Tag Archives: beans

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.

Head below the fold for my versions of Hoppin’ John, Collard Greens and Red Rice, with a twist, of course.

Bean There, Done That

16 Oct

Last night, I was in the same room as Martha Stewart, Daniel Boulud and a Beastie Boy.

And yes, Carol, it was MCA.

There were other famous people in the room too, but I’m terrible at identifying famous people. I’ll stand and stare and think to myself, I know that person… But can never figure out how, until weeks or months later when I see them in a movie or on TV and blurt out, Oooooh! I talked to that guy at a party once!  The person I most wanted to talk to was Michael Colameco, the über-mensch of New York City public television food shows, but, by the time the speeches were over, I turned around and he was gone.  I was bummed.

So where was I?  At Chanterelle.  It was a launch party for David Waltuck‘s new cookbook.  The book is beautiful and the party was swish and the food delicious, but $54 was too rich for my blood. I think I’ll be putting it on my Christmas wish list. And even though I was having a blast, I decided to leave early, so I would be home in time to watch last night’s debate.

As I was walking up Thomas Street to catch the bus, I heard that unmistakable whine and stutter that New York City’s buses make.  I looked up, and there it was, the X27 passing by.  I broke into a full run, blasted around the corner onto Broadway, only to see the bus pulling away from the stop.

I slowed down, but then the bus stopped, so I took off again at a full gallop.  And then the bus pulled away again, but I was already running, so I kept going, and after about five blocks, I finally caught up to it.  But let me tell you something… After a handful of hors d’œuvre and three glasses of Pol Roger, five blocks at a full tilt is tantamount to the New York City Marathon.  Thank god I wasn’t wearing heels!

I made it home in time to catch the debate (I swear if McCain said Joe the Plumber one more time I was about to lose the very cute, incredibly delicious deviled quail eggs I had gorged on earlier in the evening) and to peek at the winner of Project Runway (I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I’m very pleased).

But you know what? This wasn’t my favorite cookbook event of the week, not in any way.  Nope.  Last Wednesday, I was able to sneak away from my desk for 30 minutes, to finally meet my bean-guru, Steve from Rancho Gordo.  He was in town spreading the bean gospel, signing copies of his cookbook at the Union Square greenmarket.  We chatted while he signed my book, a bargain at only $20, discussing beans and cooking and gardening and business.  It was the most pleasant break I’ve taken from work in months.  And when I walked away, I was inspired.

On Saturday, I made a loaf of Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s basic hearth bread, roasted a chicken (the rest of which is waiting patiently in the freezer for stock making next weekend), and boiled up some beans.  Earlier in the summer I went absolutely nuts at the greenmarket buying up, in bulk, every kind of shell bean I could find.  I bought pink ones, and blue ones, black ones and red ones, fat ones and skinny ones and one sort that are so beautiful, they look like the night sky.  Issac and I spent hours shelling them and then gently tucked them into the freezer.

A few weekends ago I made Tuscan Magic Beans with fresh cannellinis from my stash (I also made the world’s most glorious lasagna entirely from scratch and never told you about it).  The beans were a revelation.  People always say that dried beans and canned beans are just fine, that nothing is lost in the processing.  To them I now must say, malarkey.  Fresh cannellini beans have as much in common with canned cannellinis as canned artichoke hearts have in common with spring’s first, tenderest, most beautiful tiny purple artichokes served shaved as a salad in a Florentine trattoria.

The beans I made over the weekend were a mix of Steve’s fool-proof method and my version of the Tuscan magic way.  I sauteed onions, boiled beans, and then at the last minute added some raw onion, lemon zest and chopped olives.  The beans had an alluring, attractive, secretive aroma that traveled all the way down.  They were delicious with the bread and chicken for dinner, but definitely were better the next morning as breakfast, refried, on toast with poached eggs.

