Defeat arrived unexpectedly, as he is wont, while thinning the rocket on my knees in the late afternoon sun. ‘This is what it’s all about.’ A whole bowlful, the epitome of green, placed next to an enormous bouquet of just-picked parsley sitting on a somewhat out-of-control lawn, greener still thanks to cooler days and welcome autumn rains. 'Green' sums up my world in one quiet, powerful word. Uncluttered, unpretentious, brimming-with-simple-goodness, it felt good to be outside. We drank the silence in, the dog and I, watched the sun sink beneath the fence and ambled back to the kitchen with dinner, or part thereof, in hand.
For those of us interested in the curative power of food, produce simply prepared is as good as eating gets. Deborah Madison’s food may be paradise for the vegetable lover, enticingly fool-proof in method, complex and rich and oh, so good in the tasting, but sometimes, dammit, all I want for dinner is an egg and salad. I’d rather, if I may, pay attention to the food itself – must I always be reading while cooking?
In a world of increasingly flashy recipes and complex book design, the pared back, gently monochromed, calm aesthetic of Viana la Place’s Unplugged Kitchen is so pleasing to step in to that, like her earlier and much-loved (and much-thumbed, much-stained) Verdura, I often find it has worked its way from the kitchen to the bedside table. La Place’s wisdom and simple approach to cooking beautiful, beautiful food comes from a full mind/body/soul-immersion in her Italian heritage and a childhood spent in the easy Californian sun. Hers is the voice I want whispering calmly in my ear when the unavoidable question, ‘What’s for dinner?’ arrives.
Curative broths for those of us afflicted with annoying colds come in a variety of forms. This weekend, defeated by days of inexplicable tiredness, and wondering if I should revisit the chicken experiment of last year, I opened ‘Unplugged’ instead. Glad I did. Here’s a tonic - one in a vibrant shade of puce - to cure what ails. Best sipped by the vaguely ill all afternoon with a large dose of cleansing lemon juice, spritzed in to brighten and heighten the somehow excellent flavours. Even when well, I’d give this a go, and use it, perhaps, as a base for something else. Just don’t wear white, okay?
Beetroot and lemon broth
Adapted from Viana la Place’s Unplugged Kitchen. I must thank Heidi Swanson for the interview that inspired me to seek it out – it was exactly what I’ve been craving for, oh, I don’t know, let’s say years. It is, in fact, the book I wish I'd written...
Roughly chop a few branches of parsley. Scrub a bunch of small beetroot and quarter each lengthways. Thickly slice an onion. (Or a leek, or a couple of shallots – something onion-y is all you need.) Simmer gently in 5 cups of water, saucepan partially covered, with a little sea salt for 1 hour.
Strain through a muslin-lined colander, pressing down with the back of a spoon to extract the purple juice. Sip in teacup-sized doses with a heavy-handed squeeze of lemon juice (do I really need to say ‘fresh’ here?) added, naturally, to taste.