Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Elemental bean soup with polenta croutons

This is the soup I made with some of the Baer's "money" beans I cooked the other day. I'd been reading Deborah Madison soup recipes for days, and this is what materialized in the kitchen. It was good enough that I wanted to jot it out.

The beans: I cooked a pound of them with an onion, a garlic clove, two bay leaves and a couple of pinches of asafoetida. Toward the end of cooking, I added a teaspoon or two of salt.

The soup:

1/2 an onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, diced fine
2 garlic cloves, halved and finely sliced
1.5 cups cooked beans PLUS another 1.5 cups pureed till very smooth in the processor
about 3 cups of bean cooking water
a splash of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute onion in olive oil over medium-high heat; add a few pinches of salt. After 5-10 minutes, add carrot and continue to saute for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and stir constantly for another minute, and then add 2 cups (or so) of bean broth and bring to a boil. Simmer till the carrots are tender. Add the beans and bean puree and enough additional bean cooking liquid to make it soupy.

The polenta:

Earlier in the day, I made a batch of my oven-baked polenta and put it into a loaf pan to cool. About 20 minutes before I served the soup, I made 4 or 5 thick slices of polenta and then cut each slice into cubes (see picture above). I fried it up in an unholy amount of olive oil, turning it after 3 or 4 minutes to be sure at least two sides of each cube got toasty. A spatter guard was essential -- the popping and spitting was really unreal. I wish I could have put in an audio file so you could actually hear the noise it made.

The combination of the creamy soup and the cruncy polenta cubes was really amazing.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cooking beans, again

If you've read through much of this blog, you know I have a fixation on cooking beans. I do use canned beans, but I prefer cooking them myself. However. Just when I think I've got it all figured out, I'll cook some up that refuse to cooperate.

I bought an 8-lb bag of chickpeas from one of the Indian groceries here in town, and I have had terrible luck with them. They were a lot cheaper than the ones I'd had previously from Whole Foods, but they are taking forever to cook. Like, 3 hours or more. The last batch that I'd bought from Whole Foods cooked like a dream -- after soaking, they took barely an hour. And they tasted wonderful: sweet and rich. The ones I'm using now? They don't even taste that good, and the texture is weird. It's really aggravating.

I've had similar things happen with kidney beans -- the Baer's Best ones (a Massachusetts grower) cook up beautifully, by and large, but a large bag of kidney beans I bought just won't soften properly without that salt-water soak thing.

What's the lesson here? I'm guessing that it's an age issue. The ones I've had better luck with are fresher? But how do you always know? I have been toying with the idea of trying to find a buyer's club/co-op thing to buy bulk foods, but what if I buy, say, 20 lbs of chickpeas and find that they're not good ones? But what I'm doing now doesn't seem surefire, either, by any means.

All that said, an old friend from college who found me on Facebook suggested that I try using whey in the soaking water, a la Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions. I tried that last night and I'll see how it goes. But I used it on a 1-lb. package of Baer's "money" beans, so I'm guessing that they'd have cooked up pretty well regardless of what I did.

Vegetable stock

Always on the lookout for more things to do with root vegetables, today I made a really nice stock. I roasted this array of veggies (onion, garlic, rutabega, celeriac, carrots, parsnips) in a bit of olive oil and butter.

I cut everything small and used maybe a tablespoon of fat, sprinkled on some salt and tossed them all so everything was coated. I roasted them at 400 for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

When they were done roasting, and things were nicely browned in places, I scraped it all into a 3-quart pot and added water to cover. I brought it to a boil and then lowered it to a simmer for another 45 minutes.

The stock is a rich brown in color with a nice round depth of flavor. I'm thinking a mushroom risotto might be a good use for it . . .