We live in a little town that covers 49 square miles and is year-round home to less than four thousand people (summer is another story), in a county full of similar municipalities. On Memorial Day, each town hosts its own parade, and the fire and police departments dash from one to the other, now in the parade, now managing traffic for a neighbor town so their officials can muster and march. In our town the bands and scout troops and oldest living veterans all process to a spot on the town green where memorial trees have been planted for fallen townsfolk. The Schenob Brook babbles quietly behind the little park, perhaps ten feet wide at that point in its course toward the river and beyond. After the speeches and salutes, a wreath is set into this quiet stream of water by the Naval representative.
Politics, though on display in the form of elected officials and flags and other trappings of organized government, fall away.
Attending the parade and standing by my dad, who was in the Navy, as he and all the other citizens who have served receive a paper poppy from the gussied-up girls in the Brownie troop with their white baskets, is our official Memorial Day activity.
But Memorial Day on the calendar marks other occasions: summer officially opens, the population begins to increase, gardens can be planted. For our family, there is still more to acknowledge. It is the anniversary (21st!) of the first time I met my husband (or so we believe; historical reconstruction suggests he may have sold me a pair of sneakers when I was in the 8th grade and he had a job after school in the Athtletic Attic on 68th and 2nd, but no hard evidence can confirm this). It is the anniversary (19th) of his proposing marriage (the ideas that get into that man's head!). And it is his birthday.
So I have no time to chat today. Have to cook! He doesn't like a party on his birthday, but he does like a big meal. "Good Eater" is the understatement of the century in the case of this person, whose appetite is moderately legendary. If your day has an extra two minutes in it, listen to this StoryCorps interview, and think of my husband when you hear about Herbie the Nibbler.
An enthusiastic eater is a good match for a person who likes to cook, and for this reason and all the reasons above, the birthday dinner is a robust celebration of what he likes to eat. After one such repast, his dad pushed back from the table and remarked, "that was a broad display of nutrients," and that has become the moniker officiel. The Annual Broad Display of Nutrients, or BDN.
Which brings us to sauce, yet again. I have been clear about my feelings regarding sauce, which are mine and mine alone, but it's true that a meal with gravy and something to sop it up with is a meal he is probably going to like.
Like other sauces before it, this comes from my trusty and weather-beaten copy of Jerry Traunfeld's Herbfarm Cookbook, and it's another one that has infinite versions extant, because it is a kind of Romesco sauce and Romesco sauce gets around. And with good reason--it's one more example of an intensely good, simply-prepared condiment that elevates almost any plate. Plonk it on something grilled or roasted, use it as dip or doll up a sandwich with it. You get the idea.
I adjusted his seasonings somewhat to reflect personal preferences under our roof, but those adjustments are noted so you can decide for yourself. His recipe calls for toasted hazelnuts in place of the traditional almonds, and it is a brilliant substitution. Sadly, since I first made this sauce I have become alarmingly allergic to hazelnuts, which over-share I only offer by way of reassurance that if, like me, you have good reason to substitute toasted almonds, you will still get a good bang for your buck here. I have made it with jarred roasted peppers and with peppers I have roasted personally. The bottled peppers make it the work of a moment to prepare, which is something we all appreciate when time is tight, and the home-roasted peppers kick it up an appreciable notch.
I don't know if I should tell you how I roast peppers because it is not exactly high-tech. But I just plop them onto the center of one of my gas burners, and after that first side is black and charred, I use tongs to flip them over and repeat. After blackening (by this wacky method or in a hot oven or on your grill), put them in a covered bowl to steam and let them come to room temperature in there; then perform the not-very-pleasant-but quick-enough task of peeling and seeding them.
See you after the long weekend, and do I have something in store for you? Why, yes I do.
red pepper and hazelnut sauce
makes 1.5 cups
2 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded, or 1.5 cups of jarred peppers, drained
1/4 cup toasted and as-skinned-as-possible hazelnuts or almonds
1 small clove garlic (he called for two standard cloves)
1 T sherry vinegar (he called for two)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
1 T chopped fresh savory (which I like, and happen to grow) or rosemary (which I do not)
1 t salt
scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 c olive oil
Place all the ingredients except the oil in a blender or food processor and pulse or blend until the nuts are finely ground. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream. The sauce should have the consistency of thick salad dressing. Taste and add more salt or cayenne if desired.
This will keep in a covered jar for up to a week, and can be used room temperature or gently warmed in a bowl of hot water; excessive heating will cause it to separate.