At night, the city turns into a food desert. You know you shouldn’t use that word lightly, but it’s what comes to mind as you hit up one grocery store after the other, and find that number one is missing artichoke hearts and polenta; number two has polenta, but still no artichokes, and then finally, third time’s a charm, and score! you have your artichoke hearts.
Last night I dreamt of a beautiful man. He was tall and hunched over, and he was holding a book beneath his arm. He was big and strong and beautiful. Who is he? He is carved out of stone. Please don’t sell him. He is very precious, you must keep him. Yes, he is made of stone, but to me he is a real person. He is big and beautiful. When you leave here, go see him. I think he is… hiding… downstairs. If you go straight, there’s a chapel or something; a chapel, I think. He’s hiding there. Go see him. I saw him in my dreams. No, he doesn’t talk, he is made of stone, but he’s real. He is very beautiful. Maybe he is that man who was your husband? No? Why not? You must go see him.
In the morning, climb out of bed, and begin by making the polenta crust. Bring the broth and water to a boil, and then whisk, whisk, whisk in the polenta. It bubbles and thickens, and amuses you. Put a lid on it, let it simmer, make coffee. Take it out to the balcony. This view, it never ceases to take your breath away.
Your mother is… The daughter of your grandmother who lived for a short time at your mother’s house. An older lady who lived for a short time at your mother’s. Your grandmother. She’s the mother of your father. You want me to tell you who she is? You want me to tell you her name? When she was a young girl? Or now? When she was little she liked things that were old. She was an old type of girl. What’s her name? I don’t know. She liked…. She liked… your father, but he didn’t have a beard then. Why does he have a beard? In fact, it doesn’t suit him. Yes, I’d like to taste your quiche. Do you think Margie will think to bring us plates? You’re right, this isn’t Margie, but she also answers when I call her Margie. Thank you, cherie. You took only a little bit. It’s a quiche. Where is she?
Turn off the heat, and let the polenta sit for ten minutes. Stir in Parmesan and an egg. Press the polenta into the tart pan, and up the sides.
No, you know, that man in question, I see him all the time in my dreams. I think you are right; it must be a statue that I saw. Oh, this is delicious. Thank you. Maybe it’s a statue that I saw… in… in your father’s home. He doesn’t have a statue? Nothing? So, then, somewhere. This is very good. So, that cousin of yours. Is she engaged? Did she get married? So, what else do you have to tell me? Well, you know, now we have that house that we used to have when you used to come and visit. It’s an old house that used to belong to Arabs, it’s in the street that leads to the ocean. You know that your grandfather killed himself. Oh, you didn’t know? Your grandfather killed himself while he was… while he was… what is it called? While he was doing a marathon. Here. In this ocean. I think you don’t know about this. Yes, a swimming marathon. He was an ocean person. His whole life he was a French marine. When I came here no one told me. No one. Not even your father who knew about it. If I am all confused now, it’s because they let me rot in a corner, no one took care of me. No one. I just understood all of this by accident.
Open the jar of oil-packed artichoke hearts. Inhale. They smell like Italy, and summer nights on a piazza, your feet dangling over a bridge. They are drenched in oil, their leaves clipped short, their stems curled. They feel delicate and silky, and they smell like heaven. Cut them into quarters.
One day while I was out, someone showed me a photo of a whale. A whale that was hunted. And there was a man in its belly. He was killed. That’s how I found out about your grandfather. Yes. No one told me about this. My father was a great fisherman. In Tunisia we had two fishing boats. Two big fishing boats. Your grandfather. I don’t know. How to tell you? That he found his death like this? No one told me about it. Maybe your father will have ideas. How is this possible? That he was drowned by the sea? In fact, I never swim in it. It horrifies me. In fact, I don’t think I will stay here. I don’t think so, but I don’t know.
Line the tart with the artichoke hearts; top with crumbled goat cheese.
The little Yoktan, he was here and he took the photos of my father. If one day you need them, remember. This is very important. Because your grandfather was a great marine. And apparently he drowned here. But no one told me anything. You know what that means? I’m a stranger to everything. No one takes care of me. Your father was here and he explained it to me… how your grandfather died… that he was… he was… do you want a coffee, cherie? Thank you. So, you see… But I couldn’t get any other information. Apparently he died. He’s the one who won the contest. He won the contest in the ocean. That’s what they told me. But no one ever told me about it. I never had the courage to ask.
Whisk together yogurt, eggs and a flurry of herbs. Pour onto the tart; top with grated Parmesan.
Will you pass me my purse? It’s always the same one… So I tried to launch an investigation. Look, this is what I have left of him. Look how handsome he is. You’re right, it’s me; but this, this is him. So, this is all I have left. I don’t dare investigate. But I’ll have to. This is my French identity card. Does it interest you to be French? See, I’m really French. I’m not as-if French, I’m really French. With these papers. They are the only thing I have. And I think that with these papers… but how will I manage? I have to go and make sure I’m regulated. Your mother tore up all of my papers. It’s not nice of her. Really not nice. I’m scared that they’ll throw me out of France. Yes, well, even if we live in Israel. We don’t live in Israel. It doesn’t matter. This is France, too. If one day they ask for my papers. And they’ll see that I’m not French. Even though I really am French. I really am. I need to go. It’s twenty kilometers away, and I need to walk there. And they’ll make me a card that shows that I am French. In case I lose this one. I only have one. If I lose it, it’s very bad. I am very worried about this. So I stay home. If you go anywhere, they’ll tell you that he died. That he died by drowning. I wanted to go with a little… a little red riding hood. Yes, a little red riding hood. But they didn’t listen to me. At night, I cry, I cry. He’s lost. I cry because I’m all alone. My mother is also dead. I am miserable. I sleep with my purse beneath my pillow.
Bake for 45 minutes until golden and the filling is set.
Maria Speck’s Artichoke Tart with Polenta Crust
Makes one 10-inch tart
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups polenta
1/2 cup (about 2.5 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used plain 3% yogurt)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces artichoke hearts, canned or frozen
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1. Begin by making the polenta crust: Bring the broth and water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly, and continue whisking for 30 seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in the cheese, egg and pepper.
2. Grease a 10-inch tart pan or cake pan with olive oil. Have a glass of cold water ready. Spoon the polenta into the pan and press it out, pushing it up the sides. Dip your hands in the cold water to help the polenta along. Let it rest for 15 minutes and then form an even rim about 3/4 of an inch thick with moist fingers, pressing firmly. Don’t worry if the crust looks rustic.
3. Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 F/ 190C.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, scallions, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cut the artichoke hearts into quarters and arrange them evenly over the polenta crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the artichokes and then top with the yogurt mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
5. Bake the tart until the top turns golden brown and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 40 minutes. The tart can be made a day in advance.
*Reprinted with permission from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
*This post about visiting my grandmother (see an earlier one here) was inspired by a post on the gorgeous Dash and Bella blog, which I just discovered this weekend, and immediately fell head over heels for.