Results tagged Rancho Gordo from David Lebovitz

Chickpea, Lemon and Mint Salad

Chickpea, lemon, mint salad recipe

I was reminded in Sicily how good freshly dried chickpeas can be. Usually, I cook whatever I can get my hands on, and add them to soups or make a batch of hummus. But I don’t sit around eating them, as they are, unadorned. So when someone asked me to taste a few from a batch of chickpeas dried by a local farm in Sicily, that had just been cooked, I found myself dipping a spoon (yes, a clean one each time…) back into the big bowl of chickpeas. And decided, when I get home, to give chickpeas a more prominent place on my plate.

Chickpea, lemon and mint salad

At the risk of sounding like the annoying dinner guest who has lived in Europe (which I’m sure I will be, at some point…if I’m not already), I dressed them with Sicilian olive oil and juice squeezed from lemons that I picked myself. The organic chickpeas are from the market in Gascony. I added hand-harvested French sea salt, and fresh mint that I get from the Arab fellow at my market, who lets me rifle through all the bunches at this stand to snag the best one.

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Favorite Cookbooks of 2011

cookbook pile up

As 2011 draws to a close, I look at the stack of books that I’ve collected on my bookshelf (and piled up on my floor…and beside my bed, and stacked in my kitchen…) and wonder how I’m going to cook and bake from them all. I just can’t help it, though—I love cookbooks. And these are the books that I couldn’t resist tackling in 2011, although a few are filled with bookmarks intended for future dinners and desserts, and blog posts. Some are traditional books bound with nice paper, filled with recipes, others are food-related books; memoirs and remembrances. And there are a few entries I’ve chosen that push the boundaries of traditional text, electronically and otherwise.

This year, I found myself drawn to cookbooks with a story to tell, not just mere collections of recipes. Books with a distinct point of view by an author, and essays which took me beyond the page and into their lives, which veered in some rather compelling directions. A few of the books were chef’s memoirs, which I did include even though they don’t have recipes. But something about them added to the canon of cookery books I have and referenced cooking in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Because I live abroad and have limited storage space (and deliveries can be a challenge), I wasn’t able to procure all the books that I wanted to. But this year saw a big uptick in publishers – and readers – jumping onto the e-book bandwagon. While not everyone wants to cook from a computer screen, one advantage is that foreign cookbooks, or out-of-print titles, may have new lives and can downloaded anywhere in the world within seconds.

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Chili with Chocolate

chili

I used to wait tables in a vegetarian restaurant many, many years ago, and one of the items on the menu was Cashew Chili. I would say about one-third of the customers would look at the menu, then look up at me, and ask – “Are there really cashews in the Cashew Chili?”

rancho gordo beans

It was hard to respond to that. Although the answer “Yes” seemed pretty obvious (at least to me), it was hard to say “Yes, the Cashew Chili really does have cashews in it” without sounding like a wise-ass. Thinking about it now, I probably could have come back with a more interesting retort and I guess should think of another one for this chili recipe, because it is made with beans, and likely to raise some hackles.

cooked beans for chili recipe

Therefore, I would like to officially recognize that real Texas Chili does not have beans in it.

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Soupe au Pistou

soupe au pistou

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of soup. (Well, if it was, it’s not anymore.) I just feel odd ordering it in a restaurant, since I’m paying for a bowl of glorified liquid. And I rarely eat it at home, since when I want to eat, I want something more substantial as a meal. And if I eat it as a first course, then it takes up valuable real estate in my stomach for something more interesting.

(Confused? Imagine how I feel.)

However since moving to France, I’ve seen the value of soup—on occasion. Such as in the dead of winter when it’s so cold that only a bowl of very hot liquid will stoke my fire. Yet in the summer, the idea of hot soup isn’t exactly appealing. But I’ve been trying to eat more vegetables lately, and less meat, and the Soupe au Pistou, vegetable soup from Provence, somehow seems okay.

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Ottolenghi’s Fried Beans with Sorrel, Feta & Sumac

ottolenghi beans

When the recent cloud of volcanic ash cruelly snatched my vacation away from me, not only was I miffed I wouldn’t be heading across the ocean (and let me tell you, there’s nothing more depressing than unpacking a non-used swimsuit, sandals, and sunscreen out of a suitcase), but I was sad I would be missing dinner with Yotam Ottolenghi at his restaurant, Ottolenghi. I’d written him a fan letter, and after agreeing to a psychiatric evaluation, and a pass through a metal detector, he consented to have dinner with me.

I swooned over his first book and featured his gently salted, crisp almond chocolate-dipped Florentines a while back, which I had trouble not finishing the moment the slick chocolate coating had cooled on their underside.

civette spring onions

Usually when flipping through a new cookbook, I bookmark a few things that catch my eye. Like his previous book, if I’d bookmarked all the recipes I wanted to try in his new book Plenty, my copy of the book would’ve been twice as large as it originally was.

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Poached Prunes and Kumquats

prunes and kumquats

Prunes are serious business in France and unlike Americans, it doesn’t take any name-changing to get the French to eat them. Prune fans, like me, are partial to those from Agen, in Gascony, which are mi-cuit; partially-dried. Their flavor is as beguiling and complex as a square of the finest chocolate.

kumquats prunes in pot

Interestingly, the prunes cultivated in California are grafted from the same prunes grown in the southwest of France.

