Is it just me, or is there a distinct lack of urgency about Russia’s latest lockdown, or “non-working week,” as the authorities are billing it? The worrying rise in COVID cases suggests that a week (at least) is well warranted, but there is something about this time around that feels more like the frantic run up to a long Russian holiday week before everything shuts down, nothing gets done, and everyone starts day drinking. Like any pre-holiday period, Russia has experienced a mass exodus to Turkey and Egypt by those who prefer to do their day drinking on the beach.
As a keen historian of the sprawling landscape of Russian public holidays, I could not help but notice that the “non-working week” had been conveniently wrapped around November 4th or “Day of Unity and Accord.” This new holiday was repurposed from the iconic November 7th or Revolution Day, once the reddest of all red days on the calendar, and enjoys proximity to Halloween, which may be why Moscow’s nightclubs and bars were going full throttle the night before lockdown begun.
“It’s a sin to complain,” as the Russians say, so I am embracing the “non-working week” with gratitude, coupled with the fervent hope that it will do the trick and stem precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases. And a week’s respite from the usual hurly-burly of the Russian capital is a great excuse for some leisurely experimentation in the kitchen.
Jennifer Eremeeva / MT
By now, the quarantine cuisine drill should be second nature: I assume that you’ve hoarded 10 kilos of grechka, those indispensable buckwheat groats which for centuries have been the bulwark between Russians and famine. Your pantry probably still boasts neat stacks of tinned beans because you still haven’t figured out what to do with them, and presumably, you’ve laid in a good supply of hardy root vegetables, which should last far beyond November 7 when lockdown is set to lift.
I have a lot of butternut squash in my kitchen at the moment, which is less a nod to lockdown and more a hallmark of the season: they are ubiquitous this time of year, overflowing in bins at the market and front and center in food magazines and TikTok videos, which urge us to incorporate these relentlessly cheerful gourds into pasta dishes, dumplings, soups, stews, pilafs, and even cakes.
With time on my hands, four butternut squash cluttering up my counter, a big bunch of sage ready to harvest in my garden, and Halloween on the horizon, I decided to tackle hasselback butternut squash. Butternut squash’s graceful, curved silhouette and vibrant orange color look spectacular when presented with thin layers fanned out — a dish festive enough to bring to the holiday table as a side dish or the main event for vegetarians.
Jennifer Eremeeva / MT