Today was the kind of November day that makes me want to loop my favorite scarf* around my neck, wiggle my fingers into my gloves and take the dog out on a long walk, maybe to get some hot chocolate from Burdick’s. Then maybe we, the dog and I, would walk down to the river and sit amongst the fallen leaves crunchy like potato chips — which the dog would probably eat — and read a book while the sun sparkles all golden and champagne-y.
(Do you know what I mean, about the autumn sun, and how everything gleams so radiantly when it’s shone upon? It’s like almost every daytime frame in All the Real Girls.)
The sad thing is that while I do have a favorite scarf, some awesome gloves and a great love of Burdick’s hot chocolate, and while I am almost done with an incredibly well-written book, I am lacking the dog. And the sun is setting now, so that candlelight brilliance is fading for today… Alas.
Part of the reason why I love food so much — aside from its potential to taste so damn good — is how it makes me feel and what it makes me remember. Char siu bao, for example, makes me think about my mother’s father, and his ferocious appetite, and how our trips together were structured around meals. Hazelnut makes me think of Regensburg, and how when Keith and I visited, the entire city smelled of sugar because of all the gelaterias, and how I had the best cup of coffee one evening at our hotel‘s restaurant.
Fall and its cool air matches comforting food so well. The warmth of that sunshiney sparkle comes through in my choice of food during these months: mashed potatoes, chicken soup, mac and cheese, shepherd’s pie, my mother’s spaghetti — which is actually her version of my Armenian grandmother’s bolognese, and a recipe I’ll share with you at another time.
Technically speaking, a bolognese is a ragù, so this dish is a great nippy night recipe. You can use lots of different meats, if you like; I love lamb, but beef, veal, chicken… pretty much anything would work.
Again, skipping taste, one of the nicest things about this is how most of the work is done by your oven. While it’s in there, you can take the dog for that long walk in the clear, crisp early night, and when you return, with roses blossoming on your cheeks, you can step into a home that smells inviting and feels as snug as my favorite scarf.
Rich + Meaty Lamb Ragù, from the kitchn
Makes eight servings
2 pounds stew lamb, cut in chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons fresh sage
8 cloves garlic
1 big carrot, peeled
2 cups red wine
1 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes
- Pat the lamb chunks dry with a paper towel. Liberally coat the lamb chunks with salt and pepper and set aside. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, and chop the garlic. Chop the carrot into thin rounds.
- Place an oven-proof Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium-high heat, and add olive oil to cover the bottom thinly. When oil is hot, add the lamb and brown deeply. Do this in batches if necessary. Don’t worry about drying out the meat — you want it browned darkly for good flavor. (I usually brown each batch for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to crowd the pan. You want the meat to brown, not steam-cook.)
- When the meat is thoroughly browned, add the onions. Lower the heat, and cook slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are golden. Add the rosemary and sage, garlic, and the carrots. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add wine and continue to simmer until liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Crush the tomatoes in the can with a fork or back of a spoon, then add them and their juices to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in a 275° oven for 3 to 4 hours. Alternately, put everything in a slow cooker and cook for 4 hours on high or at least 8 hours on low. (I have cooked this on low for up to 16 hours; it’s sublime when cooked that long!) The longer it cooks the more tender it will be. When ready to serve, go through with two forks and shred any remaining chunks of meat. Taste and season if necessary with additional salt and pepper.
- Serve over pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.**