December already. I can’t believe we’re closing out another year, though for many reasons, I’ll be happy to put this one behind us. I’ve been struggling with the weather already, crawling stiff-limbed out of bed, heading out to the bus stop each morning swaddled in layers, returning home in darkness, cheeks red and fingers numb, guided by twinkling holiday lights to the warmth of our kitchen.
I’ve been cooking a lot, not that you’d know it by coming here, mostly big pots of brothy things, soups and stews to force the chill from my bones, but very little of it has been noteworthy. Most dishes have been comprised of odds and ends foraged from the freezer and pantry, from leftovers repurposed, from trying to stretch a protein over a series of meals. We’ve been tightening our belts even more than before, in anticipation of the holidays but also of necessity. We’ll scrimp more now so we can splurge a bit at Christmas.
And with the exception of one glorious night out with dear friends recently, we’ve been staying in. I don’t mind it so much – I’m a homebody at heart – but I do find that I have really been missing the spark of inspiration I get from a good meal out, the way a chef will work with an ingredient, pair it with something unexpected, or prepare it in a new (to me) way. I feel like I’m in a rut, my taste buds in hibernation, my creativity lacking.
I did, however, have a minor breakthrough last night with a pasta dish that I’ve been trying to recreate forever (or at least since February of 2008), a simple mix of spaghetti with savoy cabbage, pancetta, and pecorino cheese that I first tasted at A Voce in NYC. I’ve played with this preparation over the years with varying levels of success, and while I’ve come close in the past, I think I finally nailed it. The key, I think, was to really hammer the cabbage, to wilt it down to silky strands, almost caramelizing it, rendering it soft and sweet and utterly delicious. I added a tiny knob of butter too, which rounded out all of the flavors, allowing the salty pecorino and flecks of freshly cracked pepper to really dance on your tongue. This may not have been the prettiest dish, but the flavors really sang, and it was so good we had seconds.