December 27th, 2012

From (Under) an Escarole Leaf

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On fleet and chilly foot, this year is surely making its exit. I trust that your holidays have been full of joy and camaraderie, and good food shared with those you love. Ours have been exceptional, heralded by the birth of my first grandchild, Zachary James. He was due to arrive on the first of December, but he chose—wisely, no doubt– to wait until the 12th to make his wondrous entrance. For parents who married on 10-10-10, his 12-12-12 birthdate is all the more auspicious.

I was privileged to be a part of the birth team, and witness his entry. I was thrilled to be one of the first to caress his pink cheeks and welcome him into this strange new world.

A week after his arrival, I returned to my own home after a month-long absence to put Christmas together. A hectic pace, but the tree got trimmed, presents got wrapped, the beef got roasted, and the chocolate mousse trifle got mounded high in the bowl.

But what I’d like to share with you today veers away from the indulgences of the season.

It is a healthy, hearty dish using Escarole.

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This great green bouquet resembles lettuce in appearance, but belongs to the Endive family. (The sprawling head made me think of the old wives tale imparted to children about where babies come from…) Also known as broadleaf endive, Bavarian endive, or scarola, it is one of its less bitter members. Escarole can be eaten raw in salads, but it is really luscious when braised into soups or stews.

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I’ve never prepared these greens in any form before now. But the forces aligned. Friend and farmer Tally May of Fresh Harvest Coop had grown splendid rows of escarole, market ready on my return. A vivid description of this recipe from my cousin Cathy and her husband John (given as they drove me to the airport!) left no doubt that a pot of escarole with fusilli and cannellinis would be simmering on my stovetop soon.

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It is a traditional Italian dish, which, depending on the amount of liquid that you choose to add, becomes either a stewy pasta or a robust soup. Either way, you’ll want to serve it in a bowl, with a spoon and hunk of bread to sop up all the sumptuous broth.

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It’s a garlic-friendly dish, too. Don’t be timid with those cloves!

Highly seasoned cannellini beans are also key. I used Rancho Gordos mega-meaty, super creamy beans, which I prepared the day before. If you use canned beans, be sure to drain and rinse them before simmering them in good olive oil, garlic, and bay leaf.

Cathy also insists–and rightfully so–on using DeCecco brand fusilli. It’s an excellent pasta: full-flavored, with terrific texture. Those tight curls capture the broth while remaining resilient in the sauce.

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Here’s a trick I used to add more body to the broth. I reserved a cup of cooked beans and pureed them before stirring them into the pot. The sauce becomes almost silken. And the greens themselves maintain integrity in the braise–toothsome, juicy, with a pleasant hint of bitterness.

In the waning days of 2012, we’ve been enjoying our bowls of beans, pasta, and escarole. Bill calls this peasant food, and he means it in the best possible way. Simple. Soothing. Nutritious. Satisfying. You really couldn’t want for anything more.

Wishing you all the benefits of peasant food in the coming year–

Many thanks for your continued visits to Good Food Matters.

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ESCAROLE WITH FUSILLI AND CANNELLINI BEANS
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 head escarole, cored, washed, and chopped into ribbons
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups vegetable broth (you may use chicken broth if you prefer)

3 cups cooked cannellini beans (recipe below)

1/2 lb. dried fusilli (De Cecco is a preferred brand)

1/2 cup fresh grated pecorino-romano

In a large stockpot set on medium heat, warm olive oil and saute garlic and onions until translucent.
Add chopped escarole and stir well to coat the leaves.
Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Stir, allowing the heat to collapse the leaves.
Pour vegetable broth over the escarole. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Boil fusilli in lightly salted water until al dente–about 9 minutes. Drain.
Puree one cup of cannellinis, and return to bean pot. (discard bay leaves)
Combine pasta and beans (whole, pureed, and liquid) with the braised escarole. Toss well.
Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Serve with hunks of crusty bread.

Makes 6 generous bowls.

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CANNELLINI BEANS
1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked for 3 hours (or overnight) and rinsed (Rancho Gordo’s cannellinis are big and meaty!)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup diced onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves

Heat olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan set on medium. Stir in garlic and onions. Add salt and black pepper, and saute until translucent.
Add cannellinis, stirring well so that the beans are coated with oil.
Pour water over the beans–enough to cover them by two inches.
Stir in bay leaves and red pepper flakes.
Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Skim off any scum that may accumulate as the beans cook.
Cook, partially covered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if needed.
Cannellinis will retain their structure, but will creamy to the bite. Discard bay leaves.

