Here it is January 11, and I'm first getting around to a New Year's post. Francis Lam, late of Gourmet and now writing a blog for Salon.com, has said it all. I hope you'll check out this blog post , and, perhaps, this one that preceded it. Why recommend the later post first? I really appreciated the comments to his original blog post that Lam included in his later post.
I agree with him that "cheap chicken" is no bargain. And where he wavers - will he still support a local fried chicken chef even though he knows that chef is using cheap chicken - I don't waver at all. If you like fried chicken, then continue to support that business, in moderation. Moderation is a very good thing. Despite my picky buying habits for my home, I worry a little less on the rare occasion I'm out. If it's an everyday thing, that's a chicken of a different color.
Lam's readers raised the moderation issue, but also raised another, highly political and high profile issue these days. We who are able to purchase the $7.99 per pound (and up!) local, organic, hormone and antibiotic free, grub pecking, free grazing happy chicken boneless chicken breast are extremely lucky to have that option. Many in this country can not spend that kind of money on their dinner protein, even if the amount purchased is more of a garnish than a main event. I have no answers but I do worry about this issue. Can we persuade a nation of Big Mac eaters to go for lentils and kale instead? I can barely persuade my family.
To this end, though (and ever optimistic), I sneak kale into as many dishes as I can. In the manner of the Irish, tonight's mashed potatoes (olive oil and chicken stock) will have some leftover kale mixed in. It's the dish for which I originally bought the kale that I want to share with you now.
I've made any number of minestrones and many, many pasta fagioli. They're all represented here. However, I saw the inspiration for this soup on a lovely blog called Dinner a Love Story, done by a former editor of the now defunct Cookie magazine. She writes about the daily trials of getting dinner on the table in a two career family with kids. Even if you've never used dried beans before, give it a try. You can control the sodium and the flavor is markedly better in the case of cannellini beans. I figured if she has time to use dried cannellini beans, so do I! Just plan ahead a little with the beans - you'll need to soak them overnight and then drain them in the morning and then add fresh water and simmer for about an hour. Then you're done until you make the soup which actually goes quickly. You can even make the beans over the weekend and keep them refrigerated in their cooking water for a day or two until you want to make the soup.
adapted from Dinner a Love Story (who credits The Fine Art of Cooking by Giuliano Bugialli)
8 ounces dried cannellini beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces (1 large, thick cut slice) pancetta, diced (optional)
1 large onion, diced
1 large rib celery, diced
1 fat carrot, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flat Italian parsley
1/2 head Savoy cabbage
1 medium sized Yukon gold potato, peeled and diced on the small size
1 - 2 bunches (depending on size - if you have a really full bunch, one will do it) of lacinato or Tuscan kale, rinsed, cut off the tough ribs and cut into one inch ribbons
1 cup strained tomatoes (no salt added)
2 -4 cups water or no sodium added chicken or vegetable stock
two or three large handfuls of baby spinach
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces (about 1/4 package) tubetti pasta (optional)
best quality olive oil
grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1. Soak the dried cannellini beans overnight in a pot of cold water. Make sure the beans are covered by about two inches of water. In the morning, drain the beans in a colander and then put them back into the pot with 2 quarts of lightly salted water. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to simmer for about an hour, until tender, adding a little more hot water if the level gets too low. The beans should be fully covered at all times. If you're making the soup right after, then leave the beans in their pot on the stove. If you'd like to make the beans ahead, refrigerate in the cooking water until ready to use. When you're ready to make the soup, put the beans and their water into a pot and heat gently on the stove to take the chill out. Then turn off the heat and let them sit while you start the soup.
2. If using pancetta, put two tablespoons olive oil and pancetta into a large soup pot or Dutch oven and cook over medium heat until fully cooked, but not crispy, about 10 minutes. If not using pancetta, use three tablespoons olive oil and go to next step.
3. Add in the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, parsley and a couple of pinches of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Saute for about 10 more minutes until the vegetables soften and the onions become translucent. Add the potato to the pot, mix well and let cook for a couple of minutes. Add the cabbage and kale and the strained tomatoes. Add a few ladlefuls of the water from the beans and two cups of water or stock. Bring up to a boil and then immediately lower to a simmer, cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and simmer for about 15 minutes (if you have an end of a piece of Parmigiano lurking around, throw it in here). Add another cup or two of water or stock and another ladle or two of the bean water as it gets drier. Add the spinach and stir to submerge. Let simmer another 5 or 10 minutes.
4. If you are using the tubetti, put up some water and prepare according to directions. Drain in a colander.
5. Remove about 1 cup of the beans from the water and place into soup. With an immersion blender, puree the remaining beans in their pot and add that puree into the soup as well. Mix well.
5. Simmer another 10 minutes or so. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the tubetti if using.
6. Top each bowl with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a drizzle of great olive oil. With the tubetti, this is a one dish meal, however, if you rather, skip the tubetti and serve with good bread.