The Saintly Stew

by Alison Reeger Cook

Description

This is a recipe paired with a short story inspired by the six saints in the artwork of Giusto de Menabuoi.

Artist Statement

I admit that I am more passionate about writing than cooking, but I was intrigued by the suggestion of creating a recipe inspired by the art of the Kress Project. It was like trying to unlock some hidden code: if each saint were represented by a food item, which would they be and why? Would those items be completely random, or could they come together and actually create a decadent dish? Once I pieced it together, the writer side of me did not just want to explain why I chose which ingredients that I did; I thought it would be more fun to reveal the meaning of the recipe in a story. So if one doesn't like to cook, one could still get a bit of amusement out of the narrative.

Project Entry

The Saintly Stew



Giovannuzza shifted the burdensome pack on her shoulders as she nudged open the door, and was greeted by the alluring arms of warm steam and a thousand tantalizing scents. She instinctively sniffed, inhaling the chorus of potent pungencies, able to decipher exactly which meats, spices, vegetables, and broths were currently being cooked. All the various flavors gathered at the back of her throat, and her tongue lolled out, licking the air with an eager appetite.

How cruel, to have a fox exposed to all these delicacies, and yet I am only permitted to fetch the ingredients, without being so much as rewarded with a taste of what is produced with the help of all my work, Giovannuzza thought begrudgingly.

She padded quietly into the kitchen, and a flick of her lustrous tangerine-tinted tail brushed away the traces of snow she had tracked in. She closed the door behind her with her hind leg, and clenched her teeth as she refrained from the natural instinct to shake the cold flakes of ice from her coat. The Muse Cook did not like a messy kitchen, so Giovannuzza would have to wait until her mistress came over to dry her off—which could be a while, depending how immersed in her culinary concoctions she may be.

Lady Maghirevo was finishing the final swishes of her pen in one of her many recipe books, which by now filled a vast library that stretched beyond mortal comprehension, with no two recipes alike. The Muse looked over her shoulder at the damp, quivering fox on the floor, and smiled as she casually plucked one of the towels warming by the cooking fire and brought it over to dry off the poor animal.

“Dear Giovannuzza, come warm yourself,” Maghirevo cooed as she removed the fox’s pack from her back. “You are always reliably swift-footed. You returned sooner than I expected.”

“Well, it is not like the ingredients you sent me to find were difficult to procure,” the fox sighed, and she stretched out in front of the inviting hearth. She licked away a few remaining droplets of water from her thick coat, fur of a fiery hue of which she was quite proud. “To be honest, I thought you required my help because the foods you usually seek for your recipes are impossible to gather without a…nimble paw. My skills were certainly worthy of stealing the cabbages from that witch’s garden, or the pears from the serpent-keepers. But this? These are such…mundane trifles. Why debase me with such menial tasks that any clumsy fool could do?”

“Now, now, Zah-zah,” Maghirevo said, playfully calling the fox by her nickname, “just because certain ingredients are trickier to collect than others, does not give the simpler ones less value. Whether I cook inspiration with the rarest sprig of an herb from the far side of the world, or the most commonplace fruit found on any tree right outside my door, or even just a cup of water, the right ingredients are essential for the right person that my dish is intended for.”

“Yes, yes,” the fox replied with a yawn. “Well, whoever you are cooking up inspiration for tonight must be a dreadfully dull person. There’s nothing so special in that bag that makes this recipe stand out from any old pot of soup.”

Maghirevo shot the fox a narrow look. “I will have you know, that tonight’s meal is for a very important person. An Italian artist with a special commission.”

“Ah, Italy.” Giovannuzza smiled, remembering the green fields, orchards and vineyards, sprawling out like a charming pastoral painting across the countryside. “So, this artist…a down-to-earth sort of man? Humble, simple? I assume from the ingredients, seeing as how half of them come from out of the dirt…”

“Humble, yes. He is a servant of God, and his commission is for the church. This recipe is only for a part of what he is to create…it is such an intricate project, I feared stirring in too much inspiration at once would put a terrible strain on his mind and soul, and muddle the whole thing. I will have to dole out these dishes in moderation. But it will be a magnificent result once he has finished, and it will be honored for ages to come. At least,” Maghirevo sighed, as she tenderly removed the items from Giovannuzza’s pouch, “I hope it will last. Time and the carelessness of the world can cause fragile creations to be lost.”

The fox made a “humph” sound. “You care too much about that sort of thing. Eventually everything gets lost or decays. Do you know how boring it would be for certain things to linger around forever?” She snaps her mouth shut momentarily, before muttering, “Not including you, of course.”