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Nanoo and Zachary

Five days old, Zachary in my arms

Sleepy Zach

Sleepy Dreamy Babe

Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 27 Comments »




October 12th, 2011

Butternut Squash-Heirloom Bean Chili, olive oil cornbread

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How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly, I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has fallen in the horse’s mane.

I found this Robert Bly poem, “Watering the Horse” tucked in the back of a mottled recipe notebook, long untouched. It was on a sheet of mimeographed paper, that odd purplish ink, the public school printing method of long ago.

I still love this poem today, perhaps more than when I was a teen–the notion of ambition having altered with experience. At the other end of child-rearing and career building, I call it into question: what I embrace; what I give up; what has meaning.

And then I cook.

One clear ambition, I tell myself, is that each autumn, I seek out alternative ways to prepare butternut squash.

You may recall, in seasons past, that we’ve cooked up Butternut Lasagna layered with leek bechamel, swiss chard-butternut gratin, flan-like timbales with walnut pesto, and savory bread pudding , served with vegetable veloute, perfect for the holiday dinner table.

Each recipe, a tasty vehicle for this versatile gourd.

Now, that ambition could run wild: this being the first year that I tried my hand at growing our favored winter squash—and harvested a healthy basketful.

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All sizes and shapes!

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This morning, a cushy blanket of fog cloaked our neighborhood. Emerging colors of yellow, gold and burgundy fairly glowed as the fog gave way to an overcast day. I love how brilliant colors come forward in that kind of dull, diffuse light.

The air was cool, too. Chili weather! And then, it occurred to me that the meaty nature of the orange-hued squash would work well in a vegetarian chili.

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I decided to give it a go. With Rancho Gordo beans in my pantry, assorted peppers: poblano, banana, jalapenos along with a few stray tomatoes from the garden, garlic, onions, and spices, I had the foundation for a hearty batch.

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While the beans began their long simmer, I roasted the diced butternut pieces along with the poblanos. I let them get a little caramel crust, and set them aside to cool. Not wanting the squash to break down in the chili, I would add the chunks towards the end of the cooking cycle, to meld with the “pot liquor” the sauce made by the beans as they cook. I turned my attention to bread–cornbread.

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My go-to recipe uses 12 tablespoons of melted butter–an ingredient I lacked. My friend Maggie has a skillet cornbread recipe that uses canola oil–another ingredient missing at the moment in my pantry. What if I made the cornbread with olive oil?

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What if, indeed!

I hand whisked the batter. It came together quickly-easily, and went into the cast iron skillet, into the oven.

It baked into a firm but tender crumb, the olive oil imparting depth, an Old World sense to a New World dish.

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I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the Rancho Gordo Beans (used in this recipe: “Good Mother Stallards” but other beans would also be delicious) are remarkable for their richness. Meaty beans make mighty good chili.

The butternuts proved their mettle in the mix, too. Slightly sweet, they latched on to the layers of peppery heat. A little allspice and cumin, perfect with this squash, added intrigue. It’s a worthy veggie chili, complex with minimal ingredients, hearty, full-bodied, aand satisfying on a gray autumn day.

And, not at all ambitious to make.

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH-HEIRLOOM BEAN CHILI
3 cups chopped (large dice) Butternut Squash (I used 2 small butternuts for this)
1 large or 2 medium Poblano Peppers
Olive Oil
1 heaping cup of dry Beans ( I used Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stallards. But, use a good bean of your choice. This recipe would work with black beans, too.)
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 Banana Peppers, chopped
1 Jalapeno, sliced thin
Salt
Black Pepper
2 t. Allspice
1 t. Cumin

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread diced butternut squash and halved poblano peppers on a baking sheet pan. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for about 20 minutes. The squash will roast and caramelize. Pepper skins will blister—peel, chop and set aside separately.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, saute diced onion, banana peppers, and garlic in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until onion is translucent. Add dry beans, and stir until they are coated with the olive oil-onion mix. Pour in water, covering the beans by at least 2 inches. Add roasted poblano pieces.

