Saturday, November 15, 2008

Beans are Magically Delish

i love beans. i do. i love black beans (or turtle beans, if you're into the various verbage for food), great northern beans, pinto beans, lentils, blah, blah, blah. i can be transported by a simple dish of cannelinis that are perfectly mixed with steamed, chilled baby shrimp, chopped prosciutto, some good balsamic, a quick brush with garlic and tossed with butter lettuce. it's one of my faves, so i'm easy like that. there's this place in l.a. called maple drive that makes a salad like that and i used to order it to be delivered to my house once a week. honest. and i'm not a believer in having dinner delivered to my house (i'd just rather cook it, as you can see). loved this salad. absolutely lived on it.

i can be happy with a good bowl of well-made beans on rice and nothing else. it's a complete protein when it's prepared that way. yep, it is. swear. if you pair legumes with grains -- preferrably those really great grains like brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and stuff like that -- then you're a happy, peppy (and potent) protein producer. it's good for you and they taste yummy if done right.

now, as you all may (or may not) know, i am an ardent follower of one reality show and one reality show only -- TOP CHEF. i love Project Runway, so don't get me wrong, but i watched one episode of that show this season, cuz i was way busy with other things, but when it comes to TOP CHEF, tom collechio owns me. for sure. and i will not miss my show. i'm so jazzed that it's starting, i can't even tell you. but i'm actually digressing... as i am wont to do, so let me get to the point. i watch a lot of Top Chef and in last season's top chef, one of my all time fave contestants got kicked off in the eleventh hour because she UNDERcooked her pigeon peas in puerto rico. i was heartbroken when she did that -- final cookoff jitters, i'm sure -- and especially when she gave the excuse of wanting to cook her peas al dente. um, there's no such thing as al dente in legume-ville. oh, you'll read places that talk about not cooking them to mush (i'm gonna have a tale about that at the backend of this, no worries), but beans aren't like pasta. the firmer is SOOOO not the better. uh, uh. or, at least, in my opinion. my blog, my rules. live with it.

okay, so, why am i telling you all of this? cuz i made what i am thinking is one of the greatest pots of bean feasting ever created. it is savory, it is the right consistency and it makes me happy. i do that from time to time, put up large vats of beans and freeze or can them. my kids like them over rice with tortillas, some good cheese, steak or chix and a flavorful salad. they just roll all that up together into a tortilla and down it. sometimes we do without the tortillas and there are just huge leaves of lettuce for them to wrap the whole mess in and they're happy.

i like it when my kids are happy, cuz, then, i'm happy. the sun even seems to shine a little bit more golden when my kids are happy, so i'm good with that.

but, anyway, tonight, i decided to make a big pot of black beans with chunks of sweet turkey italian sausage sauteed and dropped in them for good measure. i was going to add this to a bowl of steamed rice, a sprinkling of really good chevre left over from the obama celebration (which continues, believe me -- my friend, jonathan, who is a tres cool dude, made a JOKING suggestion for me to do a 100 days party and i'm so gonna... oh, yeah... thanks jp!) all accompanied by a good salad of romaine, japanese apple pear chunks and the smokey, spicey, sweet almonds i also made for the party. however, my eldest teen, who is the only one home tonight (my younger, at the end of tweendom kid is off partying with his "big brothers of america big brother"... and when i say partying, i mean playing video games and when i say playing video games i mean... well... playing video games), is exhausted from a day of thinking about cleaning the house and regaling the local borders bookstore with his dulcet musical tones with the rest of his middle school and he's fast asleep upstairs. has been for the last several hours. so no one is home to eat what i had hoped would be a masterpiece of comfort food other than me -- and i'm not all that hungry -- and the dog -- who is no way getting that (although i did give her some carrots and grapes earlier -- she's really into the veg thing. go figure.)

okay, so, i'm rambling and, well, i'll tell you the deal after i tell you what i concocted.

1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 1/2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp. italian seasoning (preferably organic)
1 package sweet italian sausage -- turkey
2 1/2 cups black beans (rinsed, picked through, soaked for a bit -- overnight, two hours, whichever tricks your trigger)
4 cups of cold, filtered water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

what to do:
1. soak the beans, if you're into that, and set aside.
2. heat your olive oil in a dutch oven for about 10 seconds then add the garlic, the onion and celery, sauteeing over a medium-high heat until fragrant and soft, about 3 minutes, making sure not to brown. add the salt, pepper and italian seasoning, stirring to combine. add the italian sausage, whole, and sautee until lightly brown on each side then add the drained beans and the 4 cups of water. add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. turn the heat down and bring to a simmer. DO NOT COVER.
3. simmer these little suckers. as soon as the italian sausage is cool enough to handle, cut them into medium sized chunks and add to the simmering water. simmer the entire pot for about 2 hours, check the tenderness of the beans and water level of the pot to make sure they aren't burning, adding more water if necessary. add the rest of the spices, including the salt and pepper.
4. cook the water down until the beans are creamy and tender, adding more spices if necessary (do this to your taste). remove the bay leaf and serve over steamed rice with a nice sprinkling of chevre or goat cheese on top.

i tasted this and, oh, this worked out VERY well. excellently well. i smiled. and it was just me, sitting on the couch, with my dog sleeping beside me, and tasting this in a small ramekin with a spoon as my only companion to share this. oh, man... maybe it's because it's night time, and i'm all by my lonesome, i'm getting ready to do some serious all night writing, and there's a serious comfort food thing about it, but i'm loving this recipe that's just been concocted. i could get into this.

and, now, my partying/videogame playing tween child has returned and is full of happiness about his evening, so i must, absolutely go to him and hear his joy at being able to zone out for as long as he has noticing the moon is glowing more brightly than before because of the reflection of giddy happy coming off of my kid , but, first a brief story about the al dente beans i experienced...

i have a couple of soup cookbooks. i like them and use them, often. i'm a soup girl, for sure. so, anyway, one of them has a recipe for tuscan white bean and shrimp soup, which is one of my faves, up there with Straggiatella and Pasta a Fagioli. oh, yeah. okay, so, i'm reading through the recipe first -- which one should ALWAYS DO -- and discovered this particular cookbook said they don't soak their beans first and they cook their beans just to doneness. they like having a little bite to their beans. okay, i thought. i'd never done that before, but i'm game, right?

oy... the recipe itself is fantastic, the flavor really good and the whole combo really amazing. it was the underdoneness of the beans that totally got me a little "hmm... this is one of those 'i need to think for myself' times". i still love the cookbook and i still use it, faithfully. i just do what i want with the bean soups, because i am absolutely not into al dente legumes. they don't need to be mush, so don't misunderstand me, but a little bite and not even cooked are too different things. oh, yeah.

such a little thing. a pot of beans. but a yum, happy thing just the same. and that's all right with me.

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