A Platter of Figs

The title of David Tanis' beautiful cookbook sums up what I love most about it. It celebrates the simplicity of seasonal ingredients. The book has been out for a while, but I just recently purchased a copy. It will surely become one of my treasured favorites, not only for the recipes, but also for the masterful storytelling.

I had the priviledge of working for David during a summer internship at Chez Panisse. Being the only intern in the kitchen on the days I worked, I was often tasked with the most basic prep work: peeling potatoes, pitting olives, picking parsley. Tasks I might otherwise think of as lowly and boring; I learned to make it my holy work. David professed that no matter how basic a task might seem, it is just as important as the most difficult of tasks. Everything matters and is a part of the final creation. He would often stand next to me during our prep time, telling stories about the history of a dish or where the ingredient was grown, or why it was important to prepare it just so. Both he and the eponymous owner, Alice Waters, fostered in me a philosophy of cooking with intention that continues to be the foundation of how I cook today.

My last memory of David is at a clothed- lined table in the downstairs restaurant. There we sat, opposite each other, ocassionally exchanging a few words while snapping an endless mound of locally grown green beans. It was the last day of the internship, and I was a bit pensive that my time in this amazing kitchen was done. As we finished our last bean, he handed me an envelope containing $37. Not a lot of money considering I had been interning for months, but it was a gesture of generosity to honor my time spent in the kitchen { interns were not paid at that time}. I imagined he had seen many interns come and go during his tenure as Chef, which I accounted for his seeming lack of sentimentality. What he didn't tell me was that I would be offered a job as the head kitchen cook at Alice's lunchtime restaurant, Café Fanny. Minutes later, the entire staff of the cafe walked in and surprised me with the offer.
Endings can also be beautiful beginnings.
Thanks to David for being an important stepping stone on the path.

Here's a recipe that I adapted from A Platter of Figs that evokes the beauty and simplicity of David's book:

A tagine is a traditional stew and cooking pan from Morocco.

6 large whole chicken legs (with thighs), skins removed.
2 tsp. cumin, crushed seeds or powder
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt + pepper
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup pumpkin pesto or 1 cups organic pumpkin puree.
pinch of ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup cooked chickpeas

Season the chicken legs with salt and pepper. If using cumin seeds, toast the seeds over medium heat just until you smell the flavors releasing. Crush in a mortar + pestle or with the bottom of a heavy pan. Sprinkle the cumin over the chicken. Set the aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat, saute the onions in butter and olive oil until softened. Season with salt and continue cooking until the onions are cooked, about 10 minutes. Add the pumpkin pesto, garlic, cinnamon and parsley. Stir until blended. Remove the mixture from the pan and place in a large tagine cooker.

Arrange the chicken legs over the mixture in one layer, skin side up. Add the chicken stock.
Cover the tagine and bake for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is bubbling. Reduce the heat to 175 degrees. Add the chickpeas and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until the chicken legs are tender to the touch of a fork.

Serve the chicken tagine over Sardinian Fregola.

Serves six.

Buon appetito!
copyright 2009 Alisa Barry

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