Healing Food

My girlfriend has a stove that is a Mercedes 8 wheeler, and a new set of knives and there is nothing that could make a cook happier except witnessing MY FIRST GRAPEFRUIT TREE!  I knew they grew on trees, people told me they grew on trees, and unless it was some kind of crazy Hollywood laser trick, I have seen the truth with my own eyes.

I have the constant urge when we’re driving to pull over and touch one.  I want to knock on the door of the house with the grapefruits and ask the people inside how it feels to have grapefruits growing outside your house.  Forget to buy a grapefruit?  That’s OK–there’s one outside.  More people than you expected coming over for grapefruit and avocado salad?  Don’t worry about it–the grapefruits are hanging on the tree.  LA is just plain different.

My girlfriend needed healing and any spare time I have away from my grapefruit research, I have been cooking.  She had a hankering for minestrone, which is hell to make from American canned tomatoes. Once you know the flavor of a San Marzano tomato grown somewhere just outside of Naples you’re not going to get that flavor out of your head, and you are going to long for that flavor, dream of that flavor and not be satisfied with whatever tomato love you have happening in the pot until you get Mr. San Marzano.  Except your girlfriend wants Minestrone and what she’s been through overrides your commitment to the Signore.  So throw in a little extra celery and onion and pass the tomatoes through a food mill (or a food processor) because that’s the other thing about American canned tomatoes–no matter how long you try, they won’t crush by hand.  They will just be miserable lumps floating in your soup.

Bring a half pound of cannellini to the boil (or small white beans) and then turn off the heat and cover for one hour.  Rinse well and add new water along with a pour of olive oil, a fresh sage leaf and a piece of some kind of tomato.  Season with salt.  Simmer with the lid ajar until tender (this is going to depend on how old your dried beans are.)  Finely chop the inside stalks of a head of celery and two onions.  Saute 3 whole cloves of garlic that have had the skins removed in a good amount of olive oil.  When they are a bit golden, add the celery, onions, a sprig of rosemary and a sprig of parsley.  Cook them over medium heat with a good pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, watching nearly constantly for about 15 to 20 minutes.  They should be completely softened a bit caramelized.  When you taste them, they should make say “yes.”  If you like, you can remove them from the pan at this point and add matchsticks of pancetta to crisp them, but if you don’t have pancetta that makes you sing, forget about it.  (If you do, once they have crisped, add them to the onions.)

Add the whole tomatoes that you have somehow crushed.  Cook for at least 30 minutes.  If you like it rich, you could add a tablespoon or 2 of red wine.  When the beans are done, puree about a 1 cup til halfway smooth and add to the tomato.  Add another cup or more to taste of whole beans.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Cover with cheese and either serve over a piece of grilled Italian bread, or serve the Italian bread as garlicky, sauteed croutons on the side.

I served it with braised artichokes and leeks and take my hat off to the artichokes. ( I don’t know why we can figure out how to transport lettuce from this place all the way to the ice chest of the North East in the middle of winter and not change the price, but for the artichokes we have to triple the price and hold them until they are just short of too old to use before putting them on the shelves to sell.)

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