Thursday, August 4, 2011

White Beans and Cabbage and the Sin of Envy

Here's another easy dinner that's full of nutritional goodness and graced by a tiny fillip that makes it special.  Beans, veggies, a touch of carbohydrates, and a smidge of thyme.  Dinner out of Granny's cast iron skillet but not grandma style.  Because it's Heidi's idea.

Heidi Swanson, that is.  She's definitely no grandma.  She's currently a darling of the foodie world, with a popular blog (101 cookbooks) and now two cookbooks of her own.  Jaden Hair at Steamy Kitchen (among many others) posted this recipe from Heidi's latest book, where I found it in an ingredient based search, quite by accident.  It was a good enough dinner that it got repeated.  Always notable around here.

I'm thinking that one of the secrets of the dish is browning.   Apparently Heidi understands the power of caramelization, or the Maillard reaction, whichever the case may be.  (Unless you're an Alton Brown wannabe, just go with browning.)  First, diced potatoes are pan-fried. And let's face the truth here: any meal that starts with fried potatoes shows promise, whether fancy or down home.  No one is immune to their appeal.  Then the beans and onions are added to the skillet and, yes, browned.  More fond appears, the fancy French word for the flavorful bits left on the bottom after browning, sauteeing, etc. 

Here comes another trick.  The cabbage goes in only briefly.  Nothing sulfurous has time to happen.  The wholesome vegetable ends up barely and pleasantly cooked, with no gas warfare. 

The final fillip mentioned earlier is a bit of thyme.  Now, to be frank, thyme (or to be more specific, dried thyme) makes me wary.  Everyone has their sensitivities; thyme is one of mine.  If used too liberally, it seems to elbow every other flavor out of the way.  It gets....well....pushy on my palate.  Maybe that's a personal problem. Maybe I'd like it much better fresh, if I ever get some planted.  Either way, I adjusted the amount to suit my fear level. That said, I was pleasantly surprised that the thyme seemed just right.  It was the grace note that completed the elevation of this skillet supper beyond uninspired to interesting.

Oh that Heidi and her tricks.  She inspires me to envy, but that's really my problem.  Truth be told, she takes beautiful photographs and shares/creates healthy, usually quick and simple food.  So I certainly get what all the fuss is about.  I don't know that I'll ever be able to afford even half the things on her occasional favorites lists (I don't even know what some of them are.  They're probably only available in big cities, where I am determinedly not.), but I do understand and crave beauty.  That, she knows.  And a few good dinners besides.

My only quibble with this particular nurturing concoction is the alleged quantity. The recipe states that it will feed four. We only get about three servings out of it, and I am a bird eater not known for dishing out honking servings. Just ask my husband. To prevent a bed time snack the second time around--and to help use up an open tin--I added anchovy toast to our menu.

Anchovies are something else that I've found scary in the past.  I tried them on pizza once and did not like their exposively salty, briny, fishy flavor. I have since matured and learned that balance is required in all things.  I minced up a couple of fillets with chopped cilantro, grated Parmigiano, extra virgin olive oil, and a little ground mustard.  Spread on toasted rustic bread and topped with more Parmigiano, the combo was quite good--salty, yes, but grounded by the fats in the oil and cheese to a pleasant level.  Plus it added a little protein to balance out the extra carbohydrates in the bread, in case you need to worry about such things.  And I do.  

I'm also tempted, especially during the winter, to add a bit of sausage or bacon to Heidi's dish.  I can't help myself.  I'm cured-pork dependent!

By the way, my favorite part of the (non-Heidi-quality) photo is the color of the rose wine against the deep blue of the ticking stripe table runner.  That's a beauty bonus for me.  Dinner with a side of pretty rather than envy!  May it ever be so.

White Beans and Cabbage
from Super Natural Every Day via Steamy Kitchen

Serves: 3-4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 3-4 springs fresh thyme
1/2 onion, minced
One 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups very thinly sliced or shredeed green cabbage
Salt and pepper to taste

Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the potatoes and spread them out evenly in the pan.  Cook the potatoes for five minutes or until cooked through, scraping and tossing them to make sure they brown on all sides.  

Add the thyme, onion, and white beans and spread around the bottom of the skillet.  Let cook undistrubed for 2 minutes or so to brown just a bit, then scrape and toss again.  Cook until the beans are nicely browned on both sides.  (Unless they start to fall apart, which my cannellini beans did.  Still tastes good though.)

Stir in the cabbage and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat when cabbage is just wilted and serve. 

Anchovy Toast

Covers 2 slices rustic bread.  

2 anchovy filets
1 clove garlic 
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
Pinch or two ground mustard
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Extra virgin olive oil
2 slices rustic bread, toasted

Mince up the anchovy filets and garlic and place in a small bowl.  Add the chopped cilantro, ground mustard, and half the grated Parmigiano. Drizzle in enough olive oil to make spreadable.  Spread on toasted bread and top with remaining cheese.  Place under broiler or in microwave oven briefly to soften the Parmigiano if desired.

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