Ottolenghi’s Chickpea Sauté with Greek Yogurt

The sweet bride chose this recipe from Ottolenghi’s cookbook “Plenty,” and typically of what she cooks, it’s full of surprising flavors.

Ottolenghi’s recipe (here) calls for chard, but the sweet bride, using available greens, substituted kale with good results. Home cooked chickpeas might taste chewier and better, but using canned chickpeas makes this a quick, pretty much pull-out-of-the-cupboard recipe.

Pull the leaves from stems of the greens, and blanch (stems for five minutes, leaves for two), then chop both into half-inch dice.

Next, sauté diced carrots (maybe two carrots or what’s needed to balance your chickpeas and greens) with a teaspoon of caraway seeds for five minutes. Add the chickpeas and the chard or kale.

Sauté this mixture for about six minutes, then add a crushed garlic clove, the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon each of fresh mint and coriander, salt and pepper. Let cool a little.

As a topping, Ottolenghi mixes a tablespoon of olive oil with a cup of Greek yogurt (he recommends the higher fat kind for taste). The sweet bride added pepper to the yogurt mix, and served rice alongside.

Tasty! A feast for happy diners – coriander, mint, lemon – a Mediterranean treat on a winter night – with hints of the warm months ahead!

Carrots

Black Bean Croquettes

The position of Mrs. Patmore, the cook at Downtown Abbey rotates – informally and unofficially. Nobody has the proper outfit. It would be beyond irregular at Downton Abbey to have Mr. Carson cooking in the kitchen – but he’s often in charge there at Downtown Abbey.

It’s teamwork – and a pleasure to chop vegetables, get distracted with Lady Baby, then come back to find those same vegetables sautéing or in the oven or a salad. Beans put to soak by one person, get cooked by another. And then on this last trip, get made into bean cakes!

Mark Bittman’s recipe for “Black Bean Croquettes” has been forever marked as a possibility in my copy of “How to Cook Everything,” so I was glad to hear they were on the menu at Downtown Abbey.

Wanting to make them back home, I read the recipe and Bittman’s “Basics of Bean Cakes.” Bittman says well-cooked beans are necessary and, because you can add “so many flavors,” canned beans work. (We made plain ones, but he gives recipes for bean croquettes with Southwestern or Asian flavors.)

I chopped two cups of drained, cooked black beans in the blender (don’t puree Bittman says, leave a few chunks).

The recipe calls for half a cup of chopped onions, but I used a mix of shallots and scallions (end of the old and beginning of the new CSA). Then combined the onions and the beans in a bowl with a lightly beaten egg, salt and pepper.

At this point in the recipe at Downtown Abbey, Mr. Carson used a half-cup of crumbs he had made with bakery bread in the food processor and some coarse cornmeal. Because it was handy, I used the panko I had left from the not meatloaf.

You want to add enough of one of these to help the cakes stick together but not be dry – (putting the mixture in the fridge for while before forming into patties helps). This amount makes four generous patties, looking very burger-like.

Mr. Carson heated an eighth-inch of oil in a heavy cast iron skillet and fried his, about three to five minutes a side by Bittman’s instructions. I used the other suggested method, and placed the croquettes on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a 400° oven, turning once, for a total of 20 minutes.

Mr. Carson’s tasted best. Hands down. Crunchy and flavorful. We ate them straight up.

Well, with ketchup of course. A bean croquette is a fine platform for ketchup – or salsa or some exotic chutney – enjoy!

Beans and Beer

Mark Bittman’s green-covered “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” was a gift last Christmas. His yellow-covered “How to Cook Everything” book is so familiar that I neglected the new one until recently.

In the lead up to Thanksgiving, I made black beans for dinner one night and froze some, thinking ahead to a weekend meal after the feast night and a dinner out on Friday night. Looking for a way to use the beans, I found myself wandering the wonderland of Bittman’s “Legume” section – 100 pages of bean magic!

The section is organized according to cooking method – because, as Bittman says, legumes are “largely interchangeable.” Even if calling for white or black or pinto, he will list the other beans you might use in each recipe. These pages are full of terrific sounding recipes – I love “hearty do-ahead dishes” that are “perfect for entertaining,” but I would be a curious beginner with beans cooked in “fritters, dumplings, croquettes, and cakes.”

I was looking for black bean enchiladas or chile, but “Beer-Glazed Black Beans” caught my eye. Bittman says “it’s amazing how much flavor you get from adding a cup (or a bottle) of beer to black beans” and lists variations involving tomatoes, chiles, tamarind, Asian style, or – the one I used – Thai-Style Chile Paste.

A break in the weather on the holiday Saturday led to an afternoon of splitting firewood, rebuilding the wattle fence around a garden and dressing it with compost and straw. Then the already prepared beans meant dinner came together quickly.

