Chances and Choices: Dinner and Breakfast with Alice Waters
Last week I wrote about packing up some Many Fold Farm cheese and jetting off to see the legendary Alice Waters. Alice lives in Berkeley, California. I live in Georgia’s Chattahoochee Hills Country. So how did we wind up in the same house in Rhinebeck, New York? Well …
My husband, Steve, is on the board of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation with a man named Bob Fox. I met Bob’s wife, Gloria, at a board meeting earlier this year and it was one of those things where we just looked at each other and thought, oh, we’re kindred spirits, aren’t we?
A few months later, I visited with Gloria at her home in Rhinebeck and shortly afterwards she called to say she’d been asked to host a fundraiser at her home to re-create the victory garden at the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York. And who’s on the board of that effort? Alice Waters.
I immediately checked my calendar and saw I had two events on Saturday and one event the Sunday of the benefit in New York. I lamented the conflict to my dear friend, Austin Ford, who said, “Tell me again why you can’t go, Marie?” And that helped me realize I had more choices than I thought. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. one morning thinking about it, had a ticket by 7 a.m. and called Gloria to say, “I’m coming!” That weekend I hopped on a plane, then hopped on a train and wound up eating duck breast cooked in a cast-iron skillet over an open fire with Alice Waters.
I’d met Alice years ago at an event in Atlanta, but this was the first time I’d had an opportunity to have an intimate evening with her. She was lovely and incredibly gracious with everyone, including the young chefs who’d done extensive research to find her favorite duck breast recipe.
After the event, Gloria, Bob, Alice and I sat around and talked until we were hungry again and had leftover duck with broccoli rabe, sautéed mushrooms and a cheese-and-chocolate course with the Many Fold Farms cheese. Alice had a board meeting the next morning, so we got up early, went on a hike and had Alice’s favorite breakfast when we returned: a piece of toast, egg over easy and a sliced tomato
Since then, the victory garden effort has been on my mind—I’ll write more about it next week—especially as I’ve thumbed through Alice’s newest cookbook, The Art of Simple Food II. This recipe for Yellow Finn Potato and Black Trumpet Gratin, a rich, earthy mix of potatoes and mushrooms, pairs perfectly with the season.
Yellow Finn Potato and Black Trumpet Gratin
- From The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters
- Yields 4 servings
Yellow Finn potatoes are rich in flavor and have the perfect texture for a gratin. They become soft and luscious without breaking down into a puree. For added color, alternate with rows of red-fleshed potato such as Cranberry Red. Black trumpet mushrooms (also called black chanterelles or horn-of-plenty mushrooms) can harbor sand. Be sure to rinse them well before cooking.
Gently tear in half lengthwise:
¼ pound black trumpet mushrooms
Swish them in a bowl of cool water to clean; drain well. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Measure in:
1 teaspoon butter or oil
A pinch of salt
1 large thyme sprig
Fresh-ground black pepper
When the butter has melted, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring now and then, until all the water has evaporated and the mushrooms just start to sizzle. Remove from the heat to cool. Taste for salt and add more as needed. Remove the thyme sprig.
2 pounds potatoes (Yellow Finn, Cranberry Red or Yukon Gold)
Hold in cool water until ready to use to keep them from browning.
Rub a 6-inch-by-8-inch baking dish with:
A peeled garlic clove
Allow to dry a little and rub the dish with
2 teaspoons butter
2/3 cup crème fraiche
Pour into a small pot and warm:
½ cup half-and-half
A pinch of salt
Once all the ingredients are prepared, preheat the oven to 375 F. Slice the potatoes ¼-inch thick. Use a mandoline slicer or a sharp knife to make the slices as consistent as possible. Using one-third of the sliced potatoes, make a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the baking dish. Season with:
Fresh-ground black pepper
Spoon one-third of the crème fraiche over the potatoes, followed by half the mushrooms. Repeat, making another layer with half the remaining potato slices. Add seasoning, half the remaining crème fraiche and the rest of the mushrooms.
For the last layer of potatoes, carefully arrange rows of potato slices overlapped like shingles and completely covering the surface.
Dot the surface with the last of the crème fraiche and gently add the half-and-half, pouring down the sides of the baking dish to avoid washing off the crème fraiche and salt.
Put the gratin in the oven and bake until tender and golden, about 1 hour. After it has been cooking for 35 minutes, press the top layer of potatoes under the cream with a spatula. Press again after another 15 minutes. This keeps them from drying out.
When done, the potatoes should be very soft, the top golden and the liquid mostly gone. If the potatoes begin to brown too much before being cooked through, loosely cover the top with a bit of foil.