The trouble with abundance is it often feels unearned, and getting something you’ve longed for can feel oddly anticlimactic.
The height of summer is the time I long for all year. While I’m shoveling snow struggling to stay warm, I remember with sweet fondness the utter salvation of an ice cream cone or the relief of passing through doorways into an air-conditioned living room. In the depths of winter when I can’t bear the idea of eating another parsnip, I dream about farmer’s market stands covered with produce of every color.
The shift happens so fast. Suddenly the kitchen counter is covered with tomatoes. Last week I got so much zucchini in my CSA box I panicked. What will I do with all of this? In those moments of dreams realized, abundance can feel more like a cross to bear rather than a wish granted.
Such is the nature of longing. Despite the suffering it creates, living life in anticipation of what’s to come can, paradoxically, feel quite good. I’m reminded the profound and tremendous longing I’ve felt for romantic partnership during extended periods of aloneness. In those times, I have been all but certain that there could be nothing sweeter and more satisfying than finding someone with whom to be. Then it happens. A few weeks pass before I’m reminded, inevitably, that relationships are hard and actually it was quite nice having Friday evenings to myself and my pajamas.
Real life can never measure up to our deepest longings because longing itself is a mental manifestation that can morph and change. It isn’t beholden to the truths of reality. Things are further complicated because there is always something else to long for. Like a game of whack-a-mole, longing can never be fully satiated.
What’s the antidote? I usually start by taking a deep the breath. I make mental notes of my surroundings, like the way the morning light slices across the stove in my kitchen illuminating a sliver of the tea kettle in such a way that can only be described as breath-taking. I take notes about what I see, even if it’s just the banality of my everyday routine. David Whyte wrote: Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The natural world, fantastic and awesome in its innate capacity to produce, can also be a disorienting and disquieting. Things move at their own speed. There can be no willing things to grow before their time simply because you’re craving eggplant parm. Cooking in tandem with the natural world builds the mental muscles of dexterity and agility. You necessarily must embrace change and move with it in order to get to achieve your desired outcome., which should always include a delicious meal. Such skills are in short supply and will serve you well in just about every other area of you life. Truthfully, if you want to learn how to be a better lover, friend, partner, sister, advisor, mentor, human being, starting cooking seasonally.
Here’s one zucchini recipe I return to again and again, and it’s a technique that lends itself well to other vegetables such a romanesco or broccoli. Stra in Italian means “very”, so stracotto means “very cooked”. Successful execution hinges on a generous amount of olive oil to start and just the right amount of additional liquid (water) to inhibit any scorching but not too much as to steam the vegetable. The result is an incredibly luxurious mass of cooked down vegetable that shines on toast, in pasta or as the base for a piece of seared fish or grilled chicken. Last night I tossed this with some malfatti, pecorino and breadcrumbs.
Yields: About 1 ½ cups
- 1 pound zucchini, cut in large dice (it doesn’t need to be perfect because this will cook down)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Couple large pinches of salt
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 t chili flake
Warm the olive oil and garlic cloves over medium-low heat in a wide pot that’s large enough to accommodate the diced zucchini. Once the garlic has begun to color slightly, 4-5 mins, add the chili flake and let cook 30 seconds. Turn up the heat and add the zucchini. It should sizzle when it lands in the pan. Add a couple tablespoons of water and let cook for 5 minutes before sprinkling a generous amount of salt over the zucchini. Stir well. Cover the pot partially and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Uncover the pot and stir, taking care to scrap any lingering bits off the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking uncovered and stirring occasionally as the zucchini releases its liquid and begin to collapse on itself, about 20 minutes. If the contents of the pan start sticking to the bottom, add a couple tablespoons of water. Continue cooking until the mass begins to come together. It should look … very cooked.
Toss with pasta, spread on toast, or eat over grilled polenta. This also happens to be a truly spectacular sandwich spread with a few thick slices of mozzarella and fresh tomato if you have them on hand.