Charlotte au Chocolat
Her parents' restaurant was celebrated, but Charlotte Silver's childhood as a rich little poor girl was less glamorous than it looked.
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Silver recounts her post-divorce visits to her father’s seedy downtown Boston studio and their Friday night trips to a local butcher’s shop. Like so much of her treasured past – including her favorite chefs and waitstaff – the butcher shop eventually vanished. She rues the changes, big and small, including shifts in food culture and the replacement of small local businesses with soulless chain stores. Just mentioned in passing but surely underlying all this wistful nostalgia is the loss of her father, who died of a heart attack when his daughter was in her 20s.Skip to next paragraph
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Silver’s story ends 10 years ago – a full third of her life – with a description of the last night at the Pudding, June 16, 2001, that underscores both the book’s elegiac tone and its limitations. Missing is greater perspective – even a nod to Stewart O’Nan’s “Last Night at the Lobster” or a recognition of the significance of the date, James Joyce’s Bloomsday, would have been welcome. So, too, would a few photographs. The absence most acutely felt, however, is the recipe for her mother’s frequently mentioned, famous roasted red pepper soup. A brief search online turned up a labor-intensive project rich in heavy cream and butter. It eloquently corroborates Silver’s admiring portrait of her mother’s hard work and uncompromising quality.
Heller McAlpin, a frequent contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, reviews books regularly for NPR.org and The Washington Post, among other publications.
Roasted Sweet Red Pepper Soup
20 extra large red peppers
½ lb. butter
2 Anaheim peppers
2 Scotch Bonnet peppers
½ cup balsamic vinegar
6 sprigs rosemary
1 qt. best quality heavy cream
4 large white kitchen onions
1 head of garlic, chopped
Kosher salt to taste
1. Roast 20 extra large red peppers over an open flame. Do not let skins turn ashen and gray. After roasting, immediately blanch and peel blistered peppers. Roasted peppers are not enhanced by sitting in water. Drain and coarsely chop peppers.
2. Melt ¼ lb. butter in one very large or two large heavy-bottomed sauté pans. Add ½ cup balsamic vinegar, 2 coarsely chopped Anaheim peppers, 2 coarsely chopped Scotch Bonnet peppers and 2 rosemary sprigs. Simmer briefly, and then add chopped peppers. Cook for about two hours over very low heat. This process naturally caramelizes the peppers and melds the flavors together.
3. In a heavy-bottomed pot, reduce by half 1 qt. heavy cream. Remove from heat.
4. When peppers have softened considerably (about two hours) remove from heat. Cool slightly. Divide peppers into several batches and lightly puree in a blender, using the on/off switch. Do not overly homogenize.
5. Place the pepper puree in large enamel-coated cast iron soup pot and add cream. Cook slowly to combine flavors - approximately 20 minutes. Do not cover or allow to boil.
6. In a separate pot, combine 4 chopped onions, ¼ lb. butter, 4 large rosemary sprigs and 1 chopped head of garlic. Cook over low heat until wilted and softened, approximately 30 minutes. Puree when cooked and add to soup pot. Season to taste.
Serves approximately 6 to 8 people.
(Deborah Hughes, UpStairs at the Pudding, Copyright 1992.
Deborah Hughes, UpStairs on the Square, Copyright 2002.)