Pork, Beans & Greens

I flew home last Tuesday from an intense two-week study trip to New Orleans. OK, there may have been a little fun thrown in there. But, since then, it’s been all about work and school. I spent most of the weekend reading and writing, but I did manage to carve out some time to cook those beautiful yellow eye beans from Cayuga Pure Organics that I picked up last month.

Dried beans may seem intimidating, but they are infinitely better than canned and it’s honestly hard to screw them up. They’re also cheap and a great source of nutrition. Ideally, you soak them overnight, after which they should look something like the photo below. But the quick-soak method is just fine. Add the beans along with enough water to cover them to a pot, bring to a boil over high heat for a few minutes, and then let soak for a couple of hours. Whichever method you choose, be sure to drain them.

Soaked Yellow Eyed Beans

Yellow Eye Bean Stew

  • 1 pound dried yellow eye beans, soaked overnight and drained
  • 6 ounces bacon, roughly cut
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 5 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • dried, smoked chili peppers (to taste)
  • 1 pound smoked pork neck bones (A ham hock or even a smoked turkey wing or two would also do the trick.) 
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Render the bacon in a large dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and cook until wilted but not yet browned.
  3. Add the celery and carrots and cook for a couple more minutes.
  4. Add the beans, garlic, dried chili peppers, neck bones, bay leaf, and enough water to cover.
  5. Bring to a boil and then let simmer until the beans are tender, about two hours. (If by chance you just tossed in a few peppers from your extensive and unlabeled collection, you might want to taste the broth midway through. If it has already reached that sinus-clearing point but is just shy of bringing tears to your eyes, it’s probably time to remove the chilis.)
  6. Remove the neck bones, strip off any remaining meat, chop roughly, and add back to the pot.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.

BeforePre-Cook

AfterYellow Eyed Beans with Pork

I love me some beans. And I love them even more when they’re served with greens. I cooked these up on Sunday night, took a nice helping over to my neighbors’ apartment, and have been eating the rest throughout the week along with some mustard greens that I had in the fridge.

Last night, I tossed the beans, raw mustard greens, and some cherry tomatoes with an apple cider and whole-grain mustard vinaigrette.

Yellow Eyed Bean and Mustard Green Salad

Tonight, I heated the beans up with some additional water, added the mustard greens, and simmered until they were lightly cooked. A few splashes of a vinegar-based hot sauce was the finishing touch.

Yellow Eyed Bean and Mustard Greens Soup

French Lentil and Fried Egg Perfection

I spent Thanksgiving with my family in South Florida. My 92-year-old grandparents finally relocated this past spring to be near my mom. It was a treat to spend the holiday with them after more than 25 years. While there were only six of us for Thanksgiving dinner, I ended up making a total of 11 dishes in order to satisfy various constituencies–including the aforementioned nonagenarians and a 16-year old vegan. And that doesn’t include dessert!

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Here’s my 92-year-old grandma keeping guard over her wing while the bird rests. I was particularly gratified that she liked the butternut squash and creamed kale gratin, which was a divergence from her usual fare.

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I got home to Brooklyn late last night. While I wasn’t thrilled to return to winter, I welcomed the opportunity to cater to my own tastes in my own kitchen. Best of all, I was able to cobble together the ingredients for this comforting dish without having to put on pants.

French Lentils

  1. Render 2 ounces of bacon in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. (I highly recommend keeping some slab bacon in the freezer for such purposes.)
  2. Add some chopped onion. (I went with half of a large red onion that had been lingering in the fridge since before I left town.) Cook until onion is wilted and just starting to brown. (If your bacon is lean like mine and the bottom of the pan starts to get dark, add a half tablespoon of olive oil.)
  3. Add three small chopped carrots and saute until just beginning to soften. Then add four cups of water, a few cubes of frozen chicken stock (or some bouillon), and that last bit of red wine left over from your dinner party last weekend. Bring to a simmer and then add half a pound of French green lentils, a pinch of red pepper flakes and half a tablespoon of Herbes de Provence.
  4. Simmer until the lentils are soft and the broth has thickened a bit–roughly 45 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add three small carrots chopped into very small cubes and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in a tablespoon or so of red wine vinegar to provide a little balance.

