Grub


Here’s another pasta and potato dish that suits the summer. No claims to originality here. This combination of ingredients can be found, I’m sure, in many other recipes. But, then again, how many combinations of basic refrigerator staples can there be? I open the door of the fridge, see a cauliflower that demands to be consumed before it grows mold, some pancetta or guanciale in the same condition, and a few fingerling pototoes in the straw larder. My options are limited, but fortunately I love the effect of combining these elements.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Cut either a small whole cauliflower or half a medium-sized one into florets. Then halve or quarter them. Put the cauliflower pieces in a bowl. Pour in a slug of olive oil and stir to coat the pieces. Add salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the cauliflower around the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the pieces. Put in oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cauliflower turn brown and caramelized.

2. Put on a pot of well-salted water to boil. Measure 3 1/2 oz of orecchiette pasta and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, mince a big clove of garlic. Dice 1 or 2 oz pancetta, a strip of bacon, or guanciale. Cut into small cubes about 4 fingerling potatoes. Scrap the kernels off one ear of corn and set aside.

4. Sauté the garlic in a bit of oil in a medium sized skillet. Add the pancetta or bacon and stir so that the garlic doesn’t turn golden. After a few minutes, add the potato cubes and corn and continue sauteing.

5. When the cauliflower is done, scrap the pieces off the foil into the skillet.

6. Add 3 1/2 oz. orecchiette to the boiling water and cook for the recommended time minus 2 minutes. Scoop out the pasta with a slotted spoon or spider and dump the wet pasta right into the skillet. Turn up the flame. Add a touch of pasta water (not too much) — just to provide moisture to keep the pasta cooking. Attend closely, let the water evaporate, season as necessary.

7. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and cut 1 oz parmesan cheese to have it ready to grate at the end.

8. When the pasta has reached the degree of firmness you like and the water has almost entirely evaporated, tip the contents of the skillet into a pasta bowl, scatter parsley over it, and grate the cheese.

9. Eat.

10. Savor.

Sometimes I’m too tired to cook. But I do it anyway. On the rare occasion when I succumb to lethargy, I feel it’s a defeat. Why should living alone entail a less full life? Why shouldn’t I expect of myself a dinner at table? A life eating on the couch watching TV is a half-life and like all carbon-based things I feel my life seeping out of me when I do it. Reading and listening to music at the table is an ongoing commitment to making my single life as rich as I can. When I feel too tired to prepare a meal, I lower my expectations, but I don’t abandon them. Half the effort an ordinary weekday meal requires comes in figuring out what I want to eat.

So, here is a simple idea. I am enjoying adding diced potatoes the dishes I have always thought would be weighed down by additional starch. A little potato adds umami, another dimension to a dish. This one is a no-brainer.

First…

Dice half a chorizo link and four fingerling potatoes.  Scrape the kernels off one ear of corn. Pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil or lard in a small skillet over a medium-low flame. Add a minced garlic clove or two and a minced shallot. Let them soften in the fat. Then add the chorizo. Spread the chorizo out so that the pieces are not crowded. Leave them be for two or three minutes. Stir and let them be for another couple of minutes. Add the potatoes, stir, and let them brown with the chorizo. Add the corn, mix it all together. Season with salt and pepper. Put in a bowl and have with a small salad.

from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, p. 67.

My resolve to go meatless during the week crashed into this recipe like tank into a brick wall. Oh, this recipe hit the spot. The crunch of the lettuce, the sweet and sour of the black vinegar-soy sauce, and the zing of the garlic-ginger-sesame oil notes combined beautifully. It’s a great recipe to throw together at the last moment for yourself. All you have to do is figure out your preferred ratio of lettuce to meat sauce. I urge you to consider 1/4 pound of the ground meat (half the amount that Alford and Duguid call for) with a bowlful of lettuce and the full proportion of sauce ingredients. You’ll find your own balance.

This book just gets better and better.

Here is the complete unadjusted recipe with my suggested adjustments…

Serves 4

About 4 packed cups coarsely torn romaine lettuce

Shadowcook: I used a combination of lettuces. As the authors note, “If you use romaine lettuce, the salad will have good crunch as well as some wilted softer leaves when you first serve it. We love the contrast. If you prefer a softer texture, either let the salad stand for 5 minutes before serving it, to give the greens more time to soften in the warm dressing, or use leaf lettuced instead of romaine.” Or, like I said, use a combination and get it to the table while it’s still very warm.

