Tuesday, February 27, 2007
In any case, it is now time to pull your daube out of the refrigerator. When you remove the lid, you will undoubtedly see a layer of creamy to golden looking fat. Use a tablespoon to remove as much of this fat as possible. This is a great advantage of cooking stews and braises in advance: the fat congeals in the refrigerator, making for easy removal before you serve it. Now lets set the pot of daube to the side, turn the oven up to 250 degrees and focus on the mushrooms. For this, the final step, you will need:
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, such as cremini, oyster, French horn, shitake
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
In a large skillet over moderately high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until it begins to smoke. Add the mushrooms, reduce heat and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat until the mushrooms are tender. If there is liquid at the bottom of the skillet, remove lid and continue cooking until liquid has cooked off. Add remaining oil and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in parsley.
Mix the cooked mushrooms into the daube. Place pot in the oven uncovered and cook 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Remove from the oven and stir in the vinegar.
Your daube is now ready to serve. But, if you're like me, your dinner party is still a day or two away. So back into the fridge the pot goes, to be reheated again at a later date. Not to worry, it will only get better with all the re-heatings.
If you do decide on Niman Ranch pork, you can throw your meat clerk for a loop by asking for the name and contact information of the farmer who raised it. This was suggested to me by the founder of the Niman Ranch pork cooperative and although I had to work my request up the chain of command at my local Whole Foods, and although it took the meat manager a few hours to track down the information, I indeed got an e-mail address for a farmer in Nebraska and I did send off a note. The return e-mail I received from the farmer and his family (complete with family photo) was so gracious and thankful, it almost brought a few of us to tears. So do try it.
And that brings us to today's mission: Step II of our three-day Provencale pork stew or daube, courtesy of Paula Wolfert in the February 2007 edition of Food & Wine.
If you've been following along, now would be the time to remove the bowl or pot of pork that has been marinating in the refrigerator since sometime yesterday. Today we're going to be browning the meat and putting the stew in the oven for the first of two cookings.
What I do at this point is place a large baking sheet on the kitchen counter and cover it with paper towels. Uncover the marinated pork. Most of the bright pink color will have changed to a dull tan. Use a pair of tongs to lift the pieces of pork out of the liquid. (Save the bouquet garni and the marinating liquid, but discard the spice bundle). Shake the liquid off the pork pieces and place them on the paper towels. Use more paper towels to blot the meat dry. You want them good and dry before you brown them. Now, season them aggressively with kosher salt and ground pepper. To proceed, you will need:
1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in a bowl of hot water until soft
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons brandy
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 ounces fresh pork skin with a thin layer of fat, cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips (optional)
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled
10 crushed juniper berries
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until it starts to smoke. Reduce heat to medium-high. In batches, brown the pork pieces all over, then set on paper towels to drain. (This would be the point where my wife has a meltdown, pleading, "Do you have to cook like this? Can't you see you're getting grease all over everything?") Look extremely contrite and promise to clean up. Then return all of the pork to the pot and over moderate heat sprinkle meat with flour. Stir until flour is completely dissolved. Pour brandy over meat and use a long match or lighter to ignite the brandy. Shake the pot occasionally until the flames die out.
Remove the pork to a plate. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot and, over moderate heat, add the onion and carrot. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally to incorporate the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, until onion is soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Lift porcini mushrooms from the soaking liquid and chop roughly, reserving the liquid. Add mushrooms to pot and cook another 3 minutes, stirring.
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.
Remove pot from heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove onion, carrot and mushrooms. Reserve. If using pork skin, cover the bottom of the pot, fat-side down. Spoon 1/3 of the pork, 1/3 of the vegetable mixture, 1/3 of the garlic clove over the pork skin. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a few juniper berries. Repeat this layering process 2 more times, until all of the ingredients are used up. If not using pork skin, forget the layers: just mix the pork and other ingredients in the pot.
Pour the reserved marinating liquid and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid into the daube. Tuck the reserved bouquet garni into the meat. If necessary, add enough water to just barely cover the meat. Place a round of parchment paper over the meat. Over moderately high heat, bring the daube to a boil. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Remove pot from oven and allow to cool. Discard parchment paper and bouquet garni. Refrigerate daube in its pot overnight.
Tomorrow, we remove the fat from our daube, add sauteed mushrooms and cook one more time...Are you hungry yet?
