So, despite the fact that I gushed about The Breslin nearly a year ago and also in an interview for Amazon, and even though I’ve fussed over The Spotted Pig, I didn’t even consider picking up chef April Bloomfield’s* book, A Girl and Her Pig because the odds felt slim that it would provide me with anything close to the joy that her cooking does at a dark table in the Ace Hotel, with a grapefruit gin-and-tonic (swoon) in my hand.
If you have a thing for chocolate, the world is your oyster. On this very site, 86 of the just over 800 recipes boast a significant chocolate component and entire sections of bookstores will be happy to fill in any cravings I missed. If you have a thing for bacon, the internet would be overjoyed to find you places to put it, zillions, even, although I’d proceed with caution before auditioning a couple. But if you have a thing for something slightly less of a prom king/queen ingredient, say, tiny white beans, well, it can be tough. It’s not there are no uses for them, it’s just that when you’re very much in love, there are never enough ways to be together. And if you’re me — someone who sometimes ups and makes a mega-pot of white beans just because you feel like it, presuming you’ll find things to do with them later — you sometimes end up scrambling, yanking down nearly every cookbook in your collection but still coming up bereft of uses outside the well-trodden soup-and-salad territory.
So tell me: What are you favorite uses for beans outside the ever-popular realm of chili, tacos, soup and salad? Really, I’m hankering for more inspiration. I ended up finding some — but never enough — in this month’s Bon Appetit, in a stack of pasta recipes you will find it impossible to choose among from Sara Jenkins of Porchetta and Porsena (and green bean salad, sigh) fame. I was so charmed by the short tubes of pasta with chickpeas, I made it almost immediately but maybe it was because I’ve overdone it on chickpeas this month, but I kept thinking it would be nice with something… daintier. And considering that it is an established fact (um, in Italy, where I suspect both my white bean and artichoke obsessions could roam free) that white beans, garlic, rosemary and olive oil are a combination sent from above, I had a hunch they’d be happy here too.
Every year around this time — well into the winter season, but long after we found it charmingly brisk, as it is when you do googly-eyed things like ice skating around a sparkling tree at the holidays — we get some sort of brittle cold snap in the weather that catches me by surprise. Even though we live in New York, a place where a cold snap or two a January is as predictable as being hosed by some unspeakably awful puddle of street juice slush by a car spinning through an intersection; even though I’ve lived in this exact climate for every one of my thirty-I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it years; and even though I have the audacity to look forward to winter every sticky concrete-steaming summer, when I walk outside on that first 20-degree day and the wind gusts into my face and renders it hard to exhale, the very first thing I do is audibly holler in rage and disbelief, “WHAT THE WHAT?” I am nothing — as we joke when my sweet little son tries to clomp down the hallway in his dad’s massive boots and immediately falls on his tush — if not Harvard Material.
Weeks like the one we’re having on the East Coast require their own
bourbon cocktail plane tickets to someplace tropical and child-free, uh, family-friendly elixir and although I’ve previously found comfort in such meal intensities as lasagna bolognese, chili and mushroom and noodles, glorified, I think this year’s pick — a hearty Lentil Soup with Sausage, Chard and Garlic trumps them all. It hails from the new cookbook from the guy behind one of the first food blogs I ever read, and still do, The Amateur Gourmet. I think you should buy it right this very second. Why? Because in it, Adam Roberts does what he does best — schmooze with great chefs and get them to spill the dirt, all in the name of making us better home cooks.
[He's also good at this with less famous, non-chefs, such as yours truly, when he got me to confess to a packed room last month my top-secret, totally-un-PC method of getting toddlers to occasionally eat what you'd like them to, not that I'd be crazy enough to let that happen twice.]
For as long as I have written this website — yes, even longer than it has been since I told you the wee white lie that Paula Wolfert’s hummus was all I’d ever need — I have known how to make the most ethereally smooth, fluffy, dollop-ing of a hummus and never told you. I have some nerve. But, in my defense, I had my reasons, mostly that I knew if I told you how to make it, I’d be able to hear your eye rolls through the screen, they’d be at once so dramatic and in unison. From there, there would be the loud, synchronized clicks of “Unfollow!” “Unfriend!” “Hide these updates, please!” and the under-breath mutters of “Lady, you have got to be kidding me.” Because, you see, the path between the probably acceptable, vaguely grainy but borderline good-enough hummus you probably have been making and the stuff that I dream about sweeping cold, sweet carrots sticks through — the January version of fresh strawberries and whipped cream — has only one extra stop but most of you will argue that it’s at Cuckoo Farm: you see, you must peel the chickpeas.
Chickpeas, when they’re cooked, have a thin skin that sags a bit, kind of like a Sharpei’s, but less cute. It hangs about them like they’re trying hard to shake it, but just couldn’t. I have found that if you help them — put a single chickpea between your thumb and next two fingers and press gently until it pops out with a rather satisfying soft pop, then plink! into a bowl — it makes all of the difference in the texture of your final hummus. But I theorized that no sane person would ever spend their time ejecting chickpeas from their skins, because it would be such an arduous task, even reorganzing bookcases, which we did last night, would be preferable. Yet when I cautiously asked you last week if you’d want to hear about a new hummus technique, so many of you said “Yes, please!” I figured it was time to make peace with this technique once and for all.
It’s the first week of January, so I am going to go out on a limb and guess that no fewer than 52 percent of you are gnawing on a carrot stick right now. If you’re not gnawing on a carrot stick right now, you probably have some within reach of you. If they’re not within reach of you, they’re in your fridge, because you, like most of us, are more ambitious when it comes to grocery lists than you might be when it’s time to consume said groceries. And if they’re not in your fridge, you might have them on your mind, nagging at you. Early January is like that. (Late January is all about rich comfort foods. Trust me.)
I set off 2012 on this site with a carrot soup, and it’s not accidental that I’m doing the same in 2013. You see, one of the sadder facts about me is that I’m plagued with indecision about everything, from bangs to coffee tables to soups, and before you ended up reading about Carrot Soup with Miso and Sesame and maybe even some pickled scallions, I had at least three ideas for carrot soup spinning in my head and it likely took me a solid week with immeasurable hemming and hawing to even settle on the miso version first. This carrot tahini soup was first runner up last year, but it’s clear to me, eating my first bowl of this right now, this was a mistake. The inspiration is one of my favorite snacks (sadly, not shared by my assistant, yet), carrot sticks dipped in hummus* and here I tried to deconstruct the two things only to reconstruct them better.