24 January 2009

M. F. K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans

I have been thinking a lot about M. F. K. Fisher lately and I thought I would share some of her books with you.
Fisher is a kind of problematic character for me. I adore her writing, the beauty of her prose, the simplicity of her cooking. That is enough. Truth be told, from everything I have read about her, she would not have made the BFF list. But I can never deny her amazing prose.

July 3, 2008 was the hundredth anniversary of Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher’s birth. M. F. K. Fisher is truly one of America’s greatest writers. She saw herself as a writer above all else, not a food writer or a cookbook writer but a writer. It shows. The fact that she wrote about food is almost incidental. The fact that she wrote about food meant that her work was often denied the traditional accolades that follow great writers.

In honor of Fisher’s centenary, Joan Reardon chronicled Fisher’s life through the kitchens she cooked in, from the first kitchen she remembered as, “an unventilated but roomy hole,” to the Last House where she did away with the kitchen walls altogether.

Today's kitchen has become an alter to excess. Coveted kitchens posses quarried counters, gleaming stainless steel, and stoves and refrigerators that cost more than cars. Don’t get me wrong, no one wants an $11,000 Sub-Zero more than I do, but I share a certain trait with Fisher, the understanding that in order to make good food, one needs imagination and little else.

M. F. K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans is filled with watercolors, family photos, and a collection of recipes old and new. Reardon shines a light on a little known facet of Fisher’s life, the place where actually cooked.

In the early 1930’s, Fisher cooked for her husband and guests on a two-burner gas hot plate perched on a rickety table. There she made one of my favorite comfort foods, cauliflower casserole.

Cauliflower Casserole

1 head of cauliflower, separated into florets
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 cup béchamel sauce, warm
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg or cayenne pepper
1/4 cup fresh brad crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch baking dish. Bring a sauce pan filled with water to a boil/ Add 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of salt and blanch the cauliflower florets until a knife pierces the stem of a floret easily, about 10 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold running water, and drain again.
Add the cheese to the warm béchamel sauce, converting it to a Mornay sauce. Stir until smooth. Spoon about one-third of the warm sauce over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange the cauliflower on top and season with salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Pour the rest of the sauce over the top, sprinkle with the bread crumbs, and drizzle with the butter.

Bake until the bread crumbs are browned and the sauce is bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.

For my cauliflower casserole, I use a sharp cheddar. Not only does the cauliflower make a great dish, but it makes a great planned-over recipe ingredient. Check out the Lucindaville blog for a great cauliflower ragout that you would be happy to serve Mary Frances in any kitchen.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Widget by LinkWithin