Spare, simple meals based on good sturdy ingredients, and composed with care, make the foundation of a sustainable kitchen. As a gardener who has planted and nurtured vegetables from seed to sink, I am very likely to treat the harvested ingredients with care, and to extract every bit of usefulness and pleasure from each and every vegetable and herb. As a home baker, every leftover heel of good crusty bread is stashed in the freezer to live again as bread crumbs or croutons. The trimmings and bones from a free-range organic chicken are turned into a rich and wholesome stock to be used for risotto or a chickpea soup flavoured with cinnamon. A bag of beans, dusty and faded with age, become a warming winter dish. The bean broth becomes soup for another day. Nothing good should go to waste, though we do not succeed in every instance in our kitchen.
Great Northern Beans
A simple pot of beans can be a glorious thing. They’re completely different, and better than, the ever useful tin of beans which tend to lack texture and taste tinny. Beans poached with care can be good all on their own with a hearty loaf of bread and a glass of wine. And cheap they are too.
I became inspired about beans after reading Tamar Adler who provides a poetic description and clear direction for the Bean Cook. I prepare beans following her generous approach, which is to soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water, then after they have been drained and rinsed, I drop them into a deep pot with a halved onion, a branch of thyme, a few bay leaves, a good pinch of salt and grinding of pepper, and a carrot and celery stick. I then pour over cold water and give the beans a very generous glug of olive oil. This all ensures a flavourful bean with personality.
I then place the beans in the oven at 300F for several hours. They can be slowed down a bit half way through if they are starting to bubble rapidly; you are looking for a lazy slow blurp rather than a fast simmer. They are ready when you bite into one and have an urge, as Tamar Adler reports, to dip the tasting spoon back into the bean pot for more. They should be soft and voluptuous, but still retain some of their shape, but ready to bulge out of their skins. The beans can be added to pasta, made into soups, or eaten just as they are. I especially like them tossed into a spinach salad with chopped Spanish ham and a strong garlicky vinaigrette.
Omelette Filled with Breadcrumbs
This is from Elizabeth David who writes well about every kind of omelette. My method is to toss cubes of good bread in olive oil and salt and to toast them in a 375 F oven until nicely browned, but not too crunchy.
I make my omelets with two eggs beaten lightly in a dish with a splash of coffee cream, salt, pepper, a few tablespoons of pecorino romano. This is poured into a heated pan with a knob of butter that is dropped into the pan and left until it sizzles. Pour in the eggs, let them set, and pull the omelette away from the edge of one side of the pan and tilt the pan to let the unset top part of the egg run to the edge. This should all happen quickly, 30-40 seconds or so. Keep pulling the side and tilting the pan until is starts to set. Don’t flip the omelette. When it has just started to set, sprinkle over a few bread crumbs and fold one third of the omelette over the filling followed by the other third. Tip onto a plate. This is equally good with a strong cup of coffee on Saturday morning as it is with a glass of wine on a Tuesday night with a bright salad alongside.
Spaghetti With Pancetta and a Fried Egg
If it seems unusual to top a bowl of pasta with a fried egg I would encourage you not to over think it. Carbonara after all is the same basic dish, but with raw egg mixed into the hot pasta (often penne) and pancetta just before serving.
The eggs, fried in olive oil, served over the noodles break open and release their yolk to provide a rich flavourful coating for the pasta. This is best with good farm eggs that have a bright yolk.
While the spaghetti is cooking in plenty of salted water, fry a handful of pancetta cubes (bacon is good too) until crispy, then fry two eggs per person in good olive oil.
When the pasta is cooked to just al dente drain it (but not too thoroughly, the pasta water helps everything come together) into a generous bowl, toss in the pancetta, a sprinkling of course grey salt and grinding of black pepper. A pinch of dried chilly flakes can be very good to. drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Grate over a good handful of parmesan and a roughly chopped parsley. Give it all a good toss and serve it in bowls with the fired eggs resting on top. This is very good eating.
Humble ingredients and spartan eating are the perfect match for austere winter evenings and crunchy January snow of the Prairies. Sometimes the simplest things can be extraordinarily satisfying.