Auspicious, Delicious

7 Jan

Well, hello there! Happy 2010 to you!

I hope your New Year started well, in fact, I honestly hope your New Year started with as delicious, and auspicious, a meal as ours did.

I decided that this Christmas was going to be the Christmas of beans.  It was a bold choice, I know, but much like any other person who has been touched by zeal, I felt the need to spread the gospel even if it meant giving gifts of dubious motivation.  So since my stepsister was getting a new crockpot from us, it was full of beans.  And since both of Isaac’s parents hail from the South, they got beans too.  Plus, both my stepsister and Isaac’s mom are trained anthropologists.  I figured that despite initial skepticism, they would come to see the beauty, cultural significance and, most importantly, the deliciousness of my gift.

I’m still waiting.

But, really, this is all just a long-winded way of saying that I kept a bag of beans for myself.  I mean, a girl needs to gift herself at Christmas too, right?  I had ordered a bag of Yellow-Eye beans to give to my stepsister, but when they arrived, they were so beautiful and so full of promise I just had to keep them.

And so we found ourselves on New Year’s Day watching the snow and the birds and boiling a ham hock and soaking beans.

I had read this piece by Kim Severson in the Times on the culinary pathways between Southern cooking and Brooklyn shopping and was inspired by her recipes.  But I felt they needed just a few tweaks, including starting with fresh (as opposed to smoked) hocks from Rolf’s.  I love smoky food, but sometimes, you just need to let the produce sing.  This was one of those times.

So while Isaac boiled up a pot of oatmeal, I set about four handfuls of beans to soaking and plopped a frozen ham hock into a pot and covered it with water. I let it cook and cook and cook all day long, adding more water as needed until the meat fell off the bones and the broth looked more like milk than stock.  It didn’t just “stink up the pot real good,” it stank up the whole house real good.

Six hours later, I started the beans.  Here are my recipes as I wrote them down in my notebook:

Peas. In a pot cook one onion diced, a red bell pepper diced, half a jalapeno finely minced, one rib of celery chopped and one small carrot chopped in some oil until sticky.  Add a bay leaf, a pinch of epazote and a pinch of ajwain (I bought this at Penzy’s and added it because the smell just smelled right to me, omitting it would not be a sin).  Add the beans and their soaking water and a enough pork stock to cover the beans by an inch.  Add more water the pork stock if needed.  Bring the beans to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook partially covered until done.  You’ll know the beans are done because they will no longer smell “green” and their skins will burst and the liquid will be cloudy.

Season with salt and crush a few beans against the side of the pot to release their creaminess and if the liquid is too liquidy boil it hard until a little thicker.  Don’t worry if the beans stick or burn to the bottom a little, a little burntness actually tastes nice.  Before serving pick over the hock meat, chop the good bits up and add them to the beans. (Here’s the original recipe: Brooklyn-Style Hoppin’ John)

Greens. Get a 1/4 slab of really nice American prosciutto (may I suggest La Quercia perhaps?) and dice up just a little more than half of it into nice, bite-sized cubes.  Render the pork in a little vegetable oil.  When the fat is clear and the meat is chewy and delicious add two sliced onions, one diced yellow bell pepper, one jalapeno sliced and lots of garlic.  Cook until sticky and just becomming golden.  Add a few chopped vinegar-soaked chilis (whatever you have in the fridge) and a big glug of apple cider vinegar.  Cook until it has glazed the onions then add in the rest of the strained pork stock.  Add the collard greens as prepared in the original recipe (Brooklyn-Style Collard Greens) and one sliced onion.  Cook until done, about 40 minutes.

Now, Isaac and I could happily eat off of these two things for, we estimate, about 40 dinners and 40 lunches.  But beans and greens really are lonely without rice.  I wanted something rich, something a little fancier than just plain boiled rice, and I found it in Evan Jones’ indispensable tome American Food with a recipe called Red Rice.  The rice is nice and soupy because it’s supposed to be baked within an inch of its life as a casserole with pimiento-stuffed olives and swiss cheese.  I think that’s a sin against rice.  So I present this recipe to you in all its soupy, delicious, fragrant cheese-and-olive-free glory.

Rice. Puree one cup of tomato passata with one quarter of a red bell pepper, one jalapeno and a few cloves of garlic.  Add 1/2 c. water and season with salt as needed.  In a pot cook the rest of the bell pepper, diced and one diced onion until soft.  Add 1/2 c. of rice (I used organic American basmati and it was delicious) to the pot with the onion and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and just becoming golden.  Add the puree, bring to a boil, then clamp on the lid and cook on very low heat for 35 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let sit for an additional five minutes.  Remove the lid fluff and serve.

I suggest eating as much of this in one sitting as you can, because while the leftovers were good, the flavors got a little spiky in storage; the sour parts became more sour, the hot flavors hotter.  And besides, as long as there’s more than two of you there isn’t a chance you’ll have any leftovers from this meal.

In fact, I would predict a war over the pot likker.  And, really, is there any better way to ring in the new year than a fight amongst friends over porky, sweet, piquant pot likker?  I think not.  Happy New Year!

5 Responses to “Auspicious, Delicious”

  1. Nathalie January 7, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    Happy New Year to you too from (hard to believe) snowy Dublin. I would gladly scoff the whole of that plate, it sounds delicious and so right this time of year.

  2. ann January 7, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Ha Nath! You finally got what you wanted!! I’m so happy! Are you enjoying the snow?

  3. Christina January 11, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    Beautiful meal. I’m really full right now, but if I weren’t, I’d be drooling. I like the colors of it, too.

    I know you missed upstate this weekend, but it looks like the city has been providing you will all kinds of beauty of its own sort.

  4. Andrea January 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

    We too had beans. A bag of mixed beans from Habitat for Humanity made into our hands on Christmas day. I can take no credit for the cooking, my husband does all that. Beans are just wonderful no matter what time of year but they seem to be such a comfort food when the days are short and cold.

  5. ann January 12, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    Christina — It’s okay! I finally bought some SERIOUS winter footwear this weekend, so our weekend upstate this weekend will be all the better for it. And I got snowshoes too :-) :-) :-)

    Andrea — Habitat for Humanity beans? I’m intrigued, tell me more! And yes, I agree. Beans are the ultimate winter comfort food!

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