The Comfort Zone
04 February 2011
Macerie di Filattiera, Toscana, Italy
Red kidney beans were pouting in a plastic container on the counter tonight, a half-pipe carved out where a sausage one laid. I was on leftover duty again, having proven my chops at the helm of late. Frozen ground beef, puree of tomato, loads of thyme, chili powder, cumin, garlic, and oregano... Lauren’s almost-authentic-except-for-the-cumin-Texas-Chili. I plunked a whole onion in the pot as well, creating a completely stewed and flavorful item to grill when the chili is gone.
It’s great to make traditional food from your own country, as paled in food history, or any other kind of history, as mine is by comparison. But one thing we have in common with the Italians is we know how to slop good stuff into our already-a-meal-stuff. This is why I wasn’t bothered without sour cream. For all my snobbery against pedestrian American tastes, I adore the stuff. I knew it was nowhere to be found for at least 922 miles in the UK, but also that something here would work instead. There is always a slightly more elaborate Italian remedy to every missing ingredient. Even within the limitation of using only leftovers.
The same plate of cheese from the whole week was staring me in the face, but I could imagine neither stinky cheese nor gorgonzola with my cowboy-with-a-hint-of-middle-east dinner. In fact, there were only a couple cheeses that seemed even mildly appropriate, if not overdone this week: stracchino and edam. I am seeing a pattern here all of a sudden. And that’s when I realized that stracchino is Italy’s comfort food, and edam is Holland’s, and since I have been doing comfort leftovers this week, I have fallen into the comfort zone where cheese is concerned. So, after this leftover/freezer cleanout is complete, I will be off on my own to forge new levels of succulent and complex cheeses, the old kind that are stored in caves and wrapped in all sorts of odd dingy materials, and pair them to wines I will discover with my friend Teri Love of Gioia Wine when she arrives on the 18th. I can’t wait to go on a discovery binge. But for tonight, the chili needed comfort cheese in it and on it.
I folded the stacchino into the bowls of chili, making certain to cover the white pieces with the steamy red stew to get a good melt going below the surface, then shaved the edam and let it soften before my eyes on top of the beefy chili mounds. The children had generous helpings of lasagne, while we adults were left alone to trick out our chili with more fixin’s. Sounds funny to refer to anything here in Italy as fixin’s, but actually, everything here is either a comfort food or a fixin’. Pasta: comfort food. Sauce: Fixin. Bread: Comfort food. Olive oil: Fixin’. Cheese: Comfort food AND fixin’... that’s why we love it so much. We are not so different in our desire for our food to nurture us on a motherly level. I know this, because I have been home sick all week with a sick six-year-old as well, and we are no different in our wants. Comfort is comfort in any land and in any language.