Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kitchen Alchemy

The egg yolks pool in the mixing bowl, bright orange with nicely domed tops - signs of true freshness. Cooked lightly in truffle oil with a side of mixed greens brushed with dark virgin olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice and a few grains of sea salt: A breakfast menu conceived of by my daughter, Chloe, these savory proteins and greens make a wonderful start to the day.

I had to laugh when I heard myself humming that old egg commercial ditty - the incredible, edible egg. I love eggs and Chloe loves to remind me of when she was small and I would ask if she'd like to have breakfast for dinner. Apart from my fondness for breakfast, scrambled eggs made this single mom's life much easier.

Sadly, all those years on the mommy track took a toll on any attraction the kitchen cooking once held. Gone were the sensuous, leisurely hours of preparation and eating I enjoyed while living in Italy. Admittedly, my hands and my heart for cooking had chilled.

It was during that time abroad that I learned to make thick, gloriously satisfying frittatas stuffed with lightly sauteed veggies. With Nando, a dear friend and brilliant cook, I eagerly watched the miracles of finely cooked eggs unfold - slices of a veal pastry loaf which revealed an egg at the center; pasta a la Carbonara, pasta with thick bacon chunks and a simple egg sauce; airy-pureed potatoes in a baked potato shell with an egg in the center and dusted with parmesan. Tiny individual cheese souffles bubbling up from the center of baked artichokes.

Nando taught me that the best scrambled eggs were cooked bagnomaria style, letting the egg pan nestle in a boiling pot of water on the stove top. Stirring all the while, this allows the eggs to cook slowly. The result is a creamy moist texture.

Interestingly, the name bagnomaria literally translates to Maria's bath and most likely derives from a medieval female alchemist called Maria . In France, it's called bainmarie.

Rediscovering in my 60s, the subtle layers of scents and colors, the taste on my tongue of well-prepared meal is a return to something deeper - kitchen alchemy that mysterious process from which magicians turn metals into gold. Practicing kitchen alchemy adds substance to my soul.

Maria would have understood...

p.s. take a look at one of my favorite Italian cookbooks!

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