But, one of his greatest talents is his uncanny ability to turn a one pot peasant dish into a kitchen full of dirty pans and trays and seemingly endless hands on work.
Admittedly I was particularly proud of the carrots in our yard and wanted to find a dish to highlight them. Pride, as they say, goes before a fall.
But, the asparagus in the fridge was calling my name. It was just so fresh and springy. This was no time to listen to reason or be seduced by haute French chef Daniel Boulud's one pot soup.
While mindlessly flipping through the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, looking for what the super chef might do with asparagus, I had already spied a recipe for Spring Vegetable Garbure. The photograph showed spring produce at it's just harvested best, food porn for gardeners. Didn't the carrots, potatoes, fava beans and green beans I had labored over and raised from sprouts deserve this royal treatment? I was hooked.
I didn't know at the time but a Garbure is a thick vegetable stew from Southwest France often flavored with pork, and sausage or duck confit. Keller's recipe starts with cooking down carrots, leeks, and onions (2 cups each) under a cover of pork skin -- yes the skin off a slab of bacon -- for 35 minutes. Once the fat has rendered out and the vegetables are soft he instructs to remove the pork and add in 8 cups of chicken broth and simmer for 20 minutes more. That pot is drained (into a second pot) to leave the flavorful broth that is the soup's base.
Meanwhile a host of other vegetables: fava beans, English peas, green beans, cabbage wedges, and asparagus are individually blanched in boiling water (the fava beans are peeled), shocked in an ice bath and laid on paper towels to drain. Small creamer potatoes (both red and yellow) are peeled and cut into eighths and brought to a boil along with a sachet of bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and garlic then cooked until tender. The carrots get a similar treatment with a teaspoon of honey and another sachet. Five pots, two trays, three colanders, a drawer full of utensils and counting.
"This looks healthy," James said as he pulled his spoon through the brightly colored bowl. He nodded as I, his dinner time tour guide, pointed out the ingredients that had come from our yard. "It's good," he said reaching for another slice of the cheese toast I offered on the side. "We can eat healthy," he declared.
Now I just have to worry about the dishes. Sigh.