I feel like I’m running out of words.
Normally when I get home, when I have some flavorful kitchen experiment in my recent past, it’s all I can do to keep my fingers from dancing over the keys to tell the blog world about it. But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed myself using more and more of my words during the workday, on projects and in messages, and I seem to be running out of extras to lay down here. It’s as if I have a finite well of language, and most days I’ve pumped it dry by the time I shut my apartment door behind me.
I don’t like it. It makes me feel older, somehow, more subdued and sedate, knowing that I don’t have words upon words bubbling behind my forehead. And it does a disservice to this blog, my one consistent place to spill creative thoughts. I’ve been wanting to write for the better part of two weeks about the Spanish squash-and-vegetable soup I made, to soothe myself after another stressful workday, but instead it’s sat in my brain and its weight has made me feel guilty. So here it is, creativity be damned.
Olla gitana–literally, “gypsy pot” in Spanish–is one of those things I would never have known about, had it not been for the internet rambling I’ve been doing to distract myself from my empty well. Near as I can tell, this recipe comes from the Murcia region of Spain, where it’s said to have arisen among the Iberian offshoots of the Romani people. In reality, I think it’s a spun fantasy of what those people might eat, with extravagant Spanish inflections–saffron, mint, almonds, garlic. It tastes like a familiar, homey vegetable soup, but with a shiver of unfamiliarity from the saffron and the rich browned garlic and a chopped-up pear, which turns musky and darkly sweet in the broth. I quite liked it; it gave me comfort and a little bit of satisfaction, making something just this side of ordinary on a weeknight at home.
I’m still not sure I have all the words to do it justice right now. But at least it’s a start.
Olla Gitana (Spanish “Gypsy Pot” Stew) (serves 3-4)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
Small handful of blanched slivered almonds
1/2 medium white or yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp paprika (not smoked)
2 ripe plum tomatoes, diced
1 (14 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed OR 1 1/2 cups cooked and drained chickpeas
1 small carrot, trimmed and thickly sliced
4 cups (1 quart) vegetable broth
12 oz (about 3/4 lb) pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
5 oz (about 1/3 lb) green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 medium slightly underripe pear, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes
Pinch of saffron (about 4-6 threads)
Salt to taste
1 tsp red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add almonds and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil to the pot. Add onion and a pinch of salt and sweat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions have softened. Stir in paprika and cook for another 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add tomatoes and a splash of water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes, or until the tomatoes have given up their liquid and started to soften. Add chickpeas, carrots, and broth, and bring to a boil. Add pumpkin or squash, green beans, pears, saffron, and a large pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes, or until the pumpkin or squash is tender. If the stew seems to be getting too thick as it simmers, add a splash of water.
Meanwhile, transfer the toasted garlic and almonds to a small food processor or mortar and pestle. Add a pinch of salt and the vinegar, and grind into a chunky paste. Stir the paste, fresh mint, and black pepper into the finished stew. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt or vinegar as needed. Remove the stew from the heat, cover, and let sit for about 10 minutes before ladling into bowls.