Scene: Early 1970s in an apartment on the upper east side in NYC
Anna (our new Italian friend): “Butta giù la pasta!” Translation: The pasta is served.
Claudio (husband to Anna and sniffing the aroma of the pasta): Anna, did you use bottled water for the pasta?
Anna: Sorry, but I ran out of time. Is there a problem?
Claudio: I can smell the chlorine in the pasta.
This little vignette has stuck in my mind for many years and simply underscores the importance of using the “right” ingredients in your cooking. Last week, we saw that a tomato is comprised of about 95% water, which suggests to me that your cooking isn’t going to be as good as Mama’s unless you use the same H2O.
Chances are that your mother or grandmother was using well-water rather than water piped into your house from nearby reservoirs. While there is no need to go overboard to buy the most expensive bottled water, do consider your H2O options when cooking.
While the quality and source of water makes a huge difference in pasta, it also makes a big difference in beans.
As I indicated earlier, we purchase our dried beans from Rancho Gordo in California which sells heirloom beans. Like water, if you are not using authentic and natural ingredients, the taste profile of your food is likely to suffer.
If you haven’t stocked up on Rancho Gordo beans, do yourself a favor and visit their online store. For those who need a little inspiration, try this wonderful recipe from David Rosengarten, which is featured on the Rancho Gordo website. I quote with very minor changes so big thanks to David and the folks at Rancho Gordo.
“I love the recipe for Red Beans and Rice that appears in my newest cookbook, It’s ALL American Food–developed by me and Susan Bird, my crack Cajun recipe-tester. Just buy some red kidney beans at your supermarket, get some good rice and have yourself a feast! If you wish to add andouille, tasso or chicken to this recipe, to make it meatier still . . . go right ahead!” – David Rosengarten
Ingredients (makes 4 servings)
- 1 pound dried beans, such as Red Nightfall or Sangre de Toro
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 small green pepper, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 fresh jalapeño, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 10 1/2-ounce can chicken broth
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 cups of water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound smoked ham hocks
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups hot white rice
- Chopped scallions for garnish
- Wash beans well and sort through them, removing any pebbles or impurities. Place beans in a pot, cover with water and soak overnight.
- When ready to cook, drain beans and set aside.
- Sauté onion, green pepper, celery, garlic and jalapeño in oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat, uncovered, until soft (about 10 minutes).
- Add beans to the pot, along with chicken broth, red wine, water, bay leaf, ham hocks, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and taste to adjust seasoning. Simmer, covered, for 2 hours, stirring frequently.
- Remove ham hocks after 2 hours. Continue to simmer beans for another 30 minutes, or until the liquid in the beans has a thick, creamy consistency.
- As soon as the ham hocks are cool enough to work with, remove all meat from the bones, and shred it. Return meat to the beans.
- Divide the hot rice among 4 wide, shallow serving bowls. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the bean mixture over the rice in each bowl; you’ll have a little bean mixture left over.
- Garnish with scallions and serve immediately.
Remember, if you want your food to taste like “home-cooking” you must use natural ingredients.
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