One book that’s sat on my bookshelf for a while is The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert.
One reason for that is that by the time I decide to cook something, I don’t have time to make anything slow. Last night, however, even though it was 6 pm, I was willing to cook something slowish. I eschewed Friday night plans to read “Hamlet” for class on Monday, and thought the smell of something cooking slowly might propel me along.
I chose a vegetable recipe because they require no marination or expensive ingredients. I chose “Butternut Squash and Potato Pie with Tomato, Mint, and Sheep’s Milk Cheese.”
So first there’s mint:
I love fresh mint. It tastes awesome in lemonade, iced tea and Mario Batali’s lamb ravioli (which I ate at Babbo). Too many assosiate mint with toothpaste, but it has a culinary life all its own. Fresh mint adds a cool, refreshing component to any dish. Next time you cook, why not cook with mint? (This paragraph brought to you by the Mint Association of America.)
We chop the mint with flat-leaf parsley, garlic, salt and black pepper:
Paula calls for 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper and then just “salt.” This proves to be disastrous later, but we’ll get there soon enough.
Now we grate a tomato using the grating feature on our food processor: (but we forget to take out the blades, so the tomato gets semi-pulverized):
Toss the tomato with half the mint mixture and butternut squash:
Add manchego cheese (a Sheep’s milk cheese):
Add fresh ricotta: (did you know Whole Foods sells fresh, home-made ricotta?):
Mix it all together:
Meanwhile, slice red and Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled according to Paula, but I was too tired to peel). Toss with the other half of the mint mixture:
Add the potatoes to the bottom layer of a 2 1/2-quart earthenware baking dish. I had a 2-quart glass baking dish so I went with that. (The voice of Julia Child rings in my head lately; she and Jacques Pepin on one of the clips I watched say that any chef who doesn’t do a recipe because one little thing is off—they don’t have the right baking dish, say—isn’t really a chef. Good chefs make due.)
I made due and added the squash layer:
Add the rest of the potatoes and pour in milk:
You sprinkle flour and olive oil on the top in the hope they will form a crust.
This bakes for 40 minutes at 350 and then for 30 minutes at 400. In my case, the top still looked floury and oily and Paula wants you to wait until it browns completely. But time kept ticking by and the top still looked floury until finally I took it out:
No matter. What’s a little flour?
I served up a heaping bowl and sprinkled some reserved parsley and cheese on top:
Smelled great, that’s for sure. And how did it taste?
Sadly, devastatingly–bland. Texturally pleasing, sure, and the mint was nice and refreshing but it needed, it begged for salt. I ran to the pantry and grabbed some and sprinkled it on, but it was too late. I wished that Paula was clearer with how much salt needed to be added earlier on. Had I gone back in time I would have seasoned every layer heavily and then I bet it would have tasted delicious. But we fail so we can grow, right? Maybe next time I won’t be so slow when I attempt slow Mediterranean cooking.