I picked up the book “A Platter of Figs,” by David Tanis, because of the beautiful photo of two perfect, ripe figs on the cover.
Then I noticed quotes from Michael Pollan and Alice Waters, plus a badge that identified the book as a Gourmet Cook Book Club selection. When the clerk standing on a nearby ladder, stocking more cookbooks, looked down and saw what I had, he said, “OMG, that’s a really good book.”
I took it home with me and have kept it close ever since. One lovely meal was his Spinach Cake with Herb Salad, a celebration in the intensity of greens, though it was an egg-based cake, similar to a frittata.
The recipes in “A Platter of Figs” (Artisan, $15) are “simple and marvelous,” as says fellow cookbook author Paula Wolfert, but they can run to some length. Tanis is head chef at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., half of the year, and he other half of the year he spends in Paris, where he runs a private dining club.
I could think of worse ways to spend a life. But when we know that Tanis is associated with Chez Panisse, working with Waters, who decades ago was thinking locally and cooking seasonally, we understand that the author is not just turning out pretty recipes.
What could be more simple than a platter of figs, asks Tanis in a short introduction. Nothing, and you don’t need a recipe to put such a dish together.
But “you need to know about ripeness and seasonality — the seasons of the garden —and you need to know your figs. By this I mean, are they sun-ripened and bursting with jammy sweetness? Are they succulent enough to eat as is, or do they want a sprinkling of salt, a drizzle of good olive oil, perhaps a thin slice of prosciutto? ”
Eating with the seasons is rewarding, but it takes more care than just plundering the grocery aisles. As farmers markets begin proffering their late spring and summer bounty, and tomatoes and other fresh-picked produce from nearby farms are within arms reach, we enjoy a time when cooking can be cut to the essence and food tastes better than any time of year.
The menu that attracted me as perfect for an Easter celebration was: Shoulder of Spring Lamb with Flageolets (tiny green-and-white dried beans), with Olive Relish, and Warm Asparagus Vinaigrette as a side dish.
Lamb is a symbolic spring dish, and asparagus was always on the Easter table in my family (usually drenched in butter). True, it was generally served beside a nice, big slice of ham, and ham surely holds the place of honor at most Easter dinners. But lamb is rich, subtle and easily cooked. With fresh spring herbs and these tiny flavorful beans, this holiday meal promises many facets of deliciousness with jus a bit more work than opening up a honey-glazed ham.