A Bridgerton Too Far

Like most people burrowing in at home during the pandemic, I’ve done my fair share of binge watching, devouring shows with a bottomless appetite. Not even discerning the finer fare from downright junk food, I’ll swallow them all whole in one sitting, pausing perhaps for a breath of air, but not a crumb will be left when the day is done. As a respite from reality, even the worst programs are still tolerable. When it just so happens that I dig into an actual delicacy, however, it’s a treat that transcends the most substantial meal. It satisfies my creative hunger, while often eliciting a greater craving for creativity.

Dear reader, please don’t judge me, but I fell hard for Bridgerton on Netflix. If you’re not familiar, the basic premise centers around one affluent family during the Regency Era in London, full of love, scandal, and strife. If it were a book, you might even call it a bodice-ripper at points, and yet… Of course, I find myself most captivated by the food. Particularly, the elaborate feasts, huge spreads set for even the most mundane weekday meals. The singular dish that I simply can’t shake from mind, despite the fact that it flashed on the screen for not even a full second, barely even coming into focus, was the most magnificent asparagus pastry I ever laid eyes on.

(Please don’t sue me for the screen shot, Netflix.)

Tireless internet trawling yielded only a few scant scraps. Promising leads, but nothing substantive; certainly not enough to fill up on. Hungry for answers, I decided to write my own script for this savory plot twist.

Raised pastry crusts were very popular at this time, often decorated lavishly by the impressions of fancy copper molds. Lacking such specialized equipment, my crust is made in the same spirit, but as a simpler springform affair. Contrary to delicate doughs that yield a tender yet flaky texture, recipes dating back to this time were sturdy, utilitarian foundations built upon lard and high-gluten flour. Staying true to the spirit of the task while attempting a more edible base, I’ve employed coconut oil alongside softer white whole wheat flour.

More importantly but also more mysteriously, the filling posed a unique challenge. Of course, asparagus should be the primary ingredient, but what else? How did they stay so pert and erect after roasting, and what anchored them in place? Most dinner pies, and most foods on affluent British tables in general, contained meat, and lots of it. Mincemeat was a perennial staple across all classes, but for such a special event, only the best would do. Thus, it’s rational to imagine a hidden pool of luxurious pate holding those spears upright. Rich and buttery, perhaps a touch gamey, duck or pheasant liver might be a good choice. For me, though, canned green beans are the new foie gras. Believe it or not, the once off-putting tinned taste is the very thing that gives this spread the same distinctive notes of iron, along with a satisfying dose of protein. Bolstered with savory herbs and spices, tasting, more than seeing, is believing in this case.

Pert and perky straight out of the oven, my stalks did admittedly begin to droop after the rigors of shooting under hot lights. Next time, I might suggest cutting the spears a bit shorter, to put less strain on the crust and keep them standing tall. My vision was simply too grand to live beyond the specter of a Hollywood set.

It takes a bit of doing to prepare, but a royal feast demands the utmost of care to pull off. With a bit of planning and patience, even those who aren’t lucky enough to be born into high society can partake in this grand, celebratory pastry.

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The Smiling Nut

Question: What’s a food photographer’s favorite subject?

Answer: Pistachios, because they’re always smiling!

Now you know my best/worst joke. Should I attempt to tell it again in person, I wouldn’t blame you for rolling your eyes, sighing in exasperation, or both at once. Despite that, I’m certain it will still happen sooner than later because I just can’t resist a terrible pun, especially when it relates to food. The likelihood that it might become a prime interjection into standard conversations is also high because pistachios happen to be one of my very favorite nuts, if I was forced at gunpoint to pick just one.

Granted, I’m far from a discerning connoisseur. Typical choices for these edible emeralds range from raw to toasted, in shell or out. Maybe you might get some fancy seasoning sprinkled into the mix, or keep it classic with a shower of fine salt. It’s an embarrassing admission to make in the age of hyper-awareness surrounding food sourcing and the celebration of less conventional options, but it never even occurred to me that there might be different types of pistachios out there. All nuts are not created equal, though history suggests that the pistachio originated from one general region in Asia over 9,000 years ago. Notable growers today include California, which is the sort of green emerald most US consumers are likely to pick up from the grocery store, consciously or not, as well as Iran and Turkey.

Just a single farm from any of these locations might be churning out a half dozen unique varietals, too. Rarely would the average consumer be able to pick them out by name, but the distinction between nuts is striking. Some might range from a mere centimeter to a full inch long; a whole spectrum of green hues can tint the kernels; flavors can dominate with more buttery, woodsy, grassy, or savory notes; textures might be impeccably crisp, or more tender, almost like a raw pea. Just scraping the surface on the micro-mutations of the cashew’s cousin makes me realize just how little I know about this beloved nut.

Greek pistachios had never crossed my radar prior to a press release from Hellas Farms. I wondered how different they could really be from my standard economy pick, a no-name brand from a pirate who’s name rhymes with Grader Schmoe’s. It was surprising to see the warm red blush tinting these nuts, a reminder of where the antiquated practice of dying the shells once came from. A very light kiss of salt accentuated the lightly roasted flavors embedded within, highlighting the high quality nut in a very simple, unfussy way.

The ultimate takeaway from this nutty exploration, however, is not that it’s necessary to seek out pistachios with particular pedigrees; rather, what counts more than anything else is freshness. All too often, packaged nuts sit on grocery store shelves for months, or even years, before you toss them into your cart. It makes a world of difference to have them shipped directly from the source, and especially when that producer has a real passion for their pistachios. No matter from where in the world your pistachios hail, opting for a more carefully cultivated selection will certainly give you something to smile about.