reflections on a wintery day

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of food information traveling across the web, so much so that it can immobilize me. The plethora of recipes, food tips, links, blog posts, tweets, pages, photos, star chefs, food trends, trendy addresses... I cannot fathom where one is to store or even make use of it all. My petite brain experiences it much as a feverish wave of commotion, spinning me round, dizzying me, submerging me—which is surely one of the reasons for the long stretches of silence on my part.

A joyous cacophony it is, to be sure. A gleeful celebration of cuisine, of sharing and community. A blessed rediscovery of the fruits of the Earth, all things artisan, local, organic, sustainable, whole. A joyful path back to our kitchens, reuniting with our stoves, bowls, spatulas, aprons, those sweet scents seeping from glowing ovens, adorned tables, not to mention the age-old rituals born of that most basic of human endeavors: nourishing and sustaining our bodies and spirits. Hopefully it is even more so an expression of the high esteem and profound respect due the Earth, the fields and hills of fertile soil, the hands that toil them and offer up to us their seasonal harvests, the sentient animals who generously give of themselves on our behalf.

Living in the micro, the small-scale—that cherished hollow in the forest—has been my inherent way. As we are pulled—not kicking and fighting, it seems... though I'm not so sure—further into a life lived on and across the Internet, of hangouts and chats, likes, groups, circles, tags, links, events, tweets, hashtags, clouds—what have I forgotten—such rivers of flowing information now spanning the world, the macro, the large-scale of it all becomes more than daunting at times and I feel the need to retreat and find my center again—in that cherished hollow.

I'll just have to trust that living, creating and working in, as well as sharing from that cherished place will continue to nourish me and those wishing to glean from my posts and cooking classes a tip or two, a recipe or three about seasonal vegetables, how to lovingly undress them and stir them up into simple scrumptious dishes. And perhaps more important... sustain in both our spirits and under our nails a bit of fertile dirt.

Reflections on a wintry afternoon in Paris... and now back to the kitchen and what blesses me : cooking the roots shoots flowers and fruits, beans grains seeds pods 'n nuts from the quatrain of seasons into delightful food for body, heart and soul.... And so here goes to adding yet another pinch of earthy info to that already copiously whirling out there.

Now it is deeply autumn in Paris... wintry days cloaked in grey. Ah, but at the marketplaces there is no lack of vivid colors shouting forth from the stands that line the aisles. I've always thought autumn and winter offered the most plentiful variety and choice of fruits and vegetables Perhaps more modest in their allure, but oh so bursting with savory shades of the earth. Take radicchio rossa di Chioggia with the deep plum red and chiseled white veins of its leaves, the outer ones often tinted with mossy green.

T'is is the season of chicories from endive to escarole, sugarloaf to sucrine et pain de sucre, cicorie selvatiche (wild chicory) to puntarella (chicory sprouts), Castelfranco to Chioggia, rossa di Treviso precoce e tardivo and onwards to dandelion... That's quite a hymn to sweet bitterness! And suffice it to say they are chocked full of the vitamins and minerals that winter might just demand of our bodies. There is a beautiful intrinsic harmony in eating seasonally, after all.

Down in Salento, at the very heel of Puglia, there's a dish so humble as to be among the most savory things I've ever eaten: fave e cicorie selvatiche. Dried fava beans are cooked into a creamy purée and served with blanched cicorie selvatiche (akin to huge dandelion-looking leaves). Hard to find elsewhere (although I did stumble upon something similar the other day at a producer's stand at the marché Bastille, just not quite as "wild" tasting). So I often substitute radicchio di Chioggia for its pungent tang, the contrast to the comfy robustness of the fava beans is much to my liking. I know, I know, this is a transgression of the ricetta tradizionale, but I'll take responsibility.

First a few links :
— Via Campesina : peasant seeds and food sovereignty
— non-GMO shopping guide
— top 10 "Union of Concerned Scientists" food facts
— healthy farmland diet
Leonardo's Flight : a great video  on sending Leonardo da Vinci's codex to Mars

fave secche e cicorie selvatiche from a marketplace in Salento (photo by FP)

my variation on FAVE con CICORIE SELVATICHE (with radicchio di Chioggia) - serves 4

for the fava bean purée :
400 gr  [14 oz] dried fava beans, preferably already split
1 not-too-large potato (Charlotte, Bintje… a nice yellow fleshed one), peeled (or not) and cut into cubes
2 fresh bay leaves
4 tBsp extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt

for the sautéed chicory :
800 gr [28 oz] radicchio di Chioggia, the leaves separated and washed
Pinch of dried peperoncino (red pepper flakes)
2 – 3 large garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half, the sprout removed, and very thinly sliced crosswise
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea sat and freshly ground WHITE pepper

for the croutons (not pictured) : nice dense rustic bread

||| Soak the dried fava beans in cold water over night. Drain and rinse. If they are still wearing their skins patiently remove them, making a slit along one side with a sharp paring knife then peeling the skin back and off. Transfer to a large saucepan along with the potato and bay leaves. Add fresh water to cover by 3 cm (a good 1 inch). Cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until the fava beans and potato fall apart, anywhere from 45 - 90 minutes depending on whether the beans are split or not, as well as their age—try to get the most recent year’s harvest. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface while cooking. Also check from time to time and add more water if beginning to dry out—there should be a bit of liquid left when fully cooked. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves then purée, along with the 4 tBsp of olive oil, with an immersion blender or in a food processor. (You can also use a food mill and add the olive oil at the end.) Season with sea salt to taste. The purée should be wonderfully creamy and have a slightly soupy consistency. Keep warm on the stove, adding a splash or two more water if needed just before serving.

||| Cut 20 1-inch cubes of dense rustic bread. (You can remove the crust or leave it be)… Drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss. Spread out on a baking sheet and place in the oven heated to 150 ˚C (300 ˚F) for 30 - 60 minutes, until veering golden, dry throughout with a nice crunch. Remove, transfer to a plate and set aside.

||| Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large high-sided skillet. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds over medium heat. Add the radicchio and a splash of water and cook over medium-high heat, turning from time to time, until beginning to brown, 10 or so minutes. Transfer to a plate. (You might do this in two turns so the leaves don not get soggy.) Season with sea salt to taste.

|||  Wipe out the skillet then heat a generous drizzle of olive oil. Add the sliced garlic and cook over medium heat until beginning to crisp and brown around the edges, 1 - 2 minutes, shaking the pan a few times. Turn off the heat and add another drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Transfer to a bowl.

to serve : Fill each soup plate with a generous portion of the fava bean purée. Top with a nice mound of cooked radicchio. Garnish with a generous tablespoon of garlic olive oil and a couple three twists of the WHITE pepper grinder. Plop  4 - 5 croutons down around the exterior of the dish.

wine note: serve with a lovely Occhipinti SP68 : Albanello and Moscato di Alessandria — Arianna Occhipinti, Sicilia

:: drink natural "living" wines
:: buy locally, from sustainable farmers
:: eat with friends
:: show thought and honor to ALL creatures
:: be gentle with the earth and kind to yourself

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