Everywhere around us, people are talking about food.
On Saturday, the Chef and I stood at the Chefs in Residence stand at the University District farmers’ market, watching the slate-grey rain turning everyone’s hair sodden. A few people were jumping in puddles, happy to be buying local potatoes and knobbly celery roots. These were the diehards. Most everyone else looked bedgraggled, determined to hunt down that 22-pound turkey and lug it to the car on the way to the next shopping expedition.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It’s the only national holiday that centers entirely on food.
Frankly, though, everyone sounds a little stressed out about the meal right now. Maybe that’s because it’s the only time of year when most people try to feed fourteen people at once.
I’m lucky. I have the Chef. Thanksgiving is a busman’s holiday for him. He’ll be cooking everything, with a bit of my help. (I loved when my mom said the other day, “So, what is he cooking?”) Last year, it amazed me, how quickly he threw everything together. And then I remembered: he does this every night. And he loves it.
He has taught me, every day, that great food doesn’t have to be complicated. Singular tastes can be as simple as these beautiful beets.
This year, I am relaxed. In years past — before I stopped eating gluten, before I met him — the holidays felt huge. I prepared for days, in several different grocery stores, with lists full of crossed-out items and things still to be done. By the time I reached the meal, I could barely taste the food.
Last year, I felt a little nervous. It was my first Thanksgiving with my family, and my future husband. We could feel it, along the edges — that newness. I have a picture of the Chef and my brother, in the kitchen, and each of them looks like he is trying to hold his shoulders straight. They welcomed him, of course, but it ended up an unintentional test. He was pretty happy when someone finally uncorked the first bottle of wine.
This year, there will be no introductions and polite conversations. We will all just be together. And this year, the Chef and I have been to so many different cities, and eaten so many spectacular meals, that we are looking forward to Thanksgiving for another reason than the lavish feast.
We can slow down.
The idea of spending the entire day with my family, laughing in the kitchen together, sounds like slow-simmering happiness. My parents — surprisingly — bought a Nintendo Wii last week. I didn’t think a 63-year-old English professor was the target audience for that technology, but my dad has been extolling its virtues for days. Apparently, we will be virtual bowling on Thanksgiving.
And Elliott, dear little guy, is now four-and-a-half, and all boy. He has become obsessed with Spiderman. Yesterday, when I saw him briefly at lunch, he spent much of the time sticking out his first finger and pinky, making eerily accurate sound effects. When I asked him if he was weaving a web around the light pole, he stopped long enough to look at me and said, “Don’t be silly. I am pretending to weave a web with my fingers.”
So, instead of worrying that everything is gleaming perfect, and that turkey has a golden-brown skin, we are keeping it all simple. Good food, prepared slowly, with wine and good conversations, and a little boy running around our legs, pretending to be Spiderman.
In the interest of simplicity, I’ve made a little list of links for those of you who are interested. Last year, I wrote post after post about Thanksgiving and how to survive it, gluten-free. This year, I have gathered them in one place. I hope you find it useful.
And I hope you have a simply lovely Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude for all that has been given us. This food is a gift.
Green beans with pancetta
“If this is your first Thanksgiving living gluten-free? Focus on vibrant, alive food, food that is naturally gluten-free. Make it a feast. Make it a celebration, a chance to wake up.”
That’s what I have been advising people lately, in cooking classes and book appearances. I really believe this. But the fact is, we won’t be having a wildly inventive Thanksgiving dinner, composed only of foods we love to eat that are naturally gluten-free. It might be interesting one year to eat wild rice with pomegranate seeds, toasted black sesame cakes, roasted quail with Meyer lemon sauce, salmon mousse, and persimmon pudding. But the fact is? We still like traditions too.
So we’ll be having roasted turkey (a local organic bird, brined the day before), the Chef’s mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes roasted with walnuts and honey, cranberry chutney, gravy, and pumpkin pie. Everyone will be eating gluten-free. (My brother might buy one of those cans of refrigerator rolls to sop up his gravy.) We’ll put out a mixed green salad with goat cheese.
But every year, we want to play a bit. This year, we’ll be making green beans with pancetta.
A decade ago, I would have never thought of including pork in the Thanksgiving feast. (I know some people eat ham, but that just seems weird around our parts.) But after our honeymoon in Italy, the Chef and I can’t get enough of porky goodness. (The photograph above is from a wall of prosciutto in Gubbio. Oh, how we wish we could have brought one home.) Slight saltiness, silky supple flesh, a dark flavor threaded through with sunlight — pork just keeps us happy.
And so, green beans with pancetta. Crisp and verdant, this dish sings with flavor, and still remains quite simple.
Besides, we have to have at least one vegetable in the meal full of starches.
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
4 ounces sliced pancetta
1 tablespoon great olive oil
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Blanching the beans. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Throw in the green beans and cook for two to three minutes. Drain the green beans and transfer them into a waiting bowl of ice water. When they have sufficiently cooled, drain them.
Sautéeing the ingredients. Slice the pancetta into julienne strips. Bring a sauté pan to heat. Add the olive oil. Cook the pancetta until crispy. Remove the pancetta from the pan. Add the onion and garlic. Sautée them both until they are soft. Add the thyme. Cook for two to three minutes, or until the herb begins to release its lovely smell.
Finishing the dish. Add the green beans into the onions, garlic, and thyme. Toss in the pancetta. Stir and sauté for one minute. Add your favorite salt and pepper and taste.
Feeds 4 to 6 people.