Vegetables of the Rich and Famous

Being extracts from my forthcoming masterwork in 12 de luxe volumes coming next year from Stroud & Greene, publishers of fine works for the gentry.

BEN AFFLECK:  Carrots. This recipe for pan-seared carrots with maple and thyme comes from Makini Howell of Plum Bistro in Seattle who says that it’s a great favorite of Ben Affleck‘s, which seems plausible as Howell has served dinner for Affleck and his wife Jennifer Garner in their home, and he also cooks for Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix and a host of other celebs.

“We can see [says the website] why either Affleck brother would gobble these carrots down. Thanks to maple syrup, chopped garlic and smoked tofu, each bite is sweet, savory and smoky all at once, not to mention vegan (the younger Affleck has been vegan for more than 15 years). Howell says Phoenix is also a fan of the dish.” I am too.

Howell specializes in vegetarian and vegan food, and is happy to share his recipe here.

Marilyn Monroe was another carrot fan, but she preferred them raw: see below.

LINDSAY ANDERSON:  Brussels sprouts. Not the most popular vegetable but I quite like them myself and have even been known to cook and eat them at times other than Christmas, but Lindsay Anderson the theatre and film director really liked them. He ate them several times a week himself and bullied his friends and the actors in his productions into eating them too, giving detailed instructions on the (in his view) correct method of cooking them, insisting amongst other things that the stem of each sprout should be scored with a cross before cooking. Delia, however, says that doing this makes no difference at all to the cooking time or the flavour and I tend to agree with her, though I still do it.

Beyoncé’s guacamole

BEYONCÉ:  Avocado. This recipe for guacamole is the only recipe that the popular songstress has ever published, and it’s good and very easy to make. Peel two ripe avocados and remove the stones, then break them to fragments with a spoon in a bowl. Chop up one small onion, one small tomato and one clove of garlic and add them to the bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Put the bowl in the fridge for about 20 minutes before serving with corn chips.

BRIAN BEHAN:  Lettuce. The Irish writer and raconteur, brother of Brendan and Dominic once said “I had cancer of the arse and I cured it by drinking Brighton sea-water and eating lettuce.” Make what you will of that remarkable assertion. See also Philip Larkin.

William Bligh

CAPTAIN BLIGH:  Breadfruit. (Let’s not ignore it.)

The captain of HMS Bounty — then a mere Lieutenant — whose imperious manner provoked the famous mutiny of 1787 was actually on a mission to collect breadfruit plants from Tahiti and transport them to the West Indies to feed the slaves there. Cast adrift by the mutineers in a small boat Bligh and few other officers eventually made landfall in what is now Indonesia, and he eventually got back to England to explain why he’d lost the Bounty. The wikipedia entry here gives a reasonably fair account of all this and of what became of the mutineers on Tahiti and Pitcairn Island. Not a pleasant story.

Breadfruit curry

Bligh was exonerated of all blame and promoted to Captain — it seems that he was by no means the tyrant depicted in the movies of the mutiny, memorably so by Charles Laughton — and in 1791 was given another chance to obtain breadfruit for the Caribbean islands from Tahiti, and this time he was successful in transplanting a large number of trees, though the slaves didn’t much like breadfruit, preferring bananas.

Breadfruit — the taste is supposed to resemble freshly-baked bread, hence the name — is actually a versatile and very nourishing foodstuff which can be baked, steamed, boiled, fried, microwaved, grilled, barbecued … It really ought to be more popular than it is. This recipe for breadfruit curry is a good one, the video showing how to cut up the raw article (which I’d argue is much more of a vegetable than a fruit) before making it into a delicious meal.

JOAN COLLINS:  Red beans. “This recipe is for people who give parties but don’t like to cook” says the glamorous actress. It’s called Red Bean Salad and it couldn’t be simpler: fry up some red onions in butter and when they are cool, mix them with cooked beans and sour cream.  Sounds weird, tastes good.

The great jazz musician Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice prepared in the New Orleans manner — he often nostalgically signed his letters “red beans and ricely yours” — but as his recipe contains ham hock it’s disqualified from this blog. Instead, here’s another another recipe for red food:

SALVADOR DALI:  Red salad. The famous surrealist published various cookbooks which contain some outrageous — and completely impractical — dishes, included more for their shock value than usefulness, but while the recipe here goes for a visual effect — red, red and more red — it does actually work as a palatable dish, especially if you like red cabbage (which I do). This serves 4 for lunch or 8 as a first course

• 8 ounces red beets, diced
• 12 ounces red cabbage. finely grated
• 5 tablespoons heavy cream, chilled
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 shallot, sliced
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Combine the cream, tomato paste, sugar, shallot and pepper. Beat with a whisk until mixture is light and foamy, about 3 minutes. Slowly beat in lemon juice. Place beets and cabbage in a bowl. Add dressing and mix well. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of lettuce [says Dali, but I think radicchio would be more in keeping with the red theme) with hot French bread and a light red wine on the day it is made.