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 pound (1 packed cup) ground beef

Shadowcook: I used 1/3 pound ground pork. Next time I’ll use a little less. And I’ll have to try it with beef, but I have a feeling I’m going to prefer the pork.

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon soy sauce, or to taste

1 tablespoon Jinjiang (black rice) vinegar, or to taste

Shadowcook: You can find this at any Asian market.

1/2 cup warm water

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

 

Place the lettuce in a wide salad bowl or serving dish and set aside.

Place a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds, then add the ginger. Stir-fry over medium-high to medium heat until slightly softened and starting to turn color. Add the meat and use your spatula to break it up so there are no lumps at all, then add the salt and stir-fry until most of the meat has changed color. Add the soy sauce and vinegar and stir to blend. Add the warm water and stir.

(The dressing can be prepared ahead to this point and set aside for up to 20 minutes. When you are ready to proceed, bring to a boil.)

While the dressing mixture is coming to a boil, place the cornstarch in a small cup or bowl and stir in the cold water to make a smooth paste. Once the liquid is bubbling in the pan, give the cornstarch mixture a final stir, add to the pan, and stir for about 1 minutes: the liquid will thicken and become smoother. Taste for salt, and add a little salt or soy sauce if you wish. Add the sesame oil and stir once, then pour onto the lettuce. Immediately toss the salad to expose all the greens to the hot dressing. Serve immediately.

 

from Momofuku, pp. 110-111.

If you need more incentive to make David Chang’s Ramen Broth (or my version thereof), his Shrimp & Grits ought to be enough. I save the “Grub” category for special occasions, mainly those times when I’m in danger of licking the plate. Using the ramen broth adds two sub-basements to this structure. The flavor goes deep. And I’ll say it again: this recipe is all about umami. I could eat this once a week. But I won’t.

Here we go…

2 cups water

2 cups white or yellow quick-cooking grits from Anson Mills

Shadowcook: I order Anson Mills grits, but they did not arrive in time. The grits I used — Moore’s Flour Mill grits — compare unfavorably with those of Anson Mills, at least according to two grits experts, friends from South Carolina. Well, the grits I made were pretty good anyway. I’ll be curious to taste the difference.

2 cups Ramen Broth

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

Shadowcook: Given how I adapted the ramen broth recipe and omitted taré, I used regular soy sauce.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 pound smoky bacon, cut crosswise into 1- to 1 1/2-inch long batons

Shadowcook: Wary of adding more smoked flavor, I used guanciale, which added a surprising sweet note that comes soaring over the top.

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 poached eggs

1/2 cup chopped scallions (greens and whites)

1. Soak the grits in the water overnight or at least 8 hours in the pot you’ll cook them in.

2. Drain them, then add the broth to the grits and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking all the while. Continue to whisk for 5 minutes after the liquid simmers, then turn the heat down to low. Chang cites Anson Mills’ instructions in this regard. The first 5-minute cooking period is called “cooking to first starch.” “First starch refers to the early stage of grits and polenta cookery in which fine corn particles thicken the liquid enough to hold the larger particles in suspension. It is crucial to stir constantly until the first starch takes hold and to reduce the heat immediately after it does so.”

3. Add the soy sauce, a large pinch of salt, and a few turns of black pepper. Keep the heat low and whisk regularly if not constantly; the grits should be thickening, undulating, and letting occasional gasps of steam bubble up and out. Soaked grits will be cooked after about 10 minutes over low heat; unsoaked grits will take 20-25 minutes. They’re ready when they’re no longer grainy, when they’re thick and unctuous.

Shadowcook: I think it generally takes longer. When I soak the grits, I cooked them for 30 minutes.  They were deliciously creamy.

4. Add the butter, stirring until it has melted and been absorbed into the grits. Taste them and add additional salt or pepper as needed. Set aside, covered to keep warm, while you get the rest of the dish together (or serve at once if you’re eating them on their own.)

