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Monday, July 8, 2013

Lettice and Lovage (and Pete)

Years before Maggie Smith assumed the role of the sniffy, domineering Lady Grantham who can wither with a glance in Downton Abbey...once upon a time, when I was going to school at Regent's College in London, waaay back in 1987, I took in a performance of Peter Shaffer's brilliant and hilarious play Lettice and Lovage. It starred none other than the incomparable lady herself in the role of Lettice Douffet, which was written for her (she won the Tony for it stateside in 1990).

I didn't know what the play was about and wasn't sure if it would be some sort of period drama that I might not care for. I just wanted to see the Dame on stage. What I witnessed was absolutely unforgettable and the astonished socks reaching up to my then 19-year old ankles were completely knocked off. I waited for close to an hour in the alleyway by the stage door after the performance to await the grand lady. She was so kind as to sign my program and then I ushered her to a cab. I myself walked home on winged feet propelled by utter elation.

Here's what you can do with a little lovage when captured in season; such a lovely, fragrant green that reminds one of vibrant celery leaves:

Lovage Simple Syrup
A fistful of lovage
1:2 cups ratio of sugar and water (may be altered, as some like it sweeter)

Bring sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and stir for several minutes to dissolve sugar. Add lovage, stir and let cool. Strain out the lovage and then refrigerate the liquid for a few hours, tightly sealed in something such as a Mason jar, in miniature.

This little concoction is a refreshing pause when added to seltzer water and perhaps a squeeze of lemon. Hendricks gin, which has notes of cucumber and rose petals, may also make an excellent cocktail companion for your dashing lovage syrup, briskly stirred together over ice. A touch of St. Germain liqueur, perfumed with elderflower added into the mix surely wouldn't hurt either. Campari or chilly chamomile tea over a game of croquet. Why be mere? The only limit is the imagination! As Lettice Douffet says, "Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!"

Thanks to for the image of the lovage. And of course always, Dame Maggie Smith.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Peter's Summer Pasta

Here we are, back at the larder with a number of items staring back at us. Somewhat exhausted from an overly long excursion home, we wondered, "What to have for dinner?" Saffron-laced malloreddus pasta from Sfoglini seemed an easy go and once having made our dish, we thought orechiette or any smallish noodle such as rigatoni or elbow noodles would do as well in a pinch. Spigarello from a greenmarket was an option for an ingredient too. So, with a careful consideration of what we had on hand, I set to work which resulted in a joyous dinner.

Peter's Summer Pasta
Serves 2

1/2 pound pasta or more, if you're really hungry. Adjust ingredient portions accordingly. 
Large shallot,  thinly sliced
Bunch scallions, chopped
2 TB garlic paste
2 TB vibrant mustard, such as Roland's Dijon
2 TB anchovy paste
1 bunch spigarello greens, or broccoli rabe, perhaps arugula
Fistful of parsley
3 TB olive oil
2 TB butter
Summery combo of 4 smallish zucchini and yellow squash, thinly sliced
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
Grated Grana Padana cheese or Parmesan
Amaretti cookies or ginger snaps, crushed

Bring enough salted water for your pasta to a boil. In the meantime, chop the stems of your greens and in a large pan, saute gently with shallots and scallions in two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When softened, add in half of the garlic paste, anchovy paste, and mustard. Season with fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the zucchini and squash with half of the butter and turning occasionally, cook until tender. In a smaller pan, saute the leaves of your greens with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and butter. Add in the rest of your pastes and mustard until the leaves are wilted. Season with more salt and pepper. Drain the pasta when done according to the directions on the box or bag, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Pour this in to the vegetables and let it simmer for a moment. Toss everything together gently and add cheese and more pepper, to taste. Top with the cookies or simple ginger snaps for a final flourish. A few glasses of a Pinot Gris and a  simple green salad tossed about with olive oil and red wine vinegar would be nice with this too. Do enjoy!