This makes a great bed for just about any protein. I cooked the first half of these lentils for a dinner party a few months ago and served them with pan-roasted Scottish salmon to great effect. Tonight I went with a fried egg. The rich, oozy yolk was a perfect marriage with the earthy lentils.Image

Nothing Bacon Can’t Cure

Last night, I headed over to the boathouse for the Prospect Park Alliance Junior Committee’s Summer Soiree. I throw a lot of fundraisers for work, so it is truly a treat to be a guest.

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No dinner and a few hours of open bar later, I found myself getting cozy with a bare air mattress in my friends’ living room. (They offered sheets, but that would have necessitated me getting up.) This morning I walked the hot and humid mile home in pajama pants, my dress bulging out of my gift bag.

I knew I had some nice slab bacon and CSA veggies at home, so I swung by the grocery store for eggs. I sliced about half an ounce of bacon into lardon and rendered these in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. I added a few big chunks of garlic and toasted these in the bacon fat. I coarsely chopped a bunch of chard and sautéed it in the pan before adding salt and pepper. I slid the wilted greens to the side and toasted half of a whole wheat flatbread right in the skillet. I made some scrambled eggs in another pot and threw it all together, adding half of a very ripe tomato.

This plus a latte and I was good to go.

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Scapes and Squid

I’ve been traveling a lot, but this weekend was all about Brooklyn. Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Boerum Hill, Sunset Park and a 24-hour diner in Bay Ridge were all on the agenda. My friend Dana and her girlfriend Kathleen were coming for dinner on Sunday, so I swung by the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. It was, indeed, quite green. I came home with three kinds of kale, mint, chives, baby red jacket potatoes, radishes, sugar snap peas, and garlic scapes. (I also bought squid, hot turkey sausage and slab bacon, but had a tough time working them into this composition.)

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I was first lured into buying scapes a few years ago; something about their sinuous curves proved irresistible. A scape is a stem that shoots up from the garlic bulb and produces a small flower. Farmers trim them so that their garlic bulbs will continue to grow. They’re similar to garlic in flavor, but not as sharp. Scapes are tasty cooked, but I think they really shine when eaten raw. Here’s just one in an endless number of riffs on scape pesto. (Note that it freezes beautifully.)

Scape Pesto

  • 6 garlic scapes, ends and tips removed
  • 1/3 cup marcona almonds (you could use regular almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, etc., though I would recommend lightly toasting them first)
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (good quality, because this isn’t going to be cooked)
  • 30-40 fresh mint leaves (this could be basil, parsley, cilantro, etc.)
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper (to taste)
  • pinch of sugar (if needed)

Blend the first five ingredients in a food processor, adding water a little at a time  to loosen the mixture enough that it becomes a rough paste. (You could also just add more olive oil, but we’ve got bacon and butter coming further down the page.) Add salt, pepper and, if needed, a pinch of sugar to taste.

I’d texted Dana from the greenmarket to confirm that she eats squid. Her reply came just as I walked in the door: “I eat squid, but am not the hugest fan ever.” The pressure was on. I didn’t really have a plan, but had gotten it in my head that I wanted to make a single dish that married the scapes, squid, potatoes and sugar snap peas into a sort of warm composed salad.

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A lot of people find the prospect of cooking squid intimidating, but it’s easy. The key is to cook it very quickly (grilled, fried, boiled or sautéed) or to cook it very slowly (in a traditional Italian red sauce or a fisherman’s stew perhaps). Anything in between yields the rubbery texture of late-night diner calamari.

Scapes and Squid

  • 3 cloves pressed garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • pinch each of dried oregano, Aleppo pepper and red pepper flakes
  • smoked sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1.5 pounds cleaned squid

Combine all ingredients and let sit for at least one hour and up to six hours.

  • 1 batch scape pesto (see above)
  • 15-20 small red potatoes, cut in half
  • 3 cups sugar snap peas, strings removed
  • 3 ounces slab bacon (or other smoked fatty pork product)
  • 1 preserved lemon (a regular lemon would also work), flesh removed and rind sliced into slivers
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8-12 fresh mint leaves

While the squid marinates, slice the potatoes and parboil them in salted water until they are just fork tender. Removed the strings from the sugar snap peas and blanch them in the salted water for just a couple of minutes, taking care to cool them down quickly so that they stay crisp and bright green.

