It’s over. We’re over. Il Italiano and I are no more. Finito. I’ll spare you the bloody details…save this: once an Italian honeymoon comes to an end, you’re left with nothing more than a hairy, cocksure bamboccione (the Italian for mamma’s boy)!
My Italiano was true to form. I like a man who likes his family, and all the great home cooked meals and warm, close conversation that hopefully comes along with said family. But I don’t care much for mother complexes, nor do I care for large, ornately framed pictures of the family matriarch on my boyfriend’s bedside table. Now, that’s bad enough, but when he refuses to at least turn them over when I’m turned on, well, that’s just bad. You can imagine where it went from there.
That was a week ago, and I’ve been practically fasting since. With breakups, it’s always feast or famine. Some people gorge themselves mid-emotional upheaval: think Samantha in the new Sex & the City movie. Some people starve themselves. As a food lover with the family gene for eating so fast you don’t notice you’re full until halfway through your second helping of rigatoni parmigiano, you’d think I’d be given to emotional over-eating. For reasons unknown, when I’m heartsick I cannot eat. Period. Maybe there’s no comfort food comforting enough. Take the last seven days. Erin brought me favorite salads, crispy kettle chips, the best madeleines in the city (from Balthazar, of course), and nothing, I don’t eat. Celest came bearing flowers, Zinfandel, chocolate, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s. I poured the wine – I never said I couldn’t drink – and sat watching her finish off a tub of Coffee Heathbar Crunch. Sara brought cottage cheese and beef jerky, but I didn’t need to be lovesick to turn that down.
I wish I could turn to my kitchen in times like this, but the truth is, if my heart is somewhere else, it won’t be in my cooking. (Besides, being around all those newly sharpened knives after a lousy breakup isn’t the best idea for me). This breakup has been particularly tricky because when I’m down, I usually come around to a big plate of homemade pasta…which now only reminds me more of the Italiano! Sigh.
After a week of this drama I was starving, only all this grief meant I hadn’t been food-shopping for days. There were bits of molding cheese (a travesty I’m loathe to allow), sour cream for the twice baked potatoes I had made “us” last week, a couple dried out oranges and some mangy looking beets. To the undiscerning eye, it looked like a wasteland, but to me, it was the foundation for a slapdash Beet Napoleon. I set about roasting my beets, emulsifying my dressing, and whipping together a cheese filling that combined my two favorite beet pairings: goat cheese and bleu cheese. After a couple hours back behind the stove I realized how badly I’d been missing food. Cooking it, eating it, thinking about it, sharing it with friends. To my surprise, what I didn’t miss was him.
But damn, I’ll miss his Vespa.
Beet Napoleon (serves 1 lonely, hungry heart)
This recipe can be sculpted to fit however many mouths you’re feeding. I had two small red beets in my fridge so that’s what I used; yellow beets are also quite wonderful and a bit milder. First things first, every good beet salad starts with roasted beets, which take awhile, so start early. Scrub your beets well to rub off all the grit and then wrap them in tin foil, slather them with olive oil, and throw in a heavy handed dash of salt and pepper. You’ll be skinning them later so the seasoning should be powerful enough to seep into the beet meat under the skin. Roast these suckers on high heat (I went all the way to 450 degrees) for about an hour, or until tender when pricked with a fork. Be sure to wrap the foil tight around them so they steam, and place them on a baking pan to catch any drippings that might leak out.
While the beets are cooling, make the filling and dressing (you can even make the beets days in advance…they store for quite some time). I had a goat’s milk bleu cheese in my fridge that had survived my weeklong hiatus. I brought it to room temperature and then put it in my standing mixer with the paddle attachment connected, poured in half a tub of sour cream, added salt and pepper to taste and whipped it on high to blend. The dressing I made was a simple concoction of fresh squeezed orange juice, a teaspoon of raw honey, one clove minced garlic, a splash of champagne vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and of course, salt. It was sweet and tangy and a perfect compliment to the brooding flavor of bleu cheese filling.
Layering the napoleon is a satisfying practice that takes me back to days spent building Leggo towers. With your fingers, just peel away the skin from the beets and then slice them into discs. Place a smear of cheese filling between each layer of beets and stack ‘em as high as they seem stable. Dress the napoleons with your citrus vinaigrette and if you have some greens around (arugula would be a perfect pair) you can make a salad bed. I let my napoleons sit out for an hour before eating so that the beet juices would seep into the cheese and infuse the napoleons with that gorgeous fuchsia color and heady beet flavor.