Feb 24, 2013

What should the Cardinals eat during the conclave?

What should the Cardinals eat during the conclave?

In our last blog we talked about the pappardele with cavolo nero (black cabbage), ceci (chickpeas) and Percorino Romano. It was to be accompanied—and was, rather grandly I might add—by a chicken Saltimbocca (“jump in your mouth”).  The junior chefs pounded the chicken breasts thin, carefully tooth picked a slice of prosciutto and a fresh sage leaf to each piece, dredged them in seasoned flour, and helped me sauté them to a nice, brown turn. We then deglazed the pans with Marsala-- away from the stove of course to avoid any risk of flame--and let the juices and Marsala reduce and burn off all the alcohol.  What was left in the pans was an intensely flavored sauce that we poured over the saltimboccas. In a one-to-ten world of one being awful and ten being the best we were fielding questions about the permissibility of awarding 100, 1000, or even a million yes points for this meal.

All in all, a very satisfying class.

The success of the saltimboccas got me thinking about the upcoming conclave at the Vatican during which all 110 or so cardinals under the age of 75 will be electing the next supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church, i.e., the next Pope. I was musing whether the meal our junior chefs made would be appropriate for a conclave lunch or dinner, and decided that it would not. Why not? Simply because in spite of it being a healthful, low fat, high fiber, high vitamin meal, it was so delicious as to be perhaps too indulgent for a conclave, where perhaps austerity at the table is necessary for clarity in discernment and judgment.

I imagine conclave meals being almost like spa meals: light, subtle, refined but not luxurious. Of course they can and perhaps must be delicious, but should never become a topic of conversation. After all, the cardinals are there for a more important purpose than eating, drinking, and conviviality.

If they asked me for a suggestion I would offer a recipe we’ll be doing one of these days: Steamed ginger fish served with egg-fried rice.  It’s a Chinese recipe which seems appropriate to me since the growth of the Catholic Church is not in its birthplace of Europe but in the developing worlds of Asia, Africa, and South America. It might be a nice gesture to feature the foods of the places which represent the Catholic Church’s future, not its past.

In this recipe we use white fish filets such as cod, fresh ginger that’s finely shredded, orange and lemon zest, spring onions, fresh basil leaves, some light soy sauce and just a little oil. The cooking technique for the fish is one almost universally derided as boring and even yucky in a world addicted to the deep fryer: steaming. Correctly steamed fish is firm and flaky, and sustained by the strong flavors of the herbs and zests, has a flavor both assertive and delicate.

Egg-fried rice uses previously cooked and cooled long grain rice cooked quickly in a hot wok with scrambled eggs, salt and pepper, and perhaps some minced chives for garnish. It provides a bed for our steamed fish and is soothing and unobtrusive.

Of course we’ll have a vegetable—perhaps some stir-fried baby bok choi with browned garlic chips.

I am sure if the cardinals eat along the lines of the meal I propose they would sleep well, think well, pray well, and elect well.