MARLENE DIETRICH:  Potatoes.  Seeing a revival of The Blue Angel at the local art cinema when I was a teenager made a great impression on me. (Seeing Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot at about the same time knocked me sideways, but anyway…) Marlene was an enthusiastic and expert cook, and if she’d lived longer she’d no doubt have published a celebrity cookbook in the USA where she lived and worked after fleeing the Nazis, but the only one that saw print was in her native Germany: Ick will wat Feinet (Berlin slang for “I want something good.”) by Georg A. Werth (2001), which contains her recipe for ‘potato salad Potsdam style’. Poking about online I found an earlier version of this in an old movie magazine — it was evidently a favourite of Marlene’s — and here I’ve blended the two, omitting the warm meat broth from the Werth version as we’re being veggies today. Vegetable stock should perhaps be used instead, as Marlene insisted that “the salad must be nice and moist!”

Wash six medium-sized potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until soft. Cool, remove the skins and cut into very thin slices. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with the potatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with finely-chopped celery and finely-chopped parsley [and slices of cucumber and green pepper, and finely-chopped onions too in the Werth version], and work into the potatoes. Mix two tablespoons each of tarragon and cider vinegar and four tablespoons of olive oil, and add one slice of lemon cut one-third thick. Bring to the boiling point, pour over the potatoes [with the veg stock], cover, and let stand in the oven until thoroughly warmed.

‘When you wake from a deep and meaningful dream and decide to paint it’ (unknown artist, evidently no fan of okra)

GRETA GARBO:  Okra, also known as lady’s fingers. The silent movie star Dagmar Godowsky knew the reclusive actress and said: “Isn’t it funny, you remember certain habits of people. What they liked to eat; She liked — what is it, that Southern vegetable? … Stravinsky loved pistachio ice cream. I can’t see pistachio ice cream without thinking of Stravinsky, and … Garbo loved okra! She could eat that every day. She loved it.”

I once cooked some okra to make a Creole Gumbo and found it revolting: slimy, horrible-looking and foul-tasting but above all slimy. I’m told that there’s a way of cooking okra that renders it crisp and delicious, but I can’t believe that this appalling plant could ever taste good so haven’t tried that.

Borcht

ALLEN GINSBERG:  Beetroot. The famous beat poet made a lot of soup, often a vegatarian version of borcht, which of course consists mostly of beets. His recipe goes like this: boil two big bunches of chopped beets and beet greens for one hour in two quarts of water with a little salt and a bay leaf, and one cup of sugar. When it’s cooled serve it with a bowl of sour cream, accompanied on the side (if you like) by hot or cold boiled potatoes and/or salad.

Ginsberg became fond of Indian cooking as he travelled around the world in the 1960s and on the way he learned how to cook aloo gobi, the classic cauliflower and potato dish, but since Gwyneth Paltrow seems to have bagged cauliflower as her celebrity vegetable on this blog may I direct you to the version by the excellent Felicity Cloake, whose recipes I follow avidly in The Guardian every Saturday. Here she is, and also from the wonderful world of Indian vegetable cookery here’s a recipe from

George Harrison with a magnificent platter of Kṛṣṇa-prasādam (look it up)

GEORGE HARRISON:  Lentils. When the Beatles first became famous and were interviewed for the teen magazines they all said that their favourite meal was steak and chips, but when they moved down from Liverpool to London their tastes became more sophisticated. John Lennon was dubious when offered mangetout for the first time (“OK but put it on the side of the plate away from the food”), and George Harrison spoke of branching out into “the avocado scene”.

As the 1960s progressed the Beatles’ tastes developed still further. John met Yoko Ono and they adopted a macrobiotic diet, though they both gorged on caviar. Paul McCartney and his wife Linda became very high-profile vegetarians, while George became interested in Indian music and religion — and food. Ringo seemed happy with his baked beans.

