My Beloved is coming to an interesting season in his life, too - he is planning to retire. After 40+ years in the business world, he has decided he's ready for some time off. He was away this past week at his last industry trade show, letting his sales managers and his long-time colleagues know the good news. He always comes home from trade shows a little hoarse from telling stories and hailing friends for all three days, leg weary and footsore from standing on hard convention center floors, and sleepy from not resting well in hotel bedrooms - but he loves it all and will miss those activities when he retires. They are perhaps his favorite part of being an independent representative.
So, while he was gone and I was casting about for something to fill the time, I decided to make a zucchini stew with the best, shiny, beautiful zucchinis I have seen in my market. There were nice summer squashes, too, and gorgeous red tomatoes - a bonanza!
For this stew, which I have always called barbouille (I just googled that and in French it means to have an upset stomach! Where did I get that name??), all I do is cut up a good-sized onion into wedges through the root end and chop a big shallot, and sauté those in some good olive oil. When they are clear and starting to brown, I dump in three or four chunked zucchinis, two or three chunked summer squashes, two or three chunked ripe tomatoes, two bay leaves, and several sprigs of thyme. I leave the thyme leaves on the stems, as they will fall off during the cooking and the stems are easy to remove at the end. I mix up a "sauce" of red wine (about 1/2 cup) and tomato paste (a big squirt, as I use the kind in the tube), and pour that over the vegetables, cover the pot, and let it all simmer on lowest heat for about an hour. There is nothing in that pot that even a vegan wouldn't approve of.
Everything gets very soft, and only the green rind of the zucchini retains much integrity. The colors dull a bit and the dish looks messy. The flavors meld together. I may mix it up once for twice during the hour, but even if I forget, this turns out well. I spoon it up into a bowl for dinner - I don't even add cheese. It is delicious warm and, to my mind, even better at room temperature. You can ladle it over pasta if you're pretty hungry, or just enjoy it as is.
It's a good accompaniment to time alone, when you are thinking about what changes this decision to retire will make in your lives. It's somewhat contemplative to make - all that chopping and chunking - and easy enough that you can be a little distracted without making a disaster. I guess everything is an adjustment, even something as joyous as the end of work and the start of those long-awaited "golden years."
This fall, we are planning a cross-country trip to celebrate his retirement. We will drive our little VW station wagon, stopping to visit friends and monuments along the way, parts of our vast country we have never seen. We expect to be gone for several weeks. So, about the time that the zucchini season wanes, we will be away on our travels. Until then, I will be making this stew more than once.