Monday, February 26, 2007
No, this is not a picture of an earthenware bong, but rather a daubieres, which is French for a strange, pot-bellied cooking vessel with a narrow top primarily used for cooking certain stews known in the Provencal lingo as daubes. That would make this one of several items that I did not possess for this particular pork stew recipe. Nonetheless, I had been saving this recipe from the February 2007 issue of Food & Wine because it was written by Paula Wolfert and because it celebrates one of our favorite animals. In fact, this recipe, which came to Wolfert via food writer Barbara Wilde, who lives in Provence, sat next to my computer keyboard for the longest time, occasionally migrating down to the kitchen table and back with the stack of other paperwork that needs sorting through from time to time, just waiting for that moment when I had nothing better to do for a couple of days and the weather called for a nice, comfy stew.
Yes, you heard right: a couple of days. Or maybe even three or four. If you know anything about Paula Wolfort, you know that she is all about authenticity. There are no shortcuts in Paula Wolfort's vocabulary. So if it is possible to consume the better part of three or four days making a stew, you can bet Paula Wolfort is all over it. That is why we reserve an honored place on our bookshelves here at The Slow Cook for titles such as The Cooking of Southwest France and The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. These are books that transport you to kitchens where people truly care about methods and ingredients and flavors. To hell with the time involved. Paula Wolfert's idea of a weight loss plan is the 30 million steps it takes to get from the butcher's to the finished stew. So be prepared to stumble over ingredients, cooking utensils, methods with which you are completely unfamiliar. Be prepared to adjust, make substitutions, use your own judgment. For instance, do not spend half a day driving to every gourmet shop in town looking for lavender flowers in February.
Lavender flowers would be just one of the ingredients that put my inadequacies as a gardener/cook on full display. Just down the street from our house is a huge lavender bush--it must be five feet around--that we pass every day on our walk to school. If memory serves, it was in bloom around November, and we were constantly running our hands through the blossoms as we passed by to pick up some of the aroma. We smelled like we'd been mugged by a bar of lavender soap. If I had been thinking at all, I would have gathered a peck of those blossoms, dried them out and stored them in the freezer. They were free for the taking. But of course I didn't, and now for the second time in as many week's I've run across a recipe calling for lavender flowers.
Another trouble item would be winter savory. I'll be damned if there is any winter savory in any of the spice racks I've searched, or among the fresh herbs for sale at Whole Foods. I tried growing summer savory in my garden this past year without much success. If I were anywhere near the gardener I claim to be, I now realize I would have some winter savory growing somewhere, or I would have grown it and stashed it away for just such an occasion. Again, out of luck. My solution to the lavender blossom/winter savory dilemma was to tie some herbes de provence in the spice bundle that Wolfert calls for.
A daubiere: Again, I plead guilty. I do not own a daubiere. I wonder if Wolfert does. She owns just about every other piece of exotic cookware, but she did not linger long on the daubiere. Fortunately, you are allowed to substitute a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, of which I have plenty.
Wild boar: The orginal recipe that Wolfert describes calls for wild boar. And according to the piece in Food & Wine, she did try boar from a couple of sources. If your local grocery doesn't carry boar, and you can't wait for FedEx to bring you some, by all means use the best pork shoulder you can find, such as the Niman Ranch pork from Whole Foods.
Pork skin: The original recipe calls for sheets of pork skin, with not too much fat on it, cut into strips. These are used to layer the ingredients inside the stew pot. Sorry, I did not have any pork skin handy.
And that brings me to a few nits I'd like to pick with this recipe, which falls in the "Master Cook" column. I don't know if the fault lies with Wolfert, or if her editor's eyes simply glazed over around Step 359, but I did find these irritating, especially considering the many hours I've spent answering silly questions from editors and recipe testers over the years.
For instance, whatever is supposed to happen to all that pork skin? The instructions clearly call for strips of skin to be placed inside the stew pot to create layers of ingredients. But the subject of skins never comes up again. Do we eat them? Pull them out and admire them? Turn them into a lamp shade?
Why reduce? You are supposed to mix a leftover marinade liquid and the liquid leftover from soaking some dried mushrooms in a pot on the stove and reduce it "to about 2 cups." Then you drain this into the stew pot, and add water to cover the meat. Why bother reducing the original liquid only to add water?
