Hi, all. I’m away from home as I write this and I’m looking out the window at snow. Gee, snow, imagine that. It seems like winter just doesn’t want to let us out of its icy grip this year. I mean, here it is March, and instead of enjoying the spring air, I’m watching snow cover the ground. But the past few years have been freaky, haven’t they?
In my part of the country (New York), summer has been a fleeting thing the past several years. I remember the days when it was hot in May, and it would stay sunny and hot throughout June, July, August, and even September. Now, it’s cold and rainy through June, then we finally get some heat and sunshine in July. By September, it’s already cooling off. Just last week, New York experienced an unbelievable wind and rain storm that left hundreds of broken umbrellas lining the streets like blankets. And look what’s going on in the rest of the world: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes. Global warming, people, is messing with us.
So, with the weather making us all crawl back inside and hibernate, my mind turns to the topic of comfort food. It’s funny how people consider many of the same things as comfort food.There are differences that have to do with the region or country you grew up in, the cultural make-up of your community, and your economic status growing up. (Of course, your heritage or nationality will play a huge role in this—someone who grew up in a Chinese household, for example, will have different ideas of comfort food than someone who grew up in an Indian household.)
Yet, despite these conditions, many things we consider comfort food in this country seem to be across the board: Mac ‘n’ cheese, anyone? What’s interesting is that restaurants are responding to this need for comfort food. One of the most prevalent crazes, in my opinion, of the past few years is the transformation of comfort foods into “gourmet cuisine.” Take that good ol’ mac ‘n’ cheese, for instance. Chefs are turning this favorite into a specialty by using different and/or multiple cheeses (sometimes expensive ones) or enhancing its depth by employing different cooking methods. And by adding new ingredients, chefs can change the flavor profile. Some green chiles will turn it into a Southwest dish; Indian spices will yield curried mac ‘c’ cheese; and use some shaved truffles for a decidedly French twist. In fact, you can add just about anything to macaroni and cheese to turn it into your own personal dish. I like the idea of veggies. If you’re a meat-eater, you can add ground beef, chicken, or turkey. How about shredded salmon or tuna? Mac ‘n’ cheese is pretty wide-open to interpretation. (I really wouldn’t add Reese’s Pieces or Skittles or anything like that, though.)
However, I must say at this point that because of my background—that is, my Old World Italian upbringing—mac ‘n’ cheese was not something I grew up with. So, while it has become the occasional comfort food for me, it’s really not the first thing I think of when I want something comforting . For me, it’s simple noodle soup or a grilled cheese sandwich.
How about you? I’d love to hear what you all consider comfort food. What do you turn to when you need a bit of warmth, comfort, and security? And if you can tell me why those particular foods, I’d absolutely love it. (I love finding out the origins of things, especially when it comes to eating habits.) So, please leave a comment. That would be awesome. In the meantime, here’s a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese with Proscuitto and Taleggio, from Bon Appetit, March 2002, and a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese with Garlic Bread Crumbs, Plain and Chipotle, originally appearing in Gourmet (R.I.P), December 1999. Enjoy!
Okay, everyone. Here’s hoping we’ve seen the last of winter nastiness, wherever you are, and that spring will arrive very soon. I think we all need it.