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Escarole, Leek, and White Bean Panzanella

5 Oct

This is the type of food that could be considered a kid-repellent. It boasts a combination of punchy bitter greens, smooth leeks, and the kick of red pepper flakes. However, it also contains white beans, crisp, sautéed bread, and parmesan cheese, three things for which, in my experience, children tend to go completely nuts. As you might sense, these discrepancies combine to make one very interesting conundrum.

It’s not really a conundrum, of course. The answer to the question of, How do I make a kid like this? is simple: I don’t feed this to my kid. The bigger question, I think, would be this: Does any kid like this? Does anyone, anywhere, ever somehow get a kid to eat a dish like this? A dish so delicious in its complexity of flavor, so pleasing in its collection of textures, that I could not stop myself from eating almost the entire thing over the span of a single afternoon?

Some friends of mine once had a great Ethiopian lunch with some Ethiopian friends of theirs. Their friends’ children were in attendance, and they were happy to sit down and tuck into plate after plate of spicy lentils, spice-filled stews, and, of course, injera, the fantastic Ethiopian flatbread that is used to scoop up bites of intensely flavorful food. My friends, watching the kids devour the food with aplomb, could not help but wonder how many American kids could be led to eat such food if only they were presented it at the right time, meaning, when they were babies and just discovering the joys of solid food

Sadly, I have no answer to their query. I have tried for years to get my kid to eat all types of foods, to no avail. Indian food? No (which breaks my half-Indian heart with great sorrow). Spicy food of any sort? No. Braised greens? No. Visible strands of onions, whether caramelized or crisp? No and no. I could go on, but I’ll resist. I know that my kid has a slightly more adventurous palate than many other kids (slight—not monumental), so I’ll take whatever vegetable or Thai food consumption I can get out of him. Until he learns to appreciate more foods, I’ll just have to keep doing what I have been doing for the past several years now. This means making foods like this wonderful panzanella for myself, and finding a slight bit of pleasure in knowing that, hey, if I’m the only person who will eat this, at least that means I get to enjoy every last bite of it on my own. It’s a paper-thin silver lining, but I’ll take it.

Last Year: Heirloom Tomato Cobbler with Cheddar and Scallion Biscuit Topping

Escarole, Leek, and White Bean Panzanella Recipe

3 cups torn or cubed crusty bread

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium leek, dark green end removed and light green/white end sliced in half lengthwise and then chopped into thin half-moons

4 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 very large head escarole, coarsely chopped

1 cup cooked white beans

salt and pepper to taste

optional: 2 to 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

In a large skillet set over medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When oil is just beginning to shimmer, add bread cubes in a single layer and allow to crisp on one side (this should take anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes). Turn bread cubes over, then allow to crisp some more, shaking the skillet ever now and again to keep the bread moving around in the oil just a tad. Remove bread cubes and set aside.

Wipe any bread crumbs from the skillet, then heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add chopped leeks, garlic, and red pepper flakes and sauté, stirring frequently, until the leeks begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chopped escarole, stir and toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and allow to cook for 5 minutes, until the escarole is wilted and has released some of its juices. Remove the lid from the pan, and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until the juices have evaporated a bit, about 3 minutes. Add beans to skillet, stir to combine, and allow beans to cook with greens for about a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Turn the heat off under the skillet. Add the toasted bread cubes and toss to combine thoroughly. Taste for seasoning.

Divide the panzanella amongst 2 or 4 plates, depending on how hearty to want your servings to be. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese (if using) over the servings, then sprinkle over chopped basil.

Serves 2 as a meal, or 4 as a starter.

White Bean and Tomato Bruschetta

9 Aug

My best friend recently had a baby, her second, and lately I have been spending a pleasingly large amount of time over at her house. While she readjusts to life with an infant, I stand beside her and offer whatever assistance I can, mainly in the form of handing her things when she runs out of arms to complete the task herself. This dance of ours is not unlike that of a surgeon and the nurse assisting her in surgery. Diaper? Diaper. Extra wipes? Extra wipes. Coffee? Oh, yes. Coffee!

Aside from the coffee (consumed in only moderate amounts, for those of you who might be prone to concern), we have also been taking part in some delightful light lunches. Sitting in the kitchen while her son sleeps, my best friend and I swipe crackers in to hummus, top slices of bread with egg salad, and wrap big leaves of crisp lettuce around chicken salad with chutney. The conversation and company is always wonderful, but the lunches always seem to cement the reason why we are best friends. Nowhere else will you find two other people whose most favorite meal structure happens to be a composition of bits of things piled on top of other bits of things.

It was with my best friend in mind that I made this fresh, summery bruschetta. Grilled bread, brushed with olive oil, then topped with a garlicky combination of white beans, fresh tomatoes, and a handful of herbs, makes for a highly enjoyable meal, whether you are interested in throwing together a simple dinner for two or a light appetizer for a crowd. Serve this with sturdy crackers for dipping and it transforms into an even more casual affair. Mix it up with some orzo and you’ve got a great summer salad on your hands (and in your mouth). Or you can do what I did: take it over to a friend’s house, place it in the refrigerator, then sit around chatting and enjoying each other’s company until  hunger strikes or a certain newborn baby allows for a bit of respite by taking a long afternoon nap (whichever comes first).

