Sunday, August 15, 2010

Signature Dish

Dear Elise,
As you know, I was recently in the Mid Pyrenees, and we went to Lourdes and then we went to Toulouse. I knew, from reading, that Cassoulet is the signature dish of the region. In Toulouse, it wouldn't matter if you hadn't read up on the local signature dish because it is served everywhere, all the time, stuffed into omelets, rolled into crepes, mixed into gelato, with afternoon tea and of course, at dinner. It seems Cassoulet is a bit like macaroni and cheese, many variations, only a few of them worthy. I had one at a good restaurant, and while it was very tasty, it didn't have duck and I think confited duck legs should be de rigueur for Cassoulet because otherwise it's just a stew.

I started thinking about what makes a signature dish. I think when you have a signature dish for a region, it should be made from local products. I guess there are lambs and pigs and ducks and beans all over the mid Pyrenees.
The signature dish for PEI should be oysters in potato baskets. The signature dish for PEI is poutine. French fries with mozzarella cheese and gravy. It is nearly gross, but hard to stop eating. That's both a signature and a metaphor.
I can't imagine what the signature dish for my part of VA would be. Something cooked on a barbecue in your driveway.
Then I tried to decide what my signature dish would be. It could be meatloaf, that's what I am most famous for. But I think a signature dish should have many variations and while meatloaf does have many variations, I only make one, so that doesn't seem right. It could be chicken salad, many variations and I make most of them. But if chicken salad is my signature dish I may as well start scrap-booking and wearing leatherette shoes. Ice cream Sundae could be my signature dish. I have a long history with this. It has a number of very worthy variations, caramels sauce, chocolate chip ice cream, salted walnuts, butterscotch sauce, raspberry sauce, coffee ice cream, several different kinds of ice cream and several different sauces. The only constant would be freshly whipped whipped cream. But it seems off to have a signature dish that I so rarely make any more. Then there is cake, but cake is too general. That would be like saying casserole is my signature dish. It's not exactly a signature, it's more of a tome, an entire address card, a memoir. I could choose roast chicken but that has the same problem chicken salad has. I could choose curry, but that seems to falsely imply some sort of exotic heritage.
I think I'll go with Pastitsio. I love it. It is a go-to recipe for company, at least company I care about. You can vary it a bit, and it is super forgiving. I crave it, even when it is hot out. And everyone likes it, even though it isn't that healthy.
What is your signature dish?
love, M

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