I’m standing in Jill’s kitchen in Ottawa staring at a mountain of fava bean pods.
“What do you think I’m supposed to do with them?” I ask no one in particular. Jill is actually in the dining room deciding which dishes will be used for the multi-course feast.
I was the one who thought fava beans would make a nice appetizer, but at the time I hadn’t really focused on the fact that I had to shuck three pounds of pods. The simple and elegant fava bean spread on crostini proves somewhat labor intensive. First, you must free the beans from the pods, and then par boil and shock the beans in ice water. The final step involves removing the outer skin of each individual bean before pureeing. I do hope the guests appreciate this …
A note about Canadian agriculture, since we are immersed in it now and I still have that quiz to prepare for. Farming is significant to the country’s heritage. Today, agribusiness is one of Canada’s top five industries. Wheat is a staple crop, but fruit orchards, poultry, livestock and viticulture are common throughout the provinces.
It is always a little worrisome to engage in a significant cooking project in someone else’s kitchen. Individual chefs develop their own routines. But, since we cooked together at La Varenne we manage to adopt a certain rhythm. Interestingly, Jill stores many items in her kitchen in the same location that I store them in mine. The difference is that Jill is noticeably tidier.
I work on the fava bean puree and Jill tackles the chopping, sautéing and pureeing needed to prepare chilled pea soup. I slice green beans and Jill roasts them along with beets, wrapped in aluminum foil. Jill mixes batter for a Blueberry White Chocolate Clafoutis, while I start rendering the fat from the duck breasts.
Jill does an expert job with the table setting, deploying a battalion of dishes, glasses cutlery and napkins. She even tucks petite colorful flowers from the garden into each napkin ring. While she finishes the table, I prepare sautéed apple slices with rosemary to accompany the foie gras.
Late in the afternoon, Jill mentions that perhaps the Escoffier menu originally considered might have been less complicated. That Escoffier was such a slacker.
It really doesn’t matter. Our results are impressive, and by 6:30 p.m. we are able to sit down for a few minutes and each partake of a glass of crème de peche with champagne, just like we did each evening at Chateau du Fey in Burgundy.
The guests arrive, many of whom attended the American Feast in Canada in March. “Medusa,” from our New York weekend last April is there, sporting a smart new hairstyle.
Due to the time spent at the stove, my feet are swollen and sweltering and I long to shed my sneakers and go barefoot. Two of the guests immediately relinquish their shoes upon entering the house, so I decide to join in what appears to be a local tradition. During dinner, I also learn that apparently, an inordinate number of people are struck by lightening in Ottawa. I wonder if this factoid will be on the quiz. Since the main dish is duck, I wax poetically about “The Big Duck of Long Island.” I’m not sure they actually believe such an oversized waterfowl exists …
The parade of courses, fresh and locally grown, begins garnished with multicolored edible flowers. The crisp fava bean crostini is a burst of pure chlorophyll with accents of garlic, thyme and lemon.
The chilled pea soup with spinach and cream is a luminous sweet puree, the color of sea foam.
A salad of roasted beets and green beans with goat cheese and walnuts has deep, earthy flavors, contrasting with creamy cheese, delicate greens and pods that snap with the crispness of summertime.
The grilled Mariposa duck breast with fruit sauce reduction is smoky and tender. The aromatic sauce has burgundy hues, savory flavors and fruity highlights. Fresh raspberries and blueberries are scattered like jewels across the fanned slices of flavorful meat.
Jill’s Blueberry White Chocolate Clafoutis, is tall and golden, tender cake with tangy berries and chunks of white chocolate that evoke a sweet burst of sunshine.
Every dish is accompanies by an abundant selection of Canadian wines. There is no cognac, but plenty of gossip and lively conversation. The meal is a resounding success for the imaginative presentation, the taste and the companionship. Thanks, Jill!
Epilogue: I never did see a genuine Canadian Mountie during my visit, nor did I sample an authentic butter tart. My performance on the quiz of Canadian history challenged the boundaries of international diplomacy. While I correctly identified the proper height of Colonel By, I got tongue-tied during the test and confused about which prime minister was a famous orator, and which enjoyed indulging in a séance now and then. I couldn’t remember what year Parliament burned or what year the Peace Tower was built. This only means I’ll have to return for a refresher course. I hear there’s a local winter delicacy served in Ottawa after skating on the Rideau Canal called Beaver Tails, that is well worth sampling.
©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved