One of the joys of semi-retirement is the freedom to enjoy the natural rhythms in the world, especially those related to food. Today’s small lunch provides an object lesson.
At first appearances it is a simple meal: several slices of grilled bread, topped with a white bean purée, a fresh basil leaf, and chopped broccoli rabe, accompanied by a glass of an Italian white wine — Vadiaperti’s Coda di Volpe. However, there is a lot more to the story. The fact that this meal was five days in the making will illustrate what I mean by “the natural rhythms”.
This is my first post in two months. Even in semi-retirement, there are periods of intense activity for work. The past six weeks have been very busy, teaching two graduate school courses completely online for the first time. Finally, this week one course was completed, so I’ve had a chance to indulge my passion for cooking. Here’s how the elements came together over a five-day sequence.
Day 1 — mix the levain as the first step in making sourdough bread. Let it sit on the kitchen counter overnight to ferment.
Day 2 — mix the bread dough, incorporating the levain, and let it develop slowly, all day long, stretching it every half hour or so. Retard the development by placing the loaves in the refrigerator overnight.
Day 3 — bake the breads (four loaves this time, instead of the usual two). I hate to throw out unused levain, so I made one recipe of Tartine-style whole wheat, and one recipe of a rye bread with caraway seeds, providing two loaves for each. In the afternoon begin soaking a batch of dried cannellini beans and let them soak overnight.
Day 4 — cook the beans, then make the purée, including slow-cooked, chopped onion and garlic, plus some olive oil, then sautéed with the beans. Trim a bunch of broccoli rabe, parboil it to remove some of the bitterness and tenderize a bit. When the vegetable was cooled and dried, flash fry it with olive oil in a very hot wok. Chop and eat some for lunch, setting the rest in the refrigerator overnight.
Today, Day 5 — slice and grill the bread. Rub raw garlic and a ripe tomato on the toast. Pick the basil from our garden. Top the bread with the purée and the broccoli rabe and basil. Pour the wine, relax and enjoy lunch.
So, what’s all this stuff about “natural rhythms”? Well, my observation is that most of our professional and personal lives involve ways to do things quickly. I could buy pre-made bread, and a container of puréed beans. Or, I could even bake my own bread with instant yeast, slice it and make a meal the same day. I could use a can of pretty good cannellini beans, and it might cost $0.99 and be ready in the 30 seconds required to open the can.
These are all practical options, and they have often given us healthy and convenient meals. But I also have learned that, when I have the time, the breads I make from milling my own flour, using a levain from my own sourdough starter, and allowing the dough to develop over two days before I bake it — those breads have more flavor, satisfying textures, and last on the counter far longer without spoiling than anything I buy or make with instant yeast. To me, the natural rhythms of fermentation and breadmaking can be enjoyed to the fullest, when one has the luxury to do so.
The prosaic white beans tell a similar story. The flavor and texture of Rancho Gordo dry cannellini beans, named “Marcella” in honor of Marcella Hazan, allow me to savor a purée as if I were in the kitchen of my favorite Italian food writer, while I conversed with Victor Hazan about the glories of Coda di Volpe, the grapes from Campania, so named because the grape clusters hang down on the vines as if they were ‘the tail of the wolf’.
Another dividend of this whole, drawn-out process is that I get to enjoy some of the elements in other dishes over the five-day period. Here are the photos along the way.
Four breads, baked in three different custom-made Breadpots by Judith Motzkin, providing delicious, healthy, vegan meals.