Don’t believe anyone who says that veganism – or any other restricted diet – is just as delicious as eating everything. People who say this kind of thing weren’t that into food to begin with. It’s hard to believe these people exist, but they do. There’s even people out there who aren’t that into sex.
Author PG Wodehouse, the patron saint of this blog, was not that into sex
From the tongue's point of view, nothing is better than an omnivorous diet that scorns environmental concerns, but the tongue isn’t the body's only pleasure center. When you look at certain big red chefs, you have to wonder if the life of gastronomic excess is still as fun as it used to be.
I’ve learned that there’s a very real pleasure in health and in knowing that the way you eat is kind. It isn’t as fun to write about as the pleasures of foie gras, but it might be more fun to experience. I've been eating mostly plants ever since I worked on this book.
For our sixth wedding anniversary, Ethan and I had a great dinner at Convivium, which has only gotten better over time and is far and away the best restaurant in Park Slope, unless there's some place I've missed. On this visit I was blown away by the skill with which the vegetables were handled.
The baby arugula salad was sparklingly fresh. The julienne of endive made the leaves seem sweet and more liquid. It was like what Rapunzel’s mother craved.
The Roman-style braised artichoke contained one heart so beautifully cleaned that there was nothing wasted on the plate. I’d just eaten Roman artichokes at a neighborhood Italian joint with some friends I met at a literary reading, and I’d had to discreetly spit the fibrous outer leaves into my napkin while discussing literature. Not so sexy. With Convivium’s artichoke all the work had been done. The braise was so good we sopped it up with the excellent country bread.
Polenta with wild mushrooms and taleggio was so delicious it inspired me to make the wild rice dish below. Convivium’s polenta was not health food: it was all butter and cream with a funky edge from the taleggio. I think the mushrooms were porcini. They were earthy and chewy and perfectly umami.
The star of the red snapper plate was the swiss chard, whose leaves and stems were cooked to equal tenderness. Everything was smothered in tomatoes and capers.
Then there’s the other things that set Convivium apart. First, the lighting. It’s warm and cozy and candlelit. You feel like you’re far away from everywhere else.
Then, the service. Park Slope has developed a signature style of obnoxious service, in evidence at places like Al Di La and Franny’s and Talde, that is heavy on PR and light on technique. Young waitresses basically have orgasms tableside while describing the specials to you. I’m glad they like their jobs, but I want to have my own reaction to the food. Convivium’s waiters are warm and deft. You’re left alone with your dinner and your lover, and isn’t that why you came?
TRUFFLED WILD RICE WITH WILD MUSHROOMS
This is an easy vegan one-pot dish that just relies on finding good ingredients. The can of beans is optional. Proportions aren’t too important, just make enough for your casserole pan.
To prepare wild rice: Rinse it and remove any dirt. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain. Cover with cold water again and bring to a second boil. Drain again. Cover with water again, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a third boil. This time let it cook until the grains are opened and it’s tender but still chewy. For me this takes about 25 minutes. If necessary, add more water to keep the rice covered. Drain and reserve.
To prepare wild mushrooms: Carefully wipe off dirt with a paper towel. Trim off stem ends and any bruised parts. Most wild mushrooms these days are hydroponically grown and not too dirty; if yours are very dirty, submerge in water and swirl, then scoop out and blot with paper towels.
Saute mushrooms over medium-high heat in an ample amount of extra virgin olive oil and canola oil until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms start to brown. Depending on the mushrooms and whether you washed them, this can take up to 20 minutes. When all the water is gone and the oil starts to sizzle, toss in a few minced shallots, salt, and pepper. Cook for another two minutes or so, stirring frequently until things carmelize. Deglaze with 3/4 C of dry vermouth. Let it come to a boil and then turn off the heat.
Mix mushrooms and juice into wild rice. Add:
one can of great northern beans, along with the liquid from the can
1/2 cup of minced herbs (anything you can get of parsley, tarragon, chervil, and chives)
Adjust salt and pepper. Put in a casserole pan and top with a cup of walnuts that you've pulsed in the food processor with a clove of minced garlic. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes or until it’s hot and the walnuts are browned. (If they don't brown, run it under the broiler for a sec.) Serve drizzled with ample truffle oil.
This is great with braised greens on the side, and if you're not vegan it is extra delicious with a fried egg and sriracha.