Dedicated to my father, David Baca.
Oh, Hannibal Lecter! Probably one of my most favorite literary characters of all time, and definitely someone that all of us can relate to, on some level, anyway. Witty, cultured, and lives by his own standards of conduct, he kills those who offend him, offend his aesthetics, offend his worldview, or who are just plain rude. Can you imagine how long his list of potential victims was, using that criteria? Mine certainly is.
I read The Silence of the Lambs the summer after I graduated high school, and it fascinated me. I was never terrified, never freaked out, though a couple of scenes did gross me out. I think most of us remember the movie much better, and it was a very faithful interpretation of the book, omitting only the storyline involving Jack Crawford’s wife but staying true to the characters. I will admit, shamefacedly, that when I saw the movie, the scene toward the end when Clarice Starling is being stalked in the pitch-black basement did scare the holy hell out of me and I ended up begging my grandmother to let me sleep with her that night.
In the book, Dr. Lecter ends his first (thought not last) visit with Clarice by telling her “A census taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone. Go back to school, little Starling.” No, not Chianti, as the film version iconically goes, but Amarone. Luckily, I am blessed with friends that have great connections in the liquor world and was able to get my hot little paws on two – count ’em – TWO marvelous bottles of Amarone. ‘Cause they ain’t cheap.
I didn’t realize that this post would fall on Father’s Day, and in rereading the book, I was reminded how poignant Clarice’s memories of her father were, and how his influence truly colored her world view, her career choices and her interactions with people, much like my own father who died when I was quite young. I often think of how my life might be different if he had lived and been part of my adult life. Though I’m sure it would have been quite different, I like to think my cooking instincts would have still come out and I can visualize having him over for a home-cooked meal for Father’s Day. I miss him terribly some days, and today is one of those days.
Anyway, back to the food. Liver. Fava beans. I pondered this food combo and one night of insomnia gave me the inspiration I needed. I’ve never been into organ meat until I tried chicken livers a few years ago, cooked as they were in a sauce of butter, white wine and Vidalia onions. Yummy! I like fresh fava beans too, though their flavor is somewhat bland and takes on the tastes of whatever herbs and spices are mixed in. So I decided to try a different twist, and create a chicken liver crostini with garlic, shallots, lemon, port, and fava beans, in honor of our favorite psychiatrist. The result -nothing short of delicious! Paired with a good, strong red Amarone, and spread on some crostini toasts, it’s a feast fit for a cannibal!
This is the method that worked for me.
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of butter
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 pound of chicken livers, trimmed of all the thin, white connective tissues
2 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into small pieces
6 cloves of garlic, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced
1 pound of fava beans, steamed and shelled
1/2 cup of port or brandy. I used a splosh of ruby Zinfandel Port.
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh sage leaves
Soak the rinsed, trimmed chicken livers in a cup of milk for up to two hours in the refrigerator. I’ve heard various takes on doing this, but apparently the soaking gives the livers a silky texture and minimizes some of that gamey flavor that organ meat can have.
Drain and pat dry the chicken livers. Throw away the milk they were soaking in, and heat the butter and in a large skillet over high heat, and cook the chicken livers gently, no more than 3 minutes, turning once to ensure even cooking. If they are still a bit bloody, cook a bit longer. Remove from the heat and then add the bacon pieces to the pan. Cook until crisp, and remove onto a plate.
Add the fava beans and 6-7 fresh sage leaves to the oils in the pan and give them a quick, 10-minute saute, as well. Remove.
Add the chopped garlic and shallot to the bacony oil in the pan and saute for about 10 minutes. Toss in the port, stir and let simmer for about 10 minutes, long enough for the alcohol to burn off.
In a food processor, finely mash the sauteed fava beans and the sage leaves, along with the chicken livers, the bacon, and the shallot-garlic mixture. You want a thick puree, but if you prefer a more smooth texture, process for longer. Taste for seasoning and add the lemon juice to flavor and also, to thin the mixture a bit.
Chill in the refrigerator for up to an hour, before spreading onto crostini. It’s quite a rich puree, and so a little goes a long way. Eat and enjoy, and if your father is still here, hug him tight. If he’s not, like mine, toast him wherever he is. Or toast Dr. Lecter. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.
“He (Crawford) went to his office door. She was going away from him, down the deserted hall. He managed to hail her from his berg of grief. ‘Starling, your father sees you.'”