Slow cooked ragu with pork ribs and white beans

kitchenThis is my next to last day in the condo I’ve lived in for the past ten years. Here’s the partially dismantled kitchen, with my beloved, giant refrigerator/freezer. My soon-to-be-ex-husband and I bought the condo just before we married, which makes the move complicated and fraught with feeling. So many hopes and dreams are bound up in this place. At first I found myself incapable of packing, paralyzed. Thankfully my friends rescued me. Now, the day before my move, I’m still not ready. But I will be.

Last weekend, while we were packing, one of my friends recounted the David Sedaris story about his brief stint working for a small moving company. When they showed up for a job, the movers found the client in the kitchen, cooking pasta, having packed absolutely nothing. Ha! So funny. So not any of us, we laughed. We continued packing, my friends efficiently, me sporadically, safe and secure in the knowledge that I would be ready when the movers arrived. But later that night, after my friends had gone home, I started thinking about that story, this time empathizing with that girl.

Until then, I’m not sure I was capable of empathy in this situation. I’ve always been a person who does what needs doing.  Absolutely not the person who lies around waiting for someone else to take care of her, oblivious. Cooking pasta while your belongings remain strewn about your apartment? That would never be me. Because such behavior would be inconsiderate, rude, wasteful. Crazy. I definitely have my crazy side, but historically it has never manifested as an inability to act. At least not in my adult life.

No. My crazy has always been too much action. When in doubt, do, that’s my motto.

Until now.

Now, suddenly, when faced with this huge change, one that I’ve known about for months, I’ve somehow emerged into this new form in which I’m incapable of acting on my own, without help. It’s absolutely terrifying. Yet, in some strange way, also liberating. Because, somehow, I’ve learned to ask for and accept help from people other than my family. Which is kind’ve amazing. It is a gift of intimacy and friendship that before now I’ve mostly seen only from the giving side. Yet receiving is just as important. It allows for others to express their generosity, their love.

On my way to recognizing this gift of receiving, I started to see that maybe the girl in David Sedaris’s story refused to pack her belongings not because she was lazy, or selfish, or inconsiderate, but because she was simply incapable of doing what she was supposed to do. I saw that because I could see it in myself. I didn’t know where to start with packing. And then I felt guilty. So I used avoidance techniques like television. Or sleep. Until my friends came over and saved me. Then, after they left, I felt capable of taking on surmountable tasks. Familiar, known tasks that I can control, things that I know how to start and finish them, by yourself. I understand this now because that morning, once I decided to cook, I lost the lethargy, felt like myself, relatively calm and in control. The contrast was illuminating.

I started by looking in the freezer. Most of what was left–various flours and other dried goods–can be moved. But I still had the ribs from my hog butchering adventure in February, as well as pork stock that I made from the rib roast. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/02/24/inspiration-and-bacon-from-the-underground-food-collective/) I had initially planned to do something with just the ribs. But, while I’ve never made ribs and white beans before, I had seen recipes. And it seemed like the most practical option: and easy, nutritious (if not exactly healthy), one-pot meal that I could eat all week.

In normal circumstances, this is the point where I would spend some time with my cookbook collection. I’m old-fashioned like that. I love nothing better than to lie in bed, reading about food, and then fall asleep daydreaming about individual recipes, food combinations, and menus. This time, though,  I had no cookbooks, because they were the first things to get packed. And I didn’t really have a lot of time, because I’ve been weirdly exhausted. So, after a quick online search to get a general idea, I decided to wing it.

ragu with pork ribs and white beansWhat I wound up with is not at all what I planned. It far too much tomato for a one-pot meal. But what I wound up with is a terrific ragu sauce over pasta, hearty and satisfying. I will definitely make it again. Here’s what I did.

1 lb. pork ribs, cut into 3-rib sections
1 c. dried white beans (I’m using navy beans, but any white beans will be fine), soaked overnight
1 sm. onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
3 c. chicken or pork broth
1/2 c. red wine (optional–I had some in the freezer)
2 T. tomato paste
1 28-oz can crushed (or diced) tomatoes
1-3 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu (sea vegetable, for digestion)
pasta

1. Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer to the slow cooker.

2. Rinse and dry the ribs. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the ribs until brown, 3-5 minutes on each side. Transfer to the slow cooker, on top of the beans.

3. Add additional olive oil to the skillet if necessary. Saute the onions for 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute for another3-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste. Saute for another minute or two, stirring. Then add 1/2 cup of red wine or broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to get any browned bits, and turn the heat to a boil. Cook for 1 minute and then transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes and remaining broth, cover, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until the beans are tender. Fish out the bones and the kombu, and salt to taste.

