I've been thinking about cooking Canis lupus again.
Meaning, of course, the snarling beast at the door, the one that M.F.K. Fisher conjured in her famous book “How to Cook a Wolf,” written during the intense economic impoverishment of the Second World War.
It’s a wry book, so full of grace during truly horrible times that it breaks your heart.
For the lucky ones (i.e., you and me), The Wolf is less about poverty, and more, perhaps, about disappointment or despair or sadness or anger, a broken heart, a fear of the unknown. He's a cartoon character, who sniffs around everyone’s house occasionally, looking for a place to settle; I imagine him in giant striped shorts, for some reason.
Do I qualify as hungry enough, in either sense, to cook a wolf, though? I'm not sure. So I plan to invite him in, trick him into sitting down at my table, then feed him an exploding blueberry pie. It’s going to be fun. And I know it's going to make me feel better.
But since the animal Fisher was writing about--the real, vicious one, with sharp teeth, glowing eyes--seems to be making a return, I also want to help show more people how easy cooking can be. Never mind how incredibly happy it can make you.
Because the idea of being an organic sustainable locavore is surely going to seem more absurd and cartoonish than my imaginary wolf-in-shorts, especially to all the people in the world who have no idea what to do with a butternut squash or a cabbage. Never mind the number of people who live in neighborhoods filled with liquor stores and fast food chains but not a single grocery store, much less a farmer's market.
So, hey! Sorry if I've harshed your mellow. On a brighter note: let's all cook! And let's all teach someone else to cook, while we're at it. Here's a good place to start helping, by the way: http://www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/event/cookingupchange/2008
And to soothe any such undue harshness, I offer a recipe that gives new meaning to the words "comfort food." It requires that you slice many onions, then caramelize/smother them--which means you get to weep openly for a few minutes (like Holly Hunter, in Broadcast News) then sit on the couch and watch American Idol as they cook. Which is exactly what I did last night.
I first made this dish about 10 years ago, when I was living in NYC, where, of course, I had a kitchen the size of the desk I'm sitting at right now. I can't remember where I found the recipe (a Marcella Hazan cookbook?), but I do recall that I liked it because it was cheap (my apartment cost more than half my monthly salary) and required one pot.
It makes a dreamy, luxurious, but unattractive mess; you might want to double the recipe, especially if sliced pork tenderloin with caramelized onions on toasted rye sounds good to you. Use red or white wine; both work.
Caramelized Onion and Walnut Sauce for Pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pound onions (6-8), peeled, cut in half, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped
1 cup wine
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted, chopped
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 pound spaghetti or other thin pasta
- Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and toss to coat with the oil; cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Raise heat to medium high; cook until onions begin turn light brown, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary; cook, covered, over medium low heat, for 15 minutes.
- Add half the wine and cook, uncovered, until reduced, about 5 minutes. Add remaining wine, cook until reduced, five more minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter, walnut pieces. Serve over pasta, topped with Parmesan and parsley. Or, you can do what I do and mix the sauce, pasta, and cheese, according to how much sauce you like, together in the pot. You'll probably still want to sprinkle more parmesan on when you add the parsley.