The Blessed Inconvenience of Abundance
Have you ever tried to grow zucchini? I haven’t. I’m a youngest child, and a fortunate side effect of that is a tendency to learn from others’ mistakes. I would watch my siblings get in trouble for something and make a mental note of what not to do. That’s why I’ve shied away from zucchini. I’ve seen too often the near-mad glaze that comes over the face of well-meaning friends who’ve grown an average crop of it. I’ve stood back in silent awe as they thrust friendship offerings in the form of grocery sacks full of the stuff at sworn enemies. I’ve shared meals with these crazed folks, where la courgette shows up in multiple forms—each version seasoned liberally with bitter resignation—a clue that this dinner wasn’t a social occasion but a collaborative effort to dispatch massive quantities of the unreasonably prolific vegetable.
Having not attempted to grow zucchini, I haven’t learned one of the many valuable lessons it has to teach, chief among them is the blessed inconvenience of abundance. That's why I said yes when a friend asked me if I wanted some tomatoes for sauce-making. She was wearing sunglasses. It was a tactical maneuver, I now realize. Those glasses were designed to hide her mad-zucchini eyes, the ones screaming “Please! Take my tomatoes! They’ve taken over my house but won’t pay my mortgage! I can’t find my countertops and the dog is missing!”
I walked away from that encounter 40lbs heavier. And with
no idea what I’d gotten myself into.
Turns out, what I got myself into is something many of us
used to be quite familiar with, the idea of eating vegetables in season. It's one
that has—alarmingly—become down-right old-fashioned. But it’s exactly this
quaintness, this each-in-its-season Ness, this slowness that’s become the
rallying cry of the increasingly popular Slow Food movement.
For the majority of Americans born before, say, 1980, July was the month when you could look forward to that first tree-ripened, perfectly succulent peach, or to the first deep red slice of a garden-grown tomato. It’s this forced patience that, in part, was responsible for the richer flavors we remember tasting in the fruits of our childhood. It’s one of Slow Food’s core beliefs that we have the power to live within the season, and that by letting the food we desire—and not our desire for food—set the pace of our consumption, we can enjoy healthier, high quality foods whose production is much easier on the environment.
It could be argued that Slow Food exists to remind us of the common sense approach we used to take toward food. Many of this blog’s readers may already be familiar with Slow Food, but for those who aren’t, the movement got started in Italy, its seeds planted in wide-spread opposition to the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. But the roots of the movement are international, and have been nourished by an expanding web of communities seeking to, as their website states, “link the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.” Key to the movement, are its commitments to food that is Good, Clean, and Fair. From the Slow Food Website:
The word good can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For Slow Food, the idea of good means enjoying delicious food created with care from healthy plants and animals. The pleasures of good food can also help to build community and celebrate culture and regional diversity.
When we talk about clean food, we are talking about nutritious food that is as good for the planet as it is for our bodies. It is grown and harvested with methods that have a positive impact on our local ecosystems and promotes biodiversity.
We believe that food is a universal right. Food that is fair should be accessible to all, regardless of income, and produced by people who are treated with dignity and justly compensated for their labor.
I had Slow Food in mind as I said “yes” to those 40 lbs
of tomatoes. I was saying yes to the season, yes to the bounty, yes to a gift
we used to only receive for a short time every year. Ironically, I was also
saying a big “NO” to attending one of the first meetings of our new local Slow
It’s a great highlight to know this welcome addition has been made to Reno’s food community. Hard-working folks have been pulling some beautiful food from Nevada’s desert dust for years now, and it’s a good thing to know something is now in place to help put them in touch with people who are eager to consume their goods.
I’ve been trying to Slow my Food for years, and
believe I’m supposed to listen close to the voices of the season. Some of the
more moldy ones on my kitchen countertop were crying out for a shave. It was
Slow Food, or the tomatoes.
I knelt at the altar of abundance that night. Fruit, by precious red fruit, I slowly turned my friend’s gift into a sauce that will be feeding my lovely sweetie and I during those dark months when “fresh” tomatoes are nothing more than pale, insipid imports at the local grocery.
The following is offered for the sake of those who want to say "yes!" to a large offering of seasonal goodness. I'm no cook so take the advice, such as it is, with a grain of salt. . . . And a glass of wine. Here’s a rough outline (read: “recipe” with the quote marks vehemently scratched in the air by tomato-stained fingers) with a total finished quantity of 3 gallons. Make sure you have a big stock pot. And a place to put all this stuff when you’re done:
Skin the tomatoes:
1) Fill a sink with ice water
2) Bring a large pot of water to a boil
3) Drop tomatoes in boiling water for about 1 minute, and then drop in ice water
4) Pull skin off and a) compost; b) use in some tasty dish; 3) give them to your neighbor’s 3 year old to throw around inside their house.
Making the sauce:
- Pour a bunch of olive oil in the bottom of the pan. What the heck, a little butter, too
- Toss in 3 heads of pressed or minced garlic, Add 2 or 3 onions, Brown the whole business
- Pour in a bottle of wine, preferably red. I used a bottle of Malbec that had no business being drunk out of a glass. Ick! But it was a righteous addition to the sauce. NOTE: If you’re drinking wine at the time you’re doing this, you don’t have to pay attention to when you add the wine, or how much goes in at what time . . . whatever. If you’re NOT drinking while cooking, then try to find some instruction about reducing wine when making a sauce, and do things like you’re supposed to.
- Start chopping up the skinned tomatoes and dropping them.
- By this time, your kitchen’s a wreck, it’s hotter than hell, and, if you’re drinking, then you’ve stopped paying close attention to details and started singing very loudly. This means it’s time to add more stuff to your sauce. Raid the fridge for leftover vegetables that might taste good. Chop them and add them. To the pot. Of sauce. That's hopefully on the stove.
- Don’t forget the fresh herbs! Fresh is where it’s at. Stick with the staples (oregano, basil, thyme, you know) Keep in mind the quantities should be sufficient for 3 gallons of sugo (i.e. 5 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, at least 4 full 6” springs of oregano, etc.)
- A few other things that I believe ended up in this batch and seem to have turned out well: balsamic vinegar (1/2 cup?); fresh cultured whey (left-over from making chevre); a stick of butter, crystallized cane juice (approx ¼ cup)
[Top, the stack of tomato skins as it starts to look when it's big enough to reach eye level. Middle left, The bin in which the gift of tomatoes was offered, overflowing. Middle right, one of the many tasty herbal additions - here, we've got a big pile of fresh oregano and flat-leaf parsley fresh from the garden. Bottom, 5 hours later and it's time for bed. Tip: don't start your project @ 8 on a school night!. Photos: localcrew]