Dinner for a Vagabond

2010.Dec.22 Wednesday · 3 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“Perhaps all music, even the newest, is not so much something discovered as something that re-emerges from where it lay buried in the memory, inaudible as a melody cut in a disc of flesh. A composer lets me hear a song that has always been shut up silent within me.”

– Jean Genet

Time, once again, for another of our centennial dinners (and, perhaps the last, we shall see, given that I’m not focusing on dinner themes for the foreseeable future). The author Jean Genet came to our table this weekend for his 100th birthday, in spirit if not the flesh, something that I’m not sure if he would have appreciated, or would have preferred the opposite. Known for his novels and writings about sex, prostitution, violence, prison, and well, generally, what we might call “the underworld”, his scribblings have made a mark on society, both in their original French and in their multitudinous translations into other idioms. The only question for me was whether to form the dinner around some idea of the seedy side of Parisian cooking, that of the French equivalent of the greasy spoon; or, something related to his works. I chose the latter, which, in the end, became little more than a jumping off point with single word inspirations from the titles of his five early novels.

Razor Clam Salad

The Miracle of the Rose, written in 1943, yielded up the simple thought of doing something with roses. I went through a slew of ideas before settling on something that was simply made with a rose petal jam – in the end, a rose petal, tomato and chili jam. The opening salad, baby arugula leaves, segments of orange, chickpeas that were spiced with salt and smoked paprika, the jam, and a topping of quickly fried razor clams… I suppose the razor, as opposed to “regular” would have been a subtle touch that Genet would have appreciated.

Cream of Fennel Soup with Arancino

Trying to come up with a dish out of a title like Funeral Rites wasn’t easy. There’s a classic South African dish called Funeral Rice, but it just didn’t grab me for this menu. Still, the idea lodged in my brain, and somewhere along the line, Fennel, and Rice, came together. I decided to make an iteration on last week’s cream of fennel soup, simply removing the shellfish garnish and replacing it with an arancino, the traditional Sicilian fried rice balls made from risotto. I baked instead of deep fried them, which let me keep them a bit flatter, and was easier in the kitchen – it’s a simple risotto made with onion, garlic and crushed peperoncino, a bit of rose wine, vegetable stock, and then finished with grated reggianito cheese and fresh peas. When somewhat cooled, mixed with beaten eggs, formed into the shapes I wanted, dusted with breadcrumbs, and into the oven with a little oil on the baking sheet and atop.

Zucchini Flower Langanelli

From Our Lady of the Flowers it was an easy first step, given that I knew that zucchini flowers had just come into the market. Where to go from there? I combined several ideas and in the end, fresh marjoram and semolina pasta rolled out into langanelli (long rectangles), tossed with a ricotta sauce of homemade ricotta, butter, milk, salt and pepper, very simple, then topped with ribbons of zucchini just lightly blanched, a burst cherry tomato sauce (roasted in the oven with butter, salt and vanilla), and finally topped with a baked zucchini flower stuffed with more seasoned ricotta.

Chicken Breast with Scallop Quenelle

In one of the more fun plays on words, Querelle of Brest translated to a Breast and Quenelle… in this case, a play on the recent dish with confited chicken wings and scallop mousse. I wanted to ramp up the flavors a bit. The chicken breast, pounded thin and marinated for several hours in vinegar, salt and fresh jalapeños, simply sauteed at the end, served over the same pumpkin puree, accompanied by some roasted pattypan squash. Atop, a quenelle (at least when it went on the plate, as it started to melt almost immediately) of the scallop mousse, and some frizzled leeks.

Lemon Tart with Juniper-Nectarine Syrup

The hardest play to come up with was on The Thief’s Journal. Nothing in there suggested any ideas for food to me. In the end, journal became juniper, and that was about it. I made a lemon tart and then topped it with slices of nectarines that were macerated in a juniper syrup – sugar and water in equal parts, a handful of lightly crushed juniper berries, brought to a boil, then off the heat put the nectarine slices in and left them to absorb and cool.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess December 22, 2010 at 18:34

Amazingly different and delicious dinner. Re-living and drooling thanks to this post. The dish that tingled my tastebuds so much was the marinated jalapeno chicken. Such a pleasant change to the meatfest experience in my rush to sample most things Argentinian. Oh, and the homemade pasta/courgette flower dish was sublime. I look forward to my next visit to my next visit to BA.

Chelsea Kelley December 30, 2010 at 20:40

I too am re-living our dinner through this article. Where can I find the recipe for the fennel soup with the rice cake? That was my favorite course!

dan December 30, 2010 at 21:16

Chelsea – right above in the post…. there’s a link to the soup recipe and a description of how the rice cake is made.

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