Last Year: Tiny Party Sandwiches

White Bean and Tomato Bruschetta Recipe

1 clove of garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups chopped tomato, seeds removed

1 ½ cups cooked white beans (canned, rinsed beans are fine)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

salt and pepper to taste

optional: a sprinkling of finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

1 loaf of crusty bread, cut into slices, brushed with olive oil, and grilled until crisp

In a large bowl, combine minced garlic with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Stir to combine, then set aside while you seed and chop the tomatoes. Add tomatoes to garlic and olive mixture, along with the white beans, chopped herbs, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then taste for seasoning.

To serve, pile on top of slices of grilled bread, then, if using, sprinkle with a bit of grated cheese.

Slow-Cooked Beans and Huevos Rancheros

28 Nov

Do you have room in your hearts for yet another recipe from my home’s recent Mexican food bender?  Being fairly certain that there was no one left who wanted to hear about my intense, heated affair with making Mexican cuisine at home, I was all set to keep this recipe to myself.  Enough with the Mexican food, I thought, and, besides, do people really need instructions on how to cook a pot of beans?

Well, maybe.  Because it occurs to me that, most of the time, when people want to cook a pot of beans, they do so with a minimal amount of thought in regard to how one can take something as unromantic as dried beans and turn them into a truly savory and pleasing meal.  It might have something to do with the fact that, being a simple food, beans are not generally thought of as being a particularly exciting food, which I completely understand.  Beans are humble, and definitely fall low on the flash and glitter scale.

So I propose a bit of a redo when it comes to thinking of beans.  How about we treat them like the unfettered palette they are, and, much like we are prone to do with a potato or a batch of plain pasta, put a little extra love into making them shine?  Add some spices, chop some onion, and let those beans slowly simmer until they are soft, flavorful, and satisfying.  I have a friend who makes the best chili in the known universe, and one of his not-so-secret secrets is to add a bit of Mexican chocolate to his pot of chili.  Chocolate and beans go together like, well, beans and rice, and, with a touch of cinnamon and ginger added into the fold, you can give your beans a subtle hit of the unexpected that, trust me, you’ll want to replicate time and time again.

Another tip?  Think beyond a plate of beans and rice (though, as I have mentioned, we certainly don’t turn up our noses at beans and rice), and use your slow cooked beans to build a delicious plate of huevos rancheros.  A little roasted pepper here, a bit of ranchero sauce there, and you’ve got the makings of one special breakfast (or lunch…or dinner…I mentioned that I was on a huge Mexican food kick, right?).

Slow-Cooked Beans and Huevos Rancheros

Slow-Cooked Beans

I learned a little while ago that the secret to really soft beans with no disagreeable after effects (ahem) is to add a bit of baking soda to the beans while they are cooking.  The baking soda breaks down the skins of the beans, making everything incredibly soft without being mushy.  As an added bonus, adding baking soda to your beans will eliminate the need to soak the beans overnight, which I am terrible at remembering to do, so I never do it.  Also, I don’t have a slow-cooker, but I’ll bet this recipe could easily be adapted to one so you could toss everything in first thing in the morning and then have everything read to go by the time you get home from work.  If anyone tries it out, let me know how it goes.

2 cups dry beans, rinsed well (we like a mixture of black beans and red beans)

2 quarts of water

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup finely chopped yellow onion

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

pinch Mexican oregano

pinch cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

In a large pot, combine beans and water.  Bring to a rapid boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer, then stir in baking soda.  The water will foam up vigorously.  Keep stirring until the foaming subsides, then add the onions, garlic, cumin, chili powder, ginger, cayenne pepper, cocoa powder, Mexican oregano, and cinnamon.  Stir to combine.

Bring mixture up to a simmer, then cover and cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours hours, stirring occasionally.  Add salt and pepper, stir to combine, and taste for softness.  If you find that you want your beans softer, cook for an additional 30 minutes.

Huevos Rancheros

This is our basic method for making 1 serving of huevos rancheros.  You can, of course, double or triple it as you wish.

1 green bell pepper or poblano pepper

1 or 2 corn tortillas

1 egg

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

salt and pepper

Extras: ranchero sauce, salsa, shredded cheese

Heat your oven’s broiler on high, and place an oven rack on the highest setting.  Place pepper on a baking sheet.  When the broiler is hot, place the baking sheet and pepper directly under the broiler, and roast the pepper until the skin is uniformly blistered and blackened, turning the pepper for even roasting, about 5-7 minutes.

Remove the pepper from the oven, place it on a plate, and cover the plate tightly with foil, allowing the pepper’s skin to steam free while it cools.  When the pepper has cooled enough to handle, peel off the blackened skin, remove the stem and seeds, and slice the pepper into narrow strips.  Set aside.

In a small skillet, heat oil over medium low heat.  When oil is hot, gently fry the corn tortillas, one at a time, until it is soft and pliable, about 20-30 seconds.  Remove tortilla to a plate, and crack the egg into the pan.  Fry the egg until it is as done as you like it (I like a runny yolk but a firm white).  Place cooked egg on top of the heated tortilla, and sprinkle with roasted pepper.

Adorn your huevos rancheros with slow-cooked beans, ranchero sauce, or salsa.  Good to eat at any time of the day.

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