Leeks, white beans and French feta AND smoked eggplant-couscous croquettes

Leeks, white beans, & French feta

Leeks, white beans, & French feta

Back in the days before cable, when VCRs hadn’t yet been invented, there were a few movies my brother and I would watch every single time they came on television. (Which was maybe twice.) One such movie was Breaking Away. I hadn’t thought about it much in the intervening decades, but the other night we watched it again with the boys. Well! It’s a beautiful film! It’s beautifully filmed! It’s deceptively spare and simple in a manner that hides a genius of elegance and grace, which places it in the tradition of Ozu or Rohmer. The only non-diegetic music is a continuation of the Italian songs that Dave sings in his attempt to convince the world that he’s Italian. Much of the action seems to happen off-screen, between scenes, in best Ozu fashion. An entire romance and marriage takes place, and we feel real affection for the couple, though we only see them in a few scenes, in passing. The film is about one summer in the life of four teenagers, and it’s full of the kind of latent drama underlying every teenagers’ existence. At any minute they might dash their heads on a rock or crash their car or bike, or be crushed by a truck, they might fall out with friends they love, they might tear their family apart. Any of this could happen, and if this was any other kind of movie it probably would, but here it doesn’t, and this makes it feel more real, more like life. The film glows with a flat, pale, nostalgic light, like a dream of the late seventies, of the mid-west, which people have been trying to capture since in photo filters and iPhone apps. The film is sweet, smart, funny, thoughtful; it’s about infatuation and disillusion and the return of hope. It’s about friendship and family, imperfect and enduring. It’s about freedom and escape, and finding a way to achieve these things without leaving your home. And it’s about work, which makes it a good film to discuss after labor day weekend. The fathers of our four teenage friends were cutters, they cut limestone out of the quarries, and cut them into smooth rocks to build the local university. And now all they have left is a big hole in the ground where their boys swim, and a college full of teenagers who mock their boys. At one point Dave’s dad says he wants his son to find a job and be miserable just like he was. But we know he doesn’t really want his son to be unhappy, and we know that he enjoyed his work as a cutter: he was good at it, he took pride in his work. The boys have to decide what work they’ll do when the work that made their world isn’t an option any more. They have to make their own new world. Doesn’t it remind you of Seamus Heaney’s Digging?


    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

    Under my window, a clean rasping sound
    When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
    My father, digging. I look down

    Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
    Bends low, comes up twenty years away
    Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
    Where he was digging.

    The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
    Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
    He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
    To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
    Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

    By God, the old man could handle a spade.
    Just like his old man.

    My grandfather cut more turf in a day
    Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
    Once I carried him milk in a bottle
    Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
    To drink it, then fell to right away
    Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
    Over his shoulder, going down and down
    For the good turf. Digging.

    The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
    Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
    Through living roots awaken in my head.
    But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I’ll dig with it.

Eggplant couscous croquettes

Eggplant couscous croquettes

Leeks! I just love them. I treated myself to some French feta, which is milder and creamier than most fetas I’ve had. I sauteed my leeks with white beans, white wine, thyme and capers, and then I crumbled the feta on top. Delicious!! We ate it with plain couscous. And later in the week I combined the leftover couscous and white beans with eggplant roasted until smooth and smoky and pureed with smoked gouda and bread crumbs. I fried this in olive oil as little croquettes, and served them with an impromptu dipping sauce of maple syrup, dijon mustard and tomato paste.

Here’s Kimya Dawson with I Like My Bike.

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