The Food World suffered a great loss last month. Molly O’Neill, one of the best food writers in the country died at just 66 years of age. Molly O’Neill was the heir to a great legacy of food journalism that includes such luminaries at M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, Craig Claiborne and my personal hero, Richard Olney. (Right after today’s recipe, take a look at some of my culinary encounters with these geniuses.) Molly O’Neill sought to be all of them. And she very nearly matched their joint output.
My first encounter with Ms. O’Neill’s prodigious talent dated to far before there was a Chewing The Fat. In 1992, “The New York Cookbook” (Workman Publishing) landed in my collection of cookbooks. It included 500 recipes from every corner of the city. There was every conceivable kind of cuisine included from Pierogis to Jamaican Jerk Chicken. You never had to leave your home borough to sample the amazing diversity of my beloved New York City. Ms. O’Neill was an equal opportunity recipe sharer. From the famous came Katherine Hepburn’s recipe for brownies, Chef Edna Lewis’s take on greens and painter Robert Motherwell’s brandade de morue. Molly O’Neill took on the food world of New York City the way Anthony Bourdain took on the rest of the world but she seldom got credit for it according to Ruth Reichl, late of Gourmet Magazine. “She celebrated all kinds of cooks and articulated very clearly that cooking is what brings us together”, Ms. Reichl is quoted as saying, “and she had no prejudice about whether this kind of food was better than that kind of food.”
After her death, the New York Times published this recipe which Ms. O’Neill had first published as part of an article she has written for the paper in 1995. “On Blueberry Hill” was a paean to the berry and included 6 recipes for blueberry dishes. Their one communality was rather counter-intuitive. The recipes used as little sugar as possible. On a long-ago trip to Maine, Ms. O’Neill had apparently gone berry picking when her outing was disturbed by an angry moose. The moose cornered Ms.O’Neill and her fellow picker and held them hostage for some two hours. Finally, exhausted and starving, the two ate the sugarless berries. All thoughts of how they needed sugar disappeared and from then on Ms. O’Neill used as little sugar as possible in blueberry recipes. This one comes from the kitchen of Chez Panisse and a book called “Chez Panisse Desserts” by Lindsay Shere (Random House 1985).
Andrew insists that this is about as simple as dessert recipe as you can get. It revolves completely around the berries all four and half cups of them. There is just 1/3 of a cup of sugar. The dough is a simple biscuit, cut into rounds topping, but not completely covering, all the berries. The Juice from the berries bubbles up around the dough. Heavy cream is the suggested topping to the cobbler. Great vanilla ice cream a worthy substitute. It brings Molly O’Neill to life on our dessert table where she is always welcome. Here is the recipe:
Chez Panisse's Blueberry Cobbler
An almost sugarless take on Blueberries make this a terrific dish showing off the fruit to its best advantage.
- For the berries:
- 4 ½ cups fresh blueberries
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- For the dough:
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- ¾ cup heavy cream, plus additional for serving, if desired
- Step 1 Heat the oven to 375 degrees. To prepare the berries, place in a bowl and toss with the sugar and flour. Set aside.
- Step 2 To make the dough, mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and mix lightly, just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
- Step 3 Put the blueberries in a 1 1/2-quart gratin or baking dish. Make patties out of the dough, 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Arrange them over the top of the berries. Bake until the topping is brown and the juices bubble thickly around it, about 35 to 40 minutes.
- Step 4 Let cool slightly. Serve warm, with cream to pour on top, or serve with a scoop of good Vanilla Ice Cream, if desired.
Read about my riotous meeting with Craig Claiborne here…
Two favorites from Richard Olney…