The recipe calls for an onion sautéed in two tablespoons of olive oil, and a tablespoon of minced garlic added after onions are soft. A minute later add three cups of cooked (or canned) black beans, a tablespoon of chili powder, a tablespoon of honey, salt and freshly ground pepper. Oh, and a cup of beer (leaving just enough in the bottle for a start with the chips and salsa)!

Cook till the liquid is reduced and thickened, it took about 15 minutes. Our Thai friend added a “dollop” (a new word to her) of the Thai-style chili paste along with the beans. And cut up some hotter peppers for herself. With rice, cornbread, and a salad, the beans made a warming meal.

Thanks Mark Bittman!

Magic Beans

Not magic in the way of Jack and the Beanstalk but versatile, pleasing, dependable – real life magic. Magic as comfort.

Part of the complexity of a big holiday comes not just from the Big Meal event – but also from the gathering and cooking for the other nights and days. We need to eat in the lead-up days, and no matter the evening feast on Thursday, visitors arriving on Wednesday need a welcoming dinner and lunch the next day.

The weekend before, I cooked beans, white and black. With some of the white beans I made ahead a delicious Deborah recipe “Basque Pumpkin with White Bean Soup” (a festive orange color, flavored by stock from the pumpkin peelings and seeds).

Since I loved that eggplant gratin, I noticed a “White Bean and Celery Root Gratin, Tuscan Style” in Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” That seemed to meet a lot of needs – remind us of Italy but also be seasonal and local.

Celeriac with its gnarly weirdness is a vegetable I approach with a little reluctance – not nearly so beautiful as an eggplant, but so much more likely to grow here. They’re a winter mainstay, as they must be in Italy.

The outer skin looks challenging but trims off easily (Deborah says to scrub it well and use in stock for its delicious flavor). For the gratin, cut the remaining white root into one-inch cubes.

In a pan with plenty of room, sauté the celery root in three tablespoons of olive oil until it begins to brown. (This recipe double easily and then fills a big gratin dish.) Add one chopped onion, salt and pepper. Cook until the onion and celery root are soft.

Add two garlic cloves, chopped, three cups of cooked beans. If it seems too dry, you can add some reserved bean liquid. Flavor with fresh rosemary or sage (another reason this is perfect for winter Washington – plenty of both).

Top with a half cup of breadcrumbs mixed with a little olive oil or Parmesan cheese. Pour into a gratin dish rubbed with oil and bake at 400° for about an hour – till the gratin is bubbling and topping browned.

I put it together before we drove to the ferry to pick people up – and once home, the gratin was soon fragrant and ready for dinner by the fire, bubbling and browned in its bright red dish.

Fesols, Farro, and Friends

When I brought fesols de Santa Pau home from Spain, my friend who lives on the bluff took a handful and said she’d like to try and grow them. Not on the bluff, but in Mexico where she lives part of the time and tends a food garden. She planted the beans and – in the miraculous way of seeds – harvested five pounds late this summer, and brought a vacuum-packed stash home to Washington.

My friend and her husband invited us to dinner to celebrate their recent birthday trip to Tuscany, featuring bounty brought home in suitcases. (No matter our global import culture, something warms the heart about purchases from a faraway place, hand-carried to share.) On a dark October evening we walked by flashlight down our little road. In a house glowing with light and warmth, their three dogs dozed by the fire, each in its own round bed.

After bruschetta starters, our hosts served soup made with their well-travelled fesols and also farro – that ancient grain rediscovered in Italy (and here). In this Italian meal of proper courses, we next ate pasta with sauce savory with spices from Campo di Fiore Market in Rome. Then green salad (lovely and local). We drank wine from Tuscan grapes and heard stories of countryside biking and agriturismo farms. As a finale – contucci – the Tuscan name for biscotti, and vin santo.

My friend found Washington-grown farro (from Bluebird Grain Farms in Eastern Washington). It’s an ancient grain, looking a little like spelt and said to be the original grain from which all others derive. It retains a chewy texture even after soaking and cooking – a great taste to encounter in soup or salad.

Later, with the fesols my friend brought me, I made the soup like she did, using Bittman’s recipe for “Farro Soup” from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” In a quarter cup of olive oil, cook one large sliced onion, two chopped celery stalks, and two chopped carrots, until the onion softens. Add a tablespoon of minced garlic, a cup of farro soaked (between four and nine hours is recommended) and a cup of dried white beans soaked (I did the quick soak with boiling water). Also add a small can of undrained chopped tomatoes, and six cups of stock.

It will take at least an hour (mine took longer) for the farro and beans to be tender. Add additional stock or water if needed.

The soup is hearty – a small bowl was perfect before the pasta at the Tuscan feast, but on an ordinary winter night, a bigger bowl makes a whole meal. A little Italy in a bowl – along with fesols – this time fesols de Baja!

