My readers will now and then offer comments on my recipes, but no one is more exacting than Victor Hazan, husband of and collaborator with the late Marcella Hazan and indeed himself a very fine cook. Here is a message he sent me about my Beef and Guinness Stew recipe, which I offered in my Zester Daily column for St. Patrick’s Day:
I followed it more or less scrupulously, save for some things an Italian cook wouldn’t go for, e.g. boiled potatoes served with their skins on. Che barbarità! I peeled and quartered them and threw them in with the meat after it had cooked an hour and a half. I very much liked doing the vegetables separately. To the carrots and turnips, I added parsnips, cipolline, and cardoon. I had no fresh peas, and I don’t use frozen ones, another barbarità. I cooked the stew for close to three hours, at the gentlest of simmers, on the stovetop. Superb! Grazie mille.
If you’ve tried the stew following my recommendations faithfully, I have no doubt you found it astonishingly good. While I’m all for the cipolline and cardoon (I might find the parnsips a bit of sweet root vegetable overkill if used in addition to the carrots), I couldn’t disagree more about the skins on the potatoes. I like the earthy character of the skins on potatoes, and besides, peel them away and you’ll take off the most nutritious part of the spud (B vitamins, calcium, and fiber). As for recommending frozen “petite” peas if you can’t get your hands on fresh ones—meaning peas eaten the same day they’re picked (after just a few hours, their sugars start converting to starch and they’re useless), I stand by the frozen. Fresh peas are elusive even when they are in season, even for those of us with our own gardens (it’s the one vegetable that refuses to thrive in my soil). Finding such peas in March would require nothing short of a divine intervention in my part of the world (the Irish, for their part, don’t have peas to add to their stews in March, either). Frozen baby peas can be a perfectly respectable substitute as long as they are not overcooked (see my recipe). After some back and forth about this, Victor conceded that even Marcella added frozen peas to a stew now and then.
With the world in such a sorry state, it does the heart good to have disagreements with friends about such relatively lighthearted matters — and to find that peace can be reached so easily and in good humor.
A note about my wallpaper: Because my garden is still covered in snow today, despite the official arrival of Spring, I have decided to keep the beautiful persimmons in the snow background for now. I’m so lucky to have the use of such exquisite, painterly images thanks to the generosity of my book photographer and friend, Paolo Destefanis. I’m finding it hard to part with this photograph in particular.