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Side dishes serve as supporting characters

10/10/13 | By Paul Suplee, CEC PCIII

There are times at which the supporting character makes the entire performance.  Without the complimentary affectation of the little guy, the main attraction oft goes unappreciated and underutilized.  Take Shakespeare's cons, for example.  Would Hamlet have been anything without the awkward comedic and seemingly despondent relief of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?  Who were they, anyway?

Would Buzz Lightyear have been as effective a hero if it weren't for the efforts of Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog and Hamm?  I challenge you to say otherwise.

The theater is home to a great many challenges, one of which is to compel the viewer, the guest in the audience, to see things as they might not otherwise be seen.  Simply watching the egoist-lead read through their lines can bore one to complete and utter ennui; enter the Prince's soliloquy as evidence, your honor.

Yet having the same actor or actress give the performance of a lifetime while backed by a curtain of dolts incapable of delivering a resolute and convincing argument is as limp as watching the ball drop in New York; no offense intended to the very few talented individuals who actually perform on New Year's eve.

Something so seemingly in the background as a curtain can end up being so much more than a bit part.  And no, I am not just writing about this because I was one of the three Tin Men in “The Wiz” in fifth grade. I am quite glad to this day that I was not the lead in that particular play.

It's just that so much attention is paid to the lead role that the supporting roles are seen as less important when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

The same goes for plating a delicious meal.  All too often, and I am quite guilty of this at home, we prepare the main dish and then as an afterthought we ask what our guests might like for their sides.  True, the meat and potatoes of a plate are the, well, meat and potatoes of the plate, but there are many places to which we can take these aforementioned proteins and starches, transforming them into masterpieces.

On our plate of food we have the piece de resistance but we would do no greater honor than to offer up simple accoutrements to accentuate its flavor, texture and overall place in our meal.  This doesn't make the supporting piece any less important.  In fact, without this encouragement, this all-important dish may very well flop on its face; and we can't have that.

Staring at our foam package of 'prime beef', I realize that I want to do more than to simply throw a pan of macaroni and cheese in the microwave.  Have I been guilty of that in the past?  Sure, I have.  But not today.

I recall a recipe that I saw easily 15 years ago from Daniel Boulud, and I know that nothing would sit better with a New York Strip than a root vegetable cobblestone; a pavé as the French would call it, and since I'm French, well…

A simply gratin of potato, carrots (if you like), rutabaga and other root vegetables end up making the sweetest, richest and most simply complex accompaniment to steak that you could ever imagine.  And that's what cooking can be about; simplicity in its most complex form.

As our public awaits, I must attend to the matters at hand; the peeling and slicing of the vegetables, the buying of the good Parmesan, and the effective deployment of idiom in writing about a stack of potatoes.

As I wait for the curtain call I am assured that, at the very least, the audience at hand should enjoy the cast.  For it isn't the main character, nor should it ever be.  It's a package deal. 

And as long as it's not a tragedy, I think I can take the critique.


Root Cobblestone

serves 8

2 Russet potatoes

1 sweet potato

1 rutabaga

2 oz. butter

1 c. heavy cream, infused with 3 cloves garlic

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1 whole large egg

2 sprigs fresh thyme, picked

1 c. chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

1.     Peel and slice the root vegetables, keeping the potatoes in water if it is going to be a while before you compose the gratin

2.     If you soaked any vegetables in water, drain well and pat dry

3.     Toss in remaining ingredients

4.     Liberally spray a 9x9 baking pan or oil it

5.     Start layering the vegetables, organizing by color if you so choose to

6.     When all of the ingredients are in the baking dish, press it down with a plate or something that will keep it compacted during the baking process

7.     Bake at 375F until it is knife tender

8.     Remove from the oven and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before removing the top plate

9.     Portion the cobblestone and serve with grilled or roasted meats

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