And while I enjoyed my rub with real celebrity; I mean, let’s be honest, if someone had walked over to me and said, “Ann, allow me to introduce you to Martha Stewart,” I would have lit up like a Christmas tree.  But in reality I found my little chat with a bean celebrity far more fulfilling and inspirational.  I just never know what to say to celebrities. I know I would hate having people walk up and babble at me, but isn’t that what being a celebrity is all about?  What do you think?  Should I have tried to meet Martha?

Head below the jump for the recipe for Perfumed Dinner (or Breakfast) Beans.

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Magic Beans

9 Apr

Between Florence and Rome, we stayed in the Maremma, Tuscan cowboy country.

Big Sky Country, Italy

It’s a wild and woolly part of Italy, verdant, fecund and stunning, squished between the mountains and the sea. We arrived at the inn just in time to interrupt our host, Alessandro’s, Easter dinner. Impeccable timing, as always, compounded by the inn’s location. We were smack dab, exactly in the middle of the heart of the heart of Nowhere.

Mortified, we gingerly asked Alessandro if the restaurant would be open for dinner. Our hearts sank when he said no. It was 5pm and our bellies were already rumbling with hunger, having eaten nothing but a pastry hours ago and worlds away in Florence.

Piombino, Italy

We glumly looked around. There wasn’t another building in sight, except for miles away, crowning a few hills hunkering darkly against the horizon. It took us nearly two hours to find the inn once, would we ever be able to find it again in the dark? We cursed our stupidity for not staying in Florence on Easter Sunday.

Alessandro must have sensed this in the way our faces fell, because he looked at us in a kindly way and said, “No, no, no, I’ll cook something for you… Something small. Around 8pm. Okay?”

We were expecting a loaf of bread, maybe a few olives, a plate of pasta with bottled sugo, a few cookies and a liter of vino rosso di casa at most. And we would have been perfectly contented with the bread and wine alone, but what we got was one of the biggest and best dinners we ate in Italy.

My feet like to prove they've been places, too.

Alessandro started us off, naturally, with antipasti: perfect brushcetta, the most wonderful pickled peppers, preserved artichokes, cheese with honey and freshly baked focaccia with prosciutto, capocollo and pancetta. The hot bread gently warmed the uncooked pancetta, coaxing out all of its porcine fatty goodness. It was a revelation. I never would think to eat uncooked bacon, but there I was, oinking my way through my two slices.

The Sea, Maremma

Our primi was petite squares of homemade lasagna. Alessandro swore he made everything himself, from the noodles to the ragu and that he’d eaten it for breakfast that very morning. I believe him. The noodles only hinted at being noodles, they were so thin. And there were a least eight perfectly constructed strata in each square, but there was no slippage and no knife necessary. Each layer blithely gave way to a fork’s pressure. It was lasagna nirvana.

Blossoms

But it didn’t stop there. We were happily stuffed and couldn’t imagine eating another thing, when the kitchen door swung open on the most glorious steak I have ever seen. Cooked to a perfect medium/medium-rare, it was at least 4 inches thick and the size of a dinner plate. Seasoned simply with salt, pepper and olive oil, Alessandro had cut “fingers” into its depths to allow it to cook through. It was the most delicious, tender and perfectly prepared steak I’ve ever had, especially in light of the previous night’s meal.

Does anyone know what this is? I thought it was lavendar, or rosemary, but it smelled like curry when I rubbed it.

We had gone out for “Florentine” steaks at a “trattoria” in Florence.  We had wanted to dine at the Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, a delicious looking neighborhood joint in the Oltrarno, but alas, our plans were thwarted by zillions of other people who wanted to eat there, too. So we ended up “somewhere else.” “Somewhere else” was a smelly, expensive, yet serviceable tourist trap of a restaurant. But we were there, and we were hungry, so we gamely ordered on. Honestly, the food wasn’t bad, but when cast in the light of our meal in the Maremma, it was a sad ghost of truly great Italian cooking, which is a shame.