4. Boil pasta, drain, and top with freshly ground pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.

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Farinata (chickpea pancake)

This morning, for the first time in over a week, I woke up feeling well rested. I suppose I’m finally used to stupid Daylight Savings Time. But it’s more than that. I feel like I’m back. First, I’m writing about beans again after what feels like a long time not. And second, more importantly, I’m cooking beans again. Which feels good. Not only because I want to write about beans. I want to get back to a bean-centric diet. It is important. Because both my body and my mind work and feel better when I eat mostly beans.

Don’t get me wrong. Although I have not been writing much about or cooking many beans, I’ve still been eating plenty. My freezer is always stocked with a selection of bean-based dishes. But for a little while there the balance shifted. Meat became not quite the center, but probably a quarter of my diet. I felt heavy. Full. Weighed down and not creative. Then I caught the flu.

My physical recovery from what was a very mild flu was fast. But the mental and emotional effect lingered. I was maybe a little depressed. Not a lot. But enough that I found myself suddenly snappish and irritable, rising quickly to anger over the smallest thing. Forgetting about gratitude. Deflecting my emotions. Getting stuck in my head. It was awful. And I realized that this used to be my norm. Which was both sobering and incredibly exciting.

In realizing that this state of rising quickly to anger, feeling ungrateful, and being stuck in my head used to be my norm, I recognized how much I’ve grown and changed for the better in the past few years. And especially in the past few months. Somehow, having my life fall apart has made everything make sense. I’ve learned how to make myself happy, how to manufacture my own source of joy.

Honestly, I think it’s mostly because of yoga. But the time I spend doing improv, writing, cooking, and eating certainly doesn’t hurt. Especially eating. Because of all these things, eating is the only one that I do several times a day, no matter what. After all, if you don’t eat, you die. And my body is especially tricky in that if I don’t feed it pretty much constantly, I faint. So it’s a good thing that this basic requirement for life also provides (or should provide) such rich pleasure. Which brings me to the ostensible subject of today’s somewhat rambling, positive self-help-speakish post. Farinata!

farinataAccording to Wikipedia, farinata, which is also called socca and cecina, “is a sort of thin, unleavened pancake or crêpe of chickpea flour originating in Genoa and later a typical food of the Ligurian Sea coast, from Nice to Pisa.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farinata) I first heard of it a couple of years ago when I read Skye Gyngell’s My Favorite Ingredients. (http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-9781580080507-2) Unlike Gyngell, I have not yet dreamt of farinata, but I am with her in loving this delicious chickpea pancake. It is delicious. Also healthy, quick, easy, and adaptable

I’ve tried several different recipes, including the one in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780764524837-0), but I like Gyngell’s the best. My version is hers in every way except the cooking method: Gyngell starts things off on the stove, whereas mine is cooked entirely in the oven. Here’s my recipe.

1-3/4 c. chickpea flour
1 t. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 or 4 rosemary sprigs, leaves only, chopped
1 c. sparkling water
1 T. olive oil
Dolcelatte cheese, for serving (omit to make vegan)

1. Place 1 T. olive oil in a well-seasoned, 12-inch, cast-iron skillet. Put the skillet in the oven and preheat to 425.

2. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl, forming a well in the center. Whisk in the olive oil, rosemary, and sparkling water. Let the batter rest for 20 minutes.

farinata with kale salad3. Remove the skillet from the oven and transfer the batter. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until lightly brown and firm. Flip on to a plate.

To serve, cut in wedges and, if you wish, top with crumbled Dolcelatte (blue) or other cheese. Today I had this with a side of kale salad, minus the cheese and almonds. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/30/kale-salad/). It was terrific. Enjoy!

beans for breakfast

Breakfast tacos! With beans! breakfast taco with Great Mother Stallard beansThis is a standby, not just for me, but, apparently, in general for many newly single people who are trying to nourish themselves, find happiness, and recreate a life that makes sense without a partner. At least that’s the impression I got from reading the odd, sweet, witty, and at times super insightful A Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/books/review/a-working-theory-of-love-by-scott-hutchins.html) I promise I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the newly divorced main character begins each day with a breakfast taco. His taco, which he prepares in the same way each day, consists of “scrambled egg, a slice of pepper jack, a corn tortilla, salsa verde.”

Thankfully, while I sympathize with this fictional depiction of routine as self-care, my version of the breakfast taco (like my life) is a bit different.

First, I’m a fan of flour tortillas, at least for tacos. Unlike corn tortillas, they don’t crumble, and the unassertive flavor provides a nice backdrop for the filling. I also prefer the texture of flour tortillas here.

Second, I think srichacha works better than salsa verde with this combo. The sweet spice cuts nicely against the earthy beans and rich egg.