Maghirevo smiled gently. “I know what you meant. But now, down to business.” The thought of commencing with her cooking sent a shiver of anticipation through her, and she rubbed her hands together excitedly. “Let’s see, who will Signore de’ Menabuoi be honoring in his work…starting with Saint Anthony the Abbott. Hmm, patron saint that men appeal to against infectious diseases, particularly those of the skin. And what better bounty from the earth provides remedies from skin maladies than carrots?” She picked up the long orange roots that Giovannuzza had brought her and began to chop them up into perfect discs, dropping them into a bowl.

“Carrots? Blegh.” The fox scratched herself behind the ear with her hind paw. “Nasty, bland things…love the color, though.”

The Muse continued on, her mind whisked away into the cloud of creation forming above her head. “Who else…Saint Thomas Aquinas, patron of academics and theologians, known as the Doctor of the Church.  His ingredient should be a fruit that is a symbol of teachers, and one a day keeps the doctor away, as the saying goes.” She selected the crimson-red apples from her ingredients, cored and diced them. “Then there is Saint John the Baptist...ah, the very heart of our recipe, always depicted in artwork with a lamb by his side. It does seem a bit morbid to use lamb meat then, doesn’t it? But it is necessary. On to Saint Catherine, whose principle attribute is that of the wheel…yes, I believe the many ‘wheels’ that lie within the onion will do, plus being the patron of unmarried girls, a tablespoon of virgin olive oil should help give a little flavor.”

“ ‘Virgin’ olive oil—a bit on the nose, I say,” the fox commented.

“Then Saint Paul…that was a tricky one. Known for his missions to spread the holy word, and he wrote the earliest accounts of the Last Supper. I’d say he planted the seeds in the hearts of men about the daily bread of Christ…bread is made from the seeds of wheat, which is ground into flour…yes, flour should do nicely. Finally, Saint Augustine, patron saint of brewers.”

Giovannuzza twitched her wiry whiskers. “That’s what you’re glorifying him for? That he was the patron saint of beer-makers? I don’t suppose you’re going to waste a nice stout on this recipe?”

Maghirevo shook her head with a grin. “No, silly. Barley.”

“Ah.” The fox rested her head on her paws. “Don’t suppose I could have the stout then…”

“And finally, to bring it all together, the stock.” She brought out her own special jug of stock, not of the chicken or beef variety, but the rarest kind that only Maghirevo could use, the essence of creativity that would unite all of the other ingredients into the dish of inspiration she would make. She went diligently about her work, adding a few dashes of spices and herbs, and finally as her stew was brewing, she removed a bottle of Italian red wine, a Barbera, from one of her cupboards and poured in a small amount.

“To symbolize the Blood of Christ,” the muse explained, noting the fox’s quizzical look at adding the wine. “This is a holy work of art, after all.”

“Nice touch. You know, all that ingredient collecting has made me famished—“

“No, no, you know the rules. This meal was not designed for you.”

“I’m not asking to eat the stew…just a tiny sip of wine would reinvigorate me—“

The Muse held the wine bottle out of the fox’s reach. “You need to deliver this stew to Signore de’ Menabuoi when it is finished, and I cannot put such a valuable gift into the paws of a drunken fox. You may help yourself to some milk, if you wish.”

Giovannuzza grimaced. “Milk, peh. What am I, a mere pup…”

Cooking a dish of inspiration is one thing; catering it to the intended recipient is another, and thus this was another task delegated to Giovannuzza. The fox had barely stepped one foot out the door with the soup-pot wrapped in the bright red towel, reeking so heavenly with its savory contents, and Lady Maghirevo was already at work on her next edible masterpiece, humming happily to herself.

Giovannuzza was not a fox born of the mortal world—much like the stew she was delivering, she was a product of the human imagination, a native from the realm of folklore, and thus had the skill to creep into the minds of men in their dream states to have them dine on Maghirevo’s unrivaled culinary delights. Upon waking in the morning, the diners would feel the flowing effects of creativity, and would be driven with a renewed strength to compose, paint, sculpt, choreograph, or whichever method of creation that appealed to them.

But walking the roads to a man’s dream, even though it takes significantly less time than walking in the physical world to his doorstep, is still a long walk, especially for a fox who had not yet had her dinner and who was being tormented by the scrumptious stew’s wafting scent tickling her twitchy nose.

Lady Maghirevo told me never to eat the food she makes for the humans, she reminded herself. ‘You can’t take someone else’s inspiration, it wasn’t designed for you.’ That’s what she said. As if it is only delicious for the person it was cooked for, and would be poison to anyone else. The fox smirked and shook her head at the thought. How ridiculous…there’s nothing so special about people that they deserve these treats, and that I would be punished for eating just the littlest bite…

No. I’ve got a roof over my head, a warm hearth to sleep by, and Lady Maghirevo treats me well. It would be silly to rouse her ire over something so piffling as a pot of stew.