Populaonia

So… I’ve told you about the antipasti, the primi, and the secondi… But, you know what? I haven’t even told you about my favorite part of dinner yet! It wasn’t the perfect steak. Nope. Nor the beautiful bacon, peppers or lasagna just like Nonna makes. Nope, nope , nope. And it wasn’t dessert either. (We didn’t have any. There wasn’t anywhere to put it!) Nope, to me, the most perfect, delicious and wonderful part of our meal was the beans.

Populonia

When we ate at Trattoria del Carmine in Florence, I ordered a plate of garbanzo beans from the daily specials menu. I figured, if a chef puts a dish called simply Ceci as one of his daily specials, it’s probably pretty special. And it was. Startling in its simplicity, just olive oil, garlic and salt, it was the best thing I ate that night.

Populonia

The same was true at Alessandro’s. His beans, presented as the third dish in our troika of antipasti, were the local, generic Tuscan white beans, probably from a can, heated through and dressed simply in olive oil and a dusting of dried herbs. Simple enough. But it was the final seasoning that made them revelatory: finely minced raw onion. The onion’s bite, its delicious tang, brought out every nuance of those beans; their creaminess, their vegetal savoriness, the very essence of their beaniness.

Cyclamen grow wild all over Italy.  I think that's really cool.

The Tuscans, it seems, have magic beans (or at least a magic touch with them).

We had them again the next night, at a pizza place perched atop one of those hills lurking at the rim of the vast Maremman plain. We had gone off exploring along the coast and returned to the inn sunburnt and windblown. When we arrived “home,” Alessandro and the noble Nero were waiting for us. We were the only people staying at the inn, he said, and rather than cooking us dinner again, Alessandro wanted to know if we’d like to go with him and his wife to his friend’s pizzeria for dinner.

Populonia

At first we said no, it felt awkward. But he insisted and, well, let’s be honest, it sounded really great, so we went. And it was. I know you’re never going to believe me when I tell you this, but I can’t remember the name of the place. In fact, I’m not sure I ever even knew it. But it’s in Sassofortino, outside the walls, overlooking the plain. It can’t be that hard to find, now, can it? The pizzas were delicious, as was the dessert of frutti di bosco over mascarpone cream, but once again, it was the beans on the antipasti plate that stole the show.

Castiglione Della Pescaia

The owner of the restaurant, who bore an odd resemblance to Frank Fontana from Murphy Brown, used borlotti beans for his fagioli, but the treatment was the same. Simple, simple, simple. Oil, salt, a few slivers of fresh tomato and the beans.

Rainbow, Maremma

A quick internet search for “Tuscan beans” turns up all kinds of recipes using carrots and cheese and special pots and sausages, but I think they’re missing the point. While there is obviously room for variation in making these beans; they can be chickpeas or borlotti beans or canellini beans; they can be dried or fresh, bottled or canned; you can add herbs or leave them out, there is one constant. Simplicity.

Ceci alla Toscana

And so, I don’t feel right telling you the name of the inn we stayed at, because it may no longer be there. Alessandro and his wife had already bought a new place on the coast and were cashing out of the inn on the plain while we were there. But, I can offer you my recipe for Tuscan beans.

And that’s obviously the next best thing, right?

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ceci o Fagioli alla Toscana.

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Something Good To Eat

15 Nov

“Welcome to Camp Chaos!” I chirped.

NoHo Door, Of special note, the N is on the southside and the S is on the northside

I was up to my elbows in dough and there was a halo of steam around my forehead. Isaac was home at least a half an hour earlier than I had expected him and I was running about a half an hour behind. The timing was actually perfect, I was able to finish up my kneading while he unpacked.

He was back from visiting his family for Western Orthodox Christmas. He’d given one of his sisters the New Book Of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden and so, as a treat, he whipped up lamb in yoghurt sauce and basmati rice for a light, traditional Colorado Christmas dinner. It went over gangbusters but was a bit of a gutbuster and so he was quite relieved to learn that all of the bubbling and simmering and kneading was not in fact preparation for some arcane Medieval feast reenactment, but rather for a nice, light bean and kale soup with freshly baked bread.

