Loss and comfort: brasato in red wine

It's been such a couple of weeks, marred by losses of various entity, none earth-shattering standing alone, but all rather unsettling in compound. Some were luxury losses, like finally watching the last episode of Breaking Bad or realizing San Francisco's brief summer is surrendering to winter. Some were collective, like the passing of Marcella Hazan and that of Lou Reed. But others were more personally touching: a close girlfriend losing her mother, the realization that my child's attention to me is waning, my aging, beloved aunt undergoing surgery, a friendship lost along the way.

There is just no ignoring that I have been feeling sad. Laurie Anderson's piece on her life with Lou Reed on Rolling Stone magazine gave me pause to reflect about how we feel and are in the face of sadness.

Losses and endings are change, part of life really, which is often less than perfect but always right in the end. I feel sad but am still happy. I like to feel sad, because accepting the occasional sadness serves to crystallize happiness and temper arrogance. Sadness makes me a little happier every time I am smart enough to let it in.

And when I do open the door to sadness, it is an inspiration for cooking. In the face of feeling sad, I am my best as a cook, because cooking is the happiness in which I am always comforted.

In the fragrance of cinnamon, orange and red wine braising meat, I found shelter from winter cold, comfort from loss and my ongoing happiness.

ready for the oven

Brasato di manzo e pancetta fresca al vino rosso Beef and pork belly braised in red wine

3 pound piece beef cut for braising (brisket, chuck, flat iron, shank) 1.5 pounds pork belly salt 1 yellow onion 2 carrots 2 celery stalks 1/2 bunch red chard or red beet tops 2 cups chicken stock 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate 2 tablespoons lard (or olive oil) 1 cinnamon stick grated zest of 1 orange 2 bay leaves 1/2 bottle of good, full bodied red wine pepper to taste

The evening before, season the meats generously with salt and place in the refrigerator. Take them out about an hour before you plan to start cooking to let them come to room temperature.

In the meantime, slice the onion in thin half moons, chop the carrots and celery, wash and chop the chard or beet tops. Warm the stock and dilute the tomato concentrate in it.

Heat the lard in a Dutch oven on the stove top. Carefully brown the beef and pork in it on all sides and over a medium low flame. Transfer to a plate.

just out of the oven

Soften the vegetables in the Dutch oven with the cinnamon stick, zest and bay leaves. Turn the heat off and place the meat back in the Dutch oven. Cover with the wine and stock and season with salt and pepper.

Lid the pot and place it in a 350˚F oven for 2.5 to 3 hours, until the meat is fork tender.

Discard the bay and cinnamon. Rest the meat on a cutting board while finishing the sauce.

Using a hand held blender, puree the vegetable chunks in the liquid where the meat has braised. Let the sauce simmer while cutting the meat and adjusting it on a platter.

Pour the sauce over the sliced meat and serve.

NOTES:

  • Perfect accompaniments for this recipe are polenta, mashed or steamed potatoes, or gnocchi with butter and parmigiano
  • Brasato is even better the day after. For maximum effect, let it rest in its cooking liquid overnight before preparing it for serving