It’s been raining for days now, but when the sun breaks through the smell of wet leaves on the crisp breeze is as pungent a memory tonic as I know of; it transports me back to myriad times during my childhood and burnishes an inexpressible longing for the wide-open joy and freedom of that period. Fall has always been my favorite season, and that feeling only grows each year. All of this nostalgia has been reinforced by watching Milo get to live these days in that way, and it got an extra boost this weekend since he was sick; to keep him entertained I dug deep into my long-dormant (yet still mad) lego skillz. He got some good new sets for his birthday, so we were well-equipped to make lots of cool vehicles.
Feeling mostly better yesterday, and with the weather having moderated somewhat, I made the kind of food that brings me back to life at its most profound and fundamental. While I love to get all fancy given the time or occasion, for day-to-day purposes I think it’s all about giving high-quality humble ingredients the reverence they need to become delicious. And at the tail end of a cold, keeping it clean is the best way to go, notwithstanding any cravings for junky comfort food.
I spent a big part of the afternoon picking, washing, chopping, blanching, vacuum-sealing, and freezing about 8 quarts of mirepoix for use during the winter. I did this last year, and it was such a treat to toss some in a pan on a cold winter day (along with a little guanciale) to get a soup or stew going and have that beautiful smell waft up out of the pan. My custom mix includes fennel and leek along with the usual carrot, onion, and celery; I like the extra dimensions and depth they give. And since our guanciale is almost ready, the timing is perfect.
To celebrate, and reward myself for an uncomfortable few hours standing in the kitchen, I sliced some guanciale, rendered it a little in the pressure cooker, and added a hefty dump of mirepoix. Then a little wine, water, and some soaked heirloom lima beans, and the cover clamped on. While it was doing its thing, I made green mash with thinnings from the pan di zucchero in the garden (read about mash here) and steamed some sweet potatoes. I had put some of our big fat beets in the oven to roast (skin on, quartered, with salt and olive oil, wrapped in foil) so when they were done I rubbed the skin off, sliced them, and tossed them with balsamic vinegar, more oil, and pepper. I put everything on top of some steamed corn tortillas, quasi-Ethiopian style. The guanciale has such a strong presence- those few thin slices perfumed a big pot of beans with their exquisitely funky porkitude- and the two sweet vegetables offered wonderfully varying counterweight to the bitter mash.