Jackie and I just got back from a two-week-plus trip that was focused more on opera (we saw eight) and theater (we got to five plays) than on dining. Of course, we ate dinner every night and had some delicious dishes, but some of the most interesting ones did not lend themselves to home cooking.
Three, though, gave me ideas that I’ll tinker with back here in New York.
The first two we ate at the luxurious, welcoming Lime Wood hotel in England’s New Forest, where we seemed to spend most of our time in the spa being massaged, or swimming, or exposing ourselves to powerful jets of water in the hydrotherapy pool ... or lying around reading. We’ve been there a few times over the five years since our friend Angela Hartnett was engaged to renovate the menu of the hotel’s restaurant, so we knew the ropes. The restaurant’s co-chef is Luke Holder, and two of the dishes he served us last week stuck particularly firmly in my memory.
One was ravioli with a most unexpected filling: polenta, of all things, and parmesan. They were dressed with a butter emulsion and black truffles (English truffles from the county of Wiltshire; they were excellent). At home, there will be no truffles – black or white, English, French or Italian – but the basic notion of using polenta, with its good corn flavor, as a pasta stuffing is appealing – as long as I can find an alternative to truffles to give the dish an extra dimension. Next time I make a pot of polenta, I’ll save some for ravioli and will report back.
The other Lime Wood dish was such a hit that we ordered it both nights as a first course: a small tart spread with creamy gorgonzola cheese and garnished with celery and walnuts. The celery was crisp but cooked, and had a sweetness about it; the nuts were toasted and very lightly sugar glazed. I need to figure out a way to cook the celery; I will probably wind up asking how Luke did it. This will be a perfect dinner party dish, in part because the tart shells can be pre-baked and the other elements of the dish cooked in advance for last-minute assembly and re-baking.
The third meal that sowed the seed of an idea was at an Austrian restaurant in Berlin, Schweighofer’s. They offer variations on classic boiled beef – Tafelspitz – among them a Styrian dish they call Gebratener Tafelspitz, or fried boiled beef. It came as three thickish slices of “leftover” boiled beef that had been smeared with a sharp mustard crust before crisping under the broiler (so I don’t think it was a actually fried at all). When I make something based on this, I will gild slices of boiled beef with mustard, coat them with fresh breadcrumbs and pan-fry them in clarified butter. I’ll make a vinegary onion sauce based on the broth generated by boiling the beef.
Now we just need a boiled beef dinner, which as winter rolls in might materialize pretty soon.