Friday, April 8, 2011

Soup's On: Bean Soup That's Fast, Easy, and Delicious

(NOTE: Savoring the Seasons is this week's From a Local Kitchen on the Seacoast Eat Local blog! Thanks, Debra!)

I felt like I was losing a friend when Mark Bittman's last Minimalist column appeared in The New York Times on January 25th. For thirteen years, I'd looked forward to reading it every Wednesday. I learned countless tips for making delicious meals with a minimum of fuss. In particular, I enjoyed being inspired by what I like to call the Bittman 101s, an ongoing series of 101 ideas for simple salads, picnics, appetizers, etc.  that could be made in 20 minutes or less.

However, if the first few weeks of Bittman's new endeavor, Eat, in the The New York Times Sunday Magazine are any indication, I needn't have fretted. (Yes, there is a paywall now, but you are allowed 20 free articles a month  -- or you can just order the Sunday Times.)

Right out of the box, there was a column that blew me away. Called Creamy, Brothy, Earthy, Hearty,  it was essentially a guide to making easy, yet delicious vegetable-based soups, most of which can go from stove to table in under an hour. This includes making your own vegetable stock!

We'd recently bought some dried peregion beans from Baer's Best Beans at the Seacoast Eat Local Winter Farmers' Market. (There are two remaining: April 9th and 23rd at Exeter High School) So I was eager to try the bean soup recipe. As this was a spur of the moment thing, there was no time for overnight bean soaking.  However, I've found that as long as your dried beans aren't too old, this step is unnecessary. It's a great reason to buy dried beans from the farmers' market as opposed to the grocery store. (Not salting beans during cooking is another old wives' tale you can ignore. It doesn't make them tough; in fact, it makes them delicious!)

In less than an hour, we were having a hearty, homemade soup for lunch. Bittman's column featured four different categories of soup; twelve soups in all. I can't wait to sample each one--and then be inspired to create my own!

Earthy Bean Soup ala Mark Bittman
Put 1 1/2 cup dried beans, 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery ribs, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves and 6 cups water in a pot over high heat.

Boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the beans are soft, at least 1 hour, adding more water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish: A drizzle of olive oil.

NOTE: We began by sauteing the onion, carrots, and celery before adding them to the beans; then when the beans were almost tender, added some leftover chopped Kellie Brooks Farm ham that we had on hand in the freezer.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shank of the Season: Braised Osso Buco

I view snow on April Fool's Day as Mother Nature's way of reminding us New Englanders not to get too caught up in some romantic vision of spring. But instead of becoming dispirited, I say, salute this mercurial season with a dish that tastes a little lighter than the stews and braises of winter, but still has enough  flavor to be savored in front of a roaring fire with a nice bottle of red wine.

To me, that means veal shanks. I actually have a lovely, light almost Easter-dinner worthy recipe of shanks with pea tendrils and a lemon risotto, but  a cool, blustery Spring day demands something a little more substantial, with a sauce that's redolent of mushrooms, root vegetables, and tomato.

Some people who eagerly tuck into other meat feel guilty about eating veal, but those of us who live in the Seacoast have access to local veal that is humanely raised. Mind you, this is not the pale white stuff you'd find in a supermarket. No, this veal is deep pink, with a real meaty flavor; that's because the little critters actually get to spend some time outdoors. We usually get our veal from Kellie Brook Farm, but there are other local farmers who also offer delicious, guilt-free veal.  

From what I've read, traditional osso bucco, which is Italian for bone with a hole, was made with white wine, flavored with cinnamon, bay leaf, and a gremolata of finely chopped lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. This version, an invention of my brother-in-law Dave, was inspired by a couple of recipes in  Molly Steven's cookbook, All About Braising: the Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, though I must admit the delicious fennel/coriander coating for the shanks was all his idea.

While risotto is the classic accompaniment for osso bucco, we served it with farro (which is Italian after all), and some braised local chard. Add in some candlelight and you have a perfect fireside meal for a cold spring night.

Braised Veal Shanks ala Dave
1 T fennel seeds, toasted
1 T coriander seeds, toasted
Dash of salt
Couple grind of pepper
Handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked until soft in hot water to cover, then coarsely chopped
6 veal shanks, 2” thick
2 T olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 small carrots, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped, peeled tomatoes (We used 1/3 cup of our own roasted San Marzano tomatoes)
1 cup Madeira wine
Parchment paper to fit casserole

1. Toast fennel and coriander seeds until fragrant. Grind with mortar and pestle or in spice grinder.
2. Rub the shanks with the spice mixture, salt, and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
4. In an oven-proof casserole large enough to hold all meat and vegetables, heat 2T olive oil until it shimmers.
5. Brown shanks carefully on all sides, about 15 or 20 minutes, taking care not to burn seeds. Add more oil if the pan is going dry. Remove shanks to platter.
6. Add onions and carrots to pan, scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan as vegetables release their moisture. When vegetables have softened, add garlic and stir, taking care not to let it burn.
7. Strain mushroom soaking liquid and add to pan along with the Madeira. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add tomatoes and mushrooms and stir.
8. Nestle shanks into braising pan amongst the vegetables, and add any juices that have accumulated on platter. Liquid should come up about half way around the meat. If needed, add water.
9. Cover pan with parchment paper, add lid and cook in oven for about 2 hours, until meat is very tender and almost falling off the bones.
10. Remove shanks to platter and cover with foil. Skim off fat from the sauce in the pan and taste for flavor. If it tastes weak, bring to a boil over high heat to reduce volume and concentrate the flavor. Taste for salt and pepper.
11. Spoon sauce over the shanks and serve.