"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah & Pan-Roasted Potatoes and Caramelized Onions
As a graduate student with little opportunity to read for pleasure, I know to allot myself plenty of time to finish a book. The number of books I have stopped mid-read — ones that now lie forgotten on a shelf somewhere — amount to dozens.
But once in a while, I find myself reading a book I cannot seem to put down, a book that deserves my unwarranted attention and one I can read through the night and into the early morning hours, and so it was with The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah.
In The Nightingale, Hannah tells of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, whose lives are turned upside down when the Nazis invade France. Vianne Mauriac lives a charmed life in the quiet French countryside town of Carriveau with her husband, Antoine, and daughter, Sophie.
Isabelle Rossignol, ten years her junior, has been expelled from the latest in a series of boarding schools for her outspoken, impulsive nature. The two share little in common save for a mother who died while they were young and a father who returns home from World War I broken and unable to care for his daughters.
When the Nazis penetrate the Maginot Line and invade France, Vianne must say goodbye to all that she holds dear and make a series of heartbreaking sacrifices as food and resources become scarce. For her part, Isabelle, unable to quietly bear the brutal and terrifying reality of the Nazi regime, joins the French Resistance, earning herself the titular namesake as a result.
Based on a true story, The Nightingale is a heartrending tale of the heroic sacrifices of the women of war in the face of unspeakable horrors. While Vianne and Isabelle could not be more different in their ways of fighting back against Nazi rule, their unspeakable bravery is a true testament to the strength of the human spirit in even the worst of times.
The Nightingale often uses food, or the lack thereof, as a means to differentiate between the good times and the bad. In times of abundance, Vianne takes pride in her cooking, taking time to mull over combinations and bask in the aromas, while as food becomes scarce, increasing desperation forces her to make terrible sacrifices to ensure that her daughter does not go hungry.
The following meal of pan-roasted potatoes and caramelized onions is an adaptation of one Vianne prepares when the German captain stationed in her home returns with a fresh catch of fish. The tantalizing aromas of this hearty dish and the combination of sweet onions and savory potatoes do well to capture the constant tug of war Vianne feels as she makes one sacrifice after another for the good of those closest to her.
PAN-ROASTED POTATOES AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS
Serves 3 to 4
1 ½ - 2 pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
Place sliced onions in large heavy skillet with 1-tablespoon oil. Cook the onions on medium heat until soft. Lower heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly until onions are a dark golden brown. Remove from heat and drain.
Dice potatoes into ¼-½ inch pieces. In a cast iron skillet, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan 1/8 inch deep. Sprinkle a layer of salt to taste into the oil all over the bottom of the pan. Add the diced potatoes and cook until browned, about 10-12 minutes. Add more oil and continue to cook for a few more minutes if needed.
When the potatoes are browned, turn the heat to the lowest setting and cover the pan. Cook about 20 minutes covered.
Add the reserved caramelized onions and toss well together. Cook for another minute or two, flipping the potatoes over to mix and thoroughly heat the onions.
Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.