I can spend hours languidly walking through art museums looking at paintings — I like it when a feeling of soulful warmth comes over me as I look at someone else's creation. As a little boy, I distinctly remember watching a PBS documentary on Leonardo da Vinci. It was one of the most influential events of my early life, and afterward I took art lessons, started building contraptions, and found education (well, at least the parts I was interested in) much more fulfilling.
I especially love Dutch and Flemish still life paintings. How can I resist a piece of perfectly ripe fruit juxtaposed with a bleeding rabbit, a pair of speared partridges hung from a wall, or an immaculately set table with beautifully patterned bone china, hammered silver flatware, and delicate crystal goblets etched with grapes? Then there are the trippy portrayals of fruits and vegetables that seem somehow modernist to me, like the Juan Sánchez Cotán painting Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber or Rembrandt's Slaughtered Ox. Together, these opulent artworks add up to my vision of what I want our Sunday dinners to be.
I am never shocked when people call Dutch food boring, because I know they are wrong. I suppose just like any other regional cuisine there are good things and bad things. Maybe it is because Dutch food has more of an influence on East Coast cuisine then we might think. In other words, instead of "boring" what we actually mean is "mundane." After all, the Dutch were some of the first settlers of the tri-state area — think of New Amsterdam and Spuyten Duyvil, or for that matter anything with a "kill" on the end of it, which means "body of water" in Dutch. Peekskill, Beaverkill, and Fishkill are all remnants that the Dutch left on the landscape of the New World.
I find that classic Dutch dishes make marvelous Sunday dinners, and many are just quirky enough to be pleasantly different from our traditional American mainstays. I'm thinking of marrowfat peas (which is just a fancy name for whole dried peas, starchy instead of sweet) and dishes that are connected to Dutch sea traditions like Captain's dinner (beans with bacon and syrup), eel, and herring. And, hey, it is always hard to pass up a good ham and gouda croquette. (If you care to be authentic, the G in gouda is pronounced like you are spitting out an H, as in "hairball," to make something like "howda.")
Full disclosure: I have been eating more vegetarian meals then ever before. I know, this isn't what you expect to hear when you see a leg of lamb being boned out and rolled. The real reason is that my wife feels better eating this way and has gone back to it (yes, before we were together she was a vegetarian). I am wholeheartedly for it — in all honesty, I feel better too. Usually I'm the unhealthy, devil-may-care kind of guy who likes his excesses (oh waiter, cocktail please), so for me any reduction in consumption is good. It helps that I truly enjoy the challenge of making well-balanced vegetarian meals.
What am I saying? I guess you could say I am going Dutch, so to speak. I am not about to give up my animal protein for all eternity, but when I do decide to partake, partake I will. What this allows me to do is spend a little more cash on my meaty tasty bits. I can search out the good stuff and not feel like I'm spending too much: either I raise it, a neighbor raises it, or I turn to my two favorite local processors. Plus, I really do find that I enjoy a good bird, goat, cow, or pig a lot more if I'm not eating from the flock or herd everyday. I take my time in the kitchen cooking with care and attention. More than anything else, when I'm at the table I eat with relish, savoring each wonderful bite.
Sunday Leg of Lamb
Serves 6 to 8
For the lamb: 4 to 4 1/2 pound bone-in leg of lamb 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced 2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard 1 head garlic, roasted salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the stock: bone from leg of lamb 1 onion, peeled and cut into quarters 1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks 1 celery stalk, trimmed and cut into chunks 2 bay leaves 6 cups water 3 parsley sprigs salt and freshly ground black pepper
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).