“Oh, I adore to cook. It makes me feel so mindless in a worthwhile way.” – Truman Capote, Summer Crossing, 1943
High season. It’s been hectic, to say the least, to put it mildly, and I don’t know where I find the energy. Commitment to the project, to the team, to my own sense of self. Thirty, thirty-five, forty and more for breakfast any morning, and I find myself run ragged, yet so many of these mornings things go quite smoothly, surprisingly smoothly. We, myself and whoever is helping me in the kitchen, Nathalie or Ophélie, turn to each other come ten o’clock and say, “oh! That’s that and that was pretty easy!” Another morning or two, a client has said to me “You look frazzled” or “You look stressed” and I was, am, as, most likely, things had gone a bit less smoothly, maybe twenty of a group all show up at once or something that pushes us off balance. Breakfast begun and ended in an hour flat.
I am still on a learning curve and learning how to handle forty-two breakfasts having never done anything even remotely like it in my life (give or take one or two spaghetti dinners at the synagogue when I was a teen) is, well, yes, rather stressful.
But step out of the kitchen and onto the terrace, the sun streaming onto the pavement, filtering through the rose vines, and, face turned up to capture the warm rays, and everything is all right. I chat with the clients, share stories, answer their questions about the hotel, about my life, laugh together, tease and be teased, and the stress of the morning melts into contentment.
Once my breakfast duties are finished, now that it is high season, I dash into the laundry room and give a helping hand by folding piles of clean towels straight from the dryer (and it brings back memories of my pulling loads of towels from the dryer when I was a kid and loving to just push my face into the softness, the warmth, snuggle and breathe in deeply). I smile while I fold towels in the peace of the laundry room, the drumming and whirring and rattling of the big machines blocking out the rest of the world, my worries, and wrapping around me as a cocoon.
The only cooking that I am doing these days, at least for the rest of the month, are the recipes that I am developing and testing for my cookbook proposal, so Jean-Pierre and I eat salads, frozen pizza, or pop out for a meal. So I am sharing one of my favorite recipes from the old blog that I don’t want to get lost in the haze of the past. A beautiful vegetarian meal, a meal for winter or summer, a meal even for a finicky son.
- 1 ½ tsp dry yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- ¼ cup warm water
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- ⅔ cup low-fat milk
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 3 lbs Swiss chard/kale
- 2 medium yellow onions, approximately but not more than 2 cups chopped
- 1 to 1 ¼ cup sliced green onions
- 2 – 3 cloves garlic, depending upon the size
- 1 medium fennel bulb
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Tbs cider vinegar
- 2 Tbs chopped fresh fennel greens
- ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander (I used coriander)
- Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large eggs
- ½ cup milk
- 10 oz feta cheese
- 3 Tbs uncooked white rice (I used basmati rice)
- Dissolve the yeast and the sugar in the warm water in a small bowl; allow 15 to 20 minutes until it foams and has a thick frothy head. Meanwhile, put 2 ¾ cups of the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Whisk together the egg, milk and olive oil. Once the yeast is activated, stir it into the egg mixture and then mix the liquid into the flour/salt until all of the dry is moistened and begins to pull together into a dough.
- Spread the remaining flour onto the work surface and scrape the dough onto it. Knead it gently, turning often at first to keep it coated in flour, until it is smooth and elastic, 4 to 6 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough until it is lightly coated in the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a towel and set it aside in a warm place to double in size, about 45 minutes to an hour. (I left mine for much longer and it really puffed up but it made no difference; the finished crust was perfect, light with just the right crispy top.)
- Rinse the chard until thoroughly clean; shake off excess water and pat the leaves dry with a clean towel. Cut off and discard the thick parts of the stems and then coarsely chop the leaves and tender white. Peel and chop the onions. Trim and chop the garlic and the fennel and place them together in a bowl; these will be added to the onion together after the onion has already cooked a bit. Pull off the feathery fennel greens and chop. Chop the coriander or parsley.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven; she recommends a very large skillet but I suspect that would be too shallow – you need the deepness of a pot. Add the chopped onion and green onions, stir to coat everything with the oil and sauté over medium heat, stirring almost constantly to keep from burning. When the onions are tender and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes, add the garlic and fennel. Continue cooking and stirring until all the vegetables are tender and golden, beginning to caramelise. The kitchen should stop smelling like onion and start smelling most definitely of caramel!
- Add the chard to the pot, handful by handful, stirring in each addition until the chard is coated in the onions and starting to wilt. Once it is all in the pan and starting too wilt, add the cider vinegar, the fennel greens and the coriander or parsley, a grinding of pepper and a dash of salt (don’t forget that the feta is salty; you can adjust the seasoning later). Continue cooking until the chard is much reduced and the excess liquid is gone.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool somewhat. Once the chard is cooled, separate one of the eggs, reserving the yolk in a small bowl for the glaze, then add the 3 remaining eggs to the white and whisk with the milk. Put the feta in a large mixing bowl and break and crumble it up with a fork. Add the cooled vegetables, the uncooked rice and the egg mixture, blending everything together well. Adjust the salt and pepper if needed.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Oil the gratin dish.
- Scrape the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface and punch it down. Divide the dough into two parts, one slightly larger than the other (the larger piece will fit the bottom and sides of the gratin dish, the smaller piece only the top.) Roll the larger piece of dough out to the size of the gratin dish + the sides with a slight overhang and carefully fit into the oiled dish being careful not to rip the dough.
- Spread the filling inside the dough.
- Roll out the smaller piece of dough just the size of the dish. Place on top of the filling, fold the overhanging dough over the top dough, pinch them together to seal and crimp or decorate the edge if you like. Using a sharp knife, make a few slashes in the dough carefully; or you can simply poke some holes in the dough with a fork. Stir the remaining yolk with 1 tablespoon water and brush the glaze over the pie.
- Bake the pie for about 45 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown.
- Cool the pie slightly before cutting into wedges or squares and serving.