Simmer until beans are tender ( at least 2 hours), adding more liquid as necessary. When the beans are “soupy” and yield tender flesh, add the roasted butternut. Season with allspice and cumin. Taste for salt, and spicy heat.

Serve alone, or over rice. Dollop with sour cream, garnish with green onion, if you like. Enjoy with cornbread.

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OLIVE OIL CORNBREAD

1 1/2 cups Cornmeal
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 T. Sugar
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
2 Eggs
12 T. Olive Oil
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup corn kernels (optional)
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs, oil, and milk together lightly, then beat into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in corn kernels, shredded white cheddar.
Pour into an oiled cast-iron skillet (or bread pan.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Test for doneness. Cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve right out of the skillet.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 30 Comments »




December 29th, 2009

Christmas-Chestnut Inspiration, with limas?

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Here’s a tale of food blogging interconnections….

I have been reading a most splendid foodblog written by a British woman living in Rome; please go meet rachel of rachel eats. Several of her December posts featured Chestnuts in marvelous incarnations–pâte, soup, cake. Both her pictures and prose really got me longing for them, in some fashion. Alas, with other holiday goings-on, I never got ’round to chestnut hunting.

But I did read the small print on my brand new bag of Christmas Lima Beans from Rancho Gordo, where it mentioned that they were also called Chestnut Limas, due to their exquisite chestnutlike flavor. For those of you who may not know about Rancho Gordo, these are the guys growing all manner and form of wondrous heirloom beans, sought out by fine chefs across the country. And, they make it pretty darn easy for you to get them, too. (a favored stocking stuffer in this household…)

rancho gordo lady

I discovered them through another blogger,
claudia of the esteemed cookeatFRET, through whom, I believe, is also how I found rachel.

So here we come full circle. Rancho Gordo’s Christmas Limas, made into this simple stewy-soup influenced by two foodbloggers, satisfied my two desires: I got to cook up these festive heirlooms during festive times, and I got to have a tasty hint of chestnut.

Trust me, these full-bodied, creamy limas will dispel any unpleasant notions and ill childhood memories of the others, (those awful starchbomb Fordhooks that make me shudder and quease now as I type.)

The pity that Christmas Limas do not retain their gorgeous color and mottling as they cook is replaced by the pleasure of their rich flavor.
Indeed, they have a layer of chestnuttiness…..

You could make this recipe more elaborate, with the addition of something meaty, like mushrooms, pancetta, or spicy chorizo—but there is enough serious-goodness inherent in this already very meaty bean. Keeping it simple best showcases that.

Thanks and shoutouts to foodblogging sisters rachel and claudia for sharing great information and sparking inspiration.

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Christmas (Chestnut) Lima Bean Soup
2 T. Olive Oil
1 large Onion, diced
3 fat cloves of Garlic, minced
1 piece of red (or orange) sweet bell pepper, small dice
Sea Salt (about 1 t.)
Black Pepper (scattering of cracked )
Red Pepper Flakes almost 1/4 t.–could be as little as a pinch
1 cup Christmas Lima Beans
4 cups vegetable stock, or water, or combination

The night before: place one cup limas into a pot and cover with filtered water. Limas will more than double in size. Drain, but reserve soaking liquid.

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The day of:
In a deep saucepot, saute onions, pepper, and garlic in olive oil until the onions are translucent, with edges beginning to brown. Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir in drained limas, then add reserved liquid, then stock/water. Stir well and bring to just under a boil—a rolling simmer. Let this cook along uncovered for about two hours, stirring occasionally. The limas will soften, yield creaminess, giving this soup a thick velvet texture. As the beans cook, the liquid can get very thick. But, it’s so forgiving; if you want it thinner, just stir in some more water.

Makes 4 servings.

sauteeing 1

Simple elements form the base: garlic, onion, sweet pepper. This is what I had on hand. A little chopped leek or celery would be nice, if you’ve got it.

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Letting the beans roll around in the saute before adding liquid is a very good idea.

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I am crazy about this color.
For a heartier meal, serve over rice, garnish with arugula.

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I like to place a clump of arugula on top of the rice, and then spoon the Christmas Limas over—collapsing the greens. Delicious.

Posted in Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan | 7 Comments »