Making the Most of What You’ve Got (To Eat)

tomatoes + beansThis was my lunch yesterday. I normally don’t take pictures of what I eat, and I have been pretty clear about this not being a what-I-ate-for-dinner-last-night blog. But this was a particularly delicious melange of things I had lying around, each with its own story. First, there are the lentils. I love stewed beans spooned on tomatoes, something I was introduced to when I did an internship at Chez Panisse, which coincided with the year I lived in a hotel, or rather, a gorgeous country inn called The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, where I had a stove but not an oven, and where I was a stones throw from Chino Farms, which grows both the best tomatoes known to man, and some of the most unusual shell beans on the planet. Yesterday’s substitution of lentils had to do with the fact that they were there: I’d just tested them for the Mozza cookbook. These are Umbrian lentils, a tiny brown variety from a tiny town called Castelluccio, in Umbria, where just about all towns are tiny. At Mozza they are cooked in a style the restaurant calls Castellucciano, that begins with a prosciutto-boosted soffritto and ends with an emulsion of fruity Umbrian olive oil. The parsley leaves were part of my recipe-testing leftovers, the next best thing to arugula, which I didn’t have, or whole baby basil leaves, which I might have chosen if a mite hadn’t eaten up my entire herb garden. The shaved Parm is there because shaved Parm on tomatoes and beans is practically mandatory. (Though last summer in Umbria I made it beans and the more pungent, sheep’s milk cheese, Pecorino, which is made locally and which I rode to the Monday market in the nearby town of Tavarnelle on what I came to think of as “my” Vespa, to purchase.) And then there were the tomatoes themselves. The whole dish was built around the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes: purple cherokees and brandywines that had been delivered to me by my friend Andre, from Chino Farm last week. Andre and I both make the round-trip from LA to San Diego often, and we always ask the other if we need anything. When I asked him if he might stop at Chinos for tomatoes, it was Wednesday, farmers market day. I could have gone to the market and got my hands on some tomatoes that some might believe were either just as good, or close. But the truth is that on this particular day I didn’t need the tomatoes as much as I needed a quick infusion of Chino love. Here it is. Can’t you see it? Right there on the plate, underneath the lentils…


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