Friday, February 6, 2009

Lisa Neimeth

LISA NEIMETH DOES RIGHTEOUS WORK.  I first came upon it at an open studio in her cottage home tucked behind a gate and then a garden, as in any good fairy tale. She immediately towed us into her glass-encased backyard studio (nee chicken coop circa 1886-really), where we stood soaked in sunlight among nest-rich assemblages, tableaus of dispossessed bones, transfixing representations of sameness: eggs, birds, half-shells, delicately broken clay. All this and Aretha Franklin spinning in the background. I was made dizzy.

The tableware she's forging these days is mythological, whimsical, sturdy, cave-mod, twiggy, color-enhanced. I love eating from her pieces, the way food becomes part of their ever-changing, slowly exposed story; how when you’re finished you’ve got a brief still life of bright bits lingering in crevices. These plates enter your body with a nubby fork texture that sniggles up your arm, indeed their resonant scrapings and solid, in-hand weight are daily tactile reminders of their exquisite handmadeness. They also tap into our mystery, those embedded play figure/selves perpetually hovering in strange symbolic communions. If Kiki Smith made tableware surely it would dwell in this world.

Lisa worked for years in the New York City boroughs combining her skills in both social work and urban planning in sourcing out new kinds of housing for people in need. It seems such a small leap from that to what she does now - immersing herself in essential questions of how we feed ourselves, in all ways. What she proposes is a “slow-dish” movement. She speaks straight to my heat.

Monday, February 2, 2009



It starts like this. I am immediately hooked by the Neapriata/Fave e Cocoria (Puréed Fava Beans with Bitter Greens) in Nancy Jenkins’ Cucina Del Sole. Its utter simplicity - favas, salt, virgin oil, greens - is, of course, what seduces me. And in fact the brilliance of dried favas dissolved in a clay pot against tart, oil-imbued bitter greens is hard to overstate. The humble purée/biting greens assemblage is a classic device for a reason. In her masterful Honey from a Weed, Patience Gray offers the variation of Fave e Foglie, a fava-chicory soup bound with olive oil and made fragrant with onions, mint and pancetta. I freely admit this kind of thing haunts me.

So I have a case of Jerusalem artichokes about to head south and five bags of Meyer lemons bestowed by a well-meaning friend, a challenge even with a restaurant. Short-seasoned cavolo nero and wild Quinault river steelhead are on the market, all of which is how the dish begins to gel. Braised kale is profoundly green yet non-bitter, so I throw radicchio into the mix which immediately puts this right. I smash the sunchokes with waxy potatoes and olive oil for rough, rich structure. Lemon and green olives simply want to be together, and what’s more, they sing with fish, while hazelnuts flirt directly with Jerusalem artichoke’s own brand of nuttiness. Mint, as always, wildly brightens the whole ensemble. Honestly, the thing makes itself.


2 large Meyer lemons, washed, cut as thinly as possible, seeded

and roughly chopped

3/4 cup Castlevetrano olives (or any good green olive: Lucques,

Picholine...), pitted and roughly chopped

1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 cup mint, washed and cut into chiffonade (thin strips)

1/2 cup virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix the ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper. Hold at room temperature.


Sea salt

1 1/2 pounds of Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes), peeled, and

cut into 1 1/2 -inch pieces

1 pound yellow finn, or other waxy potato, peeled, and cut into

1 1/2- inch pieces

1/4 cup virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add enough salt that it tastes like sea water. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes, bring back to a boil then lower the heat to simmer about 15 to 20 minutes, until just tender. Drain and place back in the warm pot they were cooked in. Lightly smash with a fork or a masher while drizzling over the virgin oil. Give this a good grinding of pepper. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. Keep warm.


3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, sliced in half lengthwise, peeled, then sliced

into 1/4-inch strips lengthwise

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

6 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 bunch cavolo nero (aka black kale, dinosaur kale, lainato kale),

washed and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces from bottom of stem to top

(don't dry)

1/2 head radicchio, cut into 1/2 -inch strips lengthwise

1/4 cup virgin olive oil

In a large, lined pot big enough to hold the kale and radicchio, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add onions, a good pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Cook about 8 minutes until melted. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the cavolo nero, the radicchio and another good pinch of salt and cook, tossing the leaves and onions regularly until tender, about 10 minutes. Drizzle with the virgin olive oil and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Keep warm.


Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

6 steelhead filets, about 3/4-inch thick, preferably wild and local

3 tablespoons olive oil

Lightly salt and pepper the steelhead filets. Place 1 large or 2 medium sauté pans over medium-high heat. When hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the fish filets and cook until they are lightly golden on the first side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the fish over with a spatula and cook 1 to 2 minutes. The steelhead is best medium rare and bright pink in the center. Divide the the smashed Jerusalem artichokes among 6 warm plates. Top with the cavolo-radicchio braise then the filets of steelhead. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of the lemon-olive pesto over each filet.