Michael Pollen said in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that American’s are confused about what we should eat because we lack a food culture. Somehow, long before nutritional counseling, calorie-counting, the food pyramid, and Dr. Oz to tell people what was good for them, Italians knowingly paired olive oil with tomatoes, and the oil served to help the body absorb the fat-soluble antioxidants and lycopene (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/wellness/story/2012-06-18/ellie-krieger-power-food-pairings/55695752/1).
South Americans ate beans and rice together creating a complete protein, and Japanese paired sushi with wasabi, letting its anti-microbial properties aid with the body’s processing of sometimes questionably-fresh fish (http://steamykitchen.com/15015-real-fresh-wasabi.html). Funny how long it takes us to recognize the wisdom of our elders. Modern food science is just beginning to find the wisdom of centuries-old traditions, many of which we have deemed “unhealthy” because of a fear of fat, carbs, cholesterol, or whatever taboo is en vogue at the moment.
There is a return in some circles to a more thoughtful way of cooking and eating, of knowing where your food comes from, how it is grown, and putting care into its preparation. As much as I love the idea of Slow Food (http://www.slowfoodusa.org/), the truth is that the pace of our society does not allow for a sauce that has simmered on the stove all day to be poured over our freshly picked vegetables each night. Thus, Stouffer’s lasagna.
Since each day does not provide sufficient hours for the homemade preparations of yesteryear, holidays are the times we relish our slow food. Sometimes. Except the green beans and condensed soup from cans topped with a can of fried onions. yum. I do cut corners, but I am rather smug about the fact that I have never served my family anything slathered with Campbell’s. There is no “Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee” going on here.
One food culture with which I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted is Catalan, from the Catalonia region in northeastern Spain. My husband planned grand menus with aspirations for his kids experience their family’s food traditions, so between Christmas, the day after Christmas, New Year’s, and the Epiphany, I’m slow-fooded out. I would say that in general I spend more time cooking and cook more from scratch than the average working American, but certainly not as much as the traditional Spanish housewife! One New Year’s delight was a traditional soup, esculella i carn d’olla, complete with homemade meatballs,
This website gives one version of the recipe. I unfortunately didn’t capture any of my own photos of this dish.
shell noodles, cabbage, carrots, turnips and parsnips, garbanzo beans, leeks, onions, celery, a whole chicken, ham hocks, lamb shanks, beef bones, white sausage, blood sausage, pigs feet and chicken feet.
If you imagine this would require a big stock pot, you are correct. Try three. While I enjoyed the root vegetables and the dogs have been feasting on pig scraps for a week, what I appreciate about this soup is the broth. Some of it still sits in a pitcher in the fridge, and it is not a liquid. The bones boiling away all day with their marrow scraped out have made a broth that when chilled is just like Jell-o, minus the sugar and red dye. This is not fat, no, this is gelatin. I thought I needed something poured from a white paper envelope inside a cardboard box from the grocery store to make things quiver like that. I’m not gonna lie, it grosses me out just a little. But that’s because I have been taught a sanitized food gospel of stuff that’s bleached, processed, waxed, and additive-d up until it bears only a distant resemblance to God’s natural goodness from whence it came. Turn your nose up if you may, but if this was made from well-raised pastured animals, this broth is true health food. Put down those Snackwell cookies and stare into the eyes of something truly wholesome.
My favorite dish by far from the homespun holiday menus was a cannelloni pasta served alongside a creamy chestnut mushroom soup. While husband simmers onions and olive oil for the homemade marinara, I whisk together a bechamel sauce. White sauce goes down in the pan.
Perfect squares of pasta dance in the boiling water, plunge into ice water to cook, then are rolled up with a meat filling of ground veal and local pastured ground turkey and pork, chopped up nice and fine. Sadly, nobody in town had lamb brains to give it that special touch. Pasta rolls in, pour over more bechamel, a little tomato sauce, finish with Parmesan. Out of the oven it’s bubbly, and in the mouth it’s rich and creamy, with the perfect balance of white to red sauce with the sprinkling of salty parmesan starting to crisp up on top. Time-consuming, yes, but oh so satisfying. So satisfying that I boil up some more pasta and make a fresh batch of cream sauce the next day to roll up the leftover meat for a fresh batch to carry over to a neighbor who just lost her husband. Because this is comfort food at its best.
I could have watched several movies, caught up on reading, and washed and clipped my dogs’ hair with the time spent in the kitchen this holiday season. While it’s true that a good haircut lasts a lot longer than a good meal, I consider the hours time well spent. I experienced highlights of a rich and celebrated food culture that has been practiced for generations upon generations. Here’s to a holiday season spent without Marie Callender!