Focaccia, Saint Francis, and Old Friends to Dinner

According to a note I made on my calendar, a week ago Saturday marked the festival of Saint Francis and also, perhaps not related, the International Day of Older Persons. Sounded like a night to have our oldest friends to dinner – but then I forgot to even mention these special events!

Oh well – along with black beans we had treats from the farmer’s market – fresh corn picked the day before in Eastern Washington, a new potato and leek gratin, pepperonata with yellow-green sweet peppers, a big salad with fresh tomatoes, and – celebrating Italy yet again – focaccia.

In “Everyday in Tuscany,” Frances Mayes shares a recipe for focaccia describing “simplicity of preparation, small number of ingredients.” She writes of making it often with her grandchild (that sounds like fun).

I’ve made it five times since we came home – with different results each time (is that the living nature of yeast and flour and weather?). It’s always good, even on the summer day when we went to town with guests leaving the dough to rise nicely and collapse into the bowl. Now that autumn is here, I need to pay more attention to warming cold bowls and pre-heating the oven a bit to make a warm place for rising.

Following Mayes’s recipe you put two packages of yeast into two cups of warm water in a big bowl and let it stand for 10 minutes. Add four cups of flour (Mayes doesn’t specify – I used three of white and one of wheat – and mix well. Then knead the dough for 10-15 minutes on a floured surface (each time I have added at least another cup of flour while kneading). Focaccia has texture – little air spaces – that must come from the kneading (I set the timer so I’d keep it up). The goal is smooth and elastic dough.

In an oiled bowl, put the dough to rise in a warm place for an hour, covered by a tea towel. It will double. Punch down, then on a baking sheet (covered with parchment paper) shape into a flat rectangle.

Allow the dough to rise for another 45 minutes under a tea towel. Then make dimples with fingertips all over the dough and sprinkle olive oil (I used about a tablespoon and a half and tried to get it widely dispersed). Sprinkle coarse salt and about a third-cup just-minced rosemary on top.

Baked in a 400° oven for 25 minutes, focaccia turns a beautiful golden brown – and is fragrant, chewy, and substantial. At the table we passed extra-virgin olive oil (last of the Italy stash) and balsamic vinegar for dipping.

Rain was in the forecast if not yet on the roof or on the bald pate of Saint Francis out in the garden, as we sat by the first fire of the season and enjoyed the last of our farmer’s strawberries with ice cream.

A fitting celebration of Saint Francis, and a small feast for the older persons!

Under the Tuscan Sun – for a Day

Cortona, the Tuscan hill town made famous by Frances Mayes, tilts ever upward, and its physical high point is the substantial, well-preserved Medici fortress at the top of town. The day we visited, sunshine filled the upper floors of this commanding structure – habitable looking rooms with giant stone fireplaces, and windows for spying on Cortona and the Val di Chiana beyond.

Our food high point came at Restorante la Loggetta, a gracious place on a balcony above the Piazza Republica with dusky-pink tablecloths under giant canvas umbrellas. One bowl of ribollita ordered by one person quickly became another we all shared. Known as Italian “peasant fare,” it’s a warming soup, good in Italian winters but equally good here in this drearily cold Northwest summer. I came home eager to make ribollita.

None of my usual sources offered a recipe, so I trolled the Internet and read several. They all share the basics: bread, beans and “reboiling” (ribollita in Italian).

The recipes (I mostly used one from Heidi Swanson at “101cookbooks.com”) begin by sautéing gently in olive oil, on a low heat, celery, carrots, garlic, and onion – avoiding browning.

Use whatever form of tomatoes you like – I had half a big can of crushed tomatoes and added them to the sauté, along with some red pepper flakes (another recipe suggested crushed fennel seeds also).

After simmering a bit, I added a bunch of Tuscan kale (mid-rib removed and leaves chopped), and three cups of cooked beans (two cups of dry beans cooked the day before easily made the four cups needed). Reduce the heat after boiling and simmer till the greens are tender.

Following Swanson’s advice, I pureed another cup of beans with a “splash” of water (I used bean cooking water).

Ribollita is designed to use up stale bread, so use what you have – sourdough white, wheat – the preference is for unsliced, torn into bite-sized pieces. Add the pureed beans and bread to the soup and simmer for 25 or 30 minutes. After adding one and a half teaspoons of salt (I’d cooked the beans with salt so used less), Swanson incorporates the zest of a whole lemon.

Refrigerate overnight (it’s better the second day), and then serve really hot (it’s meant to be thick – and will be). We served it at a dinner with friends, warmed it up slowly until it boiled for a minute, and ladled it into warm bowls.

The setting might not be warm like Cortona – but ribollita warms the spirits. Pass the olive oil – a couple “glugs” for each bowl – Prego!