5. Cook the bacon: Heat a skillet over medium heat for a minute or so, until very warm. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it shrinks to about half its original size and is crisp and browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Drain the bacon fat from the pan and return the pan to the stove.

6. Put the shrimp in a mixing bowl, pour the grapeseed oil over them, and add a couple of large pinches of salt. Toss them in the oil and salt until they’re coated. Wipe the pan cleanish with a paper towel and turn the heat up to high. Cook the shrimp, in batches if the shrimp will crowd your pan, which is probably the case. As soon as the shrimp hit the pan, press down on them, using a bacon press or the back of a spatula, or a smaller pan or whatever works, and sear them for 1 to 2 minutes on the first side.

Shadowcook: A bit fussy, that. Just make sure not to overcook them. Sear them but do not overcook them. So, pay attention to the following.

Watch as the gray-pink flesh of the raw shrimp gradually turns white in the side pressed against hot metal, and when that white line creeps about 40 percent of the way up the shrimp, flip them and press down on the second side. Sear that side only long enough to get a decent but not necessarily superdeep brown on them, about a minute. They should be just slightly shy of cooked when you pull them from the pan — they’ll continue to cook after they come out of the pan. (And nobody like overcooked shrimp.)

7. Poach the eggs.

8. Make up plates for everybody: start with a big helping of grits, nestle a poached egg in the middle of the dish, and arrange some of the bacon and shrimp in separate piles and then some sliced scallions in another. Serve at once.

from The Cooking of Southwest France, pp. 286-87.

Why don’t I cook from Paula Wolfert’s cookbooks more often? I often ask myself that question. Friends are coming over; I have several pounds of Rancho Gordo beans to consume; I’ve barely touched this cookbook in the two years I’ve owned it. And I should mention that a lot of the recipes here are winter food, good rib-sticking grub. Now that I’ve made this recipe, I realize it couldn’t fail. Beans and pork, classic combination. Cinnamon + cloves + duck fat + butter + garlic + brandy + drizzled walnut oil = vanilla ecstasy. It’s the kind of recipe that reminds me again that while I can renounce sugar for life I will never give up fat. The add virtue of this dish is that it’s relatively inexpensive to make for company. Read on.

To begin…

2 cups small red beans or red kidney beans

Shadowcook: Or you order beans from Rancho Gordo. I used their Vallarta beans, which are not red, but of all the RG beans I have in my pantry they were the most suitable. I thought they turned out very well, even if they weren’t as creamy as their red beans. Bear in mind that RG beans don’t need soaking, cook faster, hold their shape better, and taste better than the beans you buy in stores.

1 cup full-bodied red wine, such as Côtes-du-Rhône

1 large onion, halved and stuck with 2 cloves, plus 1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 cinnamon stick

1 large carrot, chopped, plus 1/2 pound carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

2 tablespoons rendered goose, duck, or pork fat

Shadowcook: I used duck fat, because I prefer its flavor to the others — although all three are pretty damn good!

1 pound boneless pork butt or shoulder, cut into 4 or 5 pieces

Shadowcook: I cut up the pork into small chunks and it turned out fine.

1/4 pound pancetta

Shadowcook: I bought the pancetta in one slab and diced it myself before putting it in the food processor, as you’ll see the directions call for.

5 peeled garlic cloves: 4 left whole and 1 finely chopped

4 sprigs of parsley plus 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 imported bay leaf

Shadowcook: By “imported,” I think she means Turkish. I used a fresh leaf from my laurel tree. They say I should use half of it to one Turkish leaf, but I don’t think a whole one will overpower the beans.

1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves

2 tablespoons butter

pinch of sugar

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons Armagnac or brandy

Shadowcook: Brandy. In fact, as Dick, my wine guy (whose palate I have come to have great confidence in) tells me, a $10 bottle of Korbel’s brandy is indistinguishable from fine Armagnac when you use it in this quantity and heat it. Save yourself some money.

1 tablespoon walnut or olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1. A day in advance, place the beans in a colander and rinse well under cold running water. Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Add the water to cover by at least 2 inches and let soak overnight.

