Friday, March 23, 2007

The Cook and The Gardener

Most of the rest of the Patricks day dinner comes from a book I bought recently - The Cook and The Gardener by Amanda Hesser (the link opens up a sample section from the book, with the
Creamy Leeks recipe).

The shallots (see right) - roasted for several hours in olive oil, rosemary and thyme, and finished off with some balsamic vinegar and garlic, the confit, and the salads - all come from the book.

The confit - red wine, onions, thyme and sugar - was a little too sweet, a little lacking in depth for my taste. I should have salted it more, and used more thyme, and less sugar, perhaps even none. Tricky stuff thyme.

I can unequivocally recommend the book to anyone interested in food, cooking or produce gardening. It's arranged by month, spanning a year from March to February, and the recipes are arranged seasonally. Hesser spends a year cooking almost exclusively from the garden attached to the chateau she is working in, and the recipes have the edge of functionality and creative necessity of a working chef.

At the beginning of each month is an introduction - to whats good this month, to why, to how and for how long. The recipes are interspersed with anecdotes from Hesser's sometimes fraught, or distant, or increasingly amicable relationship with the staunchly Burgundian Monsiuer Milbert, and as Hesser gradually becomes included in the secret life of the garden and Monsieur Milbert, so the book opens up and delivers of itself.

Hesser's knowledge of the garden becomes more profound, as Milbert begins to gruffly impart his entirely practical and seasoned expertise to her, of how and when to harvest food, of why the strength of herbs change, and how to recognise that, of how to judge the freshest, best food. Her descriptions, forged under the gruff tutelage of this septuagenarian cerberus of the walled garden, of what to look for in fresh fruit and vegetables are worth the asking price for any amateur chef. This movement becomes reflected in how she talks about the food, how she cooks, how she plans. The food is drenched in Southern French sun, in necessity, in brief, passing harvests, in the character of Monsieur Milbert.

Its a book made with love by someone honestly sharing their sense of initiation and surprise with the reader. And it is a book about a vanishing life, shared gratefully with the reader.

And Hesser can cook. The recipes are superb.


Laura said...

Oh lord, another must have cookbook! My bookshelves will be up in arms due to increased workload. Really enjoy the site despite been a lightweight non-meat eater.

Abulafia said...

Just added you to the blogroll.

The Irish chocolate cake looks divine.

Must admit, you have my envy. I can't bake worth a fig.

I must start to put up some of the vegetarian stuff I do.