White beans with figs, potatoes, and shallots

White beans with figs and potatoes

David and I had a lovely friend named Madeleine. She was Belgian, and her husband had been Greek. We used to spend afternoons in her teeming garden, drinking Belgian beer and eating Greek rusks and delicious cheese. She had wonderful stories to tell. She’d met HergĂ©! HergĂ©!! Madeleine’s daughter, Sandy, lives in Greece, so I don’t see her very often, but since I’ve started this blog, she’s been sending me Greek recipes. They’re wonderful – eggplant, spinach, savory pastries, lemony potatoes! I can’t wait to try them. Recently, she spent some time in Paris, and she sent me a description of her meal, which she called “two non-recipes from Paris.” I love the idea of making a meal based on a description of a special lunch somebody had somewhere. Wouldn’t it be fun to find old letters (even very old letters) from all sorts of people all over the world, and make a cookbook based on meals that they describe? Yes! It would! Anyway, the meal Sandy wrote about sounded like exactly my kind of thing. She’d eaten a dish with meat, figs, potatoes, and little onions, probably shallots. Doesn’t that sound perfect? Of course, I left the meat out, and I decided to replace it with white beans, and cook it into a nice brothy, stewy type of meal. I’m sure the original was far more elegant, and I’ve peasant-ized it, but it just seemed perfect that way to me, yesterday. I bought three plump, ripe little figs, but if these are hard for you to find, you can replace them with dry or even a few tablespoons of fig preserves. I used red-skinned potatoes, and the whole dish had a lovely rosy hue. We ate this with goat cheese toasts plus extra crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

Here’s a Greek song about a fig tree! Nikos Skalkottas, from 16 Songs, AK 80, VIII. Fig Tree. Strange and beautiful!
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