duck, lovage; roasted squash/celery/radish, thyme; spinach

While the photograph above is my favorite image of this meal, this one may really describe it better:

On Monday afternoon, the same day I had picked up the swordfish belly that I prepared that night, I had also bought one fresh duck breast. At the time I was thinking of it as a small ‘speculative’ investment: Because we had enjoyed a meal of meat only a few days before, it was unlikely that we we’d be eating more soon. I thought I’d freeze it until an occasion presented itself, but before I did, it was Tuesday, and the occasion had arrived.

It was the cool weather, but mostly it was the vegetables.

I had suddenly remembered that I had a couple of small yummy-type squash in the refrigerator, which, together with some luscious spinach I had bought the day before, almost demanded something like duck.

Forgotten however, since they had been there almost a month, was the just how small these kabocha squash actually were (they were the runts of the bucket, and the last 2 cleft in the farmer’s stall, which is pretty much why I had bought them), especially since they had become just a little desiccated over that time, and I still had to hollow out and remove the seeds and stringy pulp. I realized the inadequacy of their size only once I had begun preparing dinner, so necessity was the mother of inspiration. They had almost disappeared, but I still had sufficient warning of the problem, and I managed to find a small supporting cast: I added a little celery and a few small very spicy radishes, roughly chopped, then continued, improvising a bit, with a recipe I would have used if it had been the squash alone that I was cooking.

It was delicious, more than just a good complement to the duck and the spinach.

The spinach cooked down fast, seemed to be trying to disappear, but I put a brake on it just before it did, and its sweetness made up for the smallness of its final portion.

The duck itself was pretty small, but it’s a very intense, sturdy meat; it came with no surprises, presented absolutely no difficulties; it helps that I could almost do this recipe in my sleep; and it was superb, as always.

  • one 14-ounce duck breast from Hudson River Duck Farm, the fatty side scored in tight cross hatching with a very sharp knife, after which the entire breast rubbed, top and bottom, with a mixture of sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a little turbinado sugar, left standing on the counter for about 45 minutes to an hour before being pan-fried, fatty side down first, inside a small oval enameled cast iron pan over medium heat for a total of about 9 or 10 minutes, turning once, draining the oil after the first few minutes (the fat strained can be used in cooking at another time, if desired), the breast removed when medium rare, cut crosswise into 2 portions and checked for the right doneness in the center, which means definitely no more than medium rare, and maybe even a bit less, drizzled with a little juice from an organic Whole Foods Market lemon and some olive oil, the halves transferred to warm plates sitting on top of the oven

  • two mini kabocha squash from Lani’s Farm scrubbed, halved, the seeds and pith removed, cut into narrow wedges, plus an equal amount each of celery from Chelsea Whole Foods Market and Korean green Mu radishes from Norwich Meadows Farm, all roughly cut into the same size as the squash, mixed by hand inside a large bowl with a relatively small amount of olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a pinch from a gorgeous (dried) hickory smoked Jamaican Scotch bonnet pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm, purchased in the Greenmarket last December, arranged on a large, unglazed, well-seasoned ceramic pan and roasted at 425º for 20 or 25 minutes, the vegetables removed from the oven and transferred to a large heavy antique copper pot in which 3 sliced bulbs of ‘Music’ spring garlic from Windfall Farms and a generous amount of fresh thyme leaves from Phillips Farms had been gently heated in a bit of olive oil

  • a few ounces of loose spinach from Alewife Farm. washed in several changes of water, drained, very gently wilted (that is, trying not reduce it too far) inside a large, heavy, antique high-sided tin-lined copper pot in a little olive oil in which 3 quartered cloves of ‘music garlic’ from Windfall Farms had first been allowed to sweat, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a bit of crushed dried Calabrian peperoncini secchia from Buon Italia, finished on the plates with a little more olive oil
  • the wine was  French (Languedoc-Roussillon/Corbieres) red, Domaine de Fontsainte Rouge AOC Corbières [unfortunately I didn’t document the vintage, and we don’t remember from whom we acquired it]