At this point, you can knock off and enjoy a glass or two of a nice crisp white wine or a rose until just before you’re ready to eat.

Cut the bacon into small pieces (you may recognize these as lardon) and render them in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.

Meanwhile, in a second pan, melt the butter with the preserved lemon rind over medium heat. When it has stopped foaming, add the potatoes, cut side down.

When the bacon is starting to crisp but is still meaty, push the pieces to the edge of the pan and add as many of the squid bodies as will fit in a single layer. Cook until the squid turns an opaque white on the bottom and then flip. When the other side turns white, pile them at the edge of the pan and add another layer, repeating the process until all of the squid is cooked.

When the potatoes have browned, add the sugar snap peas and stir until they are just heated through.

Spoon the potatoes and peas onto a platter and then add the bacon and squid as well as any juices left in the pan. Drizzle the whole thing with scape pesto and top with some thinly sliced mint leaves.

Dana, the squid skeptic, went back for thirds.

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Gumbo in 10 (or So) Easy Steps

I made gumbo for the third time on Friday and was pleased to see that, once you have the basic concepts down, there are an endless number of ways to riff on this tasty one-pot dish. Pictured here is Friday’s creation, which featured bacon, smoked Louisiana sausage, Maine shrimp tails, okra and mustard greens (these first three ingredients being just a sampling of the proteins lurking in my cramped freezer). Some might consider the mustard greens to be heresy, but I thought that they made for some nice flavor and texture contrast.

What follows is a step-by-step documentation of my very first gumbo. By following these steps, you can make a delicious gumbo using whatever meats, seafood, stock and produce you have on hand. It’s a great way to clean out the freezer.

STEP 1  –  Gather a bunch of meat and brown it in batches in a nice big heavy-bottomed pot. In this case, we have duck breast, andouille sausage, kielbasa and smoked hog jowl.

STEP 2  –  While you’re browning the meat, dice your veggies. Celery, onion and green pepper (“the holy trinity” of Cajun cooking) are traditional. Carrot, red bell pepper and garlic are nice additions. You can also add jalapenos or other hot chile peppers, if you’re into that kind of thing.

STEP 3  –  Transfer browned meat to an even bigger heavy-bottomed pot, add liquid and begin to simmer. An odd beer, some leftover red wine, clam juice and homemade stock from last Thanksgiving’s turkey carcass are just fine. (In the case of the shrimp gumbo pictured above, I used the shrimp shells along with some garlic, celery, carrot, a bay leave and whole black peppercorns to make a quick stock. You could also use a ham hock, which is a great thing to keep stashed in the freezer for soup and stew emergencies.)

STEP 4  –  Now it’s time to make the roux. Add approximately as much flour as you have rendered fat from browning all of that meat and start whisking. If you’re low on fat, you can supplement with whatever hard fat you have on hand – butter, schmaltz, lard, vegetable shortening, etc. A cup of fat and a cup of flour will do you right for one large pot of gumbo.

STEP 5  –  Keep whisking. I recommend NPR podcasts to keep you company.

STEP 6 – Now would be a good time to crack open a beer. But don’t stop whisking. The key is not to let it burn.

STEP 7  –  When you can’t stand to whisk any more, you’ve got your roux. If you taste it, it will not be yummy. Do not be scared.

STEP 8  –  Add your chopped vegetables into the roux and stir frequently until they start to soften. Toss in some herbs. Fresh or dried thyme, oregano and basil are all welcome. Cayenne, paprika and other dried chiles can also be added. Then dump it all, plus some bay leaves into the really big pot with the simmering meat.

STEP 9  –  Let is simmer and simmer and simmer. At some point, you’ll want to pull any large hunks of meat out and shred them. Maybe turn the burner off, lid the pot and take a nice bike ride. While you’re out, pick up some really cheap french bread to serve with the finished product. It’s traditional.

STEP 10  –  Fire the burner back up and keep simmering. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, whatever hot sauces you have in the fridge, maybe a little more wine, some vinegar, etc. Make a batch of Sazeracs. Make another batch. Make some long-grain white rice. Add some okra, some chopped up oysters, some parsley and anything else your heart desires. Have some more Sazeracs. Just don’t get so drunk that you forget to take a picture of the finished product. Oops.