Tuesday, October 23, 2012
A year or two ago, I listened to a radio interview with one of the owners of Canlis, arguably Seattle’s finest restaurant. I don’t remember which of the two brothers it was and, as is often the case for me with radio programs, I only caught a small portion of it. The essence of what I heard sticks with me to this day. He described mistakes in the kitchen as opportunities for learning, growth; something his mother, I think it was, taught him long ago. I have disasters on a major scale, minor disappointments, and everything in between happen in my day-to-day life in the kitchen. Upon my questioning, one of my boys might say he likes, but doesn’t love, something I’ve made, and I’ll say that I agree, if I do, and offer my thoughts about the reason for the outcome, if I have any. “Yes, I overcooked/underseasoned that. Next time, this is what I think I’ll try to do differently.” “It would’ve worked better if I’d sliced those more thinly, I think.” “I’d like to try it another way I read about some time.” And so on. Food is rarely just food, after all.
I attended a talk today in which the speaker raised the question of when we play. I had to think about it. I decided my primary play is probably in the kitchen, in making something from scratch, trying something new, especially at a time when I might have taken a shortcut. I like to think these efforts also convey a sense of warmth to my family in harder times, in the days of fall and winter with their full schedules and homework loads; a momentary welling of joy. A breakfast of pancakes or eggs on a chilly school morning when the expectation might have been a bowl of cereal; a dinner of comfort, even if eaten in a rush on the way to a practice.
When I shop, I generally don’t bring a list. I work my way through the store, always the same one, a couple of times a week, starting with produce. I spend the most time there. I see what looks good, what’s new since I was last there as I slowly wind my way through each section with its careful displays. Once I’ve made my selections, seen what has captured my imagination, I move on to proteins; the seafood counter, the butcher, legumes and grains, cheese and other dairy. I mentally construct meals as I push my cart. Sometimes I get home regretful of not having thought to buy a certain ingredient, but generally it works for me. I have a theory that this approach also sharpens my memory – trying to recall recipes; memorizing what we’re running low on rather than writing it down – akin to the way working crossword puzzles is supposed to cut down on the risk of Alzheimer’s.
I love any friend who brings up braising over tea. Last week, Kira told me about a recipe that involves braising beans and leeks together. I remembered our conversation as I shopped yesterday morning. After I ate lunch, I pulled out the book she said the recipe was from, and got a pot going before I went to pick up the boys from school. There is very little, it seems, that doesn’t stand to benefit from the slow, barely-simmering method. I know I'll be making this combination again and again.
Braised White Beans and Leeks
From The Sprouted Kitchen
1 pound dried white runner or cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over
3 large leeks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 celery stalks, diced
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup shredded mozzarella
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Soak the beans, uncovered, in a large bowl of cold water for at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Drain and set aside.
Arrange a rack in the lower third of your oven. Preheat to 225F.
Trim the leeks, discarding the tough green tops. Halve them vertically, and rinse well in cold water, cleaning out any dirt trapped between the layers. Slice into thin half circles.
In a large Dutch oven or ovenproof casserole, warm the olive oil. Add the celery, garlic and leeks, and cook until the vegetables are softened, 3-5 minutes.
Add the beans, thyme, herbes de Provence, and red pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the vegetable broth and ½ cup water, and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Cover the pot with an ovenproof lid or cover it tightly with foil. Place it in the oven and cook, checking occasionally to make sure the pot is never dry, until the beans are soft throughout but not falling apart, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. If the pot seems dry, add water in ½ cup increments and stir once or twice. Adjust the salt and pepper as necessary.
Remove the pot from the oven and turn the heat up to 500F. Sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan on top of the bean mixture and put the pot back in the oven, leaving the lid off. Cook until the cheese is completely melted and brown in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.
Yield: 6-8 servings