Why "garnish"? After the stew has cooked the first time, you are instructed to sautee a large quantity of mushrooms, garlic and parsley as a "garnish." But then the cooked mushrooms are stirred into the pot, and the pot returned to the oven. So how does this constitute a "garnish?"
Which wine? In the introduction to the recipe, Wolfert states very clearly that she marinates the pork in white wine. Two days later, and after you've followed all 3,000 steps, you arrive at this startling paragraph, the very last paragraph in the article:
"Although this Provencal stew is made with white wine, it's so hearty that a red will make a better match. Conveniently, the rustic and substantial wines of Provence, where Barbara Wilde lives, have a rich fruit bolstered by a firm tannic structure, making them an ideal choice."
Serves me right for not listening to my wife, who never tires of reminding me that I should always--always!--read recipes through to the end (and maybe back again) before I start cooking. But really, don't you think this kind of information should go near the top, when you're making your shopping list?
I am calling this Pig in Three Acts because the recipe conveniently breaks down into three stages, performed over three days. The first, or Act I, consists of marinating your beast.
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
1 bottle red or white Provencal wine
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, cut into thick slices
Bouquet garni: 6 sprigs each of parsley, thyme and winter savory, plus 2 bay leaves and 1 leafy celery top, tied together with twine.
Spice bundle: 1/2 teaspoon lavender flowers, 12 crushed peppercons and 10 crushed juniper berries, tied in cheesecloth (this is where I placed 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence to substitute for my lack of winter savory and lavender flowers).
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Put the pork into a large, non-reactive bowl or pot. Add wine, onion carrot, bouquet garni, spice bundle and olive oil. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Friday, February 23, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
I spent the evening last night at a hockey game in downtown D.C. My brother-in-law had been gifted with tickets for seats close enough that you could count the nose hairs of the left wingman. It was pretty entertaining and just a little like a carnival ride when the players came crashing into the glass on the sideboards. There is a great rattling and shaking and ca-BOOM-ing, as if the game is going to spill into the stands that very instant and bring the roof down.
But I have to say I was a bit put off by the $7 fee being charged for 12-ounce beers, of which we drank two each. And I don't want to throw cold water on the whole event, but it did seem to me that most of the civilians in the arena were doing quite well already in the calorie consumption department. So why were so many of them sitting with dumpster-loads of French fries and cheese nachos in their laps? Okay, so the game started at 7, just about dinner time. Still, I've always wondered at these sporting events, if you think you're going to be hungry, why not just eat a nice meal before you leave the house? Aren't we always telling our kids to pee before they leave the house? And why is that again? Oh, right. So they don't have to do it at some inconvenient time later. Why can't adults follow their own advice?
When we left the game, the Capitals were locked in a tie with a team from of all places San Jose, CA, where I guess it's been cold enough lately to play hockey. (Must be La Nina). We had a few minutes to kill so we ducked into the Clyde's restaurant around the corner, just about everything in the world being conveniently just around the corner from D.C.'s downtown sports arena--except Chinatown, which gave its name to this neighborhood, but has since been priced out by all the hip new development. Chinatown has moved to suburban Rockville.
Despite the indigestible food, we were barely able to squeeze past the crowds waiting to get in the place on our way out. It was past my bedtime, but the junior- and Ms.-executive types were just getting started. And this on a Wednesday night. Even when the food is bad, our urge to gather around the same campfire is strong...
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Why do I use quotes around the word authentic? The word seems to have come under a cloud. Or is it that we just question the true origins of everything these days, as if good food can't merely be good on its own terms, it must also have a certifiable pedigree? The fights are endless. For instance, how can a tomato pizza really be authentically Italian, when the Italians didn't even have tomatoes until they were brought from the Americas in the 16th Century? So I suppose you could question whether a French coq au vin is truly "authentic" if you consider the possibility that the original chicken came from, say, Armenia, and was first cooked in wine there. So, to be more precise, I guess I should say I was looking for a method of cooking coq au vin as we know it, namely, from somewhere where the cooking of coq au vin is not merely sport, not something people do occasionally to get their picture on the cover of a food magazine, but serious business going back a long, long time. That's why I reached for my copy of Mourjou.