Third, avocado is key, at least in times like these, when big, fat, perfectly ripe avocados are in season at my local market. (Yes, it seems likely that avocado will be a recurring theme over the next few posts.)

Finally, beans! I was inspired to make these tacos not by a fellow divorcee, but by what I had in my refrigerator. Which, thankfully, almost always holds something good.

Today’s breakfast was inspired by the leftover Great Mother Stallard beans that I made for dinner on Saturday night. While I still have a tendency to make more food than I can eat, I’m getting better. In addition to cooking less, I’m getting more creative about repurposing. As in these tacos. Which are delicious. Here’s the recipe:

3 sm. flour tortillas (I like El Milagro brand)
2 large eggs, ideally free-range, as fresh as you can get them
1 tsp. Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 or 1 ripe avocado, diced
1/4 c. chopped cilantro (optional)
srichacha sauce

1. Heat about a cup of beans, with some of their pot liquor, over low heat.

2. Heat a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium high heat. When hot, cook each of the tortillas for about a minute per side, giving them an occasional spin, until lightly browned and pliable but not crispy. Wrap the tortillas in a kitchen or paper towel to keep them warm, set aside, and reduce the heat under the skillet to medium low.

3. Whisk the yogurt and salt into the eggs. Cook the eggs in the same skillet that you used to heat the tortillas, turning occasionally, until light and fluffy. Serve with the avocado, salsa, and, if desired, cilantro. You could also add cheese and yogurt (or sour cream), but I don’t think you need either.

breakfast taco ingredientsI still haven’t made a light box. But here’s a naturally lit photo of the separate components. And my place mat. Which I love.

Best ever “Mexican” layer dip

Tonight I came home even more starved than usual. There were several dinner options in the fridge, but I was so hungry that nothing sounded good. I wasn’t in the mood for black bean burgers. Pasta would be okay, but it would just create more leftovers. More leftovers is the very last thing I need, as my fridge is already filled with several ready-made foods that I’ve cooked or taken from the freezer in the past week.

I find it interesting that, so far, my biggest challenge in learning to live on my own is trying to keep up with my cooking. Before my ex moved out, I thought about what it would be like, of course. I worried about having to take out the garbage and clean the litter box. Not to mention the specter of crushing loneliness. But no. My biggest problem, at least so far, has been a struggle to figure out what to do with all the extra food. And I should not be surprised. My life has always revolved around food.

Actually, I suppose my love affair with food, and cooking, is the reason why I’m not being crushed by loneliness. Not that I don’t have days. I do. And I’m certain I’d be lost without yoga and my large network of loving friends and family. Yet, as my life is now, today, my most consistent, difficult-to-figure-out struggle is around meals, primarily dinner. At least on the nights, like tonight, when I don’t have something planned out in advance. And that’s incredibly cool. Because it means that even in the midst of what is a fairly difficult period, I am constantly nourishing myself with food that I made, with love.

Tonight, when I got home and looked in the fridge, the most tempting option was the refried beans leftover from the other night (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/15/refried-beans/), when I made burritos. But I wasn’t in the mood for burritos again so soon. And refried beans alone seemed somehow depressing. Then, as I stood before the open fridge, inspiration struck–Mexican layer dip! It would not be a traditional dinner, true, but, well, one of the advantages of cooking for one is that you don’t have to please anyone other than yourself. So cool. So fun. And quick! This dish, which is actually reasonably healthy–avocado is a superfood, after all (http://www.livestrong.com/article/402176-avocados-almonds-as-super-foods/), came together in less than 10 minutes.

The following recipe filled a small casserole dish, half of which made for a rather filling single portion. I recommend doubling or quadrupling if you’re making this for a party.

1/2 c. cold refried beans (the temperature will help keep the other ingredients from mixing into the beans as you spread)
1/4 c. prepared salsa (I used green tomatillo salsa, because that’s what I had, but in the past I’ve used red salsa. Either will be good.)
1 ripe avocado, mashed with 1 T. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. Greek yogurt or sour cream (or Tofutti)
1/2 ripe tomato, chopped, optional (I didn’t use any tomato tonight because I didn’t have any. The dip turned out fine without but I think it’s better with)
1 – 2 T. chopped, canned black olives (I tried this once using Kalamata olives from the olive bar. Not as good.)
1/2 c. grated pepperjack cheese

Mix the salsa into the beans. Salt to taste and spread the beans over the bottom of a shallow bowl, small casserole dish, or a serving dish with 2″ sides. Spread the avocado over the beans and then spread the yogurt over the avocado. Don’t worry if they mix together a little bit. Sprinkle the chopped tomato (if using) and black olives over the yogurt and then top with cheese. You can cover and refrigerate at this point or serve immediately, with tortilla chips.