Roasted parsnip, pecan, and caramelized shallot pizza

Pecan, parsnip and shallot pizza

Pecan, parsnip and shallot pizza

Well I finally finished reading Zola’s Nana. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get through it. I enjoyed it and admired it; of course it’s  well-written, but the truth is it made me a little sad and it’s hard to spend too much time in Nana’s world. None of the characters treat her very well, and neither does Zola himself. It’s not just that he’s cruel to her with the plot, although he is. He’s not kind to her with his words, or with the words he has her speak. I don’t think it’s intentional on his part. He wanted her to be a sympathetic character, he didn’t want her to be held responsible for all of the destruction that occurs. In his notes about her, which he assembled before he wrote the novel, he describes her as “…good-natured above all else. Follows her nature, but never does harm for heart’s sake, and feels sorry for people.” But just as she becomes “…a ferment of destruction, but without meaning to, simply by means of her sex…” so she also becomes a character Zola can’t completely realize or embrace, because he knows he doesn’t understand her and he fears her power. Zola’s style of writing is very straight-forward and unadorned, almost documentary. I learned in the introduction to my version that Zola published a work called The Experimental Novel around the same time that Nana came out, in which he said that “imagination had no place in the modern world, and that the novelist, like the scientist, should simply observe and record, introducing characters with specific hereditary peculiarities into a given environment–just as the chemist places certain substances in a retort–and then noting down the progress and results of his “experiment.” So Nana reacts to the world around her, and vice versa, because of “hereditary peculiarities” and because she’s a woman. But of course a novel isn’t scientific, and relations between anybody, either real or fictional, are never predictable. Even in reality, we create the people in our life. We take notes on their character, we make decisions about them and expectations about how they’ll act. And sometimes we’re not kind about it, particularly if we don’t understand them or fear them because they’re different from us. For the most part Zola maintains the cool clinical tone of an observer. But to me the novel is most beautiful when people behave unexpectedly, and when Zola’s language bursts through with emotion and poetry. Nana has many lovers, but there’s only one person she seems to actually love, who seems to love her, Satin. Satin calls to her, “Come along! Come along!” and “Nana undressed in the dressing-room. To be quicker about it, she took her thick mass of blonde hair in both hands and began shaking it above the silver wash-basin, so that a shower of long hair-pins rang a chime on the shining metal.” What a perfect poem of anticipation! It’s a kindness, a gift, this moment and this love, no matter how short-lived. In literature, as in life, everything is more beautiful when it’s messy and unexpected and we don’t decide about it beforehand.

I’ve been making lots of pizzas lately! I always make a “normal” one for the boys, with marinara and mozzarella, and then I make a weird one. I’ve been experimenting with lots of almost-pesto sauces, which are almost more like savory frangipane. And this one was no exception. It had a pecan sauce, which I actually made earlier in the week to have with kofta. I added an egg and a little smoked gouda and topped it with roasted parsnips and caramelized shallots. Smoky, savory, a little sweet. Nice.

Here’s Nantes by Beirut, because it sounds almost like “Nana” and it’s got the French connection.

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Parsnip and ginger pakoras

Parsnip pakoras

Parsnips and ginger taste so wonderful together. So bright and sweet and fresh! Here they find themselves grated, thrown together in a sea of chickpea batter, and dunked unceremoniously in hot olive oil till they crisp up nicely. I was once again plagued by indecision on how exactly to spice the batter. Coriander, obviously, because it has it’s own distinctive bright sweetness. And I’d thought of adding cardamom, which I also think of as sweet, but I decided to add things that balance the sweetness rather than add to it. So a tiny bit of cumin and tumeric, earthy and pretty, a very small, very finely diced garlic clove, and a pinch of cayenne for heat. In the end a nice combination, with all the flavors blending to a harmonious whole, just as they should. This isn’t a traditional pakora batter – I added some white flour, and I used beer rather than water, to make it nice and bubbly. The pakoras turned out perfectly crispy on the outside, light and crunchy. The inside was a little denser and softer than it tends to be in restaurants, but it seemed like a nice contrast. I wanted the batter to be vegan, but I think if I’d added an egg, the inside would have been less dense. I’ll try it sometime and let you know!

Of course you have to have a dipping sauce with pakoras! I wanted something sweet/spicy/savory/tart, (don’t I always!) So I made a kind of smooth chutney of apricots, raisins, tamarind, shallots and garlic.

Here’s MF DOOM with Coriander.
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