Thursday, February 17, 2011

Labor of Love

Food and love are inextricably knotted together. Think of a favorite childhood memory and it’s probably tied to food: baking cookies with your Grandmother, your mom making your favorite meal for your birthday. As a child, I had the most fabulous birthday cakes because my Aunt Sally was a supreme cake decorator. The one I can picture most vividly right now was a four-part choo-choo train. It was frosted in pale orange with the wheels and windows outlined in flourishes of a darker pumpkin-colored frosting. The cars of the train held mounds of candy “cargo” – licorice pieces, and I think those chewy candies in the shape of peanuts. Somewhere in my parents house is a picture of me with cheeks puffed out trying to blow out the candles on this fantastic cake train. What an ultimate display of love to take the time to create such a detailed and artistic cake.

Bechamel Sauce
Making and serving food to your loved ones says, “I love you so I want to nourish your body and give you pleasure.” In a microwave-fast, out-of-a-box, drive-through food society it’s something that’s easily forgotten. Food isn’t just calories and fuel, it’s love.

This Valentine’s Day, Trevor and I celebrated at home. Sometimes when we’re flush we’ll take a weekend trip or try a fancy restaurant we’ve heard good things about. This was not one of those years. But it wasn’t any less special. I said I’d make Meat and Spinach Cannelloni from Lidia Bastianich’s Italian-American Kitchen. And Trevor was in charge of picking up some dessert.

Lidia’s cannelloni is truly a labor of love. It takes about four hours to make, even for someone who is quick in the kitchen. But it’s a meal that just can’t be rushed. Chunks of pork butt, carrots, celery, onion (there’s the trinity again) and refreshed dried mushrooms are slowly braised in the oven with chicken stock and wine. And the liquid that remains in the pan is reserved. Then fresh pasta squares are needed. And creamy béchamel sauce has to be made. And once the meat and vegetables have roasted and cooled, they are ground up with spinach to make the delectable filling. I actually roasted the meat and veggies the day before to speed up the process a little. And as I was grinding up the filling, I couldn’t help but eat a few spoonfuls before rolling it up in the cooked pasta squares. OK, several spoonfuls.

From all that, I probably don’t even need to go into how good it tastes. It’s probably the best-tasting meal we make. And the homemade pasta elevates it even higher.

I also made Trevor’s Valentine’s Day card. What I should have put on it was, “Valentine, our love isn’t an out-of-the-box-into-the-microwave love, it’s is a four-hour plus cannelloni love.”

Rolling up the cannelloni

Ready to be topped with more Bechamel

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