A little while ago, I made a promise to myself. Not a resolution, per se, but a promise. I vowed to make the bleakest, most inhospitable months of the year – January, February and March – slightly more bearable by turning my freezer into a well-organised cache of provisions. It sounds very end-of-days, I know. But from where I’m sitting, the weather feels very end-of-days right now. My nostril hairs froze while waiting for the bus to the dentist the other day; if I don’t wear tights under my pants on my commute to work, I lose sensation in my thighs; I drag a space heater around my apartment, moving from kitchen to living room to bedroom, and, on the most frigid of nights, you can sometimes find me nestled up to a hot-water bottle.
It’s unsexy, it’s exhausting, it’s an exercise in endurance and patience, not to mention mental fortitude. This is winter in Quebec. Bienvenue, les amis.
Even when you’ve lived through winters like this your whole life, you never quite get used to them (in other words, you never quite get accustomed to the sensation of frozen nostril hairs) (speaking of unsexy). However, you do become a little more saavy, a little more wise, in prepping for the deep freeze. For one, you buy boots. Good boots, with a polar bear on the logo and a guarantee that says “Waterproof, -40°”. You outfit your bed with flannel sheets (the best purchase of the year, hands down). You run errands strategically – mentally plotting out your excursions in advance to minimize the amount of time spent outdoors. You layer your clothing; you pack extra socks; you do things your younger self never thought you’d do. Like wearing those aforementioned tights, under your pants. Or wrapping your head in a hefty piece of cloth that you can barely breathe through, making you not only look like a terrifying urban yeti, but also severely impairing both your peripheral vision and your hearing when navigating those busy city streets.
Making it alive through winter comes with a well-earned sense of accomplishment, as my fellow Quebecers can attest (We didn’t slip on any ice! We didn’t fracture any limbs! We didn’t lose any exposed skin to frostbite! We made it! High five!). This explains why you’ll find us lounging on beer patios as early as mid-March, when the first few warm rays of sunshine pierce through. It’s still cold; we’re still in winter parkas. But we’re that eager for the faintest glow of warmth after winter’s put us through the wringer.
I’ve come to realise that a large part of surviving the deep freeze is, ironically, using your freezer to its fullest potential. Making large batches of food ahead, then freezing them into smaller portions is one of those winter-savvy moves that your older, wizened self has come to appreciate. Which is why you don’t think twice about holing yourself up in the kitchen for a whole weekend, to cook and bake, bag and freeze. Let the rest of them skate around awkwardly in their stilettos on their way to the club this Saturday night. You, my friend, have got a hot date with the Dutch oven.
The foods you choose to make are entirely up to you. There’s no real magical equation. This time around, I tried a couple of new recipes that I thought would freeze well – a curried red lentil stew with coconut, and a fennel-leek soup with turmeric – but I also stuck to a couple of classic, rib-sticking recipes, like coq au vin, brisket chili, and ragù bolognese. Foods that are familiar, comforting, and that fill the house with the heady, wintery aromatics of butter, onion, red wine and bay leaf. Perfect for those nights when you shuffle home from work, snotty, zonked and cold.
Stay warm, be well, and eat well. x
Ragù Bolognese (makes 4-6 servings) – adapted from Bon Appétit and La Cucina Italiana
*Note on the recipe: this is a reconstructed version of a classic bolognese. You’ll note that there’s no tomato (just a little tomato paste), which might seem weird if you’re used to adding it. But trust me on this one. Bolognese made in modo tradizionale is beyond compare.
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- a knob of butter
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 2 oz. thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped (use unsmoked, mild pancetta)
- 6 oz. ground beef
- 6 oz. ground veal
- 3 cups beef stock, divided
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2cup dry red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve: swirl warm sauce into cooked egg noodles, fresh or dried (such as pappardelle, tagliatelle or fettuccine) and top with grated parmigiano reggiano
1) Heat oil and the knob of butter in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Sauté until soft, but not browned (about 8 minutes).
2) Add the pancetta and allow it to fry a minute or so before adding the beef and veal. Sauté, breaking up with the back of a spoon, until browned (about 15 minutes). Add wine and boil 1 minute, stirring often and scraping up browned bits. Add 2 1/2 cups stock, tomato paste and the bay leaf; stir to blend. Reduce heat to very low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavours meld, 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper.
3) Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan; gradually add to sauce. Cover sauce with lid slightly ajar and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until milk is absorbed (about 40 minutes). Adding more stock by the ladleful to thin if needed.
If you’re freezing the ragù: Allow it to cool completely, then transfer it to freezer-proof containers.
If you’re not freezing the ragù: Allow it to cool completely, cover and keep chilled until ready to use (I use Mason jars). Can be kept for up to 2 days in the fridge.