Vive le (New Year) vie Boheme!

In Lifestyle, Recipies on January 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm
"In the Time of Anarchy" Paul Signac 1893

“In the Time of Anarchy” Paul Signac 1893

For the past two weeks, my rigorous personal enrichment program has centered on learning more about Impressionism in art. The Impressionists, Degas, Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, and others embraced a simple, often nomadic, life filled with late evenings lingering around a modest, but generously laden table, inexpensive wines, good cigars, and (on many levels) revolutionary discussions.

The celebrated rat pack of artists roved through Paris and the French countryside in Brittany, Provence, and Normandy during one of the great periods of French social reform. I was surprised and delighted when I read how Paul Signac embraced the proto-anarchism of then-contemporary Kropotkin and he produced at least one work celebrating anarchism. [He reluctantly renamed the painting “In the Time of Harmony” because of the French state’s repression of anarchists.]

It must have been an exhilarating time and Renoir wrote of it:

“The world knew how to laugh in those days! Machinery had not absorbed all of life; you had leisure for enjoyment and no one was the worse for it.”

How could we not hope for such a life? Ah, to work for the joy of working, not because the state demands tribute with which to wage war abroad and to build prisons in which to confine any peacefully opposing citizens at home.

Maybe this year?

To celebrate the civil New Year, I embarked on a menu that would evoke multiple New Year traditions and to celebrate the Bohemian lifestyle that is the foundation of Phyne Dyning.

Why not a luxurious ‘peasant meal’ that, should they visit, would be one the Impressionists would recognize immediately?

The soup comes from a basic recipe offered by Chef Jacques Pepin and has its origins in Provence. I slightly modified the original by adding a bit of garlic and an herb blend characteristic of the Provencal region. And, because New Year’s is a time to indulge in luxuries, I used real butter in my version. I don’t think Chef Pepin would disapprove.

Our soup is a blend of traditions.

Legumes are a culinary tradition throughout the American South for the New Year. In the east, “Hoppin’ John” fills the menu. And in Texas, and in much of the western South, folks wolf down bowls of black-eyed peas as they greet the New Year.

In the Sephardi Jewish community, the Jewish New year (Rosh Hashana) is greeted with a celebratory feast of symbolic foods. Leeks symbolize the Jewish victories over oppressors who sought to destroy Jewish culture throughout the centuries.

Therefore, a legume and leek soup would be just right for our New Year’s celebration.

But wait…there’s more.

Bread, throughout the world, is a symbol of freedom from want and hunger. It accompanied our soup in vast quantities. Our bread was made even more luxurious with the addition of an egg and made silky-smooth by the richness of added milk and cream. After all, the New Year is not a celebration to be restrained by French laws dictating that a real baguette must contain only flour, water, salt, and yeast.

Our luxurious ‘peasant meal’ was served in deep bowls and with plates heaped with warm bread. It was all accompanied by generous slabs of real butter and with copious amounts of wine.

It made quite an impression.


Vegetable-Bean Soup Provencal

4 C water or vegetable broth

1 large leek, washed and trimmed – using green parts too!

3 large carrots

1 medium turnip

3 stalks celery

1 clove garlic sliced

½ lb dry white beans (or one 15oz can)

1 tsp Herbes de Provence (Penzeys) or see cook’s note

2 TBS butter (NOT margarine)

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

1 C grated Gruyere or Jarlsberg cheese

1-2 ‘Faux baguette’ (below)

COOK’S NOTE: Penzey’s Spice Company offers a splendid Herbes de Provence blend. You can make your own by mixing a pinch each dried: rosemary leaves, marjoram, fennel seed, oregano, tarragon, dill, thyme, and basil. Mix the herbs thoroughly using a mortar and pestle.

If you are using dry beans, carefully sort and rinse them and allow them to soak (covered with water) overnight. Drain the beans and rinse well. Cover with water and add 1 tsp salt. Simmer over low-medium heat for 1-2 hours or until tender.

Cut the turnip, carrots, celery, and leek into ½-inch pieces. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium high heat. When the butter is bubbling, stir in the garlic and vegetables and coat with the butter. Add the water (or broth) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the beans and ¾ C of their cooking liquid (or all of the liquid if using canned). Raise the heat to medium and return to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to low and stir in the herbes. Serve in warmed, deep bowls, and sprinkle with a generous amount of the grated cheese. Serve with warm ‘Faux Baguettes’.


Faux Baguettes

4 C all-purpose flour

1 C water (110F)

1 tsp salt

1 egg

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp sugar

2 ½ tsp dry-active yeast

2-4 TBS Half-and-half

½ tsp olive oil

Fill a 9×13 metal baking pan half-way with water and place it on the bottom oven rack. Adjust the baking rack the center position. Set the oven to ‘warm’ (about 115F).

Dissolve a pinch of sugar in the warm water and stir in the yeast until well dissolved. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes, or until frothy.

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and the remaining sugar in the mixing bowl for a stand mixer. Blend well with a clean fork. Begin mixing the ingredients with the dough hook, drizzling the oil in as it mixes. Add in the yeast/water mixture and the egg. The dough will be very dry. Add the half-and-half by the teaspoon until the dough becomes elastic, yet quite firm. Place the dough ball into a well-oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and place in the oven for 1½ hours, or until doubled.

When the dough has risen, punch it down. Divide the dough into two, equal portions and form them into baguettes by rolling and squeezing them into shape. Then give each loaf 3-4 twists and lay them on an oiled (or non-stick) baguette pan. Return them to the oven to raise for another 30-45 minutes.

Remove the baguettes from the oven and preheat the oven to 350F (at least 15 minutes). Bake the loaves for 25-35 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden and the loaves sound hollow when thumped. Remove to cool on a wire rack.


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