no bent forks

I have a director friend with a favorite speech (typically delivered over a meal) that goes something like this:

     This is a fork.

     Not a knife.

     If you try to make it into a knife, all you’re going to get is a bent fork.

Her point is not so much about cutlery as about understanding and respecting the essential qualities of the actors you’re given to work with.

The day after a gathering at my house, I found a mostly full bottle of red wine on the counter among the empties. It belonged to the genre one friend calls porch wine—not special, not bad, just fine for distractedly sipping on the porch.

I hated to throw it out, so instead I threw it on the stove, with a scattering of last season’s coriander, to reduce. As I considered what I was going to do with it when complete, I realized I didn’t have a lot of options. Red wine glaze just doesn’t go with most midsummer vegetables.

Then I remembered some eggplants I had picked up at the farmer’s market. Reduction done, I corrected with a little honey, then added salt, olive oil, some smashed garlic cloves, and the eggplant (halved lengthwise) to the pot. After simmering for awhile, I put the whole thing in the fridge and went to bed.

The next morning I put some rice on to cook, figuring to layer it with the soused eggplant and some feta and oregano. I cut up the eggplant and tasted a bit. Not bad… but not special. And not nearly as appealing as all the things coming out of my garden faster than I can eat them…

Hindsight is 20/20. I should’ve thrown out the wine before rendering those lovely eggplants unspecial. Instead, I threw out the whole conglomeration.

There are schools of cookery that are all about culinary alchemy—making silver knives out of stainless steel forks, as it were. There are old techniques for making tough cuts of meats into tender, refined dishes, as well as new techniques that turn solids to foam, or liquids into self-contained shapes. While I appreciate the craft, and often the flavor, of such dishes, in my own kitchen I’m more inclined to let a fork be a fork. More and more, I find the best way to appreciate the essential qualities of whatever came out of the garden that day involves the application of olive oil and salt. Sometimes the “recipe” calls for the application of heat, sometimes not. Herbs and/or lemon are sometimes nice, but unrequired.

After I let go of the eggplant idea, I shredded some radicchio and chopped a handful of green beans and added those to the warm rice, along with a splash of olive oil.

Explore posts in the same categories: experiments, lunch, practice

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