Monday, October 21, 2013

Jules Breton's Easy Weeknight Chili

Fall has officially arrived in the city, and I am so happy with the cooled temperatures, changing leaves and the seasonal fare that comes with it. This weekend was especially nice, with none of the tiring humidity that marked the week before. I am now convinced that one of the best endings to a typical fall day involves coming home from work to a piping hot bowl of hearty chili. Luckily chili is really easy to make, and if the ingredients are prepped before, can come together in just an hour, with very little effort. 

Jules Breton, The Gleaners, oil on canvas, 1854

 Immediately relevant just for its color palette screaming “fall,” Jules Breton’s nineteenth century Gleaners works also give off the feel of needing a substantial and warming meal at the end of a long day.  In the 1850s, Breton began producing timeless and romantic paintings of women in various stages of fieldwork. At first, his modest celebration of human values was not popularly received, but his 1854 work The Gleaners effectively launched his career.

Breton continued working with this iconography, gaining commissions and continuously making alternative versions of his most successful works. One example of this, Calling in the Gleaners, now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, shows the moment the work was finished, with a group of peasant women coming in from the fields with their scraps of wheat. These non-idealized women are shown against a brightly hued setting sun, showering them in an eerie glow that is more reminiscent of an energized awakening than an exhausted end of day. Breton painted several versions of this work, and a precursor is up for auction next week. 

Though I can hardly compare any aspect of my days to manual fieldwork, I can always appreciate a warm, easy weeknight dinner, requiring little effort once I am home. This chili boasts seasonal butternut squash, fragrant spices and farro--for a touch of wheat. To make things easier, I chopped all of the vegetables the morning of, so that when I was ready to start cooking, I just needed to add everything to the pot and let it cook, sitting largely unattended for an hour.

Jules Breton, Calling in the Gleaners, oil on canvas, 1859

Easy Weeknight Chili
Adapted from Cookie and Kate
Serves 4 large main course, or 6 starters

·      1 onion, chopped
·      2 bell peppers, chopped (I used red and orange)
·      ½ a medium sized butternut squash, peeled and chopped
·      2-3 garlic cloves, minced
·      2 T. olive oil
·      salt
·      1 T. chili powder
·      1 t. ground cumin
·      1 bay leaf
·      ¼ t. cinnamon
·      ¼ t. ginger
·      14 oz. can tomatoes, including liquid
·      2 cans beans, rinsed and drained (I used black beans and white beans)
·      1 c. raw farro
·      2 c. low sodium vegetable broth
·      sliced avocado, for garnish

In a 4-6 oz. Dutch oven, sauté the chopped veggies (squash, onion, garlic, peppers) in the olive oil over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes (until onions are starting to turn translucent). Stir the veggies as you wait, and when translucent, turn the heat down to medium low. Add the spices, tomatoes, beans, farro, broth and a pinch of salt, and cover. Let mixture simmer over medium low/low heat for about an hour. Let cool, garnish individual servings with avocado, and your meal is ready! Enjoy!

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