Wednesday, November 4, 2009

stepping away

When my teenage daughter ventures into the kitchen to cook I often have to remind her that once you start cooking something you have to finish it. You can't walk away and then yell out a quarter of an hour later from another room "Mom, could you flip that grilled cheese sandwich in the pan for me?" Well, you can, but I won't be amused.

Not everything has to be watched so closely however. After the initial setup it is nice to walk away for a while and let applied heat do its thing while delicious aromas waft up occasionally to remind you of what's going on. Jeffery Steingarten, the food writer for Vogue Magazine experimented with cooking dried beans a while back and came up with a method I have fully adopted. I may have strayed from his instructions a bit at this point, but the basic idea applies. Dried beans are placed in a pot, covered with 3 inches of water, brought to a boil, covered, brought down to a simmer and left to cook for about an hour. It works perfectly with white and black beans in particular.

My friend Laura shared with me the secret to her own version of black bean soup where you create a soffritto (slow cooked aromatic vegetables) and add it to the pot of cooked beans and then blend into a puree (for the real fancy pants version of how to make soffritto as Thomas Keller would do it, via a very nice site called The Paupered Chef, click on the above link).

I have combined these two methods for what I will call Laura's Black Bean Soup, a simple, almost walk away recipe that is perfect for a fall day.
As you can see on this cutting board I snuck in some extra vegetables, 
like a chopped up chunk of butternut squash leftover from yesterdays recipe.

My version of soffritto for this recipe is slow cooked onions, garlic, celery, peppers and tomatoes in a scant amount of oil to bring out the flavors. Soffritto is a staple of many cuisines and I use and abuse the concept liberally in my own cooking.

Do black beans have a logical wine companion Amanda?

Laura's Black Bean Soup
1 lbs. dry black beans, rinsed and sorted
1 bay leaf
6 cups of water (or enough to cover beans by three inches)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, cored and chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons salt
1 lime juiced

Place beans and bay leaf in a large pot and cover with water. Bring pot to a boil, cover tightly and allow to simmer at the lowest temp possible for 1 hour. Check the beans after an hour to see if they are tender and soft. Continue to cook covered if they are not.

In a saute pan heat the oil and then add the onion, garlic, celery, tomato, jalapenos and bell pepper and slowly cook for at least half an hour till vegetables are soft and translucent and beginning to become like a paste.

When the beans are tender drain them and reserve the cooking liquid. Add half the beans into a food processor, a cup of the cooking liquid and all the soffritto, the chopped cilantro and the salt and blend until smooth. Transfer contents from food processor to a clean pot and add the rest of the beans and enough of the cooking liquid to make a thick soup consistency. Heat till warm and stir in lime juice.

Well, this is apropos, because for dinner I just finished what else? Black beans! So, I am in a black bean frame of mind and the timing couldn't be better.  As I ate, although my dinner was quite different than Deb's recipe, I did consider the possibilities of wine partners. Actually, I was sipping a glass of Ciacci di Piccolomini d'Aragona Toscana Rosso (mostly Sangiovese), not because I thought it would go well with my dinner (which, by the way, consisted of my own special black beans, brown rice, a little shredded Mexican cheese blend and chopped pickled jalapenos all rolled up in a tortilla), but because that is what I took home from work today, and have been wanting to try. It's a soft, fruity wine with some subtle hints of spice. Actually, for a red wine pairing with Laura's Black Bean Soup, it wouldn't be bad. However, I would recommend white.

But let me remind you of what I said in an earlier post. Wine and soup do not naturally pair well. It's a tough call. Many would suggest that wine and soup should not be paired. But you are dealing with someone that thinks there is a wine for every food, and thus would not miss the opportunity to discover what the perfect wine for Doritos would be.

This Black Bean soup recipe, with its soffritto, jalapeno and cilantro, has of course ethnic undertones. So, let's call on the whites we look to for "hard-to-match" cuisine. Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Gewurztraminer should be on everyone's "go to" list when they are stumped. (This is a tip, not a steadfast rule). I would definitely pair this soup with something full of fruit; something which has sweetness of fruit, but is not necessarily a "sweet" wine. There is a difference. Wines that are very fruity can sometimes give the impression of sweetness without actually being sweet. I think another good idea would be Vouvray, a wine from the Loire Valley in France made from 100% Chenin Blanc, and one of my favorite whites. 

I've been on a roll now making a different soup everyone Sunday. I'm happy to say I already know what I'm making this week! Thanks, Deb. And Laura too!

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