what would elizabeth think?

an omelette and a glass of wine by elizabeth david

These past few days I have found myself in a very interesting place: a smallish town in Michigan, USA with such a dull food scene that even the locals tell you you’re better off driving half an hour to a neighbouring town if you want to get something half decent to eat for dinner. But while I have been enduring some of the most incredibly uninspiring meals, my food for thought has been coming from one of the great food writers in history: Elizabeth David.

For years now I have been meaning to read Ms David’s acclaimed collection of essays: an omelette and a glass of wine. But until last weekend I had never crossed paths with it in a bookshop. I have a copy of her Italian Food in my collection which I must confess I have only half read and have never cooked anything from. But while my lack of interest in her volume on Italian food indicates that I haven’t been drawn in by her recipe writing, something about her style still attracted me to omelette. So last weekend when I chanced upon a copy of omelette in a Chicago bookstore with a reading material-less three hour train journey ahead of me, I was sold.

It’s always fascinating to me that the books that you read when travelling can influence your feel for a place. I often try to match my reading material for the destination. For example years ago on a short trip to Egypt, Syria and Jordan I chose Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food as my companion. For this trip, however, I found myself with a contrasting literary backdrop.

During my stay in small town Michigan, each meal has been approached with a strategy of harm minimisation rather than my usual modus operandi of maximum pleasure. My reading, however, has been filling my head with tales of Elizabeth’s travels in France and her sometimes glowing reports and sometimes scathing criticism of the local cuisine.  I couldn’t help but think, what would this lady make of modern day middle America???  With it’s obesity epidemic, obsession with gargantuan serves, addiction to ‘cheeze’ (that even comes in a can), starch thickened salad dressings, the proliferation of processed foods whose main selling point is what they don’t contain (think low carb / non fat / 0g trans fat / sugar free / sodium free), lack of access to quality seasonal fresh fruit and veg, addiction to sweetness (even in bread), and endless choice of cheap fast chain ‘restaurants’.  I suspect she would be horrified to say the least. 

From reading omelette, I’m not sure that Ms David ever visited the US as most of her travels seem to have been focused on Europe with some time working in Egypt during the war and a sojourn in India with her husband. She did, however, review an American cookbook: The West Coast Cook Book written by Helen Brown in the early 1950s. In the review she admits her lack of knowledge on American cooking and ingredients and favourably mentions Brown’s recipes along with her ability to poke fun at the American habit of ‘debasing’ recipes and their use of ‘gimmicky names’. So if she thought that there was debasing going on in the American food scene of the wholesome 1950s…imagine her thoughts on it in the modern day….

As my journey home from the US of A comes to an end, my thoughts have been turning to what I’m going to cook for dinner this evening. After almost 2 weeks of salads where the only leaves used were either cos (which I think is also called romaine in the US) or iceberg (including all the tough outer leaves) and the dressings were either sickenly creamy or non fat starch thickened goop, I’m dreaming of a green salad of mixed baby leaves with a punchy but not too sweet balsamic and extra virgin olive oil dressing. And what better to accompany it than the elegant simplicity of a persian feta omelette and a glass of wine…..all good things…

persian feta omelette
serves 1

In Elizabeth’s book she gives the recipe for Omelette Moliere which she enjoyed frequently at a little restaurant near Avignon in the south of France.  Her recipe calls for both parmesan and guryere cheese as well as cream but I have opted for a creamy persian feta instead.

I’ve chosen to keep this a small meal and am only using 2 eggs. For a more substantial feed increase the number of eggs to 3. The quality of your eggs is critical to the success of a good omelette.

2 free range eggs, lightly beaten with 1T white wine or water or cream.
1T butter
2T persian feta, or other good quality marinated feta
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
green salad to serve

Heat a small non stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add butter and heat until it starts to bubble. Add the beaten eggs and tip pan to cover base with the eggs.  Season with s&p keeping in mind the saltiness of the cheese.

When eggs are almost done, crumble the feta over the top of the omelette and when eggs are just cooked remove the pan from the heat and fold the omelette into 3 to make a roll. Slide omelette onto a warm plate and serve immediately with a green salad and a glass of wine or two.

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