Sunday, February 22, 2009

Smoky Legume and Sausage Soup

smoky legume soup

The blog has been pretty quiet lately because the evul-death111 cold/flu plague struck and struck hard, and I stopped cooking for a couple of weeks. It's nice to be back! Of course, I warn you that we will probably disappear again for a bit, since kiddo #2 is expected literally any day now. Tick tock. I have totally forgotten what the first six months are like with a baby, which is nature's way of encouraging humans to have more than one child. And if our English starts looking like we not only didn't sleep, but also failed our first grade equivalency test, just blame it on that state of self-induced mania called parenthood.

This soup was the first thing I made when it was clear that I was not going to turn into a zombie and spend the rest of my days lurking around malls and B-movies. It ended up being an interesting merge of a soup bubbling around in my brain and a recipe by Joy Manning posted on Serious Eats.

Smoky Legume and Sausage Soup

1 smoked pork chop or ham hock
1/3 lb ground pork shoulder
1/3 tsp fennel seed
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/2 coarse salt

1/4 lb dried cranberry beans
1 cup dried green lentils

1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 rind of parmesan cheese
1 bay leaf
3 cups of chicken stock
4 cups of water

Soak the cranberry beans for several hours in cold water before starting the soup.

Heat up a splash of olive oil in a large soup pot on medium-high heat and brown the smoked pork chop on both sides, then remove to a side plate. Place the ground pork into the pot, along with the fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp of salt, and brown thoroughly. Remove to the plate with the pork chop.

Lower the heat to medium and place the onions in the pot and cook until they start to turn translucent, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot. Then add in the green pepper, carrots, celery, and fennel and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the ingredients: cranberry beans, lentils, garlic, crushed tomatoes, pork chop and ground pork, parmesan rind, bay leaf, chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a light simmer. Simmer for an hour or two and check the tenderness of the cranberry beans. Adjust for salt and pepper.

Notes: if you want to thicken the soup, you can remove a couple ladle-fuls to a food processor and puree, then add back into the soup. I do not recommend using an immersion blender for this step, because you don't want parts of the soup partially blended.

You can keep on cooking this soup for hours, and like most soups, it is really good the next day. I just ate it with some good bread, but you can also try it with a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar drizzled on top.

smoky legume soup

Monday, February 9, 2009

Savory Crepes

crepes stack

::: Constables Larder has moved to :::

I used to make savory crepes all the time, and do not know why I ever fell out of the habit. The basic premise is that you create a stack of crepes and complementary fillings, and then bake for a brief period in the oven. The process is easier than it appears and the results are delicious. Crepes freeze well and can be made well ahead of time. You also have lots of opportunities to get creative around sauces and filling.

Making Savory Crepes

I have always used Julia Child's recipe, which offers the following proportions to make two dozen or so crepes:
1 cup cold water
1 cup cold milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
4 tbsp melted butter

Julia places the liquids, egg and salt into a blender, and then adds the flour and then butter. I just whisk it together (in that order) by hand. You might be surprised at how thin the batter is, but that is correct -- to quote Julia, it should just "coat a wooden spoon." Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Making the Crepes I've never actually owned a proper crepes pan, and do not let that stop you. In the era before non-stick pans, I used a small frying pan and oil. Now I just use a six inch non-stick pan (see the picture below).

crepes making

We'll see if I horrify professionally-trained Zen, but here is my approach: heat up the pan on a medium to medium-high flame, and hold it in one hand. With the other hand, scoop out about 2/3 to 3/4 of batter in a soup spoon. Pour into the pan and very quickly rotate and tilt the pan around with your wrist (kind of like a spinning top that is losing momentum), so that the batter spreads out across the pan surface evenly. You want just enough batter to fill the bottom of the frying pan.

Place the pan on the heat for 1 to 2 minutes. The bottom should lightly brown. Gently lift and edge of the crepe with a spatula, then scoop under and flip. Cook for another 30 to 90 seconds (depends on heat of pan). Then place on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes before stacking, and repeat the process.

It might take a couple tries at first to get the right amounts of batter and motion, but once you have the hang of it, it is fast and easy.

Making your Fillings

To complete your meal, you need to decide upon your crepes filling(s). You can go vegetarian or add meat. You can work with tomato sauces, white sauces, cheeses, or whatever strikes your fancy. If you have Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, her suggested filling recipes are marvelous. In this case, I made two simple fillings: a chard and parmesan layer and a mushroom, leek and cream cheese layer.

Chard Filling
1/4 onion
1 bunch chard, stems finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
1 tbsp butter
splash of vermouth
grated parmesan cheese

For the chard, I chopped and sauted /4 of an onion for a couple of minutes in a tbsp of butter and a splash of olive oil, on medium-low heat, then added the chard stems, finely chopped. After a few minutes, add the chard leaves (roughly chopped), cover, and let cook for several minutes more. Like spinach, the chard leaves will reduce in size. Add a splash of white wine or vermouth, and let cook until the leaves are fully tender, and taste for salt and pepper. After spreading this filling on the crepe, add a layer of grated parmesan cheese.

crepes layering

Mushroom, Leek and Cream Cheese Filling
1 leek, white and light green portion, halves and finely sliced
1/4 onion, chopped
handful of white button or cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp butter
pinch of ground nutmeg
salt and pepper

You can cook this at the same time as the chard. Place a tbsp of butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan and saute the onions and leeks on medium-low heat until softened, around 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, a pinch of ground nutmeg and a little salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms are fully cooked, remove from heat and stir in the cream cheese.