Shadowcook: Or you can completely skip the soaking part. My Latino friends tell me that no one soaks beans south of the Rio Grande. And if you’re using Rancho Gordo beans, you really can skip that step. In general, you must monitor the pace of cooking when it comes to beans. Not soaking may add a bit of time to the recipe, but not appreciably — unless you have really old beans.

2. Early the following day, rinse and drain the beans. Place them in a 5-quart flameproof earthenware or enameled cast-iron casserole with the wine and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Slowly bring to a boil.

3. When the beans reach the boil, skim thoroughly; add the onion stuck with cloves and the cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat and simmer while preparing the vegetables and pork in Steps 5 and 6.

4. In a large skillet, brown the chopped carrots and onions in the fat over moderately high heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the pieces of pork and sauté, turning, until browned on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the contents of the skillet to the beans.

Shadowcook: Instead of sauteeing the vegetables before the pork, I did it in reverse. It meant using a bit more than 2 tablespoons of duck fat, but I’m not complaining. I seared the pieces of pork in a few batches. Crowding them only elicits water and steams them. So, give the searing pieces room. As each piece finished, I shook excess fat off of the piece and dropped it into the beans, which were still coming to a slow boil on the opposite burner. Then I added a bit more duck fat and the chopped vegetables. I scraped up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Added the whole thing to the beans.

5. In a food processor, combine the pancetta with 4 cloves of the garlic, the parsley sprigs, bay leaf, and thyme. Grind to a puree. Add to the casserole.

6. Cook the beans, covered, over very low heat or in a preheated 275 oven for 2 1/2 hours. After 2 1/2 hours, uncover the beans and cook until the liquid is thick, about 1 1/2 hours.

Shadowcook: Even if you don’t use Rancho Gordo beans, check the beans every 20-30 minutes. Be sure not to overcook them. It took 3 hours for my beans to finish.

7. Meanwhile, in a heavy medium saucepan, cook the sliced carrots with 1 tablespoon of the butter, covered, over moderately low heat for 5 minutes. Uncover, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and swirl over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the carrots take on a little color. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar. Mix the carrots into the beans in the casserole. Season with salt and pepper. (The recipe can be prepared to this point at least 4 hours in advance.)

8. About 1 hour before serving, preheat the oven to 350. Bake the beans uncovered until the tops glaze slightly, 20 to 25 minutes. Gently stir from bottom to top to keep the surface moist. Bake until a light crust forms on the surface, about 30 minutes.

9. Sprinkle the Armagnac on top and let stand until ready to serve. Serve hot, with a light sprinkling of the walnut oil and vinegar and a dusting of the chopped parsley and garlic.

Note to the cook

To avoid drying out and breaking the beans, be sure that they are always covered with the cooking liquid or enrobed in the sauce. If necessary, add boiling water. Cooking beans in wine keeps them from turning mushy. They need longer cooking but are able to absorb more flavor.

I made this one up myself…

My food co-op now sells hunks of lamb sirloin in less than 1/2 pound servings. Ever since I discovered the delectable joys of overcooked lamb braised in white wine — that’s what it amounts to, frankly — I grab any chance I get to cook lamb in portions that are affordable and sensible for me.

Let me be clear. I adore lamb grilled only so long enough that it takes the intensity off its rare fuschia coloring. The flavor of lamb is really at its best minimally cooked with a minimum of herbs. But the French know what they are doing when they braise a leg of lamb FOREVER in white wine, carrots and leeks. The combination of lamb and white wine is one of the most neglected forms of alchemy I can think of. Lamb braised until the connective tissues dissolve is heaven.

But can one attain heaven on one’s own? That is my perennial dilemma. The availability of chunks of lamb leg means that I can accomplish on a small scale what I’ve only ever achieved with a whole leg.

6-8 oz lamb sirloin

olive oil

Ras el-hanout (spice mixture)

one carrot, diced

one leek, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced crosswise

half a bottle of decent white wine (not a heavy malolactic chardonnay)

one bunch of collard greens, stem removed, chopped

Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325. Pour a slug of oil into a heavy bottomed pan that is ovenproof and heat over mediu-high heat. Sprinkle 1-2 tsps of the spice mixture, ras el-hanout, and salt over the meat on both side. When the oil is hot, sear the meat in the oil, about 3 mins per side. Remove to a plate. Add the carrots and leeks to the oil in the pot. If needed, add more olive oil. Sauté the vegetables until soft, about 5 to 8 mins. Place the seared lamb on top of the carrots and leeks. Pour in about half a bottle of white wine. The liquid should come about a third to  halfway up the side of the meat. When the wine comes to a boil, cover with aluminum foil and the place the pot in the preheated oven. Set the timer for 45 mins.

