My brunch arsenal, the dishes I’ve made enough times that they no longer cause any furrowed brows — a core entertaining principle here at House Smitten Kitchen (sigil: cast-iron skillet) — is as follows: bacon (always roasted in the oven, I mean, unless you were hoping to mist yourself with eau de pork belly*); some sort of fruit salad (either mixed berries and vanilla bean-scented yogurt or mixed citrus segments, sometimes with mint and feta); buttermilk biscuits; a pitcher of Bloody Marys, a bottle of champagne and a couple carafes of freshly-squeezed grapefruit or orange juice, blood orange whenever available; something sweet (our current favorite) and eggs. As I dictated years ago, everything that can be made in advance should be, thus pancakes, individually fried slices of French toast, omelets and even eggs baked in ramekins, adorable as they may be, are verboten. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and it’s always the worst.
Deep in the Julia Child archives, past the boeuf bouguignon, onion soup, jiggling aspics and the patently untrue yarn about the chicken that fell from the counter, mid-trussing, and was dusted off and put back into use with a remark about “nobody’s in the kitchen but you,” there are recipes so low in butter and bacon that they hardly fit the stereotype of French food as gluttony, as are thus rarely mentioned. A good lot of them are in From Julia Child’s Kitchen; published in 1975, it contained recipes and kitchen wisdom that came from episodes of her PBS show. Gentler to novices than her Mastering the Art of French Cooking classics, the recipes were probably more familiar to American audiences, things like leek and potato soup, sauteed chicken breasts with tarragon and tomatoes, and, here, a riff on deviled eggs that I am making my mission to rescue from obscurity.
I suspect by now that most of you are on your way to where you’re headed, physically and possibly proverbially. Maybe you have a tree to cut down or some cookies to bake. You probably have a holiday party tonight, and rooms to clean before guests arrive. You no doubt have entertaining on your brain. We do, too. We’ve had two dinner parties thus far this month, and instead of being exhausted of them, I want even more. This might be a sickness. Or maybe it’s just realistic; for the price of dinner for two out, we can easily feed 15 at home, where we don’t have to deal with pesky restaurant minimums, the constant feeling that the clock is ticking as waiters are eager to turn the table over, we can actually speak to all of our friends (the reality of most big restaurant meals is that you can only talk to the people on either side of you — at home, musical chairs and shouting across tables is acceptable and encouraged), and oh, I don’t even put shoes on. Entertaining barefoot is where it’s at, people, trust me.
This, this mash-, roast-, horseradish-, bangers-, crisps-, and goose fat-free, is one of my favorite things I ate while I was in the UK, and it’s not even British. Technically speaking, it was from a Venetian small plates restaurant, although I came to associate meals with generous helpings of gorgeously cooked spinach with the UK, as it appeared, to my delight, on so many plates. I had spinach tangled with a duck breast at a gastropub in what felt like the middle of nowhere, spinach in small tufts on another pizza (this one alongside a perfect pint) my first jet-lagged night in town, and a perfect amount of spinach at a pub on a Sunday afternoon, kissed with the horseradish sauce that had been ladled, to my glee, over my roast, but this was my favorite.
I don’t mean to undersell this, but this is just a frittata. It’s not going to help decimate your weekend’s apple haul, it’s not to going to solve the whole homemade-pizza-on-your-schedule crisis, it’s not a cake you’ve been missing out on since 1983, which was 30 years ago, ow. No, it doesn’t have higher powers or reinvent grilled cheese, it’s not even the life-changing soup stock I’ve been meaning to tell you about for two years now (next week?) and I was about to say that it didn’t make the unconquerable in the kitchen conquerable, except that might not be true. This, in fact, did exactly that last Monday night, when someone told me about the recipe that morning and we had it on the table by dinnertime, no small feat some Mondays.
Nobody could mistake me for a person who moves quickly. I “run” at a treadmill speed that would never catch a thief, and barely these days, a preschooler on the loose. It took us 3.5 years, until two weeks ago, in fact, to finally put the kid’s toys away. We’ve been “redecorating” the living room for the better part of a year — we’ll probably put the pictures back up in a week or six; please, don’t rush us. Thus, it should surprise nobody that it’s taken me nearly four years to conquer the cake you see here, which sounds even worse if you consider that it was a special request from my own mother, as this was her favorite growing up.
What do you make yourself for lunch, if nobody else is around? I bet you’re hoping I’m going to say something ambitious, like “a gently poached chicken breast, cooled and sliced across a vegetable salad with a hand-whisked vinaigrette,” because that happens, ever. Or maybe you’re hoping that this is where I tell you about my secret peanut butter fluff with crumbled potato chip sandwich habit, alas, I’m not even interesting enough at lunchtime to be scandalous. The sad truth is, if I’ve by some miracle found a couple hours to get work done in relative peace, I’m ecstatic, and I find hunger an inconvenience. If I must succumb, whatever I make for lunch must be quick, and tends to fall into the Stuff On Bread category: avocado, olive oil, lemon and sea salt, peanut butter (always low-brow) and jam (always fancy), or, smashed soft egg.