Tuesday, December 7, 2010

but then there's winter cooking...

which makes all the snowy slipping, scraping, shoveling worthwhile. Yesterday I ventured out in the storm to get a few groceries and flowers, then installed myself inside for cooking, mending and ironing. Life on the frontier.

These two foods were perfect for yesterday's bluster, and improved their flavor 10x after an overnight sit:

Braised White Beans and Escarole with Millet Cauliflower "Polenta" and Shallots

for the Beans:
1 cup white beans, soaked and drained, or 2 cans rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 small onion
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
2 2-inch strips lemon zest
1 cup dry white wine
Sea salt or kosher salt
1 large head escarole, cored and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon salted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

If using dry beans, place them in a medium pot with cold water to cover by 1 inch, bring to a boil and cook until foam rises to the surface, 2-3 minutes. Drain.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

In a 4-5 quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves, onion, carrot, celery, fennel seeds and black peppercorns, raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to carmelize, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the oil turns reddish orange, 1-2 minutes. Lower the heat and add the herb sprigs and lemon zest. Spoon the beans over the vegetables. Pour in the wine and enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch, raise the heat and bring to a boil.
Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven. Cook until the beans are tender, 2-3 hours. Check occasionally and add a little water if the beans appear dry. They should remain submerged in the cooking liquid throughout the cooking. When the beans are tender, season them with salt and return the pot to the oven while you prepare the escarole.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the escarole and boil until tender but still bright green, 2-3 minutes. Drain well.
Place the pot of beans on the stovetop over medium heat. Discard the herb sprigs and lemon zest. Stir in the escarole and simmer, uncovered, for 3-5 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened to a rich gravy.
Stir in the butter. ase and season with additonal salt and with freshly ground pepper. Serve.

for the Polenta:
1 small cauliflower, cored and coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
1 cup millet, rinsed and drained
4 large garlic cloves, peeld and left whole
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
Sea salt or kosher salt
4 cups water
1/2 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
1 heaping cup thinly sliced shallots
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces), plus additional for serving
1 tablespoon butter

In a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan, combine the cauliflower, millet, garlic, saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the water has been absorbed and the millet is tender, 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the vegetable and olive oils over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the shallots (of the oil does not cover them, add a little more). Cook slowly, stirring often, until the shallots are a deep golden brown, about 20 minutes; regulate the heat as needed to prevent burning.

Transfer the shallots to paper towels to drain, reserving the oil (which can be strained and stored in the refrigerator for 1 week). Sprinkle the shallots with salt and the pepper flakes.

When the millet is cooked, stir in the Parmesan and butter. Correct the salt. Serve the millet and the braised beans topped with the crispy shallots and, if you like, additional grated Parmesan. For extra seasoning, drizzle with some of the shallot oil.

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