Ciao'd while on a plane heading back East for my parents' birthdays. Family first.
I picked up my knitting needles today. Summer has been packed away. No windows thrown open to greet the cool morning air. No blinds snapped shut to tame the late afternoon sunlight. Sipping citrus-y cocktails on the terrace will have to wait until the clocks spring forward once again.
It’s the knitting that will stitch together the cooler days and nights as we light the fire, watch the rain, inhale the aroma of stew bubbling on the stove. No other activity, other than cooking, takes me further back in time than the simple looping of wool onto a needle. The first cast stitch is a gesture of potential and the last a sigh of satisfaction.
My grandmother taught me how to knit. I made a scarf, an infinity’s worth of knits, purls and repeats. This is when I learned that stitches, like life, can spit at you. If you’re tense, they are cramped and tight. If you’re lackadaisical, they are slack. The ideal is to strike a three bears “this is just right” compromise with the wool. I was a high-strung child. I am a high-strung adult. I still struggle with the tight-slack stitch conundrum.
My Aunt Hazel was a serial knitter. On summer evenings, when the windows were open to catch the breeze, we could hear the click, slip, click of the needles and see the wisps of smoke from her Winston’s seeping through the screens. The smoke infused every stitch but the exquisite Fair Isle patterns, Norwegian stars, and monograms snuffed out the ashy scent.
During sorority chapter meetings in college, my KDS sisters and I knit Icelandic sweaters for fraternity boys. Balancing 3 or more hued strands of the delicate, soft lopi wool between our fingers, we’d conjure intricate circular yoke patterns on our bamboo needles. Slap, shuffle, slip. You don’t see these sweaters much anymore though I wonder if those boys, now middle-aged men, still have them. Does a wife shrug herself into the sweater on a frigid New England morning to swim in its warmth? Does a cat discover a wool nest in the back of a closet and settle herself there in?
I knitted sweaters for my son when he was a child. I yearned for the cashmere but the washable wool proved more sensible. Daffodil, cornflower, and verbena were my preferred colors (they lit up his blue eyes). I spent hours searching for buttons to dress the tiny cardigans – anchors, flags, sailboats. Now the sweaters are stored, lovingly swathed with tissue and waiting to adorn a grandchild.
After so many years of knitting through endless skeins of wool, I remain an expert at dropping stitches and unraveling rows. Unlike the baker whose attention to detail and precision effects meringues like fairy floss and cookies with just the right chewiness, I am the cook who is more adept at riffing and Jackson Pollock-ing.
Unlike baking – and life, when I knit I can always correct my mistakes. Bad decisions poof away when I peel back rows to begin again or catch loops to rescue the dropped stitches. And unlike life, knitting is timeless. Each project is a new beginning, albeit informed by the past. Knitting knows not technology. It is by nature earthy, slow, and heartfelt. There is no app for this.
And so it goes with this recipe for Red Wine Braised Short Ribs. As the dish braises, you should have just enough time to light a fire, wrap a skein of wool into a ball, and begin to stitch your next masterpiece.
RED WINE BRAISED SHORT RIBS
I find browning meat an onerous task but it is essential to developing flavor and, if you can be patient, so worth it in the end. This is one of those recipes that never fails to please, from the aroma of the dish braising (for hours) to the first (and last) satisfying bite. I like to serve it with creamy polenta. Yum and double yum.
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 ounces pancetta, diced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 cup beef stock
2 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
On a plate, stir together the flour, salt, and black pepper. Dredge the ribs in the flour, turning to cover them completely and then shaking off the excess.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove the garlic and discard.
Working in batches, add the short ribs (do not over crowd) and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate.
Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pot. Over medium heat, cook the pancetta until beginning to crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and parsley and cook until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until well blended. Add the red wine and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Reduce the heat and simmer until the wine reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Add the tomatoes to the pot, squishing them between your hands as you do so. Pour in the juice, and then fill the can halfway with water to slosh out the remaining juice; add it the pot, too. Pour in the stock. Bring it to a simmer, and add the bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary to the pot. Return the short ribs to the pot, cover, transfer to the oven, and cook until ribs are very tender, about 2 hours. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve the short ribs with the sauce.