“Because when we eat and when we read, we honor what was made for us to consume. We savor every last bite.” -Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem
One of the great gifts of poetry is attention. Have you ever tried to read poetry like prose? It doesn’t work. You scan the lines and end up losing the thread halfway through. No, to read poetry you must slow down. Let the rhythm wash over you. Luxuriate with the feel of the words in your mouth. To understand poetry you have to fall in a little in love with it.
Cooking is the same. There’s a world of difference between cooking pasta and setting a pot of water to boil, adding a steady stream of salt, running your fingers through the pasta before adding it to the roiling water, and testing it until it embodies the perfect marriage of yielding and firm. When it’s done with attention and care,cooking ceases to be a chore and becomes a meditation.
If you care about both food and poetry you’re likely already following Nicole Gulotta’s brilliant site Eat This Poem. And if you’re following Nicole online- and even if you’re not- you need to check out her new book of the same name.
I say this as someone who was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of her book. When I was taking notes for what to make I filled three pages of a legal pad. I started using symbols to keep everything straight- , a circle for make at work, a star for must-dos, a heart for date night. Her book is filled with simple, good food made with attention.
Nicole’s book is organized not around meals or seasons but by theme. These themes- On Splendor, On Moments in Time, among others- speak to the rhythms of our life. These themes are filled with poems and accompanying recipes. And what poems. I found myself lingering over old favorites from Theodore Roethke, Naomi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins, and Mary Oliver. And I fell for new to me poets like Jehanne Dubrow and Richard Levine (whose enclosed poem, “Believe This”, I emailed to two separate people in with the title OMG OMG. Look it up. Fall in Love.). There is splendor here.
It’s a brilliant idea. And what transforms a brilliant idea into a treasured work is that it works beautifully. The recipes are elegant creations, delicious and creative but written with life in mind. This is a working cookbook that exists in a space that’s been sorely neglected. Nicole is not preaching the gospel of a 30 minute meal. She’s not a chef whose sub-recipes have sub-recipes. Instead she’s an evangelist of the calming, attentive power cooking brings- choosing a peach, chopping parsley, gently cooking garlic until it’s just fragrant. These actions nourish us just as much as what we place in our mouth does, and Nicole appreciates these acts without fetishizing them.
In response to “Tree” by Jane Hirshfield, where Hirshfield speaks of “That great calm being/ This clutter of soup pots and books-” Nicole offers a segment of simple, comforting meals that feed the calm being in us. For this lovely radicchio panzanella found with Hirshfield’s poem radicchio is quickly seared then chopped. It’s then tossed with whole grain croutons, Parmesan cheese, white beans, and a punchy dressing and topped with chives. I was curious but cautious when I saw the recipe- radicchio is famously bitter and can be overwhelming. But I trusted Nicole and recommend you do the same. The heat tames radicchio’s bite enough that it will play nice with the other ingredients. It’s a dish unique enough to stop you in your tracks, but no harder than boiling and tossing pasta. And by the act of making something both commonplace and special you are are practicing the poetry of cooking.
Eat this Poem is released on March 21st and you can find it here. I already have a list of people I’ll be buying it for as gifts. Congratulations Nicole! You’ve created something truly exceptional.
4 cups whole grain bread cubes (cut from about 4 slices each an inch thick)
salt and pepper
1 pound radicchio (about 2 medium), wilted outer leaves removed and quartered
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans such as cannellini, or one 14.5 ounce can
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bread cubes onto a sheet tray and toast until golden and crisp, about 12-15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
In the meantime, warm a healthy drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the quarters of radicchio in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sear until the leaves are soft and just going brown in spots, then turn. Repeat until all sides of the radicchio have been kissed by oil. Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop the radicchio. Place in a large bowl and top with the beans, bread, and Parmesan cheese.
To make the dressing, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, and honey. Add in the olive oil and whisk while it’s combining. Season to taste with a healthy pinch of both salt and pepper, then pour over the salad and toss well. Top with a flurry both of Parmesan and chives.