I’ve felt rather short on time lately, as I’m in the last stages of finishing up my lemon manuscript and illustrations to send off to the press.
So how come I’ve also been making some time-consuming food the past couple of weekends? A soup that takes 3 or 4 hours, bread that takes about 20 hours start to finish….?
Sounds crazy, but really, it’s not the contradiction it seems. I’ve been home a lot more lately and it takes mostly time, rather than active attention, for the soup to mellow and the bread to slowly rise and bake. Last weekend, I got ready for my cooking spree the night before, soaking cannellini beans for the soup, and tossing together some flour, water and yeast in a bowl to rise… and it only took minutes. The next day, my work was half done.
While soup is cooking and bread is baking, they warm the house and make it smell wonderful. And once they’re made, that great classic combo feeds us for days with no more effort than heating up the soup and slicing the bread.
There are lots of ways to make minestrone, but lately I’ve discovered Marcella’s way — Marcella Hazan, that is, the woman who introduced tradtional Italian cooking to British and American home cooks. Her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is true to its name, a book I turn to when I want to know how it’s really done.
Minestrone is a substantial vegetable soup with beans, and Marcella’s minestrone alla romagnola, as she says, is “a soup of a dense mellow flavor that recalls no vegetable in particular, but all of them at once.”
The method she uses is to saute each vegetable in a particular sequence: onion, carrots, celery, potatoes, green beans, zucchini and shredded cabbage — before adding broth, a parmigiano cheese rind (if you have it) and some canned tomatoes. You cook this for 2 1/2 hours, then add cooked beans and cook another 30 minutes or more.
I didn’t have zucchini or cabbage, and I used my own light vegetable stock rather than beef broth. I added some basil, and at the end, I tossed in some chopped kale and chard to cook in the soup, for that green topping — and after three hours of simmering, it was pretty wonderful.
Oh, about that bread…. It’s Jim Lahey’s marvelous method of making a moist dough that rises for a long time with very little yeast and bakes in the Dutch oven. (An old Dutch oven with a crack through it has been perfect for this.) The recipe is here, and I’ve been using 1 cup of whole wheat flour plus 2 cups of white bread flour, and increasing the salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
The loaf above was crusty and delicious and didn’t last too long…. so after I took that photo, I’ve taken the time–or is it, given the time?– to make a couple loaves more.
It was really about the best thing I could have done, even when it seemed I didn’t have enough time. Giving the time anyway to make a long-simmering soup and a slow-rising bread made me realize (once again) that slow food is nourishing in so many ways.
What’s your favorite slow food?