For a forager—even in the Pac Northwest, where this time of year we can still get clams, oysters, truffles, squid, and so on—the winter remains mostly a time of cooking, of spending hours in the kitchen. And some nights in the kitchen just go entirely awry. After reading Hank Shaw’s post about Pheasant Cacciatore in Huntler Angler Gardener Cook on Wednesday afternoon, I was moved to make use of some of the groceries hanging around in my fridge ready to grow fur: past-sell-date chicken thighs, an old yellow pepper, an even older hot pepper that had made the transformation from green to orange entirely on the premises. Plus all those packages of frozen porcini buttons and the dried stuff too.
And then there were the two bottles of wine, one red, one white, both open. Hey, it was Hump Night. Marty came home in a great mood, exclaiming that all her students understood what a thesis statement was. Cheers! On the jambox played the best radio show in America, “The Road House.” We sort of lost track of the recipe. I started with Ms. Hazan, dredging the chicken in flour, chopping onion, carrot, and celery, then got annoyed (my usual Marcella complaints: why such restraint on the garlic front? why give in to the tomato police?) and switched over to Hank. Somewhere around the bay leaves and rosemary the whole process slipped away. Why not use all the mushrooms? And dangnabbit, let’s throw in another 28 oz can o’ diced tomatoes—we like tomatoes.
Erma Franklin’s version of “Piece of My Heart” had me dancing on the marmoleum while Marty checked in with Papa Silano. “Dad, ” she said, checking her watch to make sure the time-change wasn’t beyond the pale, “did you cover the cacciatore?” After all, Marcella says under no circumstances to ever cover a red sauce. I remember distinctly the first time I made a red for dinner guests. I was just out of college, barely able to chop an onion, totally clueless about garlic. The sauce simmered, getting drier and drier, until it was just a bunch of clumped tomato innards. Isn’t that what you were supposed to do, reduce it? The idea of periodically adding water to keep the sauce soupy and allow the tomatoes to properly break down and marry with the other ingredients was completely unintuitive.
We compromised and left the lid slaunchwise across the top.
The night went on and so did the sauce. Our kids, exhausted and cranky but steadfastly refusing to go to bed, started competing with each other to see who could make the most valentines, then bestow them upon us with great flourishes while the other screamed and tried to tear the white lace and pink paper confection to pieces. At one point Martha and I just started laughing as they endeavored to express their love in increasingly hostile tournaments. Tears and tantrums. Olives and good bread. Balsamic. Olive oil. The Staple Singers on the radio. Chianti. Pinot Grigio. Basement torn up by the Water-Rite guys. Paint peeling everywhere.
I started this by saying the night had gone awry. Not true. It was glorious, the food a marvel. The kids polished off creamsicles in bed, too tired to stand. That’s what the “hunter’s dinner” is all about. Mix the bounty of your harvest with whatever is lying around. Let it ride. I fell asleep on the couch, too beat to even hit play on the Dylan documentary, and crawled into bed ’round midnight.