How I Became a “Henry IV Vegetarian”

First of all, relax.  This is how rumors get started.  I haven’t gone crazy or thrown away the chicken bones in my freezer or bought a yurt or anything like that.   Remember:   pork products…cold dead fingers.

But from now on, I’m only going to eat meat on Sunday. No more chicken salads for lunch, no more pork shoulder in my weeknight stir-frying, no more bacon because I got yelled at at work,  no more “chorizo break” during my housework binges.   There is just Sunday… when I can anticipate and savor and meticulously plan and flawlessly execute what I am desperately craving.  And I am DAMN sure going to enjoy it.

I’m hesitant to be one of those people who constantly boasts about what he is GOING to do. But I’ve been heading this way for a few weeks now, and wanted to give it some thought before I made it official.  As you can obviously imagine, this wasn’t an easy decision for me.   I mean, it was a no-brainer in terms of what the correct and eventual choice was: either make serious changes to my diet or continue to be tired/overweight/self-loathing/angry/helpless a significant chunk of the time.

The difficulty with me is always working out the details. Forgive me yet another chess analogy, but the tactician in me insists on not only correctly seeing ahead,  but evaluating the end result correctly.  This means struggling to enumerate every possible obstacle and how I’m going to respond:

Fortunately, the biggest challenges are the easiest to solve.  My habit of making an elaborate meat dish on Sunday evening and saving the leftovers for lunches all week can evolve.  I can freeze, I can entertain, I can, frankly, explore the hundreds of exotic vegetarian options in my existing cookbooks.  (I have this potato curry I’m dying to tell you all about)  Similarly, once winter arrives, I’ll be ready with different soups meant for weekdays… chowders, bisques, creams of green things when I don’t need bacon.  I’ll be okay.

What’s going to be more pernicious, for me, is stuff like this.  Dinners where the meat is an important sidenote,  but will still be 87.5% as good if prepared without it.  I make the following meal roughly twice every three weeks.

Yes, the dish contains pancetta.  If you have a somewhat less dysfunctional relationship with pork products, I highly suggest you include it in your weeknight version of this.  Pancetta lacks the smokeyness of bacon, but it makes up for it with this peppery afterburn that I enjoy pairing with vegetables.

Over the last two years or so I’ve really fallen in love with the flavor combination of zucchini, red pepper, and onion.  Garlic is thematic, and mushrooms add depth, but really, this is about the brightness of the pepper, the sweet of the onion, and the grassy vegetal-ness of the zuke.  You can eat this by itself, serve this over rice, you can serve this over noodles, you can blitz it in the food processor and spread it over bread…

Or, you can be Jeff, and make your own pasta.

VEGGIE ON HOMEMADE PASTA THING  (for one, with leftovers)

For every diner, one egg, one-half cup of AP flour, a pinch of salt.
One green zucchini
One small yellow onion
one red pepper, decapped, seeds and white membrainey stuff removed, and chopped/julienned
a few mushrooms cleaned and quartered
one clove of garlic, minced.
2 ounces pancetta, cut into half-inch squares

Start with the pasta.

And, actually, the hole-in-the-middle-of-the-volcano thing is important.   This method allows you to slowly integrate the dough into the moisture, and leaves less of a chance that the dough will clump up.  You take in no more and no less water than needed.

Stir the dough with two fingers, taking on a little bit more flour with each couple of passes.  Keep stirring until the dough feels like it’s taken on enough flour, but is still very soft and smooth.

Wrap in plastic and set aside for 20 minutes.  Which is just enough time to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and chop the veggies.

Once the pasta dough is hydrated, knead several times with a rolling pin with just a pinch of flour over your work surface.  Make wallet folds with the edges of the dough, and then roll out.  The dough should be very smooth and the surface should not be gritty.

Roll the dough as thinly as possible, and then use your pizza cutter (or ravioli crimper) to roll into ribbons or squares. (Eventually I’ll reach a point where I can form into bow ties)

Drop your pasta into the boiling water.

If you are using pancetta, drop this into a large saucepan/sautee pan, and cook on low heat until much of the fat has rendered out.  Remove the meaty bits,  and then cook your veggies, on medium heat.  No additional salt should be needed if you use the pancetta (it’s salty) If you can, use a larger vessel than you think you will need.  This will allow the veggies to brown easier (more moisture will evaporate)

One other tip, make sure to test the pasta for doneness.  Despite looking like they will cook immediately, sometimes it takes a moment for the core of the pasta to reach al-dente.

Serve the veggies (and meat) over pasta with a little olive oil and good quality parm-reg.

This entire process takes about 30 minutes.

So it’s amazing how so many of our problems are tangled up with one another. But what always seems to give me hope is that the solutions are connected as well.   Anyway, yes.  I’ve cut way back on the meat.  And I’ve recommitted myself to some other changes I keep sputtering around with, like waking up early to ride my exercise bike and drink a smoothie.   Call it whatever you want, but I don’t ever want to be in a situation where a chicken in my pot on Sunday is not an option.   But if Paris is worth a Mass, my health is worth a bit of thoughtfulness.

8 thoughts on “How I Became a “Henry IV Vegetarian”

  1. Good luck! I’m pulling for you. I don’t know if I could give up cheese 6 days a week, so you have my respect.

  2. i’m so impressed with how you are tackling this. bravo to you!

    will you also be excercising & such?

  3. I understand completely. Summer is the perfect time to cut back on meat, anyway! I would say I haven’t had red meat in months and I don’t miss it (much). And we normally eat vegetarian several nights a week. I suggest a hearty 3 bean chili for nights when you really need something filling. I have a recipe in my blog if you need one!

  4. Is the “Henry IV” label a reference to the quote “If God grants me the usual length of life, I hope to make France so prosperous that every peasant will have a chicken in his pot on Sunday.”?

  5. TJ-

    Yes, in part. There are actually two reasons.

    First, Henry IV did, obviously, make a reference to a chicken in a pot once a week. I prefer the chicken to be seasoned simply with salt and pepper, seared upon cast iron and finished in an oven… but that’s a different matter.

    The OTHER reason is perhaps more crucial – Henry IV was a Huguenot who converted to Catholicism in order to ascend to the French throne (hence the quote “Paris is worth a mass.” ) – Which led me to believe the guy entertained a bit of moral flexibility regarding what he did on Sundays.

    Thanks for visiting!

  6. Cool

    I was very puzzled by the reference, and originally thought this was an “official” “named” version of vegeterianism until I went to search for it and could find no references on the net, other than to your own posts.

    so congratulations, perhaps you’ve spawned a new branch of vegetarianism :-)