"Blow, winds! Blow until your cheeks crack. Rage on, blow!"
King Lear, by William Shakespeare
The winds of January are upon us, and with the annual turbulence of all things wet and wondrous, winter cuisine lights up the gray lands, hearty and rich with earth flavors and many things indigenous.
Leftovers in the new year
As we move beyond New Year’s Eve, I think of leftovers and stew. This recipe is a close cousin to the famous French Cassolette. However, I choose a few ingredients that are closer to home.
On the leftover list are chunks of smoked pork, the aftermath of a pork-ribbed roast, and some kielbasa sausage, a Christmas gift from a friend. I defrost some vacuum-sealed King Bolete mushrooms, the mouth-watering king of all mushrooms, commonly called the Porcini. From the root cellar, grab a couple of yellow onions and 6-8 cloves of garlic. A grocery list should include organic sweet peppers (red and yellow and orange) and celery. Fennel stalk finishes the veggie list. Homemade stock (save the vegetable ends) brings out the best flavors and I always add a full tablespoon of our homemade mushroom dust to the mixture. Well, all things rich and fresh — that is my motto. If you have some chicken pieces, they marry well.
Winter is joyful
Here is a hunters’ stew one might imagine as the men return through the snow in the Peter Bruegel painting, Hunters in the Snow. Pay close attention as the medieval villagers skate, dance and drink thick brown mead. Winter is joyful here, especially when accompanied with rich fare.
Wild game calls out the best in winter cuisine. If you have duck breasts, venison or elk meat, the exchange with pork and chicken will be appreciated. Although there are beans in this recipe, small diced garden potatoes are a welcome addition. As for spices, they are normally welcomed, particularly in a world that offers so much ethnic diversity in fine cuisine. Enrich with smoked paprika and Hatch chili peppers if you like spicy. Fresh Italian herbs are a must.
A word of advice
Dig in — we learn by experimentation. There are few defeats in cooking except burning your creation black, and every chef has done that a time or two. It is better to aim high and lose, than to aim low and win.
And lastly, Remember, this is a slow cooked cuisine. Be patient and the flavors will win supreme.