Unlike the McCartneys, George wasn’t one for publishing vegetarian recipes all over the place but he did share one for what he called ‘Dark Horse Lentil Soup’ with Mary Frampton for her book Rock and Roll Recipes (1979), and here it is:

• 1 red chilli
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 2 large onions, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 cup lentils
• 2 large tomatoes, chopped
• 2 green peppers, chopped
• 1 bay leaf
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions. Heat a small amount of oil in frying pan. When oil is hot, add chili and cumin seeds. When seeds stop sputtering, brown onions and garlic in heated oil. Wash lentils well and cover with water. Add browned onions to pan of lentils. Add tomatoes, peppers, bay leaf, plus salt and pepper. Bring to boil, cover, then turn down to a very low heat. The soup is ready to serve in an hour and tastes even better the next day.

THOMAS JEFFERSON:  Peas. When he wasn’t busy drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence, buying Louisiana for the nation, founding the University of Virginia or having affairs and spawning children with some of his 6oo black slaves, the 3rd President of the USA liked to grow peas. He was no dilettante pea-grower, however, cultivating as many as fifteen types of English pea on his estate at Monticello, and his frequent jottings on these vegetables in his Garden Book indicate that he paid particular attention to this pursuit, happily noting when “peas come to table.” By staggering the planting of different varieties Jefferson was able to eat them fresh from the garden from the middle of May to the middle of July.

This wasn’t just because Jefferson liked peas. He also entered an annual local contest to see which farmer could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner had to invite the other contestants to a lavish dinner that included the peas. Though Jefferson’s mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, the contest was almost always won by a neighbour named George Divers.

I hope that some of the slaves who actually grew the peas managed to sneak a few for themselves when Jefferson wasn’t looking.

I’m tempted to include the late Linda McCartney’s recipe for pea soup here which I think was her first published recipe long before she turned herself into a brand, but it’s much the same as George Harrison’s lentil soup (and comes from the same source), so if you want a good thick pea soup just follow George’s instructions substituting split peas for lentils.

JOAN JETT:  Tomatoes. “A lot of vegetarian food is repulsive. Take quiche and soufflé -– why would you eat that?” says the feisty rock star. ” I like pasta with good olive oil and garlic. I also love tomatoes and make a great passata to go on top.”  See also Elvis Presley.

PHILIP LARKIN:  Lettuce. The poet/librarian liked to read while he was dining alone in his flat, as he generally did, and found that the ideal meal for this purpose was macaroni cheese, because it took about 20 minutes to prepare (this was before the advent of microwave ovens), which was just enough time to sink a couple of stiff gin and tonics and play a few of his favourite jazz records, and when it was cooked he didn’t have to pay attention to what he was spearing on his fork because with macaroni cheese “it’s all the same.” On the rare occasion when he entertained guests, however, he made no attempt to cook for them and fed them with lettuce sandwiches. The reaction of his guests to such fare is not recorded. See also Brian Behan.

MARINETTI:  Fennel. The Italian Futurist published a cookbook in 1932 which contains the following recipe for ‘Aerofood’: “The diner is served from the right with a plate containing some black olives, fennel hearts and kumquats. From the left he is served with a rectangle made of sandpaper, silk and velvet. The foods must be carried directly to the mouth with the right hand while the left hand lightly and repeatedly strokes the tactile rectangle. In the meantime the waiters spray the nape of the diner’s neck with a conprofumo [perfume] of carnations while from the kitchen comes contemporaneously a violent conrumore [music] of an aeroplane motor and some dismusica [music] by Bach.” [–translated into English by Suzanne Brill]

Meghan Markle’s zucchini pasta sauce

MEGHAN MARKLE:  Zucchini — baby marrow, better known in the UK as courgette. Lately there’s been a bit of a fad for zoodles, noodles made from zucchini which have the advantage of being gluten-free [see here if you’re interested], but the Duchess of Suffolk has her own way with this vegetable, which is to slow-cook it for several hours with a little bouillon until it turns to a “filthy, sexy mush” and then use this as a pasta sauce with nothing else added: no oil or butter, but you can add a sprinkling of parmesan cheese on the top if you like.

It sounds and looks disgusting but it’s actually very tasty. Do try it. Go on.

You know you want to.

MARILYN MONROE:  Carrots again. Marilyn told a journalist that her evening meal was almost always the same — some sort of meat with raw carrots. “My dinners at home are startlingly simple. Every night I stop at the market and pick up a steak, lamb chops or some liver, which I broil in the oven. I usually eat four or five raw carrots with my meat, and that’s all,” she said. “I must be part rabbit, I never get bored with raw carrots,” adding that she always saved room for dessert.