If you love cooking in the fashion of people who really care about what they eat, who obsess over the freshness of the products they cook with, who cook in a manner that has been passed down for generations--if you care, in other words, about preparing food to be enjoyed for its fullness of flavor and in its own good time, then this is a book you should own. The complete title is, Mourjou: The Life and Food of an Auvergne Village, and it was written by a Brit expatriot named Peter Graham, who, besides writing books, also directs small films and writes about travel and art and psychoanalysis and a number of other things that make his life seem perfectly pleasant and sane. At some point more than 20 years ago he picked up and moved to this tiny village, Mourjou, in the province of Auvergne in south-central France, a sometimes mysterious place where lush valleys co-exist with dormant volcanoes, where a verdant landscape dotted with small herds of lazy cattle is cross-hatched with deep canyons and snaggle-toothed mountain peaks. There are also small villages such as Mourjou where ancient customs are still kept, where neigbhors nose around each other's kitchen gardens and where family recipes are guarded like state secrets. In particular, I treasure books like Graham's because books like Mourjou just aren't being written much anymore. Remember? We're all too busy to read well-written prose about food. We're just here for the recipes, or so they say...
Anyway, I thought Mourjou might be a good place to look for a coq au vin recipe and--Bingo!--I was right. In fact, Mr. Graham writes a nice little takeout on the means and methods of coq au vin, including an amusing explanation for why, throughout the text, he chooses to use the French word--coq--rather than the literal English translation. "I use the word coq because it is a way of avoiding the problem, in English, of the word 'cock', "Graham explains paranthetically. So I will follow Mr. Graham's lead.
The first issue to be surmounted, as usual, is which version of coq au vin to adopt. This is no less a problem for Mr. Graham. "Coq au vin is a dish, like potee, which is found in slightly differing versions all over France," he writes. (There we go again, the authenticity thing.) "There is even a slender tome called Coq au Vin, which contains sixty-one slightly differing recipes for the dish." Several regions of France lay claim to the "original" coq au vin. And even in the province of Auverge, there are disputes over which ingredients should go into a proper coq au vin and how it should be cooked. "Should it include the fowl's blood as well as wine? Should the lardons be smoked or unsmoked? Should the sauce be thickened with beurre manie and/or the mashed-up liver?" There are even questions about whether the bird should first be marinated in wine and--perhaps the most troubling question of all--must the fowl in question be an actual coq (meaning an older male), or can we use--perish the thought--a plain old ordinary chicken?
Graham doesn't say, exactly, how he resolves these dilemmas. He really ducks the question entirely (no pun intended). Perhaps he is guarding someone else's family's recipe secret. He does acknowledge some trouble finding an actual coq, even in his adopted village. He sometimes succedes by visiting a local farm. The wine, he says, should be "a dark earthy wine made on the hills overlooking Clermon-Ferrand." Then, after describing how the farmer's wife, Nicole, must be persuaded to charge for her time plucking and preparing the bird, Graham simply launches into a recipe. I just have to assume that Graham has resolved all the aforementioned issues to his personal satisfaction. So his is the recipe I've followed, more or less. Note: This dish needs to marinate 24 hours before cooking, and is even better if you give it another day to rest in the refrigerator after it has been cooked. You do the math.
Serves 6 persons
Graham calls for a coq "at least two years old." But if you can't find one of those, he will allow "a very large free-range chicken of the highest quality," about 4 1/2 pounds.
2 ounces lard, or, in my case, the grease from several slices of fried bacon (I didn't want to buy a whole tub of lard).
15 pickling onions (I used about a dozen cipollini onions of various sizes)
3 1/2 ounces salt pork, diced large
6 ounces button mushroom (I substituted cremini mushrooms)
For the marinade:
1 bottle dark, full-bodied red wine (I used a French Syrah from the Camargue area near Nimes)
bouquet garni: two sprigs thyme, 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, 2 sprigs winter savory (I omitted the savory--couldn't find any), 1 bay leaf
2 carrots, quartered
2 large cloves garlic
large pinch salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
As in most braises of this type, the meat is first marinated, then dried and browned in oil before all of the ingredients are assembled in the pot and placed in the oven.
Cut the coq (or chicken) into pieces: legs, thighs, breasts. Cut the breasts in half. Remove as much fat as possible and remove the skin from the breasts and thighs. Place the pieces of bird in a non-reactive bowl or pot, pour the marinade over it. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours.
