Final judgement and justice + a recipe for stuffed squash blossoms

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O P I N I O N


mise en place


Friends:

I knew it was going to come eventually, so early in the week I finally received my summons for jury duty. I have had friends and employees receive their notice and a few have sat as jurors in both civil and criminal cases.

In prior years I dreaded receiving the notice because, as executive chef, time away from my business would be both costly and potentially detrimental. I prepared and stored away, just in case, a heart-wrenching soliloquy to perform for both lawyer and judge as to the hardship it would cause if I was chosen.

Now, given my new position in life, I have neither excuse nor cause to postpone this responsibility. My retirement situation aside, my brother is a respected and admired NYC judge so it would be a family issue if I scammed my way out.

I have heard many eloquent speeches and read uncounted editorials about the workings of our judicial system, both good and bad, and I have taken them all with a grain of salt. No thinking American with a knowledge of both current events or history however would hold that the statue of blind Cassandra holding the scales of justice evenly has been a true depiction of our system. That being said, at its core, it must be admired, defended and allowed to evolve.

When I received my summons I immediately thought about the play (and movie) 12 Angry Men.

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I am sure most if not all of you know the plot – where a single juror with the skill of an experienced defense attorney convinces a few jury members with preconceived prejudices of a young man’s innocence. Who would not want to be that man and to have his courage and belief in justice.

The law is a language and, like in any language, the same word can be used and interpreted a variety of ways depending on context. And justice is the word that is the the most loosely defined.

There is a codified language as to what defines a crime or a breach of contract, but who in the end is at fault, and, who in the end is determined to be either compensated or penalized, is up to a person, a judge or a jury. Justice, in the end it seems, is determined by a citizen or group of citizens’ background and moral compass. Justice has a few synonyms, those being retribution and revenge. Both, can, and have been, used in its place.

Here is an anecdote: In grade school we were given an insurance application to pass along to our parents. To our unbridled amusement, there was a section of “occurrence and compensation.”  It had a list of possible, and to our young minds, both horrific and comical scenarios.

Example:

Loss of a finger = $100

Loss of a  hand  = $500

Loss of one finger and broken arm= $2,000

It went on. I don’t recall the exact compensation but it led to endless debates among a group of 11 year olds about what would we do with the money and what fingers are the least useful. The point being, what would satisfy justice for an act that is considered detrimental to a person or group of people? Since I am neither a moralist, legal scholar, or philosopher, justice it seems, is a moving target.

To satisfy this enigma society has developed a protocol for lawyers, judges and juries to follow along with a menu of potential consequences if a person is found libel or guilty.  Those protocols, however, seem to shift country by country, state by state and county by county, yet without them, chaos and societal breakdown would ensue.

I hope that I will not have to sit in judgment of a situation that has high moral and legal implications but instead involves a land dispute or a neighbor’s loud dog. If it turns out that is not the case I hope my life experience and admiration for what our legal system was intended to be will guide me.


FOOD

MELTED LEEKS AND FENNEL WITH LENTILS PEPPERS AND TARRAGON


One of my bike routes takes me along Rt.13 to New Boston. Along the way I pass a field belonging to MIDDLE BRANCH FARM, one that I have used at REPUBLIC. I ride past rows of squash plants that are now flowering. Those blossoms can be found in the culinary culture of almost all Mediterranean countries and some of you may have them growing in your gardens.

Picking them will cost you a squash or two, but I bet you will have more than you can eat anyway. This will also give you a chance to use all that basil and tomatoes as well.

  • 4-8 blossoms (2 to a person)
  • A pair of small needle nose pliers
  • A pastry bag ( or a sheet of parchment pepper rolled into a cone)
  • 1 hand grater
  • 1.5 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto (recipes abound on Youtube)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 3-4 tomatoes depending on their size (a can of crushed tomatoes can be substituted)
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2 table spoons chopped parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 cup all purpose  flour
  • 3 bowls
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Lightly blow into the blossom and with the pliers gently remove the orange stamen (it has a bitter taste). Set aside.

In a bowl mix the ricotta and pesto. Set aside

Core the tomatoes and cut in half. Over a bowl grate the tomatoes (careful not to skin your knuckles)

In a pre-heated pan add olive oil, crushed garlic and diced onion. Sauté until the onion is translucent then add the wine. Cook for 3-4 minutes then add the grated tomatoes, salt, black and red pepper, cook for 3-4 minutes then set aside.

Add the flour to one bowl, breadcrumbs in another and the eggs ( whipped) in the third.

Gently blow into the blossom to open the leaves and slowly pipe the ricotta and pesto mixture filling the cavity. Pinch the top of the blossom closed then dredge in the flour, the egg then the breadcrumbs.

To serve, add oil to a preheated saucepan and fry the blossom. Serve over the tomato sauce and garnish with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.


About this Author

Edward Aloise

Edward Aloise Previous Co-Owner/ Chef of Republic Cafe and Campo Enoteca and currently the principal in Republic Restaurant Consulting.