So when I wrote the last post I thought it was a pretty nifty illustration of the way in which I try to let the previous meal inform the current one, thus making efficient use of the various leftovers and remnants in the fridge and making me feel like I’m living up to the expectations of my frugal, persecuted ancestors. Joking aside, I think that an excellent counterweight to our rampant, compulsive materialism-as-grasping-antidote-to-spiritual-bankruptcy culture is the conscious production of good food at home. And, like Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, those leftovers kept on givin’. You betcha!
Most of this meal was made from scratch. Black beans, soaked and then pressure-cooked with sautéed onion with bell and poblano pepper, cumin, coriander, and 5-spice then got semi-puréed (I used to pour half the beans out, blend them, and then pour them back in. Now I just stick-blend for a few seconds and call it a night) with salt and vinegar to sharpen the flavors. I took the leftover polenta cakes (see previous post) and cut them into small cubish sort of shapes and then slowly crisped them but hard in a fair pour of peanut oil. If you ever have a hankering for fritos or similar horrible crap, just crisp up local organic cornmeal cakes in peanut oil with a pinch of salt to finish and you’ll be fully good. Trust me.
I used these crispy little nuggets as croutons in the soup, along with thin slices of cayenne peppers: a mix of our own and some given by friends nearby as we raided the tender fruits of our gardens ahead of the recent thermodynamic beatdowns that have blackened all of our precious nightshades. The rest are all drying in the oven, frugally absorbing the BTUs left from baking a loaf of bread. I’ll grind them into a chili powder when they’re firm.
In addition, I also made a sort of a nightshade stew in honor of the recently departed plants. I sautéed potatoes, peppers, and onions, then added a few baby kabocha and butternut squash that I had to pick since they weren’t going to grow any more, then added herbs, our own canned tomatoes, and a sprinkle of Espelette pepper to make a Basque-inflected ragout of sorts that made for a hearty accompaniment to the bowl of soup, which by itself would have fallen short of a fully satisfying meal. Apart from the shrimp stock in the polenta croutons, there wasn’t a scrap of animal in this whole meal. And it wasn’t missed. The hearty, unctuous soup with crunchy-creamy croutons was a marvel of New World harmony, and the ragout was equally gratifying: the Basques, possibly the oldest European culture, were among the first in Europe to embrace the nightshades and other American foods (like chocolate). This simple stew was a fitting homage to that culinary open-mindedness which is proving so influential in this century.