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A serious potluck

(article, Deborah Madison)

My neighbors — three of them — and two of us had dinner together the other night, because we all needed cheering. I took special care setting the table, pulling out big white linen napkins, using the best wine glasses, and the non-dishwasher dishes, as if it were Saturday night, not a Monday.


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It was the best kind of potluck. One neighbor was determined to make Julia Child’s beef bourguignon, and she did — stocks and all. A wine guy she knew even threw in a bottle of burgundy for her to cook with. 

The second neighbor, a restaurateur, brought one of his enormous, soulful breads left over from the weekend, and half of a Concord-grape galette. 

And the third neighbor, a sculptor, poached pears in white wine, filled their hollowed centers with mascarpone flavored with a touch of ginger, and then set gold leaf over all. (He works with gold leaf in his non-food life, so it’s not quite as far-fetched as it sounds, but it was still over the top.) 

My husband, Patrick, contributed our favorite Oregon Pinot from Brittan Vineyards (2006), and I made a salad from the garden.

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It was a fine menu, but thinking that a little something more was needed, and thinking along the lines of those little sip-sized portions of soup that Dan Barber serves at the Stone Barns, I realized that’s what was needed: soup for a chilly fall night.

People were to arrive in 30 minutes, but I wanted my lentil-sorrel soup, with all the remaining sorrel from the garden.

This is one of my favorite soups, and I usually take my time with it, but not this night. I chopped everything in less than perfect pieces, didn’t de-stem the sorrel, threw it all in the pressure cooker with the last of the lovage, and let it go for 20 minutes. I released the pressure as the first neighbor arrived. Everything was soft — good — then I puréed most of it, leaving a little for texture and color. It looked great. 

I tasted it. It was robust and balanced, but what were those strings? Something from the sorrel stems? I tasted it again — there they were. Threads. Like cat hair — but we don’t have a cat. 

This wouldn’t do, so I threw it in the food mill, conveniently handy from my apple exploits of the day, and within minutes I had a dense, dark green purée. It was gorgeous.

The rest of the neighbors arrived. We drank Champagne, then I served the soup in tiny cups with crème fraîche (sipped standing in the kitchen) with chives and chive blossoms, a few rash late bloomers. Compared to the stew, it was fast food, but it tasted slow and dark and nourishing. 

I wouldn’t hesitate to do it this way again, and if the sorrel would come back for another round, I would, and soon. In the meantime, chard will have to do. It’s good with lentils, too.

And as for everyone’s dark spirits, they were clearly lifted by sharing such a beautiful meal on a Monday night. In fact, we plan to do this again in a few weeks — whether we need to or not.

p(bio). Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.

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