There were a number of intersections in this meal, and I thought about them only once the cooking was well underway. Although the word is inexact, and probably inapposite here, by ‘intersections’ I mean that there were some close relationships and repeats among its ingredients: There were 2 kinds of fresh greens, and 2 kinds of sweet potato. There were 3 members of the family brassicaceae (red mustard, radish greens, and micro red radish); each of the 3 main players, the duck, the potatoes, and the greens, was enhanced by a different allium (spring garlic for the mix of the 2 greens, dry garlic for the 2 potatoes, and micro scallion for the duck); 2 of these 3 parts were finished with a bit of both lemon and olive oil (the greens and the duck); and the cooking of a different combination began with some olive oil (the greens and the potatoes).
All of this is probably totally irrelevant to either the dinner’s appearance or its taste, but I like thinking about how it was somehow tied together in ways that were totally unplanned, or at least totally unconscious.
The most interesting intersection was that of Vincenzo Bellini and RIchard Wagner, in the music that we listened to during the meal. I had absolutely nothing to do with that one, as Barry was the DJ. Also, both composers have been dead for well over a hundred years.
- one 14-ounce duck breast from Hudson River Duck Farm, the fatty side scored in tight cross hatching with a very sharp knife, the entire breast then rubbed, top and bottom, with a mixture of sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a little turbinado sugar, left standing, first inside the refrigerator then on the counter, for about an hour altogether, before it was pan-fried, fatty side down first, inside a small oval enameled cast iron pan over medium heat for a total of about 9 minutes, turning once, draining the oil after the first few minutes (the fat to be strained and used in cooking later, if desired), removed when medium rare (cut crosswise into 2 portions to check that the center was of the right doneness, which means definitely no more than medium rare), left to sit for several minutes before it was finished with a drizzle of the juice of an organic lemon from Whole Foods Market, a little Portuguese house olive oil from Whole Foods Market, some chopped lovage from Two Guys from Woodbridge, and then garnished with micro scallion, also from Two Guys.
- four sweet potatoes, or just under a pound, half of them ‘Japanese’ from Lani’s Farm, the other half ‘Carolina Ruby’ from Samascott Orchards, left unpeeled, but washed thoroughly, cut as for short french fries, tossed inside a bowl with olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, two large unpeeled cloves of garlic from John D. Madura Farm, and a pinch of crushed dark dried habanada pepper, than roasted in a 400º oven in my faithful, large well-seasoned Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan for about 35 minutes, or until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and a little chewy on the edges, garnished with micro red mustard from, once again, Two Guys from Woodbridge
- the last little bunch of red mustard greens from Norwich Meadows Farm, together with the leaves of a bunch of French breakfast radishes from Eckerton Hill Farm, wilted in a little olive oil in which 2 garlic cloves from Foragers Market had been allowed to sweat, seasoned with salt and pepper and finished on the plates with a drizzle of olive oil
- the wine was an Austrian (Burgenland) red, St. Laurent vom Kiesel, Strehn 2013, from Astor Winesthe music was Bellini’s 1831 opera, ‘Norma’, Giovanni Antonini conducting the Orchestra La Scintilla and the International Chamber Vocalists, with Sumi Jo, John Osborn, Reinaldo Macias, Liliana Nikiteanu, Michele Pertusi, and Cecilia Bartoli; until I started writing this post I didn’t know much about Wagner’s attitude toward Bellini, or to this bel canto opera specifically, other than the fact that he had conducted it, while music director of the Riga Opera House, only 6 years after its unsuccessful London premiere (he was not yet 25); I had a vague recollection of reading once that he respected Bellini, but I still was astonished to occasionally hear bits throughout the opera that sounded like what the much younger German would write years later, and most remarkably in the Introduction to Act II (more on Wagner’s respect for Bellini here).