It begins, at 5:30, with the onion, a hearty red one that’s been peeling back its own layers while tucked snugly inside a plastic container, abandoned on the back of the top shelf of the refrigerator.
The onion’s missing half led a virtuous life as part of a kale salad, but that was a long time ago. Sliced into thin-ish half rounds, it yields a heaping handful. Plus a little more.
Next comes the vacuum pack of beef tips from Rastelli’s, all 8 ounces still sealed and looking the proper color, although there’s no visible expiration date to confirm that. It passes the smell test, after the kitchen shears make quick work of the packaging. Once opened, the bag sits on the counter and its contents wait their turn.
If this were a proper dinner, and proper recipe, then the pieces of beef would get patted dry, dusted with salt and pepper, and set on a plate to come to room temperature. But this is not that, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here.
Since there’s no telling where this is going, any path will lead there. And the long-ago discontinued, yellow, enameled cast iron “fait tout,” rescued years ago from the clearance rack at Williams Sonoma Outlet, will be the transport, though there are other options that would probably suffice.
When that tried-and-true shallow pot is good and hot from the high, if old and unpredictable, flame, it gets a nice coat of olive oil. When that, too, is good and hot, in go the onions to get stirred and softened, surrendering a bit of their bright purple for spots of soft brown.
At just the right time, they get scraped to one side (the cooler side of the pot, thanks to the uneven heating of an old burner) to hold.
(Could they be scooped out and onto a plate or into a bowl instead? Certainly; but that would require more dishwashing, which seems excessive. No one has time for that, especially not tonight.)
A bit more olive oil, in the open part of the pot. And a bit of butter, which gets nice and foamy as it heats up.
The beef tips go in, first all in one ungraceful heap, then separated and spread out, just enough to give some room.
Cumin. Always a good choice, especially if burritos are in the future.
(Are they? Too soon to tell.)
Oregano. Just a little. Maybe two good pinches?
And thyme, but just one pinch
Ancho chile. A generous sprinkling, right from the jar. Plus a little more.
Time to turn the beef pieces, so there will be crusty bits on at least two sides of each morsel. Then a good stir, to bring the onions and beef together.
That bottle of Côtes du Rhône, still holding on to one more glassful, for some other night, from a week ago?
And the chicken stock, a little less than a cupful, a remnant from the experimental “make ‘risotto’ but with steel-cut oats.” Was that a week ago, too, or longer? Passes the smell test, so it’s fine.
In they go, with a good stir.
Bay leaf? Oops; don’t have any. Need to add that to the grocery list.
This is definitely not going to be burritos.
Low simmer, for long enough to sweep the kitchen and wipe down the counter.
The beef is tender. Ish. Nicely flavored. Ish.
That package of fusilli, the good one that was intended for New Year’s Eve dinner.
That, plus 4 cups of water, straight into the pot. Good stir.
Moderate oven, about 300 degrees? Maybe just stovetop, on a very low simmer. Less fuss that way.
Twenty minutes, covered, with occasional but infrequent stirring.
Just enough time to do one other thing — go for a walk, or hit the yoga mat, or read the paper or part of The New Yorker. Or something.
Pasta’s done. Turn up the heat to reduce the liquid a bit.
Is there parsley? There is not.
(Add to grocery list.)
Still missing something…
Heavy cream, sitting abandoned at the back of the bottom shelf, left over from Christmas (perhaps?). It, too, passes the smell test.
How much is in there? A guessing woman might guess a quarter cup’s worth, give or take.
Or she might say, “just enough, that’s how much.”
The dog perks up, runs to the back door.
“Hey, Mom! Smells good! How’d you know I’d be hungry when I got here?”