Close Enough

 

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I am a bad food blogger. Let me explain. Purim’s coming up, and as I’m assembling costumes (including a fairy dress that “needs to have buttons up the back”), I realized that I never told you about last Purim, when I snuck away after Carnival for a blogger event. It was for cookbook author and chef Sara Moulton, and it was at Harvest in Harvard Square. Turns out she got her start there, so this was a very special afternoon for her. She collaborated with Harvest’s Executive Chef Tyler Kinett on a very special menu inspired her new cookbook Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better. (Well, new at the time. Like I said, bad food blogger.)

We started with a delicious Spring Pea Soup that had smoked salmon, crispy potatoes and crème fraiche on top, which was inspired by the Pea Vichyssoise with Smoked Salmon in the cookbook. Dessert was La Tulipe’s Apricot Souffle, which she adapted from her time at Gourmet Magazine (z’l). Sara actually called up someone to help her with the demo, but when I saw that the prepared menu in front of me said there was soufflé for dessert and she was holding up a whisk, I knew there was going to be an insane amount of egg whites being whipped – by hand – and I kind of hid my head as to not be noticed for that task. Someone did raise their hand to help out. I think it was a fashion blogger who didn’t see it coming, but she did a wonderful job of whisking, for nearly 10 minutes straight.

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I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember what my actual main course was. According to the menu I saved, we had “Steak & Eggs,” which was “Braised Short Ribs, Poached Egg and Broccoli Rabe & Butterball Potatoes,” inspired by “Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs of Beef” in the book. But because I write a “mostly vegetarian food blog”, they knew to make an alternate dish for me. I’m a bit mortified to admit I can’t remember what they subbed for it. But I promise you, the soup and soufflé were so good, what came in the middle doesn’t really matter.

What did matter from that event was that Sara was darling and kind and warm and lovely. She is bite-size, super small, and her Converse All-Stars gave her no extra height. I told her how much her nacho pie recipe is enjoyed in our house, and she appreciated the sentiment, or at least seemed to.

The afternoon ended with each one of us receiving a signed copy of the cookbook, and I’ve enjoyed cooking from it these past 11 months. The Beans and Greens Gratin is just about perfect for this time of year. As Sara explains: “When you see the word gratin in the title of a recipe, it means that the dish is topped with a light brown crust usually consisting of baked breadcrumbs or grated cheese. […] Here I’ve combined two hearty ingredients: beans and greens.” It employs one of her favorite tricks for thickening bean-centric dishes, which is mashing some of them. And it works! It’s very hardy, and travels well the next day for lunch leftovers.

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I did a “close enough” version of this recently. It calls for fresh breadcrumbs, but since I’m still waiting for my replacement blade for my recalled food processor, I had to use Panko that I had. (Any time now, Cuisinart…)  I didn’t have fresh rosemary in the house, so I skipped it, and it was fine.

The recipe also survived me using a slightly smaller can of beans and a larger can of tomatoes, which is what I had on hand. I used a spoonful of Better Than Bouillon in 1 ½ cups water in lieu of Sara’s Homemade Vegetable Stock. Like I said, close enough.

Beans and Greens Gratin from Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better

 Start to Finish: 1 Hour 15 Minutes/Hands-On Time: 40 Minutes/Servings 6

 Ingredients

1 ¼ cups fresh breadcrumbs (made by pulsing 2 to 3 slices homemade-style white bread in a food processor)

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 Tablespoon finely minced garlic

2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

4 cups packed coarsely chopped chard, kale, mustard greens, collard leaves or a mix (tough stems removed)

2 cups cooked pinto, white, kidney, or black beans, or chickpeas; or rinsed and drained canned beans (a 19-ounce can)

1 ½ cups Homemade Vegetable Stock or store-bought vegetable broth

1 ½ ounces freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 cup chopped whole canned tomatoes

Freshly ground pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375F. Toss together the breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the pepper flakes and salt to taste in a small bowl.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the greens in batches and cook until they are wilted. Mash ½ cup of the beans with a potato masher or fork and add the mashed beans along with the whole beans, stock, cheese, tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly on top of the mixture. Bake on the upper middle shelf of the oven until the crumbs are lightly browned and the beans are bubbling, 25 to 35 minutes.

 

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A New Favorite

We’ve had so much snow here in Boston that we’re now using sports figures as units of measurement. For those keeping track, we’re up to nearly a Gronk of snow. That’s about six and a half feet in less than two weeks. There’ve been multiple weekly school cancellations; the T, our mass transit system, has completely shut down several times; sidewalks are nearly impossible to navigate; parking etiquette has devolved to Lord of Flies level. We’re really lucky to own a driveway, although we’ve barely shoveled out room for our car, so no visitors, please.

do you want to build a snow man

The Super Bowl party we were invited to was canceled due to lack of parking, so we threw together our own party and hosted close friends who live around the block. We had leftovers for a few days, including a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips. But that’s OK, because it means I get to make my new favorite go-to weeknight dinner: Nacho Pie.

Found the culprit

I saw this recipe on an episode of Sara Moulton’s Weeknight Meals I had on in the background one weekend this fall. When she opened the show by saying the episode was devoted to pantry meals, she had my attention. The first dish was a pasta with beans and Kalamata olives. I have no recollection what the third dish was because all I could think about was the Nacho Pie in the middle.

You probably have everything on hand in your pantry already: can of black beans, can of corn, jar of your favorite salsa, an onion, and the dregs at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. In terms of fresh things, you’ll need a chopped up green pepper and some shredded cheese. There was once a time when I groaned when all I had in the house was a green pepper. But now that means I can make shakshuka, eetch or nacho pie, all terrific pantry meals.

You can gussy it up with other things on hand. I bought a pile of avocados which were on super sale for $0.88 cents each for the Super Bowl. I threw them in the refrigerator when they were perfectly ripe and we’ve been working our way through them these past few weeks. Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime to perk it up.

warm head

This is a great weeknight meal that travels well the next day as leftovers. It’s vegetarian and cheap. I think you’ll love it as much as we do.

Nacho Pie

Ingredients

One medium onion, chopped

One green pepper, chopped

One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

One can of corn, drained and rinsed

One jar of your favorite salsa

Two cups of tortilla chips, divided

Two cups shredded cheese, divided

Enough oil to cover a skillet

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to help them sweat, and cook them on medium heat for about six minutes.  When they start to soften and become clear, add the green pepper to the onion and continue to soften them for about three minutes more.

While the peppers and onions cook on the stovetop, drain the cans of corn and beans in a colander. Give them a good shake and add them to the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Add the jar of salsa to the mixture and cook it for about one minute more.

In the bottom of an oven-proof dish – I use a soufflé dish – lay a cup of tortilla chips on its bottom. Pile about ¾ cup of shredded cheese on top of the chips. Next, pour the contents of the skillet on top of the cheese and chips. Finish the dish with the remaining chips and the rest of thecheese. Slide into the oven for about 20 minutes.

The crust will get nice and bubbly. Remove from the oven and enjoy.