Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not just rice and beans

Here's why I love cooking. Take a simple pile of dried beans and turn them into something sublime. Without a whole lot of muss or fuss.

A few months ago, I took the hint from a few of the blogs I follow to order some heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. There were so many beans, it was hard to choose, so I went for the starter pack, which had five types. Those beauties you see up there are cranberry beans. They were the start of the inspiration. It was MLK day on Monday, so I was home, and it was sleety and cold, and I was going to be around for awhile, so around noontime, I put a pound of the cranberry beans (about two cups) in with about four cups of water and a half an onion into the slow cooker on high for as long as it was going to take. This is the Rancho Gordo suggested method, which I'd used once before with good success. No soaking, no preplanning, just some beans, water and a half an onion, and a lazy afternoon.

I didn't know what I was going to do with them, but with a pile of cooked beans, there were options.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Linguine ala Carbonara - Extreme

First of all, Happy New Year!  I started this post just after New Year, and am just getting around to finishing it off.

My New Year's eve experiment was to do a recipe out of Jim Lahey's new book, My Bread. Walnut bread, with raisins and a subtle cinnamon flavor. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures. Fortunately, it was fantastic!! My first foray beyond the pretty basic no-knead approach I'd been using since Bittman first popularized the technique a few years ago. But I digress. Hopefully, I'll make it again, and report back.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square, where I discovered fantastic sandwiches. Fantastic. If you've never been, go.  You won't be sorry.  It's hard to imagine getting wound up over a sandwich, but check it out, you'll see.

But it's called Dave's FRESH PASTA, so I thought if they were so good at sandwiches, they'd have to be wizards at pasta.  I hadn't ever paid much attention to fresh pasta before, other than the gluey stuff you get at the supermarket. At Dave's they've got four or five basic pasta types (plain, black pepper, tomato, spinach). And they say a pound will serve 3 or 4.  But when I saw the size of a half-pound black pepper linguine, I figured it would never be enough, so got another quarter pound  The half pound would've been fine -- lesson -- listen to the experts.  

I've been making Spaghetti Alla Carbonara for years, and it was always a family favorite.  With bacon as a central character, how could it not be?  This was to be different, however.

First, I used guanciale instead of bacon, that I procured on my last trip to Seattle, to Salumi.  I'd been wanting to try guanciale for some time, and Salumi had some on their special board, so I picked up a quarter pound to bring home.  Guanciale, by the way, is pork jowls.  Cured.

So I got a pot of water going for the pasta, and got the diced guanciale going in the skillet.  Meanwhile, I mixed two beaten eggs with a few glops of half-and-half, and a half cup or so of parmesan cheese made nice and fluffy by my new microplane and quite a few turns of the pepper mill.

When the guanciale was crisp, it was time to immerse the pasta for a couple of short minutes, until al dente tender, a quick drain, back into the pot and add the egg mixture and the guanciale.  Stir quickly to let the eggs cook in the heat of the pasta, and serve while hot.

The pasta was unlike anything I'd ever had.  It had taste. A depth of flavor that I really don't expect from pasta.   And texture -- silky but with some backbone..  And the carbonara treatment was perfect to accentuate all the fun of the fresh pasta.  I think I'm now spoiled.  It's going to be difficult to go back, except that it's not as easy to keep fresh pasta in the cupboard for months on end.


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