An Irishman, An Italian and A Portuguese Walk Into A Kitchen…

Look at this soup, just bursting with healthfulness. Well, that and butter.

Last week, like millions of other mutts all across America, I celebrated my fractional Irish heritage (in my case, the fraction is a respectable 1/4) by cooking a corned beef and a great, warm, buttery pot of colcannon–and then foisting them on my pizza-and-hot-dog-loving family. The children loved the meat, as well as the carrots I’d cooked along with it, and Daughter Dearest even scarfed down most of her colcannon. Who says that “you can’t even TASTE the green stuff!” isn’t a ringing endorsement?

In the following days, the corned beef was put to delicious use as sandwich innards; I had a couple of butter-soaked and Bacon Salt-ed bowls of colcannon late at night, when no one was looking. Nevertheless, I was left with an awful lot of leftovers–including half a large bag of kale. There also happened to be a few cans of white beans and some lovely Yukon Golds in my pantry, so it occurred to me that I might make a batch of caldo verde, or possibly some simple beans and greens. Or–and here inspiration started to gain momentum, like a runaway go-cart headed downhill–both. Together. Beans, greens, potatoes, chicken broth, garlic. With the leftover colcannon! Perfect!

And so was born my bizarre love child stew, the offspring of an Irish side dish, an Italian side dish and a Portuguese soup. Except it’s not bizarre at all, really; it’s rather serendipitous. Greens, garlic and potatoes are all elemental foods in many cuisines, and come together deliciously. The beans add a punch of protein, and the pureed part of the soup imparts creaminess, while leaving some chunks of potato and slivers of kale whole elevates this from the realm of pabulum or sickbed food.

Now, I’m assuming that you don’t have a giant container of leftover colcannon in your fridge, so I’m going to both scale this back and adapt it for scratch cooking.

Caldo Colcannon

6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
smidgen olive or canola oil, or butter, or bacon fat
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 can small white beans
1 lb. Kale, washed, chopped and blanched
parsley, if you have it on hand
1 T. lemon juice

Heat the olive oil together with the minced garlic in a large pan or stockpot. When it becomes fragrant, add the onion and potatoes; cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly to ensure that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the broth and the kale. Lower heat to medium and simmer, for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Remove several ladlesful of the soup and puree in a blender until smooth. Return to pot. Add milk, beans and remainder of the kale. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Add the parsley, if using, salt and pepper to taste, and the lemon juice. If the stew seems too thick, add more milk. Remove from heat and serve. If you like, garnish with cheese (parmesan or cheddar would be nice), bacon crumbles, scallions, or all of the above. Enjoy!

Because That’s How I Escarole

Looks like lettuce...

Do you know from escarole? Despite my self-proclaimed status as a “foodie,” it was only this last winter that I discovered escarole. Picked up a head on a whim, which turned out to be one of the smartest whims I’ve ever had (which, frankly, isn’t saying much, as most of my whims end disastrously–being wiretapped by the USMC, for example. Or stranded at a train station, 60 miles from my ultimate destination, with three pillows, a large comforter and only $40 to my name).

I’ve heard that you can enjoy escarole raw–and, indeed, it looks much more like lettuce than any of my standard green leafies–but the way I prepare it is just so darn good that I can’t bring myself to deviate. I’m stuck in a bit of an escarole rut, but what a yummy rut it is.

I think my only qualm with escarole is that is morphs from that nice, vibrant, healthful-looking green to a sort of military drab color (although that might be my lingering fear of the Marines speaking). I mean, this ain’t pretty:

...cooks like: greens, leafy, standard issue

but, like a lover who is only moderately attractive but who has other virtues, I’ve learned to love the way it looks, because I love the way it tastes. Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right…

Braised Escarole with White Beans

1 head escarole, cleaned and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch red pepper flakes
splash EVOO
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 ½ to 2 cups cooked great northern, navy or butter beans
juice of one medium lemon
good dry Italian cheese—parmesan, asiago, romano, etc.

Heat the olive oil, red pepper flakes and garlic together in a large, shallow pan. When the garlic is fragrant, but before it browns, add the chopped escarole—it’s OK if it’s still very wet from having been washed. Toss to coat with the oil, then add the stock. Stir, bring to a bare simmer. Cook for a few minutes, tossing occasionally, until the escarole is wilted down. Add the beans, then cover.

Cook until the escarole is tender, 15-20 minutes. If you like, you may uncover to evaporate some of the liquid. Remove from heat. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and a sprinkling of the cheese.

Serve in a wide soup bowl, preferably with crusty bread. You could also certainly add some small pasta shapes to this—orzo would be nice, or tiny shells.

Enjoy!

A Happy Accident

A few days ago I made a batch of what I thought was brown rice, except that it was crazy chewy even after (hyperbole alert) six hours’ worth of simmering. I called it barley, asked Long-Suffering Husband to get me the fixins for beef stew, and went on about my merry way. Not until today when I went to grind some whole wheat for rolls to accompany said stew did I realize that the mystery grain was actually wheatberries.

That should be the new smartphone for hippies: the WheatBerry.

The wheatberries tasted a heckuva lot like barley, though, so I forged ahead like the intrepid and frugal cook I am. Hence, the happy accident of Beef Wheatberry Stew. I lost the alliteration of “Beef Barley” but gained the internal rhyme. That works for me. Life’s all about the trade-offs, after all.

Don’t worry, the chickens got some wheatberries too. And I’m sure they will get the kids’ portions of stew after the kids melt down and refuse to eat, try or even look at it.

Beef Wheatberry Stew

2 large carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 medium onion, also diced
3T tomato paste
1 lb. top round, cut into stew sized chunks
1 cup (more or less) red wine
5 cups beef broth
bay leaf
2 cups cooked wheatberries (or barley, for the purists)
1 container baby bella or button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup frozen peas
parsley
salt, pepper

Saute the aromatics in an oil of your choice (I used non-EV OO). Add the tomato paste and cook over medium heat, stirring. Add the meat and brown (you may need to remove aromatics from the pan and add more oil to do this, depending on the size of your pan). Add the liquids and bay leaf. Simmer gently until the meat is tender.

Add the mushrooms and grains. Cook until the mushrooms are, well, cooked.

Add the peas and parsley. Stir. By the time you’ve stirred and served it, the peas should be heated through.

Season to taste. Serve with Martha Stewart’s No-Knead Dinner Rolls, in which you can easily substitute half whole-wheat flour. That is, if you haven’t already cooked all the wheat by accident.

Enjoy!

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