The next day: Preheat oven to 250 degrees
Drain the poultry well, blotting any leftover moisture with paper towels. Save the marinade with its solids. Meanwhile, in a heavy pot, heat the lard (or bacon grease) over moderately high heat. Brown the poultry pieces well on all sides, in batches if necessary. Remove and set aside. Place the salt pork and onions in the hot grease, turning occasionally until the onions are golden. (If using cipollinis, they must be blanched in boiling water first, the skins removed.)
Remove the pot from the stove. Pack the poultry pieces, onions, salt pork and mushrooms into the pot. Pour the marinade with its solids into the pot. Place pot in oven and cook 2 1/2 hours, or until chicken is very tender but not falling off the bone. (Note: Graham calls for 2 hours cooking in a 350 oven, but I think 250 degrees is amore appropriate braising temperature to avoid overcooking.)
Allow the pot to cool. Remove all the poultry, onions and mushrooms and place on a baking sheet, separating and discarding the carrots, herbs and other solids from the marinade. Strain the cooking liquid into a separate container (you could use a grease separator at this point to remove most of the grease). Cover the cooked coq au vin and refrigerate it and the cooking liquid overnight.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
Perhaps you have an older relation who remembers grandpa feeding a smelly old barrel of kraut in the basement. I use a five-gallon bucket from the paint store. I slice maybe 30 pounds of garden-variety cabbage, mix it with pickling salt, pack it into the bucket, cover it with a ceramic dinner plate and--voila--in matter of weeks, and courtesy of some friendly bacteria that happen to be living on the cabbage when you buy it at the store, your kraut has fermented into the briny, vegetable equivalent of caviar. Green gold. Brassica for the gods...
I know you're thinking that creating delectable sauerkraut must be more complicated than I am making out, and I swear it is not. No fancy chemicals, no elaborate formulae, no expensive equipment. You're probably also thinking, Fermentation? Isn't that how you make beer? Or wine? Well, yes. And cheese. And yogurt. Fermentation is really just a food preservation technique that doesn't involve cooking, or canning, or refrigeration (although you may want to refrigerate your sauerkraut once it reaches the desired state of ripeness, to slow down the fermentation process. But more about that anon.) What fermentation really is rot in progress. Bacteria or other micro-organisms are munching away on the food in question (grapes, hops, cabbage, milk) and decomposing it until it reaches the point where we humans want to eat it. Just about every culture has a taste for something rotten. Cheese and sauerkraut in Europe. Yogurt in Central Asia. Miso in Japan. Kimchi in Korea. Sourdough bread in San Francisco? Need I say more?
Sadly, most of the sauerkraut we consume these days is not alive, or even that tasty. It's been made in a factory, then pasteurized for safety reasons. Not only is the vibrant flavor of freshly-made sauerkraut missing, but the live bacterial cultures have been killed off. Some people attribute health benefits to those bacteria, similar to the healthful benefits of yogurt containing live cultures. At a store called Morse's in Waldoboro, ME, the parking lot is jammed on weekends with people seeking jugs of fresh broth from the sauerkraut that owners David Swetnam and Jacquelyn Sawyer make on site. My wife and I paid a visit three years ago while on vacation in Maine. Waldoboro is in the middle of a German settlement and Morse's has been making sauerkraut since 1918. It's not a huge operation, but one of the few in the country that sells and ships fresh sauerkraut with live cultures. (Check their website at http://www.morsessauerkraut.com/. They operate a small restaurant on the premises and a large deli department with a hefty selection of sausages, cheeses, packaged goods.) Watching David Swetnam run locally grown cabbage through his shredding machine, then salting big vats to begin the fermentation process, convinced me this was something I should be doing at home.
