Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Polenta, Red Beans and Italian Sausage Chapter

I've been thinking a lot about chapters lately. Our own chapters, the ones we're living. It seems as though most of the time you pass into new phases in your life without being completely aware of it. It's not until you look back that you can see the beginnings and endings of things, the segues, the individual checker moves that got you to where you are now. (Chess might have been a better metaphor, but I've still never learned to play. Sad, I know.)

Some chapters are a little vague, a little meandering, like the College chapter, or the Randomly Dating chapter. Others are prominent and are in
ALL CAPS. For instance, in my case there was a chapter throughout my twenties of BEAUTIFUL/TRAGIC MARRIAGE that was unfortunately followed by TRAGIC DIVORCE. That last all-caps chapter is a long one, and complicated. An entire book could be written about that chapter. It wasn't easy, but I had to live my way through it to get to the next one.

I've since had more than my fair share of interesting chapters, which went something like this: Dating Someone Famous and Living in New York (seems so gross to see it written that way, but I'm being honest here), A Lonely Return to L.A., Torturous Affairs With Impossible Men, The Wine and Therapy Experiment, Yoga and Long Phone
Calls With Mom, which eventually took me to NEW LOVE WITH A GOOD MAN and then MARRIAGE.

Which leads me to today. And the reason I've been thinking about all of this is because for the first time in my life, I am actually aware of a change in chapters. It doesn't feel like it's happening to me, it feels like I'm writing it. Maybe it's because I'm thirty. Maybe it's because I just married the most wonderful man, and suddenly everything seems possible. Maybe it's because it's just spring outside, and I've spent days pulling weeds, cutting back the citrus trees, raking leaves, tilling the space where the veggies will go, and now my yard seems poised to bloom into something wonderful. It just feels like life is nudging me toward a new phase, the next chapter.

You may have read about my growing desire to start a family. (Paul might call it a full-blown obsession, given how many times a day I ask him to knock me up, but I think "growing desire" makes me sound less psychotic.) Perhaps the baby-madness is part of my awareness that I'm ready for the next phase of my life. But it's more than just wanting to start a family. I also feel like My Days as a Reality Television Writer/Producer chapter is coming to a close. I start writing on a new show this week, and instead of being excited and ready to immerse myself in a new project, I just kind of feel nothing. Maybe even slightly annoyed. It feels like a Day Job now. It's a general feeling of being ready for something new. And it's not that I'm bored or restless, I'm ready. For the next assignment, the next phase, a new chapter.

So in the last two days, as
Paul went to work on a new series and I waited to start on mine, I've spent a lot of time wondering what the next chapter will be. Yesterday, Paul asked me what I did all day, and I muttered something about laundry and yard work because I didn't know how to say I was just thinking all day.

That is, thinking and
stirring, to be precise. Without planning it, I made the perfect meal for a long day of thinking. Hours passed where I did little more than chop, stir, check under the lid, stir some more, and go back to my day dreaming. It's a perfect meal for a when you're feeling like you're a little between chapters and you need something to stir around.

The recipe is from the Daily Soup Cookbook, which I adore. The act of making soup is like getting all the mental benefits of yoga without having to strain your groin. Chop, stir, simmer, ponder, stir some more. This one is almost like a chili, but with red beans, sausage and polenta, (the polenta is what really makes it -- kind of like having your cornbread IN your chili). It smelled so good that my next door neighbor actually
walked up to my door and asked me what I was cooking. That's something.

I let mine simmer really low for almost four
hours. Not because the recipe says to, but because I wasn't doing anything but gazing out the window, thinking about what will happen next. It's a comforting bowl to dream over. And there's plenty of leftovers. Which means tomorrow, at least, I know the chapter will be called Leftovers. After that, it's anyone's guess.

Polenta, Red Beans and Italian Sausage

Adapted from The Daily Soup Cookbook

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 pound sweet Italian Sausage (about 2 links) casing removed, crumbled
1/2 pound spicy (hot) Italian Sausage (about 2 links) casing removed, crumbled

1 large Spanish onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pound cranberry or Borlotti beans, rinsed and picked over to remove debris

10 cups chicken stock or filtered water

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and diced

1/2 cup instant polenta

1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped

3 fresh sage leaves, minced

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the sausage and saute 5 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon, reserving the oil in the pan; set aside. Add the onion, celery and garlic to the pan and sweat for 4 minutes, until tender. Add the thyme, bay leaves, and pepper, and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the beans, stock, and tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender. Stir in the sausage. Gradually add the polenta in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat, stir in the broccoli rabe, sage and salt, cover, and let steep for 1 minute. To serve, remove the bay leaves and ladle the soup into bowls. I topped with parmigiano reggiano.
(If you're feeling particularly day-dreamy and want to cook this for four hours, as I did, keep it at the lowest simmer possible so as not to turn the beans to mush. I added the sausage half an hour before serving, and the polenta and greens in the last few minutes, as instructed. Also, if you don't have broccoli rabe, spinach or kale would also do nicely.)


  1. These are the kinds of posts that make me mad that I can't cook. Bah!

  2. May this chapter be the most surprising, maddening, and delightful one yet.