I’m a sucker for all things New Year-related. I love reflecting on the past and tend toward nostalgia. I’m always grateful for the blank canvas that a new year provides, even though I’ve come to realize that it will eventually be covered with the same sort of strange, delightful, wandering, maddening brushstrokes that are, quite simply, the stuff of life. Over here in my little corner of the world, 2015 was weird, I’ll give you that. I don’t know what it was all about, or where the arc of its story is leading. But I think that’s a pretty normal feeling, and 2016 could very well be just as confusing and unexpected. Perhaps this realization would sour some against the whole idea of celebrating the new year, but somehow it endears me to it. I love the cadence of the turning of the calendar page, the idea of starting fresh, the hopefulness that bubbles up even when we don’t feel all that hopeful. (Plus, champagne!)
And then there are resolutions. My affinity for them likely has something to do with my love of lists and words and planning—but it’s more than that. The act of making resolutions is a proclamation that we believe we can change and grow and become better, truer versions of ourselves. That we don’t have to be stuck. And I, for one, can feel very stuck from time to time, so I’ll take all the help I can get. But I also appreciate the critique of resolution-making that’s been sounding loudly these past couple of years. Because it’s true that we can go way overboard with all of this: cleanses and big promises and flash diets and extreme commitments that few humans could manage to keep up for more than a few weeks. So this year, I started with a list of things that I’ve changed or accomplished in recent years—in other words, resolutions I don’t need to make. I’ve increased my consumption of books (novels, even!), tidied up our home, changed my purchasing habits to better align with my values, stopped leaving piles of papers that need attention all over my apartment, caught my stride in the realm of simple meals, learned much more about wine, made great nut milks and butter, baked a few beautiful layer cakes and mastered my egg-making techniques. That is, I’m making progress.
Ben and I made it home from our holiday travels on New Year’s Eve around 11pm, just in time to pop a bottle of champagne, toast some ciabatta I’d stored in the freezer and slather it with goat cheese and garlic confit (something I really ought to tell you about soon!) and hunker down under a blanket to watch the ball drop. And then we fell asleep on the couch. It was perfect. We thus started the new year with no hangovers to speak of, and January 1 was a glorious day, complete with a long walk in the sun, big bowls of delicious pozole and plenty of confetti at Camino, the new Star Wars film at our favorite old theatre and a cozy dinner at home. And then I succumbed to a nasty cold, so the rest of 2016 to date has been less than grand.
But you know what? That’s life. And we’re doing it. Whether last year was weird or wonderful, full of joy or brokenheartedness, you made it through, and I bet you learned something. I bet you came out on the other side stronger, wiser and more resilient. So here’s to doing it again in 2016.
I don’t know about you, but the thing I most want to eat as the chaos of the holiday season winds down is soup, and lots of it. In my book, ribollita is just the thing for cold January nights—and also, as it happens, for any resolutions that might have to do with simple cooking, using leftovers and/or healthful meals. I’ve been making a version of Tamar Adler‘s ribollita for the last few years, and the recipe that follows reflects much of her instruction. More recently, though, Ben and I went to a holiday market at Pizzaiolo and had a wonderful rendition that was made by layering roasted squash and toasted bread beneath a delicious vegetable-and-bean-filled broth, finished with olive oil and shaved parmesan. We’ve picked up that method at home, and this is the cobbled-together result.
Ribollita with Winter Squash & White Beans
Inspired by Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal & Pizzaiolo in Oakland, CA
1 small butternut squash or 2 large sweet potatoes, cubed
Aleppo pepper flakes (optional)
About 2 cups bread, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (I like to use a sturdy sourdough and don’t remove the crusts)
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery or 1/2 bulb fennel, diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs rosemary or thyme, stemmed and minced
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 14-oz. can peeled whole tomatoes or chopped tomatoes (I like to use the fire-roasted variety for an extra punch of flavor)
2 cups (or 1 14-oz. can) cooked white beans (cannellni, gigante, Great Northern and garbanzo beans all work nicely)
2 – 4 cups vegetable broth, water or liquid from cooking beans
1 small bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
A few sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped (optional)
Parmesan cheese, shaved into ribbons
Freshly cracked pepper
Start by roasting the squash or sweet potato. Toss the cubed squash or sweet potato with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch each of Aleppo pepper flakes and salt. Roast at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until cooked through, tossing once. This can be done up to a few days ahead; store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and bring up to temperature before using.
While the oven is on, make the croutons as well. Toss the torn bread with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Arrange on a baking sheet and toast for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and beginning to blacken in places. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
To make the soup, warm a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery or fennel (if using), garlic and a pinch of salt. Once the vegetables begin to soften, add the rosemary or thyme and red pepper flakes. Cook for another minute or two, then add the tomatoes. If using peeled whole tomatoes, break them up roughly with a wooden spoon. Add the beans and 2 cups of broth. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer and cook for several minutes to cook the vegetables through and allow the flavors to meld.
Add the chopped kale and additional broth, to your preference. Remember that you’ll be adding this to squash and toasted bread, so you want a fairly brothy soup. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and cook until the kale is wilted. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning as needed.
To serve, fill each bowl with a scoop of roast squash and a small handful of toasted bread. Ladle the soup over top, finishing with a generous drizzle of olive oil, ribbons of Parmesan cheese, a sprinkle of parsley and freshly cracked black pepper.