ceci bean stew with out of season cavolo nero & herb dusted crouton
dusted no less. would you look at that?
im not sure what makes a crouton a crouton. can it be described as a hard(ened) bit of bread?or a stale one revived? these modern-day croutons are so different than the boxes of powder-coated scrabble pieces from when i was a kid. what's more, i made mine with bread that i baked not too long ago. but you don't have to go that far. just grab a boule of your favorite crusty loaf, and you're in business.
so, today while i labored over the details of this lunch, i realized that my good friend oscar would not eat the finished product because fennel makes him cringe. he's got other good qualities to make up for this deficiency. for instance, he shares my love for taxidermied dead things. and he's the only person i know who will wear down his soles antiquing. in fact, he's somewhere in the sticks of Washington state as we speak, looking for medieval iron pieces once used as torture devices, elk horns still attached to the poor beast's skull, or other things as sinister. if he was here in l.a., i would make him this dish sans the fennel. after a hard day of antiquing, he deserves something as cozy and honest as this.
honest food. it's a phrase that begs a reconsideration, maybe even after years of its capricious use, in effort to nail down some sort of definition once and for all. sort of like croutons.
what is honest food? i like to think that it's food that comes from the heart, primarily, those things that we make with intention of feeding the soul in tandem with the body. for me, honest food lacks pretension or design. this stew that i made today, i made because these were exactly the ingredients that i had on hand. the effort was not to stir up a prop for this post. i was hungry. funds are low. it's my way of saying even though times are challenging, i am still devoted to my writing, to this blog, to showing my reader that you don't have to run out and grab a list of new goods to keep up with the demands of the blog joneses. and lets face it, there are more blogs out there than evergreens plugged in the ground. we might go broke if we tried to make every tart or scone that crops up on the internet, especially because so many require the procurement of some obscure or expensive components: scones with currants that have been perfumed with the essence of smoke (?), tartlets that demand the employment of 16 mini copper ring molds, ones that can only be purchased in france, and which cost twelve euro each.
open your fridge. i bet you have just about what it takes to make this stew. if you're lacking one thing, get crafty and use what you do have in its stead.
before we get started, i'm aware that you're probably thinking that this is not exactly warm weather fare, and you may be right. but i generally go against the grain when it comes to most things. my inner rebel, i'm afraid, is installed pretty securely in there, and i'm too afraid of it to employ reason, or suggest sensible things like having popsicles for lunch. it's easier to just make a thing of stew on days like today when it's so hot that i could probably roast a skewer queued with marshmallows simply by dangling it out of my kitchen window.
oh, and before you flog me for the use of this out-of-season kale, you should know that i live in l.a. where seasons are ambiguous. the sun is shining high in the sky, convertible tops are down and for all we care, this could be december or the fourth of july.
try to rally this stuff up for your honest cause, if you can't quite pull it together, improvise. this pot will feed quite a few hungry souls.
. 1.5 cups ceci (garbanzo) beans, soaked overnight
. 1 bunch of cavolo nero
. 1 head of cauliflower
. 1 fennel bulb
. 2 carrots, peeled
. 2 celery stalks
. 1/2 a smallish yellow onion
. 1 leek, cleaned well
. 4 cloves of garlic
. canned whole plum tomatoes
. tomato paste. olive oil
. 2 fresh bay leaves
. some sort of fresh herb, i used thyme, marjoram, fennel frond, rosemary and oregano
. fresh or day old crusty bread
1) dice your veg, making sure their size is relatively consistent so that they cook uniformly. i also opted to do a fairly small dice because i like the veggies to melt rather than stay whole and chunky.
2) with ample olive oil, sweat the veg, medium heat, no color. remember, to sweat is to soften. be sure to add your bay leaves and thyme.
while i prefer to add my fresh herbs at the end of cooking, thyme is an exception. it's a resinous herb that begs longer cooking. so here's a fun and useful thing: tie the ends of several sprigs of thyme with a piece of kitchen twine, and the other end to the handle of your pot. this way the herb gets cooked into the stew, and when it's done, you can easily fish out the bouquet garni by pulling out the string. i don't know about you, but when i just toss the thyme into the pot, i inevitably lose a couple of stems and they get ground up into the stew, making for some unpleasant and woody bites.
3) when your veg is sufficiently sweated, add your tomato. i'm just using canned plum, i think there were 4 or 5, and their juices. i've also added a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste for depth.
cook this tomato product out, stirring constantly, until it goes from bright to brick red and starts to smell sweet and caramelized. this contributes further to the depth of the dish. if you just add tomatoes and paste without cooking it out like this, you end up with a less interesting finished product.
4) when the tomato product is caramelized, add the soaked ceci to the pot with ample water.
5) while the ceci is cooking, break the head of cauliflower into small pieces.
and rough chop the cavolo nero into bit-sized pieces, leaving behind their wood stems.
6) when the beans are just about soft, add your salt. you never want to salt bean dishes in the beginning, because the salt toughens their skins. so, check a bean. when it has about 30 minutes of cooking left, now is the time to salt.
7) when the beans are soft, fish out your 2 bay leaves and pull up the tail of your thyme bundle then simply snip the end of it from the handle of the pot. see how thoughtful this little trick is? all of the leaves have happily cooked from their stems.
8) add the cauliflower florets to the pot and simmer until tender. shouldn't take long.
when the florets are tender, add a good splash of olive oil, don't be cheap, then plunge your submersible blender into the pot and give it a few whirs. don't go mad. this is a rustic, chunky soup.
9) stir in the cavolo and your herbs, and simmer for a minute or two. oh, set some of these herbs aside for your herb dusted croutons.
a note on rosemary: it's a strong herb, and while resinous, like thyme, i love the fresh piney flavor and oftentimes add it at the finish of a dish. when i do, i always, always chop it fine, almost to a powder. whole needles of fresh rosemary can be unpleasant to eat.
10) make the croutons:
fire up the broiler. make sure that your herbs are pretty finely chopped, so, run a blade over the herbs you pulled aside once again.
slice a few pieces of bread about 1/4" thin. drizzle with olive oil and pop under the broiler. toast till golden and crisp, both sides.
when they're done, immediately dust one side of the crouton with the herbs and serve with your honest stew.
mangia bene, vivi felice!
this post has been submitted to yeast spotting, in view of the herb crusted sourdough crouton.