semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut, butter beans and spinach-almond-asparagus pesto

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

“I doe now publish my Essayes; which, of all my other works, have been most Currant: For that, as it seems, they come home, to Mens Businesse, and Bosomes.” This is how Francis Bacon prefaces The Essays: or Counsels, Civil and Moral. I have a beautiful copy of this book, and I love the form of it. It is, simply, a series of short essays: Of Truth, Of Death, Of Unity in Religion, Of Revenge, Of Adversity, Of Simulation and Dissimulation, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Envy, Of Love and so on and on it goes. And I love the tone of it. It’s quite matter-of-fact, he’s stating truths as he believes them, and he makes the truths sound incontrovertible, but we also feel that he hasn’t arrived at them lightly. He’s thought and thought on these subjects, and considered all of the facets and vagaries of them. And though he sounds sure of himself, he hasn’t sealed his mind on any of these ideas. He’s thinking on them still. We feel that he would agree with James Baldwin and with me that “…all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.” My favorite essay is the first, On Truth. You can tell that he loves truth as a thing, almost as a person. He loves the search for truth, “…yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.” And just as a hope is a place, so is truth, “It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.” He talks about poetry being the shadow of a lie, which adds some beauty to the truth, and he talks about lies such as “vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like,” as saving men’s minds from becoming “poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition.” In just this way he mixes wild, poetical language with the more staid and scholarly, and helps us to see not just the matter of his text, but his passion for it as well. I’d like to write a book of essays like this. I’d like to see everybody do it! We could pick the topics, of course, according to our interests, but we’d keep the essays short and fierce and thoughtful, like these are. We’d look at the world around us and decide what questions are important to ask, and then we’d spend time thinking about these questions, and then we’d write it all down. Not the answers to the questions, because there are no answers, but we’d write all of the ways we’ve been thinking about it, the truths that we have wooed. We’d share our truths with each other, and see that our truths aren’t the only ones, and that would make us seek not just the truth of our own little world, but of the great and common world, the whole round world.

"IF ONE COULD BUT PAINT HIS MIND."

“IF ONE COULD BUT PAINT HIS MIND.”

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Speaking of round! I made this ring of semolina dumplings, which are puffy and soft and comforting. Then I filled the center with butternut squash roasted with herbs, butter beans and mozzarella…all soft and creamy and sweet and roasty. And I topped the whole thing off with a bright, green, vegetal, lemony pesto of spinach, almonds and asparagus. This meal has layers. It didn’t take long to make, and it was a nice complex but comforting winter meal.

Here’s some more Gary Davis for you.

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Beet balls (made with semolina and ricotta)

Beet balls

Beet balls

On the way back from the shore, we passed through long low fields of blueberry bushes, crazed orchards of wildly tangled peach trees, fields of dry golden wheat, and fields of corn, vivid and green, but still only as high as an elephant shrew’s eye. We bought some (obviously not very local) corn cobs anyway, despite the fact that Isaac currently only has one front tooth. The boys sat in the back yard and husked it. The soft pale corn silk covered everything, clinging like spiders’ webs. Today I tried to clear it away, but I couldn’t do it. I stood with a silky tangle of strands in my hand, and I thought that this morning it feels impossible to clean them away completely. But I know they’ll be gone, without my even noticing, they’ll dry up and blow away, or another rain storm will reduce them to pulp and they’ll disappear into the earth. And I thought about the winter, about how in January I’d probably like to find a wispy fragment of corn silk, because it would remind me of summer, but I won’t because it will all be gone. And that’s what summer is like.
Beet balls

Beet balls

Beets beets and more beets from the CSA! I wanted to do something different with them, other than just roasting them. Well, I roasted them, and then I mixed them with a batter of semolina flour and ricotta and dropped them in some hot olive oil. Beet balls! I thought they were delicious, and the boys liked them a lot, too. Light and tender on the inside, crispy on the outside. I flavored them with smoked paprika and a pinch of nutmeg. They’d be nice with any kind of sauce, either to serve them in or to dip them in. A creamy nut sauce, a simple tomato sauce, a pesto, a spicy catsup,

Here’s Yo La Tengo with Season of the Shark from Summer Sun, because we just watched Jaws with the boys. I was obsessed with this song for a while!
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Tomato steaks au poivre; Semolina dumpling baked in tomatoes; roasted red salad stuffed heirloom

Giant heirloom

It’s hard not to become defensive when you grow up in New Jersey. From an early age, you’re aware that you’re the butt of jokes – not just the jokes of snarky Manhattanites, but of pretty much everybody, everywhere. You hear stereotypes about New Jersey accents, New Jersey styles of dress, New Jersey music. You know, of course, that those accents and styles of dress actually originate in certain boroughs of Manhattan, and the attribution is false, but you grow tired of explaining that. People drive from New York to Philly and see the ugliest part of New Jersey – the Strip malls and refineries. You think about telling them that where you live, there’s nothing but vast expanses of beautiful countryside, but you don’t want everybody moving here, so you keep quiet. You know that Jersey is overpopulated, but that population is incredibly diverse, which means that we have a rich culture of languages, art, and food. We have mountains and beaches and meadows. We have a sense of humor about ourselves – we have to – it’s a survival instinct. We’re adaptable and tolerant – living so close to your neighbors (as you do in much of the state) you learn to respect them and care for them.

Baked semolina dumpling tomatoes

And we have tomatoes! Jersey tomatoes – pride of the garden state! At the moment I have a bewildering number of tomatoes! But I’ve had a lot of fun thinking of ways to prepare them. We had some big, beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I scooped out some of the flesh and replaced it with semolina dumpling batter. I baked the tomatoes, and made the flesh into a sauce with chard and basil.

Tomato chard sauce

The semolina has a lovely, soft texture that absorbs the tomato-y juices. Then I thought about giant slices of tomatoes that feel like steaks, and I decided to coat them in pepper, fry them in a little butter, and then use the juices to make a sauce, with shallots, garlic, and wine. It made a nice side dish, and I think it would be nice over angel hair pasta. Finally, we had an heirloom tomato the size of a small pumpkin. I decided to open it in thick slices, and stuff a flavorful salad into the spaces – roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, capers, olives, and fresh basil. Fresh and delicious!

Tomato steaks au poivre

Here’s Tom Waits with Jersey Girl
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