My friend Therese noticed that I shared her enthusiasm for David Tanis' A Platter of Figs, and came up with a smart idea. Why not share our excitement and efforts with friends? Have a Tanis potluck of sorts, focusing on one or two of the seasonal menus in his book.
Last Saturday night, after several months of emailing back and forth, seven of us, pots, bowls, and bottles in hand, showed up at Therese's home to feast together.
And feast, we did! I personally am racked with guilt over how much delicious food we ate. And for me, this was after an orgy of food the night before at Mozza's five course tasting of food from the Veneto (much more on this later, I promise!).
We gorged on Fish Soup with Mussels and Chorizo, Green Lasagne with Greens, Roasted Pepper Salad, and a sprightly green salad. And then finished up with not one, but two desserts -- Panna Cotta, and Italian Plum Cake. Everything was aptly executed, so the eating was very good, indeed.
And with a gang of teachers, poets, lexicographers, and curators -- foodies all --the conversation was lively and compelling. It looks like this may very well become a quarterly celebration for us.
To start, most of us enjoyed the rustic chicken liver crostini that I whipped up for the occasion. The exceptions being the one vegetarian and my liver-and-fowl-phobic husband, who could barely even glance at the dish, let alone dignify it with a taste.
In the end, it was his loss, because the flavor of the chicken liver was excellent. Tanis' recipe calls for either duck or chicken livers. I started out looking for duck livers, but when this became too much of a challenge, I switched to Jidori chicken livers from McCall's Meat & Fish Co. in Los Feliz. You shouldn't feel sheepish about using chicken. They tasted great.
This paté is not a refined, ultra-creamy, liver mousse filled with loads of heavy cream and butter. When I say rustic, I mean it. The texture is coarse and very country, due to the fact that there is no puréeing. The livers are hand chopped and then butter is mashed into them.
My initial reaction to this paté, was to put it down as too crude. In revisiting it at the party with a glass of Prosecco, and even the following morning, I definitely developed an appreciation for this humble liver preparation.
I do have deeper longings for a luxurious mousse with some cognac and perhaps more complexity of flavor, but this is an hors d'oeuvre that is good to know. The thyme, pancetta, and shallot assure a good flavor profile, and this is really quite simple to execute. Even the least experienced cook should have no qualms tackling this.
Tanis suggests toasting slices of baguette. I prefer slicing the baguette on the bias and very lightly brushing the slices on both sides with olive oil and then baking them in the oven at 400 degrees. The crostini seem to keep better that way.
In his fall menu, Another Early Autumn, Tanis serves the duck liver crostini with a roast Double Duck Breast with Baked Figs. My guess is that serving these all together would be a lesson in decadence that I would be very pleased to learn.
I hope to give the duck breasts a go, as soon as I can get A. out of the country.
Chicken (or Duck) Liver Toasts
1 1/2 pounds chicken (or duck) livers
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices pancetta, in small slivers
2 large shallots, finely diced
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
A splash of dry sherry or sherry vinegar (I used the vinegar)
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
Trim the livers of any connective tissue or fat, and blot them dry on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When hot, add the pancetta and shallots and cook until browned.
Raise the heat to high and add the livers. Stir and continue cooking. Shake the pan every so often. Cook until the livers are still pink in the center. Add the thyme and sherry, and turn the contents of the pan out onto a large cutting board. Let cool.
Chop the liver mixture into a rough paste. Transfer the paste to a bowl and smash in the butter with a wooden spoon. Taste for salt and pepper. Cover tightly with plastic. Serve at room temperature.