Monday, October 09, 2006

Experiments and variations on the same old thing.

I rather feel like cooking today. Last night I went to the grocery store and stocked up on all manner of good things. There is a lasagne to make for tomorrow's lunch, and a chicken to roast for my own dinner tonight. There are vegetables to toss with olive and sea salt, and a loaf of crusty sourdough bread. For the lasagne I have bought spicy Italian sausages, smooth whole-milk ricotta, a firm round ball of mozzarella that I will have to grate by hand. I want to try the imported San Marzano tomatoes, just to see if they are any different from the canned tomatoes I usually buy. I am making the same old thing, but with variations.

In the morning I prepare the chicken for roasting, sprinkling it inside and out with kosher salt. I'm too lazy to bother with a brine; besides, I don't have a bowl big enough to fit a bird in its salty bath. This will do. The salt will draw out extra moisture, which the flesh will reabsorb, making it tender and juicy as it roasts. I've probably roasted hundreds of birds by now, trying all sorts of different ways. This is the simplest. When I come home after work, I shake some black pepper over everything. I don't have a rack, or a roasting pan, but there is an enameled cast-iron baking dish. A layer of thinly sliced onion in the bottom of the dish will keep the chicken from sticking and tearing the skin, which is what happened last time (I learn from my mistakes, usually).

Usually I roast the beets whole, wrapped in foil, before slicing them and throwing them in with the carrots, but I want to try something different. I peel them and slice them into wedges, and do the same with the carrots. They are drizzled with olive oil and tossed with salt and roasted until tender. They are not quite done when I check on them, but I feel they need something else, and pour in some balsamic vinegar and honey, stirring the vegetables so everything is faintly slicked with the sour-sweet glaze of vinegar and honey. It's perfect. Something new.

While the chicken and vegetables are roasting I get the sauce for the lasagne ready. I've made this so often, like the roast chicken, I can do it without thinking. Some chopped onion goes into a deep dutch oven filmed with olive oil. While that cooks I grate some garlic into another bowl and slip the casings off the sausages. The garlic is stirred into the translucent onions; in a few moments everything is fragrant and pale gold, and the sausages are thrown in. When they are just browned and crumbled into bits I pour in the drained diced tomatoes, the chunky crushed tomatoes, and stir everything together. As I eat my dinner the sauce will simmer gently and then be put away to cool, and in the morning it will take hardly any time at all to put the lasagne together.

The roast chicken is moist and juicy, the skin crackling and paper-thin; the flavor of caramelized onion has seeped into the flesh. The scent of sauce fills the air, a promise of good things to come. It's been a good day.

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