The Old Police HQ, NoLita

I was at first tempted to try this absolutley ridiculously good looking pork loin Luisa whipped up last week, but alas, by the time I made it to my old greenmarket stomping grounds at Tompkins Square, the pork guy was all out of pork. “What have you got left?” I pleaded. “Welllllll… I’ve got a few chicken parts… Some livers, some wings, a few necks and quite a few feet!” “Ah, I guess you’ve made my decision for me,” I replied, “I’d been torn between making a roasted pork loin and chicken soup!” So I bought some feet and wings, a few onions and lots of kale and headed home.

Bloomberg Building, Le Cirque is to the left

I do some of my best thinking just before drifting off to sleep (I’m also a champ at brainstorming in the shower), the challenge is remembering my great idea the next morning. On Saturday night I was thinking about beans. But not just any beans. Christmas Limas. Big, beautiful speckled dried lima beans that Christina had sent me in trade a few months ago for a jar of Pepi Pep Peps. In the note she sent with the beans, Christina warned that they take quite a bit more time soaking and cooking than smaller dried beans, and so I was thinking about this while falling asleep, and just then, right on the edge, I thought of a solution. The yogotherm.

The yogotherm came into our house as part of the cheesemaking kit I bought Isaac for his birthday. It’s a little plastic bucket with a lid, that slides into a styrofoam sleeve which sits inside a pretty plastic container with cows on it. Not the most environmentally responsible thing I own, but unlike other yogurt makers, it doesn’t need electricity. In cheesemaking the yogotherm keeps cultured milk warm while the cultures do their thing and make cheese, yogurt, kefir and all manner of delightful things. And so I figured, if it can make me cheese, why on earth couldn’t it make me beans?

Bryant Park Sheep

I rinsed my beans and popped them into a ziptop bag filled with warmish (probably around 100°F) water, stuck the bag in the bucket and closed up the contraption. By the time I got home 5 hours later, the beans were absolutely perfect. I have discovered something huge in bean cookery! Hear that Steve? My gigantic Christmas Limas only took an hour to cook after their yogotherm soaking. I feel like I’ve really contributed something to the culinary landscape with this.

The Old West Village Jail

To the beans I added lacinato kale and green mustard greens (thanks for the idea Toni) and a few ladles of stock. It’s the most aromatic stock I’ve ever made. I decided to forego my traditional recipe in favor of something a bit gutsier; a base of fennel, parsnips, bay leaves and thyme. I’ll definitely make this again, but there’s one thing I will not repeat.

Cooking with chicken feet. Ugh. Mine had some of the weird foamy skin still clinging to them, which skeeved me out, and then, as you’re cooking, they poke out of the liquid, looking like something that should be in the pot of Macbeth’s witches. Yes, they make good stock, but, oh man, no, not again. No more chicken feet.

Lacinato Kale

So we sat down to nice, piping hot bowls of soup with a “baguette” I had baked. I say “baguette” because this loaf was as French as EuroDisney. I followed Judith Jones‘ recipe from The Tenth Muse, but, not having a stand mixer I kneaded the loaves by hand for, oh, maybe 30 minutes? The bread has a nice crumb, but teeny tiny holes. I was hoping that the long kneading would produce enough gluten to support nice big airy holes, but alas. I actually think I may have kneaded it too much. I guess this just means I’ll have to buy myself a stand mixer for Christmas (unless someone buys me one beforehand, hint, hint…).

Western Orthodox Christmas Beans & Greens Soup

The soup was delightful. Christmas Limas get their name because to some, they taste like chestnuts, and chestnuts are associated with, well, Christmas! If you cook them to just the right consistency, you can squish the bean against the roof of your mouth, and as Christina puts it the, “inside of the bean squirts out like mashed potatoes.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Aromatic Stock and Western Orthodox Christmas Soup.

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All Sole Day

27 Sep

Tell me something…

Manhattan Bridge

Have you ever made Sole à la Meunière? You know, the über-classic French dish of sole cooked in butter and then served covered in foamy beurre noisette?

