Cooking, eating and painting with Leslie Hartnett
Along with new works that are being shown this week at The Spring Street Gallery, Leslie Hartnett has a new recipe book, in which she has created a painting of the ingredients for a wide array of recipes. We reached out to Leslie via email to talk a little bit about the book, which is titled “Eat the Paintings.”
BITimes: This is a delightful recipe book. I’m curious as to how the idea came to you. Were you arranging the fruits and vegetables for a painting, decide to use them for dinner, and have an “aha!’ moment for the book? Or was it something more thought out?
LH: I’ve always loved the visual aspects of fruits and vegetables. I love to cook them, grow them, shop for them and all of this is expressed in my work. For many years I have made terra-cotta Majolica reliefs of fruits, vegetables and flowers and this past winter I decided to make paintings of them instead.
BIT: Did all the food come from your garden, or is it local produce?
LH: My husband Sean and I have spent winters for the past 25 years in Pietrasanta, Italy which is on the Mediterranean coast in the northern part of Tuscany. After I had already begun painting this past winter, the pandemic appeared and we were in lockdown. The only place we were allowed to go was the grocery store. All of my subjects were found either there or near our house. We have lemons, oranges, artichokes, nasturtium flowers, persimmons, pomegranates, clementines, mandarin oranges near us or in our village, all of which I used for the paintings. There were wonderful fruits and vegetables in season that I was able to buy like radicchio (many different kinds and colors), all sorts of beautiful onions, strawberries, etc. I could never waste anything, so I cooked them for us to eat. It was rather soon after I had begun painting that I had the idea of making a book of my recipes to go with the paintings — and decided to call it “Eat the Paintings.”
BIT: Whose recipes did you use for this book? Did you try to make the recipes simple enough so that anyone could make them?
LH: Many of the recipes are my own like the one for Clementine Cake. Others I adapted from old Italian recipes like peperonata that I’ve been cooking for a long time. When I decided we’d like some clam chowder, which I make often on Block Island, I went to see what sort of clams I could find. There were no littlenecks or quahogs, only very small vongole veraci which are delicious and quite beautiful. I found a gorgeous piece of pancetta to take the place of bacon. Using these Italian ingredients, the clam chowder was wonderful, but it’s very good using our American clams and bacon.
I like simple food, as do the Italians, so the recipes shouldn’t be complicated. Precise measurements are not important. I’ve been cooking for a long time and have a lot of experience but I tried to imagine a person without experience cooking with these recipes. I hope I succeeded because cooking should never be intimidating.
BIT: If people can’t get to your show, where can they get the book?
LH: At seanhartnett.com or lesliehartnett.com
Interview conducted and edited by Lars Trodson.