Hello All:Do you have a secret passion you keep to yourself? Perhaps something you love to do but wonder if others might think you foolish or silly? I confess, I have more than a few of these. I love to sneak downstairs in the morning before anyone else awakens to savor my first sips of coffee in the quiet, with the sunrise, alone in my thoughts. I love to pack my own bags at the grocery, setting each item in place, as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle within the sack, even though I always defer when some kind worker offers to bag for me. I love to read cookbooks from beginning to end. More than the recipes within, I relish the writing, the unique point of view a writer brings to the collection. The way he or she injects a personal style both into the prose and into the construction of a recipe, a menu, an idea.
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler was a joy to read and has transformed my thinking about the time I spend in the kitchen. With renewed respect, I take new-found pleasure in the many uses there are for each ingredient, the everlasting possibilities for everything from a simple kidney bean to decadent omelette fillings of fried oysters or Greek yogurt seasoned with herbs and fresh garlic. Written in a style that emulates the incomparable MFK Fisher, Ms. Adler brings both grace and joy to the process. She suggests, when the chore of cooking seems to outweigh its nurturing possibilities, that you “anchor food to somewhere deep inside you, or deep in your past, or deep in the wonders of what you love...Let yourself love what you love, and see if it doesn’t lead you back to what you ate when you loved it.”
I love this advice and took it to heart when I created this dish of Red Beans and Rice. My Grandma Rachel was a master of making something extra-ordinary of humble beans and rice, elevating them to the center piece of her elegant Sephardic meals. She served them with roast chicken or braise lamb shanks, I chose to serve mine with roasted fennel, garnished with fresh parsley, cooked shrimp, Parmesan cheese and fruity olive oil. With this dinner simmering on the stove, my family came home and smiled first thing in reaction to the aromas wafting through the front door as they entered the house. Hopefully, someday, the smell of beans cooking and fennel roasting will bring them back to a place they love in the same way memories of beans and rice transport me to meals with my grandmother, to her generosity and her love.
Tell me about your passions, your loves. What foods inspire you?
I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors, simmering passions, soon.
RED BEANS AND RICE
Yield: 4 Servings
For the beans:
- 1 cup red beans
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- Handful fennel tops, rinsed
- 4 sprigs parsley, rinsed
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
For the rice:
- Olive oil
- 1 cup brown Basmati rice
- 2 teaspoons European Spice Blend
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the fennel:
- Olive oil
- 1 fennel bulb, washed and sliced into thin strips
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Olive oil, preferably extra virgin
- Vinegar (Balsamic or red wine)
- Chopped fresh garlic
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh parsley, rinsed and lightly chopped*
- Leftover seafood or meat or roasted potatoes, cut in bite sized pieces , at room temperature (optional)
- The night before you want to cook the beans, or in the morning if you are planning to cook the beans in the evening, rinse them. Place them in a large bowl, cover them with fresh water. Set aside.
- When you are ready to cook the beans, drain them, then place them in a large soup pot. Cover them with 6 cups fresh, cold water. Add the bay leaf, garlic clove, fennel tops, parsley sprigs, onion and a good sprinkling of salt. Place the pot on the stove over high heat. Bring the liquid to a boil, skim off any foam that rises to the top, stir and leave the beans to simmer until they are very tender. Cooking time will vary according to the freshness of your beans, but it is likely they will need to cook between 30 minutes and one hour. Stir occasionally during the simmering process.
- Remove the cook pot from the stove. With heat proof tongs or a slotted spoon, carefully remove the bay leaf, fennel tops, garlic clove, parsley and onion. Discard. Drain the beans, but reserve their broth*. Set the beans aside.
- To cook the rice:
- Heat one or two tablespoons olive oil in a 2-quart pot. Add the rice to the heated oil. Stir to coat. When the rice begins to become golden and is starting to become transparent, add the chopped garlic and spice blend. Stir the garlic and spices into the olive oil/rice mixture. Cook a minute or two until the garlic softens and the spices give off a smoky aroma. Add 2 cups of the reserved liquid from the beans. Bring the liquid to a boil, stir everything, then lower the heat to a simmer. Tightly cover the pot and cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. This should take about 45 minutes. When the rice is cooked, add some salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Give it a stir. Remove the rice from the heat, cover the pot until you are ready to serve.
- To roast the fennel:
- While the rice is cooking, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Take a large cookie sheet with raised sides and cover it with parchment paper. Spread the fennel slices on the parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast the fennel slices until they are transparent and begin to brown. This should take 15 to twenty minutes. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
- When you are ready to serve:
- Divide the cooked rice between 4 dinner bowls. Top with the cooked beans. If the beans seem a little dry, spoon a tablespoon or so of the reserved broth over the beans to moisten them to your liking. Drizzle each bowl of rice and beans with olive oil and vinegar. Sprinkle each bowl with some freshly chopped garlic, then add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle each bowl with salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Add a bit of freshly chopped parsley, to taste as well. Garnish each bowl with the roasted fennel. Top with leftover meat, seafood or roasted potatoes, if you want.
- Above all, enjoy!
- You will have some extra cooking liquid from the beans after you make this recipe. Keep it refrigerated in a jar or other airtight container. Use it in other dishes as you would stock.
- I did not give quantities for the toppings at serving time. Use these items in quantities to suit your tastes.[/