Marilyn Monroe eating a carrot

Re carrots: Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and CEO, avoided meat and had many strange dietary fads, at one time eating so many carrots that he started to turn orange. Marilyn, clever girl, seems to have avoided this.

See Ben Affleck’s entry above for another way of enjoying carrots.

GWYNETH PALTROW:  Cauliflower. One of the best summer recipes from Gwyneth’s recent cookbook It’s All Easy is for Cauliflower Tabbouleh. Goes very well with her Falafel. This recipe serves 4-6 as a side dish.

Ingredients:
• ½ medium head of cauliflower
• 1 small garlic clove, very finely grated or minced
• Juice of 1 small lemon, plus more to taste
• ¼ cup olive oil, plus more to taste
• A pinch of Aleppo pepper
• A pinch of salt, plus more to taste
• About half an English cucumber, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces (1 cup)
• ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
• ⅓ cup chopped fresh mint
• ⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
• 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Directions:
To make the cauliflower “couscous,” break the cauliflower into florets, then pulse in a food processor 10 to 15 times for 1 to 2 seconds each time. Stop when the cauliflower has been broken down into pieces the size of quinoa or couscous. In the bottom of your serving bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and a pinch of salt. Add the cauliflower, cucumber, herbs, and scallions and toss to combine. Season with salt, more lemon juice, and olive oil to taste.

Allen Ginsberg (see above) liked cauliflower too.

ELVIS PRESLEY:  Tomatoes. It may come as something of a surprise that Elvis ate any vegetables at all given the appalling state of his health and his huge appetite for hamburgers, ice cream and his favourite fried sandwiches of which he could stuff down a dozen or more at a sitting, but his regular breakfast consisted of burnt bacon, Spanish omelette, biscuits — the American kind resembling bread rolls — and tomatoes: “A sure way to the King’s heart was with a big plate of sliced beefsteak tomatoes.” [–Brenda Arlene Butler in Are You Hungry Tonight? Elvis’s Favorite Recipes]  Although he sang about polk salad I don’t think Elvis ever actually ate the ghastly stuff.  See also Joan Jett.

VINCENT PRICE:  Corn (off the cob). When we were old enough to pass for 18 some of us used to bunk off school in the afternoons to go and watch horror films in the local fleapit which often featured Vincent Price in some adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe, and we loved his over-the-top acting in roles like Prince Prospero in The Masque of the Red Death and many another. It wasn’t until some years later that I discovered that he was actually a very cultivated fellow, a connoisseur of art and music, a decent actor when given a good part, and a real gourmet with several excellent cookbooks to his credit. This recipe for Elote con Crema a la Mexicana (Mexican creamed corn) comes from A Treasury of Great Recipes which he compiled with his wife Mary in 1965, and which has proved to be the most popular item on this blog which collects movie-stars’ recipes: dozens of them. Here’s this one:

1. In a skillet melt 4 tablespoons butter.
2. Add 1 medium onion, chopped (4 tablespoons), and 1 clove garlic, minced.  Sauté until onion is lightly browned.
3. Add the kernels cut from 8 ears of fresh corn, 4 chilies poblanos, thinly sliced [green peppers will do at a pinch], ½ teaspoon salt, and ¾ cup diced Swiss or Muenster cheese.
4. Cover with a towel and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Serve the corn with a bowl of sour cream on the side.  A generous spoonful on top of each portion is delicious.

MARY SHELLEY:  Kale. When she wasn’t thinking about graveyards, body parts and horrid electrical experiments the author of Frankenstein quite often thought about kale. Her husband Percy (the poet) was careless of his health. “He could have lived on bread alone without repining,” his biographer Richard Henry Stoddard wrote. “Vegetables, and especially salads … were acceptable,” and the vegetable was often kale, which like most other people at the time she saw not as a health-giving comestible but as a comfort food. When her aunt Everina fell ill, Mary, far away in Rome, persuaded a friend to put together a care package for her: “jelly, oranges, sponge-cakes and her favourite kale.” Kale became a frequent gift.

Mary Shelley by Lucie Rice

The excellent Paper and Salt blog (from which most of this information comes) says that ‘Kale had a vogue for some time as a “miracle food” – which it is not –- but it was around long before the fad. In fact, it was commoner than cabbage in Britain for centuries as a basic green vegetable. Young kale used to be chopped up into what we called “spring greens” (along with colewort), when I was a boy. There is the secret for kale and for colewort (called collards in the US). If you let the leaves grow big, they also get tough and hard to cook. But if you cut them young in the spring, they are tender and easy to cook. That means you have to grow them yourself of course. Commercial greens are always going to be old and tough(er).

