Saturday, August 25, 2007

another proper lunch

The air has changed. While we always hope for one last hot stretch to the summer, August is sometimes fickle in her weather. We have had several days with the thermometer reaching downward toward 40 at night, a high of 60 during the day. Some nights, there have been frost warnings for the low-lying hollows. We wear sweaters at night when we go home from the restaurant, and light fires in the woodstove in the morning when we wake up.

This week we inaugurated the new garden with a lunch. We read somewhere once that a space only becomes alive when it is full with the activity of people. We know this to be true. That's why one throws an open house in a new home, to christen the spaces with voices and laughter, and so we will eat a meal in the new garden for good luck.

The day was grey and brusque, and felt, smelled, and sounded like October. We were disoriented while planting magenta gerbera daisies and albutiron, a variety of hibiscus native to Kenya. We moved our farm table from the terrace and set it in the center of the garden. Tablecloth, silver, glasses, flowers cut from the perennial beds. We had a beautiful bowl of oysters to start and a small glass of Frascati gown outside of Rome, just flinty enough to offset the taste of the ocean. The main course was a French dish, a classic sorrel soup adapted from a Richard Olney cookbook which we served out of a favorite tureen, the soup thick and appropriate for the cold weather out of the north. We have one sorrel plant which we bought in the early summer, a lone potted thing looking a little sad and yellowed around the edges at the plant nursery. We harvested the sorrel, now looking a bit more robust, for the first time to make the soup. At the table, we wore heavy sweaters and a blanket over our legs, and drank a '99 Notarpanaro from the deep, southern reaches of Puglia. Raisinated and almost sherried, I realize I am no longer used to drinking wine with bottle age. I've become more acquainted with young, fresh wines. I think of rooting around our cellar to pull together several bottles for tasting to remind myself what happens to a good wine over time. Dessert is a plate of peaches and a Tuscan cow's milk cheese. We talk, and read our books while the wind whips the tablecloth and rattles the glass bottles. We head inside slightly drunk from exhaustion, good wine and food, and the fresh air, and sadly the tureen and oyster bowl slip from hands carrying too many things, and break and scatter across the porch floor. We will make a grand effort to repair them, but if all else fails we agree to bury the bits and pieces in the gravel paths of this new garden, the glossy shards to be a constant reminder of when this garden was young.

Recipe for Sorrel Soup for Four

1 large white onion
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces sorrel leaves
6 tablespoons butter
4 large potatoes
extra virgin olive oil
1 quart water
salt and pepper
fresh chive

Peel the 4 large potatoes then cut in quarters and slice thinly. Dice the onion finely. Sautee the onions in two tablespoons of butter and some olive oil for about 15 minutes or until soft, but still translucent. Boil a quart of water. While the onions are cooking, clean the sorrel and peel back the stems so you are left only with the two halves of the leaves. Chop into a fine chiffonade. When the onions are done, add the chopped sorrell and cook until "melted" then add the potatoes and salt. Stir and coat the potatoes with the onions and sorrell. Let the mixture talk to itself for a few minutes then add the boiling water. Cook at a low boil and covered for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes add the heavy cream and fresh ground pepper and stir the soup and "mash" the potatoes with a spoon or wooden pestle until it all becomes a rustic puree. Cook for another ten minutes, stirring every now and then. Check salt to taste. Spoon into warm bowls and finish with chopped fresh chives and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

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