White Wine Reduction
10-15 any small, fingerling potatoes, cut into large chunks*
2 medium cipollini onions, large chunks
2 - 4 large oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp rosemary, finely diced
1/4 tsp, or less, salt
pepper to taste
1/2 cup+ white wine (I used a pretty cheap Chardonnay)
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Over medium-high heat, saute the potatoes, onion and mushrooms in a good amount of olive oil. Stir frequently to prevent sticking and cook until potatoes and onions begin to brown (5-7 minutes). Once browned, add a 1/4 c water to the pan and cover, reducing to simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary (about 15 minutes). When potatoes are tender, and water has cooked off, transfer potatoes/onions/mushrooms to a plate or platter and set aside. Turn heat to high and deglaze pan with wine, scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom and sides of your skillet. Allow to reduce briefly (no more than 5 minutes). Pour sauce over potatoes, top with chopped parsley and serve.

*A note on potatoes: G. and I frequently buy a wide variety of heirloom potatoes mostly because it's fun to use different shapes, sizes and colors. Beyond noticing that a particular variety of fingerling was waxier, and retained a better shape, the taste differences between them are negligible. BUT! If you ever, ever see Adirondack Blues... get them. These were, hands down, the most buttery, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes I have ever tasted. Believe me. I didn't know that a potato could taste like butter. It can. It really, really can.

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