She shifted the pot on her back, which suddenly seemed so heavy, and she set it down on the ground. She pulled back the towel just enough to lift the lid of the pot a half of an inch, as a seductive wisp of steam arose from within. But…just one tiny piece missing from the pot couldn’t hurt. After all, I could grow weak from hunger before I reach this Menabuoi fellow, and I might faint and drop the pot, and then he would have no stew at all. And should I not be rewarded with a little something for all the hard work I do? Just one bite of lamb surely wouldn’t be missed…

And with a swift movement that would have been missed by the human eye, one chunk of the lamb meat and one ring of onion were plucked from the pot and popped into the salivating jaws of the fox, who murmured softly a sound of sweet satisfaction. She paused for a moment after swallowing, curious if any ill effects were about to take hold.

Hmm…nothing seems out of sorts, she finally decided.

With a shrug, but a resolved restraint from pilfering any more of the saintly stew, she placed the lid back securely on the pot and hoisted it onto her back to resume her journey.

*

Giusto de’ Menabuoi’s sleep was being plagued by the intensity that artists commonly experience when called upon to complete a vital project. The dream-induced delirium of hoping that his work would be splendid enough to please not only his commissioners, but God Himself and the souls of the saints he would portray, was a sensation he still felt even after all the previous times he had painted canvases and ceilings for the church.

And then, somewhere within the murky depths of his troubled sleep, he smelled something wonderful.

There it was, set before him in a gold and white ceramic tureen on a pedestal: what looked and smelled to be a hearty, meaty stew unlike any he’d ever seen before. He found himself inexplicably drawn to it, with such a hunger that was unlike the normal stomach pangs from lack of food, and set himself down in a chair (odd, he hadn’t noticed that nice comfy chair a moment ago) to dine on the dish.

As he ate, images began to mold into form, and pieces of thought were blending together. Shapes and faces and colors mixed into an orchestration of the art he could, and would, produce…and a funny thought kept poking at his brain, as a particular color swirled into his mental vision.

Orange for the robes of Saint John and Saint Catherine…why orange? But yes, it must be orange…must be…

*

“I see someone tasted a stew meant for someone else.” Lady Maghirevo crossed her arms, her eyebrows furled in disappointment at the fox sitting sheepishly at her feet.

Quite sheepishly, as a matter of fact, for now Giovannuzza was as white from head to paw as a sheep would be.

“You are lucky you were smart enough to not eat more,” Maghirevo continued. “You are made of the spirit of dreams, Zah-zah, thus to eat the food of dreamers means you become part of their inspiration. You are what you eat, you know.” She sighed, and gave Giovannuzza a light pat on the head. “I guess a loss of color is hardly a hardship, given that you could have lost your entire being to the stew, and I don’t imagine being eaten is a pleasant experience. And I think white suits you well.”

Giovannuzza grimaced. “Can’t you do something about this? I’ll even stomach carrots and oranges and squash if it’ll bring my color back.”

Maghirevo smiled kindly. “And risk turning you into a vegetable? I think not. Besides, a change of color for you might be interesting. Wouldn’t it be boring if certain things were to remain the same forever?” She winked at the fox, but the animal only sneered back. The Muse petted her friend again. “Don’t worry, things fix themselves in time. And we have all the time in the universe. But for now, how about some dinner? I’ll fix you something nice and hot, that’ll be soft on your tummy…maybe some oatmeal?”

The fox grinned wryly. “Maybe, just this once, we can go out to eat?”

*

Giusto de’ Menabuoi’s Saintly Stew
• 1 pound lamb meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
• 3 tbsp all purpose flour
• 1 tbsp virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 cloves minced garlic
• 1 cup reduced sodium beef or chicken stock
• 3/4 cup red wine (Barbera)
• ½ tbsp. of dried thyme
• ½ teaspoon oregano
• 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 bay leaf
• 1/2 cup barley
• 3 medium carrots, chopped
• 2 Red Delicious apples - peeled, cored and diced
• ¼ cup water


Coat lamb cubes in 2 tbsp of flour, and cook in skillet over medium heat until browned. Set lamb aside. Cook onion and garlic until onion is translucent, about five minutes. Put lamb, onions, garlic, thyme, oregano, pepper, bay leaf and barley into a stock pot with the 1 cup of stock and the red wine. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour.

Add carrots and apples to pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, until carrots and apples are tender. Remove and discard bay leaf. Combine remaining tbsp of flour and ¼ cup of water in a small bowl until smooth, and then stir flour mixture into pot. Increase heat to medium. Cook until mixture boils and thickens. Makes six servings.