Garden of Eden: Pesto-stuffed Tofu

I love food and I love to read. As a result, each month, I combine these two interests in a post about food from literature. I mostly stick with books from classic literature, so you're likely to know the storylines anyway, but just in case you don't: warning: there may be spoilers ahead.


I never would have heard of Hemingway's The Garden of Eden if I hadn't found it on the "free" table on our street. It is not among his better-known novels--and for good reason. His estate published it posthumously, editing it down from about a thousand pages (in three different editions) to a mere 250 pages. It's not, to be honest, very good. In part, that's probably because Hemingway wasn't done with it, but also because he may never have wanted to publish it. It's not a great plot, and the narrative is really unbalanced (though these issues might have been repaired had Hemingway been alive to do it himself). So you wouldn't want to read it for the story. But the novel is also a really interesting perspective into the author's lief (several critics have said it's semiautobiographical) and the social mores of ex-pats in the early 20th century. If you liked A Moveable Feast, or even Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, you may like The Garden of Eden.
The plot centers around David, a newly wed writer, and his wife Catherine, a fun/crazy/young woman who comes from money. They hadn't known each other long before they got married, and now they're taking a long (as in MONTHS long) honeymoon around Europe. David is insecure about his writing and about taking money from Catherine, who could easily support them on her inheritance, and Catherine is uncomfortable with who she is, wishing she could spend half her life as a boy and the other half as a girl. Through David, we see Catherine go from being the whimsical and original girl he met to the destructive and psychologically troubled woman he married. She makes a lot of aggressive moves in their relationship, including bringing in another woman. The ways in which the three of them deal with each other, and how society does/doesn't see them, is the really interesting part of this book for me. Catherine's psychological decline over the course of the novel is subtle but chilling. And, because Hemingway had not yet pared the language down to his usual brusque diction, the narration flows in a stream-of-consciousness, emotionally-rich river of words. It was a very fast read, too (I read it in pieces throughout one day, but I think it took me less than 4 hours).

Food and drink play a gigantic role in this book, perhaps because so much of the novel is sensual (as in "sensory," not "sexy," though I guess that would apply too). The characters all drink a massive amount of alcohol, which plays a double role here of stimulating the characters' senses and deadening them, depending on what they need or want. And because the characters aren't getting the sustenance they need from their interactions with others, food takes center stage in certain scenes.

Nothing they eat is vegan. It's caviar and brioches and fish, eggs, and/or bacon for almost every meal. But I was inspired by how elegant and yet basic their meals were. A protein in a rich sauce, vegetables on the side. So I came up with this meal:
Pesto-Stuffed Tofu
This dish calls for pesto, but you should use your own favorite pesto recipe,as I don't have any set way of making pesto to advise. (I change my recipe up every time I make it). Pesto from a jar is not quite as tasty, but would work, too. Serves 4.

The ingredients you need:
1/3 cup prepared Pesto (homemade, storebought, whatever you've got)
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup vinegar (or lemon juice; see below)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 block (14 ounces) extra-firm tofu

Blend your pesto with the garlic, oil, and half the vinegar in a blender or food processor until creamy. It should still have bits and pieces of basil visible, but you want it to be a spreadable consistency. This is because you want the pesto to do two things: 1.) to be a spreadable consistency, and 2.) to be have sharp enough flavors to sink into the tofu. However you normally make pesto, add extra acid. I recommend vinegar above, but if you usually like lemon juice in your pesto, add that instead. I like using vinegar so I don't end up with lemon-pesto-tofu, but it's your call. Anyway, if the pesto is still not creamy, add the remaining half of the vinegar a little at a time. You can then add a bit more oil and/or water if necessary to make it creamier. You'll end up with less than a cup of pesto.

Now you prepare your block of tofu. Set it up on its side, and measure where you'll make your slits. I only made two slits above, but I recommend making three cuts instead, since otherwise the pesto flavor doesn't permeate the entire block. Anyway, make your slits in the tofu, leaving 1/2 to 1/4 of an inch on either end NOT SLICED.
Like so. Note the creamy consistency of the pesto to the side!

Now spoon pesto into the slits. It takes a couple spoonfuls; you want it full and sort of oozing out a bit, but not uncontrollably. Use the dull edge of a butter knife to push the pesto all the way to the edges of the slits.
Now smooth off the excess pesto. Marvel at how you just stuffed some tofu!
Put it in a baking pan or on a baking sheet, lighty greased. Bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes, until the edges have browned and dried out a little.
Remove from the oven--but you're not done yet! Take some of your leftover pesto mixture and smear it along the top and sides.
I left the sides with the slits uncovered this time, but intend to cover them next time. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
Cut into 4 long slices. Eat with a simple salad and roasted vegetables while looking out at the Mediterranean and contemplating how your childhood elephant hunt has affected your current choice of partners. Or if you're not a Hemingway character, just enjoy with a simple salad and roasted vegetables.


Jenny said... Best Blogger Tips

OH, that's so creative; I haven't seen anything like it. Good job.

sara said... Best Blogger Tips

yum, pesto. it looks lovely!

Jeni Treehugger said... Best Blogger Tips

That's making me hungry, it looks sooo good. My pesto recipe changes every time I make it too, it's that kind of thing that just always turns out fab.

panda with cookie said... Best Blogger Tips

I have not met a stuffed food I didn't like.

Laura said... Best Blogger Tips

Looks amazing--I'll eat pesto on anything.

Leslie R. said... Best Blogger Tips

A Moveable Feast is one of my favorites, so I'm glad you posted about this book. I'll keep an eye out. The tofu looks delicious!

vegan.in.brighton said... Best Blogger Tips

that's so awesome! I need to stuff me some tofu!

Sarah P said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks everyone! Again, I recommend making 3 slices instead of 2, so the pesto can suffuse the tofu better.