Sunday evening, five pm. I am at Matt and Nathaniel's. Nathaniel is not home, and neither Matt nor I want to make a trek to the supermarket in the bitter cold. We will fashion dinner from whatever is in the fridge, supplemented by whatever is in the pantry.
The fridge is filled with various odds and ends, the result of having three, sometimes four people doing the grocery shopping. We're not in dire shape: there are eggs and milk, and a Tupperware container of lardons left over from baking tarte flambée. We could have omelettes, but perhaps we could do better.
The contents of the crisper drawer are past their prime. Wilted celery, softening carrots, one lonely bell pepper. A bag of mixed herbs, mostly dried out. A rummage through the cheese drawer turns up a wedge of stale cheddar, and a piece of Parmeggiano-Reggiano that is little more than rind.
The contents of the pantry are slightly more promising. We have canned tomatoes and plenty of pasta. There's a bag of onions and several heads of garlic hiding in one dark corner. There are cans galore: black beans, red beans, white beans... no, not beans. Chickpeas.
I know what I'll do.
I'll trim the worst of the wilt from the celery and carrots, and dice them up along with a large onion. The French call this mirepoix; the Italians call it soffrito.
I'll sauté the lardons with a few cloves of garlic in a big pot, and when they've rendered up their fat, I'll add the soffrito and some of the mixed herbs. I'll cook this mixture until it smells fragrant and the onions have turned translucent.
I am making a Roman peasant dish called ceci in umido, a chickpea stew that dates back to the time when tomatoes were still unknown in Europe. It's the humblest of humble dishes, turning odds and ends into a meal to keep the winter cold at bay.
Ceci in Umido