Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Hunger

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one." — M.F.K. Fisher (The Art of Eating)

One of the tragedies of the North American way of eating is the diminishment of the meal as a shared ritual. As countless generations around the world and all through history attest, there’s no better place for building the bonds of family and friendship than around the supper table.

(It should be noted the same M.F.K. Fisher who waxed so eloquently about the interconnected needs of food and love also described family dinners as “an ordeal of nervous indigestion, preceded by hidden resentment and ennui and accompanied by psychosomatic jitters.” Take of that what you will.)

I imagine it is hard enough holding onto family mealtimes today (I picture a 21st Century Norman Rockwell scene of a nuclear family gathered around their bounty, heads down not in prayer, but over their smart phones) and that it probably gets even more diluted once kids leave the nest. It’s a ritual worth preserving and promoting even for those without families of their own in the traditional sense (the gays, with their noted love of dinner parties are, as usual, on the leading edge here).

Last weekend, we had two Toronto friends over for dinner. Well, we knew them back in Edmonton, but we've really gotten to know them better once we (and they, obviously) moved out here. Dinner parties and plenty of wine palyed a big part in that. When the distance between you and your flesh and blood stretches into the hundreds of miles, you find family where you can.

In honour of a Sunday meal, I tried my hand at a Sunday ragù. (Speaking of family dinners, my Italian butchers’ eyes lit up when I told him what all the meat I was buying was for. He proceeded to give me tips on what to use and tell me how he and his brothers used to fight over the ribs from their mother’s ragù. Delightful.) This is basically a pot full of pork ribs, a chuck roast and sausages braised with wine, stock and tomatoes for three hours. Thanks to the power of corporate branding, most of us probably associate ragù with thick, tomato pasta sauce, but this was more stew-like than that. We served it with bread and salad, preceded by some homemade ricotta gnudi (like gnocchi, but bigger and uglier). If I had to do it again, I'd cut back on the liquid a bit (I ended up tossing quite a bit), but in the end, the pile of stripped bones and the sated looks in our glassy eyes testified to the reality of hunger satisfied.

Sunday Ragù (Adapted from Pasta Etcetera by Josée Distasio)

3 cups beef stock or chicken
3 sprigs of rosemary
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb pork back ribs (about 12 ribs)
1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausages
1 lb bone-in beef chuck roast or pork shoulder
1 cup red wine
1 28oz tin of tomatoes, diced
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons tablespoons of oil and sauté gently onion, celery and carrot for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes. Remove vegetables from pan and reserve.

Cut the ribs into pieces, with two ribs per piece. In casserole, heat 2 tablespoons tablespoons of oil and sear ribs, sausages and chuck. Add wine and let reduce a little.

Add tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, rosemary and reserved vegetables. Bake, covered, for two and a half to three hours, or until the meat falls off the bone.

Transfer meat to serving bowl or platter, remove the bone and roughly chop the roast. Spoon sauce over meat and serve.

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