Making Your Stack
Pre-heat your oven to 350F.

In a lightly-buttered baking dish, put down two crepes (for two different stacks). On this bottom crepe, smooth out some of the chard filling and sprinkle grated cheese on top. Then place another crepe on the stack and spoon out some of the mushroom and leek filling. Layer another crepe with chard filling, then a crepe with mushroom filling, and finally top with a final crepe and sprinkle more cheese on top.

In this case, I did not have a wet tomato or bechamel sauce, so the top crepe became quite crispy, but if you do make a wet sauce, save some from your mixes so you can ladel on the top of your stack.

Place the baking dish in the upper third of the pre-heated 350F oven and bake for about 25 minutes. To serve, you can cut into wedges or just place the entire stack on a plate.

crepes plated

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Andouille and Yellow Eye Bean Stew

yellow eye bean stew

::: Constables Larder has moved to :::

On a cold evening, I like settling down to a healthy bean stew. This one is particularly simple to make, and lets the smokiness and spicy heat of andouille sausage do much of the work.

1/2 lb dried yellow eye beans*
1 smoked andouille sausage (approx 10" long)
3 slickes thick cut bacon, sliced into 1/2 " pieces
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
handful of parsley, chopped
splash of dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt

yellow eye beans
Yellow Eye Beans

I like to soak my beans whenever possible to speed cooking time, but in any case make sure you rinse the beans and check for any small pebbles. Fill a large pot with water 1 inch above the level of the beans, bring to a boil, then let simmer, loosely covered for 30 minutes. You want the beans to be no more than al dente by the time you move them into the stew pot.

Halve the andouille sausage lengthwise and then cut into 1/2" wide pieces.

While the beans cook, in a heavy bottomed pan (I was using a 3" deep cast iron pan), cook the bacon on medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes, then add the sausage. Before the bacon turns crispy, remove the meat to a side bowl, add a splash of olive oil to the pot, and add in the onion.

Cook the onion, stirring, for a few minutes, then add in the carrots and celery. Pour in a splash of dry vermouth and scrape up anything on the bottom of the pan. Toss in the parley, 1/4 tsp of salt, and the meat. Lower the heat, and let simmer.

At this point, reserve a couple cups of the bean broth (more if you do not have chicken broth), and add the beans to the pot. Pour in a cup of chicken broth and then add the bean broth until the liquid is just below the top of the vegetables. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 40 minutes or so, until the beans are tender. Check for salt along the way. I used a little more than 1/4 tsp, but your choice of bacon and sausage can affect saltiness a great deal, so don't add too much too soon.

Serve this by adding a little freshly chopped parsley and drizzling some olive oil on top.

Note: I left garlic out of this particular dish, but it would go quite well. One could also serve this dish with a garlic, parsley and olive oil pistou if you wanted that flavor kick.

Note on beans: I really liked the yellow eye beans from Rancho Gordo -- they were firm and mild in taste, and a little more interesting than great northern. If you do not have yellow eye, then I think great northern, flageolet, or vallarta beans would all be nice alternatives.

While this is a fairly classic bean dish, I think I will submit it to My Legume Love Affair, a blog event I always enjoy, hosted this month by The Well Seasoned Cook.

Chard-Wrapped Pork Meatballs

pork meatballs

::: Constables Larder has moved to :::

The other week I tried wrapping pork meatballs in chard leaves, and then poaching in chicken stock. The results were delightful. The meatballs were incredibly moist and the flavor subtle. I tried making the meatballs the same way without wrapping them, and the results were must less interesting and it was easier to dry out the meat.

What I still have not figured out yet, however, is what the best thing is to serve with these. I tried white rice but the meatballs have such a subtle flavor that they want a stronger complement I think... or a sauce to go with. Then I tried making red wild rice with porcini mushrooms but I do not think that was quite the thing either. So I'm going to move away from rice and do some more thinking and experimenting. In the meantime, I wanted to get a record of the recipe up here.

Chard-Wrapped Pork Meatballs

1 lb ground pork shoulder
large bunch of swiss chard leaves
6 cooked chestnuts, finely chopped
4 medium brussel sprouts (or 1/3 cup cabbage), finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
2-3 cups of chicken broth (ideally homemade)
splash of dry vermouth

Bring a large pot of water to boil and preheat oven to 350F while you do the following.

Wash your chard leaves and slice away the middle stems. Set aside. Chop up about 1/3 cup of the chard stems and place in a large bowl with the pork, chopped chestnuts, chopped brussel sprouts, parlsey, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly together with your hands, then shape into 1.5 inch meatballs.

Parboil the chard leaves for 30 seconds in the boiling water, then gently drain. Wrap each meatball in chard leaves (it might take two leaves to full wrap), and place in a pie dish. Then pour in chicken broth until you are about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the meatballs, and add a splash of dry vermouth or white wine. Cook at 350F for 45 minutes to an hour, occasionally basting broth over the tops of the meatballs. When the meatballs feel firm, they should be done.

pork meatballs wrapped
Just before pouring the broth in

Now just to find the perfect complement to these guys. I welcome ideas!

P.S. a marvelous vegetarian recipe is chard-wrapped risotto.