It does help to have a guide. And mine continues to be a book called Wild Fermentation by one Sandor Ellix Katz. Katz gives instructions for fermenting all kinds of foods, from yogurt to Andean corn-chewed beer. As Katz explains, the fermentation of sauerkraut starts with bacteria that are already present on the cabbage--hence wild--but really involves a succession of micro-organisms, a kind of tag-team effort that keeps good bacteria working on the cabbage in its brine, and keeps harmful pathogens out. In the beginning, Coliform bacteria take the lead. They produce an acid that is more hospitable to Leuconostic bacteria. As the brine solution becomes even more acidic, a third team member--Lactobacillus--assumes control. The good new is, you don't have to be concerned with any of this. As long as you season the cabbage with a more or less correct amount of salt at the beginning, and keep the cabbage submerged in its brine (remember I mentioned a ceramic dinner plate?), everything will be fine. At the elementary school where I teach "food appreciation," I recently made sauerkraut with kids as young as four. To illustrate the process, I made signs that hung around their necks indicating the three different kinds of bacteria. We made a circle representing the interior of the bucket. Then we had a second group of kids representing harmful pathogens trying to get inside the bucket, but being deterred, of course, by our tag-team of good bacteria. I think if four- and five-year-olds can make sauerkraut, it's a good bet you can, too.
What I did notice among all the odds and ends were small, half-used bags of pink beans, bundled together with rubber bands, and another little balled-up package of pearled barley. I remembered an eight-cup container of left-over chicken stock I'd recently made, just taking up space in the fridge. And the idea of some kind of soup began to form in my head. Because I don't have a recipe for this particular soup, and because I can't think of a better way to celebrate our newly organized pantry, I'm calling it "Pantry Soup." Otherwise, you might call it "beans and barley soup," but as you will see, this soup really is a mongrel.
I confess, "Pantry Soup" is not entirely my invention, merely a riff on a dish I found years ago in Bert Greene's The Grains Cookbook. (But isn't the power of suggestion wonderful, to say nothing of one's food memory bank?) Besides being a terrific reference for just about every grain in the world, this particular book contains a few recipes you'd have to consider definite keepers. One is the recipe for chollent that Greene borrowed from My Mother's Cookbook by someone named Fanny Silverstein. Those familiar with Jewish traditions may have fond or not-so-fond memories of chollent, the pot roast traditionally served on the sabbath. In orthodox practice, Jews are not permitted to engage in any kind of work--including cooking--on the sabbath day. So what they did in order to have a hot meal was take the cooking pot containing the pot roast ingredients to the local baker's the day before. At the end of the day, the pot would go into the oven as the fire was dying and remain there until the following morning, when it would be retrieved by the family intending to eat it. Apparently, some pot roasts survived this overnight treatment better than others. For those not interested in waiting overnight, Bert Greene's (or should I say Ms. Silverstein's) version only takes four hours of baking at 250 degrees. The main ingredients are: One big slab of chuck roast, preferably a blade roast with the bone in; one cup of pink beans; one cup of pearled barley; the usual soup vegetables, along with a small fistful of Hangarian paprika and powedered ginger. This was the sort of thing I had in mind when I saw the little bundles of pink beans and barley coming out of our over-stuffed pantry, minus the slab of beef.
Besides making a huge pot of soup, I also discovered something about my friends the pink beans. I had always assumed that the intense flavor of my chollent owed to the unctuousness of the beef blade roast. But after making "Pantry Soup," I realized this impression was faulty. Much of the intense flavor actually comes from the beans. Otherwise, the soup looks very much like the chollent, with the starchy barley, the beans, and not-too-much stock combining in a wonderfully velvety, deeply flavorful pottage. I wish I could say I measured exactly what I was putting into the pot as I was making this soup. But in the spirit of just cleaning out the pantry, I didn't, and now I regret that a little, but not too much, regret not being an ingredient we use around soups. I know the finished soup was a little heavy on the beans and barley, and required adding more stock. This is where we get to the mongrel part, because I ran out of the pre-made chicken stock and had to use what was left in a container of beef broth. Then I had to fetch a can of what I thought was chicken stock from our other pantry, but that turned out to be beef broth as well. So in the end the soup tasted even more like the aforementioned chollent than I would otherwise have a right to expect.
Anyway, here's approximately what you do to arrive at "Pantry Soup":
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced small
2 large carrots, peeled and diced small
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 large cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 cup pink beans
1 cup pearled barley
8 cups stock (can be chicken, beef, vegetable or combination, more as desired)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until it just begins to smoke. Toss the onion and carrot into the pot and lower the heat to medium-low. Stir in salt. Cook until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook another minute. Add beans, barley and stock. Increase heat until soup just begins to boil, then reduce heat to low, cover the pot and allow soup to cook until the beans are perfectly tender, three hours or more. Season with pepper. If the soup seems too thick, add more stock or water. Serve hot with a good, crusty bread.