Meanwhile, prepare the collard greens. Chop the de-stemmed greens. Put a pot of heavily salted water on to boil. Drop the chopped greens into boiling water and blanch for 5 mins. Drain, put the greens in a single serving dish and place it in the oven until the lamb is done.

Check the liquid in the lamb pot after 45 mins. If the wine is mostly evaporated, add more. When an hour has nearly passed, check the lamb again. The meat should be at the point of falling apart. Remove the pot from the oven, place the meat on a cutting board. Slice or shred with fork. Taste the sauce with vegetables in the pot and adjust the seasoning. Place the lamb on the collard greens and pour the sauce with vegetables over the lamb. Don’t burn yourself as you carry the plate to the table and eat.

You can find the original recipe here. Suggestions for a vegetarian version appear at the end of this post.

I swore off buying new appliances, sold quite a few of them at a driveway sale last summer, and scaled back on my cooking once I embarked on another long course of Weight Watchers. My appliance abstinence lasted all of two months. Last week, I bought a small Cuisinart three-quart slow cooker. It’s a perfect size for this single-eater household.

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published this recipe. It calls for skipping the pre-soaking part of bean cooking. I liked that idea, especially since lately I switched to using Rancho Gordo’s heirloom dried beans, which are much fresher than most store-bought kind. Not only did I not pre-soak the Rancho Gordo beans, but the stew  finished in under 8 hours on the Low setting. The amount of water needed will vary according to the freshness of the beans and your preference for soupy stews or stewy soups. However, the recipe does not call for a slow-cooker, so I’ve had to adapt it. Perhaps it works best on a weekend morning, when you can do the prep cooking without rushing. A vegetarian adaptation appears at the end.

The result is a rich, smoky, and flavorful pot of beans and sausage:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for serving

1 pound fresh sweet Italian sausages, sliced 3/4-inch thick

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 medium carrots, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 pound Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked through

Shadowcook: Or canellini or mayacoba bean. In any case, a white bean that holds its shape.

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

Shadowcook: Interesting that whoever thought this up has you put kosher salt into the pot with the beans at the beginning of their cooking. Most cooks claim salt retards absorption of water in a hard bean. I suspect the older the bean, the more likely that’s true. But if you’re using recently dried beans, salt may not impede the softening process as much. I followed the directions and the beans cooked quickly.

2 thyme sprigs

1 large rosemary sprig

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, more for serving

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown until through, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Shadowcook: Don’t crowd the sausage rounds. Insufficient space around anything that is sauteeing creates steam. Food needs room to brown and fry properly.

2. Add the tomato paste and cumin to the pot. Cook, stirring, until dark golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, 8 cups water, salt, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 2 hours, adding more water if needed to make sure the beans remain submerged.

Shadowcook: For the slow cooker, after you have cooked the tomato paste, cumin, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic, transfer it all to a slow cooker. Make bring you all the oil and bits with the vegetables to the ceramic pot. Then add the beans and herbs to the pot. Pour in 6-7 cups of water. The rule of thumb in converting recipes to slow-cookers is to reduce the liquid by half. I began this stew with 4 cups and within 4 hours (the beans still hard) I had to add another 3 cups. Set the temperature to Low for 10 hours. Walk away, but come back in four or five hours to check the beans.

3. When the beans are tender, return the sausage to the pot. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle into warm bowls and serve drizzled with additional vinegar and olive oil.

Shadowcook: For a vegetarian version, substitute a bunch of chopped Swiss chard leaves and 2 chopped leeks for the sausage. Sauté the chopped chard and leeks in olive oil, add the remaining ingredients to the sauteed leaves, and proceed with the recipe.

For another meat version, consider adding a ham hock to the beans and water, after you’ve sauteed the vegetables in olive oil.

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