December is my August, with the bonus of a cup of steaming tea, freshly baked bread eaten in the morning with raw honey, the crackling fire of the stove, the smell of tangerines and the relaxation, the luxury, to be able to do everything with calm.
I have always considered Autumn to be my season, the one that gives me energy and fills my head with new intentions. Then misty winters arrived, they took me and shook me to wake me up. It is not so much for Christmas, which has always been my shortcut to come back to my childhood, but for everything that precedes and follows it.
For most of my life I lived waiting for winter to pass, praying it could be quick. The wool sweaters stung me, the cabbages were boring, the rain ruined all my plans. I lost so much in waiting impatiently for the spring to come, ignoring everything that only winter could give.
As the trees shed their leaves, you are bare in winter, ready to bloom. Winter strips the trees from their leaves and, in the meantime, puts them at rest, so that in Spring they can surprise you again, as if you saw for the first time that pink cloud that are the cherry trees in bloom.
In the recent years I finally embraced winter and started to appreciate the heavy wool sweaters, which, oddly enough, do not sting me anymore, the whole cabbage family and even the cold rainy days, which seem to be made on purpose to enjoy your house, turn on the stove and choose a book from those that slowly accumulate over the summer, my future reads.
Winter looks humble and unassuming, it takes off the bright autumnal colours to wear all the shades of brown, gray and white. Yet this is not monotonous, I can finally see the discreet charm of a winter morning, glittering with frost, of a resting forest, of a sleeping field.
Winter also gives me a chance to spend more time with myself. I started to walk with Noa again, it makes me feel good. As soon as she notices that I am wearing my walking shoes and I have her leash with me, she starts to run back and forth from the gate out of her breath, you can read the excitement in every movement, in her clumsy grin which tries to hide her joy.
She walks head-on, she dodges a puddle, she lowers to sniff the trail of some wildlife, she runs through the dry leaves, you can tell she loves their rustling sound, sometimes she sits and looks far away. Thanks to her, I can enjoy the countryside also and especially in winter, when you try to get warmer walking fast while the icing cold air makes my cheeks blush.
I finally understood why I love my walks in the countryside so much: it’s like when I am in the kitchen, I am completely aware of the moment. I have increased perceptions, I feel the smells changing with the seasons. Now I feel the smell of rain, the dry ice smell, with the crackling of the frozen soil under your feet, I feel the aroma of juniper that grows along the road, which replaces the balsamic smell of dried mint, or that of toasted wheat. My great grandfather, on the first day of real cold, would say: do you feel it? This is the smell of snow. This is the cold wind that rubs on the snow on the mountains and brings us here its smell.
Now when I walk I am surrounded by the musky smell of forest. The noises are muffled, I hasten the pace to warm myself up and, in the meantime, the desire for long, slow cooking increases.
Spezzatino alla fiorentina – Florentine beef stew
Sometimes I have to accommodate Tommaso’s tastes. I am a bean and vegetable kind of girl, I love an egg quickly fried in extra virgin olive oil, with a crisp white and a soft and runny yolk, the same consistency of honey. Every so often, however, I must also listen to the man who patiently sits across the table every day, who loves pasta with pesto, mayonnaise with Parmigiano Reggiano, the simple dishes of the past times, those with whom he grew up.
Strangely enough, the spezzatino alla fiorentina, the Florentine beef stew, was still missing here on the blog, although I cook it often for Tommaso. What I like about it is that I can use cheap cuts of meat like beef shank (the traditional choice) or beef cheek (my favourite), and braise it on low heat for as long as necessary, until the meat almost falls apart, accompanied by my mum’s peeled tomatoes and some yellow potatoes. It is a classic Tuscan stew, and it gradually became a dish in which we take refuge in winter, like in a hug.
- 800 g of beef cheek
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 glass of red wine
- 500 g of peeled tomatoes
- 800 ml of hot water (or beef broth)
- 500 g of yellow potatoes
- Black pepper
- Fresh thyme
- Cut the meat into regular cubes of about 2 cm per side. Cover the bottom of a large pot with olive oil. Add two cloves of garlic and heat the oil, then add the meat and brown it over medium-high heat on all sides, stirring to brown it evenly.
- When the meat has absorbed all the liquid it will release, pour in the red wine. Let it reduce on medium-high heat, then add the peeled tomatoes, rinse the jar with the hot water and pour it into the pot as well.
- Peel the potatoes, cut them into regular chinks and add them into the stew.
- Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, covered, checking from time to time to be sure that there is still enough liquid in the pot. Simmer for at least an hour.
- Serve immediately with some fresh thyme, or let the stew aside for the next day, when it will be even better, once warmed.
- We are reaching the end of the year. Instead of drawing up a list of good intentions for 2017, have you ever thought to choose a word that can guide you in your choices and in achieving all your goals for next year? Nicole Gulotta gives us some ideas here.
- An interesting post on how to choose the best cuts for beef stew.
- The other Florentine beef stew, peposo, made with lot of black peppercorns, here on the blog.
- Another typical beef stew is known as stracotto, here Emiko’s recipe.