A time for gentle food
The first few months of the year can feel like a long, gray slog, a January hangover that carries on through March until the first signs of spring. Pity these unloved months; there are no languid Christmastime breaks from work, no warm days with late sunsets, and no public advocates, unlike the Pumpkin Spice Industrial Complex of autumn. These are the doldrums, or so we’re told, with the year’s real prizes off in the distance.
But after much consideration, I’m ready to declare that these dim, blustery months are, counterintuitively, the best time of the year. Why? Because there’s nothing going on. The holidays are cheerful, yes, but also maddening with obligations. The summer is beautiful, of course, but a major metropolis in 95 degrees is not beautiful. While the weather in January may not be ideal, you have two great options to deal with it: a toasty bar or restaurant, which are pleasantly tourist-free at this point, or your kitchen. That’s right: this is a cooking newsletter, and there’s simply no better time than now to cook.
But summer tomatoes! Spring peas! I hear you; those are strong points. This is a dead time of year, produce-wise, and it’s easy to miss the greenmarket’s bounty. But there’s making a tomato sandwich and there’s real-deal cooking, and these early winter months are best for the latter. Roasting a bird, braising a tough cut of beef in wine, sweating over a big pot of beans: this is the time to do it, partly because of the season but also because of the time. There tends to be a lot of it now, for a little while. After the holiday din subsides, these quiet early months are like the oyster of a chicken — the part that’s just for you, the chef.
To that end, I’m cooking things slowly and softly these days. Boiled vegetables, for example — peeled, cooked until tender, dressed with lemon, salt and olive oil — that, when done right, are a true luxury. Slow-cooked bitter greens with a soft egg. A good, fluffy baked potato. All simple things that take a little time to soften up, time enough for you to savor the quiet before the noise starts back up again — but then, we’ll have tomatoes.