When Mary McCartney and her three siblings were young and vacationing on a family farm in Scotland, their father endeavored to teach them about all the beautiful food that sprang from the earth.
“Dad would pick a turnip and slice it through and say, ‘Taste this turnip, it’s so sweet,’” she recalled while searing slices of eggplant in a skillet. “And we’d be like, ‘Oh, Dad, whatever.’ We’d just make fun of him.”
Maybe there is comfort in knowing that even the most famous people on the planet – McCartney’s proto-locavore father once played the bass in a Liverpool skiffle outfit known as the Beatles – cannot escape the mockery of their offspring. And for parents who worry that teachable moments come and go without anyone paying attention, maybe it’s reassuring to learn that Paul McCartney’s Scottish turnip tutorial did, in the end, manage to sink in.
In fact, Mary McCartney said, “Now we’ve come around to that ourselves.”
Like her father and her mother, Linda, Mary McCartney is a devoted vegetarian. The same goes for her siblings: Stella, a fashion designer; James, a musician; and Heather, an artist. Her first cookbook, which is rather bluntly and tellingly entitled “Food,” has just been released in the U.S.
For the McCartney clan, it seems, there was never any segregated category of “vegetarian food.” After Paul and Linda experienced a couple of epiphanies in the 1970s (including one that involved “a big truck with a bunch of caged chickens in it,” Mary McCartney said), vegetarian was simply how the family ate.
Although her recipes for dishes like Lip-Smacking Minestrone, Asparagus Summer Tart, Ice-Cream Celebration Cake and Cauliflower Cheese never involve meat, they don’t necessarily shy away from eggs, butter, sugar or cheese, and dollops of piety are, mercifully, kept to a minimum.
In the kitchen McCartney, 43, comes across as a charmingly chatty, albeit spontaneously helter-skelter, cook. During a visit to New York, she stood by a stove at a studio on West 31st Street, demonstrating how to make eggplant wraps filled with spinach, pine nuts and sharp cheddar. She needed soy sauce for a marinade that she intended to brush on the slim slices of eggplant (adding an extra wrinkle to her printed recipe), but a bottle couldn’t be found. After fishing around, an assistant discovered a stash of the little soy-sauce packets that come with Chinese takeout.
“Oh, perfect,” McCartney said. “That will absolutely do.”
After a brushing, the eggplant slices went into a pan. “So the idea of this is to brown them on both sides,” she said. The pan did not belong to her, though, and she expressed slight concern that chunks of eggplant might adhere to the hot, oiled surface.
“If they start sticking, we’ll have an emergency reassessment,” she said, laughing. Of course, a touch of scorch couldn’t hurt. “It gives it a little flavor; it’s nice that way, that’s what I always say, although not everyone believes me.”
McCartney also prepared a salad with shallots, roasted tomatoes and toasted walnuts, and if the shallots had ventured a tad beyond the threshold of optimal texture, she didn’t beat herself up about that. “I might have overcooked them a bit,” she mused. “They might be a bit squishy in the salad.”
Well, let it be. Even Julia Child splattered potato pancake on the stovetop now and then. Winging it might just be the McCartney way.
Whatever she lacks in precision, she appears to make up for in spirit. As the preparation of lunch went on, she expressed wistful longing for a glass of wine, admitted that her father’s song “Live and Let Die” remains her favorite of the James Bond movie anthems (“Obviously, I’m biased,” she said), and argued that there was only one correct way to deal with extra pools of olive oil, melted cheese and right-from-the-oven tomatoes.
“You know what would be good is to get a bit of bread and butter and dip it into that,” she said. “It might be our duty to do that.”
For a printable copy of the recipes, click the links:
HEAT oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery, and saute until barely tender, about 5 minutes. Add beans and garlic and stir for 2 minutes.
STIR in tomatoes and their juices, and vegetable stock. Simmer for 20 minutes.
ADD quinoa, parsley, oregano or other herb, and bay leaf. Cover and simmer until quinoa is cooked, 12 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf and serve. Yield: 6 servings (about 2 1 / 2 quarts)Eggplant Wraps Adapted from “Food,” by Mary McCartney 2 tablespoons sunflower oil or light olive oil 1 tablespoon dried mixed salt-free herbs, as desired 2 medium to large eggplants, each trimmed and sliced lengthwise into eighths, for 16 pieces 1 pound spinach 16 sun-dried tomato halves packed in olive oil 3 tablespoons raw pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet 5 ounces aged cheddar, cut into 16 slices Sea salt and ground black pepper
HEAT oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine oil and dried herbs. Lightly brush each eggplant slice on both sides with herbed oil.
PLACE a large skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, arrange as many pieces of eggplant in a single layer as will fit. Fry each side until golden brown and softened, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer cooked eggplant to a plate, and repeat with remaining slices.
RINSE spinach in cold water, and place the wet leaves in a dry medium saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Drain well.
ASSEMBLE wraps by taking a slice of eggplant and placing a heaping tablespoon of spinach on one side. Top spinach with a sun-dried tomato half, a few toasted pine nuts and a slice of cheddar. Fold the eggplant in half so that filling is completely covered. Place on a large nonstick baking sheet. Repeat to make 16 wraps, placed side by side. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake until cheese has melted, about 15 minutes. Serve hot. Yield: 16 wraps