Paula Wolfert's Unforgettable Sandpot Mushrooms
Clay pot cooking In the kitchen Vegetarian>Vegan
I am totally enamored with Emily Thelin's new biography of Paula Wolfert, Unforgettable. I don't know how it's possible that the major publishing houses had no interest in this book and it only came to fruition thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, but such is modern life. Maybe when Paula's gluten-free microwave cookbook comes out, they'll be interested. It's shameful! But enough of that! The very good news is that Paula's life makes for an excellent story and Emily Kaiser Thelin, who wrote a very good profile on Rancho Gordo in Food + Wine magazine many years ago, is really the finest of writers and knows how to pay tribute to Wolfert without sounding like a gushing fan girl, something I'm unable to do when it comes to Wolfert or Thelin. I was thinking as I was reading: This isn't just one one of my favorite books, it's one of the few things I own that I really cherish, and I have a lot of nice things! I think I met Paula at party in Napa for the food forum eGullet, way back in the day when we would all get together for food events. Paula loved meeting the other forum members and I'm sure she's invited to a lot of swanky events but she seemed perfectly at home among other food obsessives. I remember making a pot of white runner beans for the buffet and melting with happiness when she declared in public that they were cooked perfectly. This was when I was just starting out with Rancho Gordo but even today these words make me tingle with happiness, just a little! We've hosted Paula here at Rancho Gordo, I've been a guest at her house and I even had the nerve to cook for her once. Wherever she is and whatever she does, she wants to hear your stories and wants to tell you hers. She wants you to feel her enthusiasm but it's always about the food, not her. She enters the room and there's no where else to look but she would be dismissive if it were about anything other than the love of good food. Well, sometimes politics comes into play. When I was working on my first book, Heirloom Beans, I was having issues with the publisher about some nonsense. The art director said that the photos we were taking were looking too "Tex Mex". This is exactly how you get my blood to boil. We were going to have to rush to do retakes and possible rewrites and I was really feeling the stress. Paula said, "Steve, they have an obligation to get this book out on certain date that they decided but your name is going to be on the book for the rest of your life. Take your time and do it right." I took her advice and the next day, the sun rose, the birds sang and the world didn't stop turning because I was late. I'm sure publishers don't want hear this advice but I think new writers need it. The Paula that told me that my work would follow me the rest of my life is the same Paula that comes through loud and clear in this book. Funny, quirky, no-nonsense and driven. What more could you want in a food icon? I had to put the book down at one point and my son Nico and I made the sandpot mushrooms. I don't have a Chinese sandpot but I do have a gorgeous unglazed clay casserole from Los Reyes Metzontle and it did just fine. I love finding non-intuitive ways to make common button mushrooms something special and Paula's recipe is just that. You toss the whole mushrooms with olive oil, salt and pepper and then cook them in clay. There's so much moisture that you don't need any more. They were intense and delicious and we later sliced them and had them with egg noodles but I think they'd be superior added to a bowl of heirloom beans.