‘The simplest way to prepare kale is to strip the leaves from their stalks by hand and to rip them up into small pieces. Wash the pieces thoroughly and then put them into a pot with the water still clinging to them. Cover tightly and steam until tender. With young leaves, this is not a long process, but will take trial and error. Drain and mix into the greens some olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and minced garlic. Reheat for a few minutes, and serve. Even Shelley would like that dish. If you want to get fancier, serve the kale with poached egg on top – or add some chopped ham in with the kale.’

NED SHERRIN:  Artichokes. The innovative producer and broadcaster was fond of artichoke and parsley soup, which he made himself every December (“I like to have a good thick soup on the go at this time of year.”) I like to do that too, and I often make a wonderful thick vegetable soup in the winter months from a recipe I clipped from a newspaper years ago, but as I’m personally neither rich nor famous I’ll have to find an excuse to share that with you another time.

Tolstoy (with beard) and his family

LEO TOLSTOY:  Cucumber. In Blessings in Disguise, one of his volumes of autobiography, Alec Guinness tells a story that he heard from Sydney Cockerell: “In 1903, when Tolstoy was living at Yasnaya Polyana, Sydney had an opportunity of visiting him there […]  When he arrived at the Tolstoy home he was shown down to the apple orchard, where the entire family was taking tea. He said they were all sitting or lying in long grass under the trees, drinking tumblers of black tea and eating cucumbers spread with honey. The samovar was crooked, the conversation nil, the only sounds were of hissing steam, bees and the crunching of cucumbers.” I haven’t tried this as I dislike honey and think it would just spoil the cucumber, which I do like especially with a good vinaigrette, but for literary honey-lovers a plate of these offered to guests might make an interesting and unusual hors d’oeuvre.

MARK WAHLBERG:  Macaroni salad.  The actor, producer, and as Marky Mark a former rapper once said “Nobody makes pasta salad like my mama,” but thanks to his brother Paul, a chef, we can have a shot at their late mother Alma’s speciality, though note that the quantities given here make enough for a dozen people.

Mark and Alma Wahlberg

• 1 pound elbow macaroni
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon celery salt
• ¾ cup mayonnaise
• ½ cup finely-diced green bell pepper
• ½ cup finely-diced celery
• 3 tablespoons diced red onion (optional)
• 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
• Salt and freshly ground pepper

Step 1  In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until al dente. Drain, then rinse the macaroni until cool. Drain very well.
Step 2  In a large bowl, toss the macaroni with the oil. Add the garlic powder, celery salt and mayonnaise and toss to coat. Stir in the green pepper, celery, onion and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill before serving.

FOREST WHITAKER:  Asparagus, green beans, and hearts of palm. I’ll close this selection with a triple whammy of vegetables from this fine actor, aided and abetted by Martha Stewart. I was delighted to find this recipe as green beans are my own favourite vegetable and this is a really excellent way of serving them.

Ingredients
• ¼ cup white-wine vinegar
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill leaves
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 3 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and sliced crosswise
• 1 small onion, thinly sliced
• 1½ pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
• ½ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
• 1 (7- or 8-ounce) can hearts of palm, rinsed, drained, and cut into ½-inch pieces
• 2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
• ½ small head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced

Step 1  In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, sugar, and dill. Add cucumbers and onion, season with salt and pepper, and toss until well combined; set aside.

Step 2  Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and return water to a boil. Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Place asparagus in boiling water; cook until just tender, 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer asparagus to ice-water bath for 1 minute, remove and pat dry; transfer to cucumber mixture. Add beans to the boiling water, and cook until just tender, 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beans to the ice-water bath for 1 minute, remove and pat dry. Transfer beans to cucumber mixture along with hearts of palm, tomatoes, and lettuce. Season with salt and pepper; toss until well combined.

See Forest and Martha doing the business here.

Are YOU rich and famous? Do you have a favourite vegetable and an interesting way of serving it?  If so I’d love to hear from you and maybe I’ll include you in my book. (No riff-raff need apply.)

2 thoughts on “Vegetables of the Rich and Famous

  1. Hoping to sneak in under your riff-raff radar, I’d like to offer courgette slices lightly floured, then fried in olive oil and good butter, until crisp on the outside but meltingly soft on the inside. Sea salt sprinkled over adds to the deliciousness.

    Also, have you tried caponata? If not, you might have to come round to ours, soon, as I feel one coming on!

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