Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bean Soup - A three day love affair.

Bean soup is one of those things that I like to make but never want to eat. There's something so dull about the sound of bean soup. As if the mere fact that there is so little bad in it makes it unworthy of attention.
But oh how I love making it. It's the soaking thing you see. Soaking the beans. Which means bean soup almost always starts the night before. And really it starts because I start cooking and I see a half packet of white beans/cannellini beans (why always a half packet?) and I feel like such sensible, sturdy,reliable fare should be used. They are cheap! They are wholesome! They are low fat. They take ages to prepare. All of these things resonate with me you see. I am in my farmhouse kitchen and winter's comin' and I'm making a pot of beans...
And the first step is so easy. Pop them in a big glass bowl, cover with tons of water, and soak overnight, or all day - whatever.
The next day they are plump but hard and ready (like some sort of softcore porn novel).
I rinse them, put them in a decent size baking dish (if I was smart this would be the same dish I soaked them in, but sadly no) and then I throw in a tomato, a clove of garlic and some fresh herbs - ones I like are thyme and marjoram and parsley and sage. Then I pop it into an oven, turn the oven to 350F and leave for about an hour and a half. When they are done they could just be eaten on their own with some seasoning, maybe a little olive oil?
But I like to make bean soup. That's what us sturdy, sensible, reliable and cheap people do. Us lazy people too.
However, you may be shocked to find that once again I put the beans back in the fridge. You see here is the problem. All this cooking makes me hungry. Quickly. And then I must eat. And I do. So by the time I'm ready to move onto the next stage, well I'm full and a little sleepy and want to go lie on the couch and watch old episodes of NCIS.
But the next day dinner is literally fast food. Saute up a half an onion until soft, then throw in the garlic clove from the beans and some pancetta (normally stored in the freezer for just such an emergency). I chop up one single ripe tomato (seeds, skins, the whole lot) and throw that in as well and let it cook down until we have a sort of tomatoey onion and pancetta paste. Tomato is much better if cooked fro long periods of time. It gets sweeter and more intense. Then I toss in the beans WITH the cooking water and add some chicken stock. Nothing fancy, a chicken stock cube with some hot water does just fine. If I have things like broad beans or green beans in the freezer, then handfuls of those go in too.
Boil quite fiercely so the white beans go a little mushy and give the soup some heft. Season carefully. Pancetta is salty and I almost alway add salt when I saute my onions so there is very little needed at the end. The trick is to check the seasoning of the broth, not the vegetable (at least not until they have all cooked together for a good 20 minutes). If it is a wee bit salty then a whole bunch of chopped parsley rescues you, and is lovely and fresh too.

And there you have it. It takes me 3 days to make bean soup. But I am eating it now and even though I have spilt some down my new and most favourite blouse, it was worth it!

Monday, June 7, 2010


So my plan was to talk about my meal last night. And have pictures. There should be pictures. But the battery died. So sad.
So last night the meal morphed from polenta with a poached egg on top (it looked great in the picture) to a last minute pasta sauce of pancetta, harlic, tomato and courgette - with a little Buitenverwachting pinotage and pasta water for sauciness. This was served with penne. The method was the same way I cooked through university (wothout onion - sometimes you have to let the onion go - sorry Mom). I cooked some diced pancetta in my beloved cast iron pan that I have lugged from Wales, through England, via Maryland and into North Carolina. The plan was to render, and as I have learnt to my detriment - this means patience. You have to allow the fat to melt before the meat/pork browns. I was so so very very good because I got myself chopping onion and salt, tomato and courgette whilst waiting for this painfully slow process. The garlic was my typical preserved garlic - peel tons of the stuff and throw it in a container and cover with olive oil and then store in the fridge. Lasts forever although the garlic flavour becomes very mild. But to make up for that the oil becomes lovely and garlicky. I schmear the garlic with the salt and squasha dn crush it until it is a chunky paste. The tomato was a vine-ripened tomato that was coarsely chopped, not peeled, but seeds discarded. Once the pancetts was well on its way, I added the garlic and tomato and allowed this to saute down to a more pasty consistency.
I find courgettes in the US very bitter, so I tried the same trick that people use with aubergine. I sliced and salted and let them rest. Once the pancetta and the tomato and the garlic had become pancetta and mush I added about a 1/4 cup of Buitenverwachting pinotage (which I was drinking) to the pan and let it cook down. Then I washed off the courgettes, added them and then a 1/4 cup of pasta water. This cooked until the courgette was soft. Then I added some fresh sage, italian parsley, thyme and marjoram - just handfuls that I grabbed and chopped. I tossed the penne into the sauce pan and let it sit for a wee while, and then served with parmesan cheese. The cheese was unnecessary. I love parmesan cheese but find it not always that helpful as a condiment. I think it adds fabulous flavour when cooked as part of a dish - like adding to a bechamel sauce, or a non-seafood risotto (yes I know the rules) - but this need to scatter it on food? More often than not I think it's a disappointment. And I do use the fresh stuff.
My mom always keeps a container of the dry stuff and breads chicken with it or adds it into things - rather like one would add salt or herbs to a dish. She uses it as seasoning I suppose one would say. This is not the way of the food snob but as with all things that my mother cooks - she is right.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Night Pizza

Somewhere on the way home I became consumed with the idea of eating pizza. Not the Pizza Hut feeling. Not the frozen-but-quick feeling. But the need to make my crust, chop my tomatoes and slice my mozarella. The need to eat the very simplest of pizza's, the flag waving emblem of Italy, with the anchovy that represents nothing but anchovy, this overwhelmed me. And this is risky on my part because although I can remember with great clarity the pizza's that I have made successfully - I am also aware that there are dozens of attempts that were ok, but not noteworthy, and several that were blah.
The problem is almost always the crust. I can't help but put it in the oven before it's had a chance to rise, and then, weighed down by too much tomato and god-knows-what-else - it remains flat, unaired and crispy. Crackerbread.
I started with this.

Or maybe this looks better...

And I was consumed by the passion to cook. I knew that this would be fabulous. I knew that this was going to show how I had matured as a cook and obsessive bread baker.

Anybody see any problem with this picture?

Way too much stuff for relatively thin pizza dough. There was dripping of cheese and tomato and smoke and alarms and a nasty burning smell from the base of the oven while the pizza itself was doughy and pale and unappetizing. Told you it was risky.

I finished with this.