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Fresh Shelling Bean Salad

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When I applied for my job at Chez Panisse, I’d just left a restaurant where the chef was, what we call in the business, a “screamer”. That is, one of those chefs who flips out in the kitchen and yells indiscriminately.

Contrary to what television might lead you to think, this isn’t a new, or even trendy, phenomenon. (The other type of chef that cooks dread are the “watchers”, the less-telegenic chefs, who stand around and watch everyone else do all the work.)

vertical beans tomatoes

The job I’d left was the only job that I ever dreaded going to since every day was pretty much a cauchemar (nightmare). So with a bit of trepidation, I asked Alice if she ever yelled, and she said, “Only if I see good food going bad. That makes me angry.”

beans

Fair enough—since I agreed.

Whenever I would see someone wasting something precious, like raspberries, or letting them go bad, I realized that those people likely had never navigated the thorny branches to see what goes into picking that pint of those berries. Or spent a few back-breaking hours hunched over in the scalding-hot sun, picking strawberries. So when people complain about the price of berries, I say, “Well, how much would you charge if you have to pick them?”

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Les Haricots Tarbais

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Back in my intrepid youth, when my hair dipped below my ears (when I had hair, that is…), I flirted with vegetarianism. I should probably say it was more than a passing fancy; I was a vegetarian for about six years and even worked in a vegetarian restaurant. At Cabbagetown Café in Ithaca, New York, we’d ladle up bowls of Cashew Chili or curious soups, like the one that a co-worker would insist on enriching with generous -and nutrictious – dollop of peanut butter.

And don’t get me started on the bizarre customers we’d get. We had one regular, whose name we didn’t know (so we just called her ‘Beyond’) who would sit in the dining room and order only a bowl of brown rice. Then she’d spend hours in the dining room writing in her journal, in the teeny-tiniest letters imaginable, eating her rice grain-by-grain.

Eventually I started eating meat again because I got tired of being served pizza smothered with soggy vegetables and was constantly dreaming about diving into a big, soft, overstuffed corned beef sandwich. When I told my ‘alternative’ doctor about that, he said, “You know, if you’re craving something, that means your body needs it. So you should probably go ahead and have it.”

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With that advice, I left his office and made a beeline to the nearest Jewish deli, and ordered a big, honkin’ mound of hot corned beef barely contained by two sharp-crusted pieces of caraway-flecked rye bread with a smear of hot mustard. And from that day on, my vegetarianism was kaput.

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But you don’t need to be a vegetarian to love beans as much as I do. The top bean for bean-lovers, the holy grail of beans, are the haricots Tarbais, grown in the southwest region of France near the Spanish border. Planted in May, then harvested between August and October, haricots Tarbais are hand-picked and commonly used in cassoulet, that rich casserole baked with confit de canard, meaty Toulouse sausage, sometimes mutton, and topped with oily-crisp breadcrumbs, then baked until dense, rich, and savory.

There are lots of variations on cassoulet, of course, but I often cook beans just as a simple side dish. And since it was time to kick out my roommate, the drunken French sailor, I picked up a sack of beans and headed towards the kitchen. Although I was sorry to see him go, he wore out his welcome (and everything I owned was starting to smell like pork.) So I figured I’d give him one last hurrah before he got the heave-ho, and I used him to flavor a pot of delectable haricots Tarbais.

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Haricots Tarbais
Four servings

Although many say these beans will cook in one hour, I often find they’ll take longer, especially if yours aren’t as fresh. In Paris, the water is very mineralized, so cooks add a pinch of baking soda to the water or use bottled. You’ll have to be the judge; just cook them until tender and to your liking, adding more liquid if necessary.

When cooking any dried beans, salt should be added after they’re pretty well cooked, since it can inhibit the bean’s ability to soften and absorb water. Since haricots Tarbais might not be easily found where you are, use any good-quality dried white beans (haricots blancs), adjusting the cooking time accordingly.

8 ounces (225 g) Haricots Tarbais, picked through and soaked overnight.
6 cups (1.5 liters) water
pinch of baking soda (see headnote)

Plus any of the following:

  • 1 bay leaf
  • a few branches fresh thyme or savory (or a pinch of dried)
  • 1 small onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1-2 whole cloves
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 pieces of thick-cut bacon (potrine fumée), diced in big pieces
  • (or add a big 'ol ham bone, if you've got one)

-Put the beans in a big pot with the water, and other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook partially-covered for about 1 hour, or up to 2 hours, until the beans are tender. Add salt to taste during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

-If using a ham bone, as I did, pull any bits of meat off the bone and add them to the beans. The beans will turn a darker shade as they’re cooked, as mine did.

-Serve warm, drained of most of their liquid (which makes a nice base for soup), alongside braised or roasted meats, or poultry.

Or drain, and use to make a bean salad. To avoid the thin, papery skin peeling off the cooked beans, toss them while warm in a decent-sized spoonful of olive oil right after they’re drained.


Note: Haricots Tarbais aren’t easily available in the US (they’re available on Amazon) but Rancho Gordo has started growing and drying the beans.