No? Well, you should. Today.

Go on. I’ll wait while you skip down to the fish monger to pick up a sole fillet for each of you, a bunch of parsley and a lemon.

Tap, tap, tap. Back? Okay, good, let’s get started!

Manhattan Bridge

You’ve got a small sautée pan, right? Good, put 2 tablespoons of butter into it and heat it over a low flame. There should be a white film at the bottom and foam on the surface. When the foam dissipates (or nearly so) and the butter is clear pour it into a larger sautée pan and add a glug of olive oil. My butter went beyond pale yellow to a nutty brown and it was just fine, so don’t panic. Heat the fats in the larger sautée pan over medium heat.

Rinse your sole (heh), season with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour and place immediately in the pan. Do not crowd the pan or you’ll never be able to flip them. Turn the heat down to lowish and allow to cook for 5 minutes or so. I flipped my sole when it began to feel firmer and I could see the edges becoming opaque.

Manhattan Bridge

Now the fun part. It might help to have an extra set of hands around for this one. If you’ve got a fish spatula, use it. If not, use your biggest, yet thinnest, spatula and a fork or something to try and flip your fish. Be delicate. The fish is incredibly flaky and there’s a large quantity of very hot fat in front of you. My sole broke. I know, tragic, right? But I survived and you will too!

Allow the fish to cook on this side until it loosens from the bottom and feels firm when you poke it. Move your sole to the plates you’re going to eat off of and cover with a smattering of washed, picked parsley and if you’re feeling sassy, a few capers. Drain the cooking fats from the pan and return it to the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of your very best butter and heat slowly. Don’t take your eyes, or your nose, off it for a second.

This is the time to use the good stuff lurking in your fridge, you know, that fancy pants French beurre you paid an arm and a leg for? Yeah, this is the time. You’re making beurre noisette mon amie! The word noisette here doesn’t refer to actual hazelnuts, instead it refers to the aroma the butter will release when it is heated to a certain temperature. It will turn a light golden brown and smell of roasted filberts. I kid you not.

Manhattan Bridge

This will happen in a few minutes time. When it does, immediately turn the heat off and remove the pan from the flame and pour directly over the fish. It will hiss and pop and make all sorts of wonderful noises and release delicious aromas. Take the plates to the table, squeeze some lemon over your sole and dig in. This is seriously good stuff and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

I awoke to this adventure on Saturday morning after a late night of playing poker with friends. I was neither bright eyed and most certainly not bushy tailed when the Boy returned from the gym, much to my dismay, perky, enthusiastic and babbling on about how the fish guys have soul.

Manhattan Bridge

Now, I’ve seen these guys and they most likely do not have rhythm and probably cannot sing the blues so I had to assume that he meant sole, not soul. I was skeptical. I’m not a huge fish person (aside from clams), but he looked so excited. I agreed to play along.

I had no idea what to do with sole so I turned to The Madame. That recipe above, that I distilled for you into about 400 words, runs on for 2 1/2 pages in La Bonne Cuisine, but, as with my Sauce Périgueux, it turned out perfectly.

Sole a la Meuniere

To accompany I braised some fresh lima beans with prosciutto and dried porcini mushrooms. I’m kind of sad that this recipe played the Miranda to the sole’s Carrie, because it was so good. The mushrooms and their soaking liquid along with the cured meat add so much heft and depth and profundity to this lowly, unloved bean.

Luckily though, there were limas left over, and we had them for dinner last night, heated through and tossed with farro pasta and a little cheese. Boy was that a vavavooom dinner!

Luscious Lima Beans

So I hope this has encouraged you and heartened you to try making this bistro classic in your own home. Don’t be afraid of the smells (if your fish is fresh and you have good ventilation, no problem), or the flipping or the butter browning.

It’s all doable and will impress that pants off your hubby or wife or mother-in-law, or hell, even the Pope. But he’s German, so he’d probably hate it (you know, because it’s French).

Head below the jump for the recipes for The Madame’s Sole and Luscious Limas.

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