Analogies run wild in my head. Thoughts run on parallel tracks, fast, furious, finding connections, similarities, associations. Writing, living, cooking always interconnect in my head in the strangest ways. I see the common threads - and sometimes, I need to release them from my head.
Take this soup - Summer Vegetable Cianfotta. Italian: tasty, capricious, never precise. Seasonal, of course. A stew of everything in the late-summer garden, Cianfotta is like every person in your life, a combination of things, a mixture that is overall soothing and satisfying, but flawed, distressed, imperfect. Its depth comes from the prosciutto brodo, but you can't really identify it readily. It is there- if you know about it, it's easy. If you don't, you mind never figure out it existed and even if you do, you might not figure out where it came from- the same as in most people.
The ingredients, like human traits, are a mixed bag. Some you love, others you can't stand. You don't like eggplant. Well, there's eggplant. Summer squash is not your thing- keep chewing. You only eat squash blossoms raw - suck it up. It is the combination that is charming, the good, the tasty, the quirky, the imperfectly flavored or textured.
When I made this soup I thought of acceptance - accepting all that makes a person what that person is, each ingredient that may individually mean nothing blends into one combination that creates a human, one that is perfect and insanely flawed at the same time. I thought of being accepted exactly the way I am: quirky, giving, straight-forward, overbearing, funny, high-strong, kind, relentless, patient, impatient, driven, aggressive, soft, harsh, loving, forgiving, accepting. I thought of accepting myself for what makes me- me- good and bad things, some I can control, some I can't, some I want to change, some I like exactly the way they are.
Writing tonight became more about accepting more of those around me with all they bring to my life- good, bad, painful, and joyful. Invariably I find something to dislike in everything and everyone, but tonight I need to look on the bright side, to savor the flavors I love and mute the ones that bruise my heart. That's all - for now.
Summer Vegetable Cianfotta, an A16 adapted recipe
Ingredients: 1 small eggplant, 2 small summer squashes, 2 small zucchini, all trimmed and diced; 3 yukon gold potatoes, cubed; 1 fennel bulb, feathery parts removed, cored and thinly sliced; 1 1/2 cups olive oil; 5 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled; 4 sprigs marjoran; 2 bay leafs; 2 cups prosciutto brodo; 1 cup cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved (or any other tomatoes you have around); 3-4 zucchini blossoms, thinly sliced; pecorino cheese for shaving.
Make the Prosciutto Brodo first. Easy- just takes patience - same way as most people.
Ingredients: 8 ounces prosciutto hock, diced; 3 quarts water.
Simmer slowly, uncovered, for about 2 hours, or until the fat from the prosciutto melts into the liquid. Freeze what you don't plan on using in 24 hours.
For the soup, preheat the oven to 300 F. Distribute the eggplant and zucchini on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 20 minutes and then drain all the juices off and pat the veggies dry.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine olive oil, garlic, marjoram, and bay leafs and sweat over medium heat, stirring for about 3 minutes or until the garlic softens. Add the fennel and a healthy pinch of salt and cook gently until the fennel softens. Stir in the potatoes and cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the zucchini, squash, and eggplant and coat everything evenly with oil. Cover and place in the oven for about 45 minutes. Stir every 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, drain most of the oil, add the brodo and simmer on the stove for about 5 minutes.
Add the blossoms and tomatoes and cook for one more minute. Check for seasoning and serve. Take it all in. Enjoy!
Photography by Jennifer Olson.