Celebrating Slow Food

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Slow Down And Cook

When I was a student in Italy, I was constantly amazed at the way food was integrated into daily life. My friends often picked wild greens and mushrooms, formed little expeditions to go eat special pasta or cheese or cannoli in some tiny restaurant, or casually cooked mind blowing (for me, anyway) meals at midnight.

American had not yet been overrun with convenience foods, but there was certainly an emphasis on quantity over quality. I remember my mom buying huge rectangular blocks of pale yellow, rubbery American cheese, and gigantic packets of “creme” filled cookies that even we kids could tell were black and white, rather than chocolate and vanilla.

Europeans Taste Their Food

I could not help but notice that my Italian friends took food seriously. Nobody ever bought junk food (I’m not sure there was such a thing yet), and the choosing of each ingredient required everybody’s full attention when we shopped.

The food got everybody’s full attention again when we ate, which blew me away. Not that anybody was greedy or obsessive, just very attentive and appreciative. It took me a while to figure out that everybody else was deliberately tasting what they ate. Hmmm. I grew up with three grabby brothers, and once I managed to get food on my plate, my main goal at our family dinners was to eat and be excused as fast as possible so I could return to my current book.

Slow Down, We’re Moving Too Fast

Over the three years I lived in Italy, I fell in love with food. I discovered that I enjoyed choosing recipes and ingredients and learning new techniques. I was fascinated by Italian shops that carried hundreds of cheeses, or pastas, or wines and little or nothing else. I found a new world of fruits and vegetables, and learned to taste what I ate. It felt like a miracle.

I also learned to treat mealtimes as companionable opportunities for fun, times to deepen relationships and open myself to new ideas. I learned to chop and slice quickly and efficiently, paying attention to each ingredient in turn. I learned to savor the smell of freshly sliced peppers or pears, and the look of colorful vegetable confetti that formed on my cutting board. I learned above all that you can’t hurry slow food.

Getting Off To A Slow Start

I realize that this may sound jarring to busy folks with too much to do. However, I encourage you to give slow food a try; you may even find, as I do, that a.l that chopping and slicing becomes meditative. If the thought of cooking slow food sounds daunting, start something easy; soup. Heartening and wholesome, hot soup tastes like motherly love on a cold day. Filling without being calorie-dense, broth based soups make a healthy alternative to the typical meat-and-potatoes evening meal. Quickly assembled and slowly simmered, garden based soups can offer a whole day’s worth of vegetables and greens in one lovely bowl.

Nutritious, delicious, low fat and quickly made, supper time soups are simple to prepare. Start with a tablespoon of olive oil and a member of the onion family; garlic, red, white or yellow onions, sweet onions, shallots, or leeks. Dried herbs, organic citrus zest, minced ginger, fennel seeds, and other spices can be added now.

Denser Foods First

Add vegetables (2-3 cups total per person, but don’t panic yet) in order of density, sautéing for a minute or two, then adding broth or water to cover.  To keep your carbohydrate-protein ratios balanced, use fewer dense, calorie-rich vegetables and more fast-cooking ones. Diced or chopped potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, beets, squash, and carrots (about 1/4 cup per person of these) cook for 15-20 minutes, while fresh green or yellow beans (1/2 cup per), peas (1/4 cup), fennel (1/2 cup), zucchini (1 cup), leafy greens (up to 3 cups), tomatoes (1/2 cup) and asparagus (up to 1 cup) need only 3-5 minutes.

Your broth will be enhanced by the protein source you choose (add about 2 ounces per adult). Thinly sliced or cubed poultry cooks in about 10 minutes, while seafood or sliced fish needs only 2-3 minutes. Vegetarians can add whisked eggs (2-3 per adult) that cook in seconds, or tofu, which just needs to heat up.

Body Building

If your soup tastes thin, give it body with a dash of organic vegetable broth powder, dry marsala, pear or apple cider, balsamic or rice vinegar, organic soy sauce (it has more depth), or anchovy paste (nobody ever guesses). Refrigerate stews and thick soups overnight for fullest flavor. Instead of adding cream, puree half of any cooked soup, then combine the two halves.

To finish your soup, skim off any foam and season to taste with fresh herbs, fresh citrus juices, salt, and pepper. Garnish with diced apples or pears, shredded savoy cabbage or bok choy, sliced green or red onions, minced fennel or basil, chopped nuts, stemmed cilantro or lemon thyme.

Basic Vegetable Stock

Save vegetable scraps when cooking (in the fridge), then combine a potful to make sturdy, flavorful stock for soups. Don’t use strong flavored cabbage or beets, which overwhelm everything else.

Fill a saucepan with:

Onion skins, thick outer peels, root ends
Celery ends and leaves
Carrot ends and peelings
Potato peelings
Broccoli stems
Mushroom stems
2-3 whole cloves garlic (unpeeled)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Cover with water and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-3 hours. Strain through a colander and freeze in 1 or 2 cup quantities for up to 3 months.

Black Turtle Bean Soup

2 cups Black Turtle beans
2 shallots, peeled
2 carrots, chopped
1 white or yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon thyme, stemmed
1 teaspoon shoyu, ponzu, or soy sauce
few drops sesame-chili oil

Soak beans overnight, drain, and place in soup pot with 6 cups fresh water, the shallots, carrots, onion, and half the thyme. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover pan, turn heat to low and simmer gently until beans are tender (about 90 minutes). Puree with an immersion blender and season to taste with shoyu and sesame-chili oil. Serve hot, garnished with remaining thyme. Serves 4-6.

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