Repositioning is what cruise ships do in the Spring and Fall. Many ply the Carribean and Latin America in the winter, move to Europe for the summer, and then sail back to U.S. waters in the Fall. The past several years Brad and I have done our own repositioning twice a year, as often as we can on cruise ships, but reluctantly by airline too.

Our posts have been few and far between the past couple of weeks because we were getting ready to move back to France, which involves packing and tying up all the loose ends for a six-month absence. Even after years of doing it, it’s never easy.

So here we are, back in our house on the outskirts of a little village in the Var region of Provence.  It’s always such a joy to arrive, no matter what time of year. Spring has arrived here: the fruit trees are in full blossom and the others are just turning green, heralding the warm days to come. The air is balmy and sweet during the day and crisp at night, and when you have lunch on the terrace at midday, the sun infuses your whole body with warmth. Whenever we tell people that we live half the year in San Francisco and the other half in Provence, they say how lucky we are and even express envy.  We smile and say, “We don’t mind it”, but they are right to be envious.

Our first serious task is to stock up on food and wine – a chore we relish. We head to our nearest village market (fortunately held the day after our return) to stock up on basics like new olive oil, farm-fresh eggs, Spring vegetables and goat cheeses. Then on to our local winery – run by Mme. Castellino, a large, jolly woman of indefatigible spirit – to fill our bidon with her excellent rosé and to catch up on the gossip of the months we’ve been gone.  We’ve already been to the supermarket to indulge in some of the pleasures we’ve missed while in San Francisco – tiny rougets from the Mediterranean, a couple of duck legs, a saddle of rabbit, an enormous frisée and giant leeks for leek and potato soup.  It’s a mystery to me why they can’t grow decent frisées and leeks in America – but let me not start on this topic, one on which I can get pretty wound up.

This is the week before Easter, schools are out and there’s lots of hustle and bustle. Easter is the time for Spring lamb in France, as traditional as turkey at Thanksgiving in America. I’m not going to give a lamb recipe because it depends on whether you’re cooking for a crowd or just for two or four. So many lamb recipes turn up on the internet: Leg of lamb (gigot) roasted in the oven or, better, on the barbeque, wonderful baby lamb chops grilled to perfection, navarin printanier (spring lamb stew) and a host of others.  But I will give my recipe for the veggies I always do, whether they’re going to accompany a gigot or chops or go into the lamb stew.  I search out the first tiny Spring vegetables – the ultimate celebration of the season.

Navarin Vegetables

Serves 4

Ingredients:

A bunch of carrots (about 8) as young as you can find

The same of turnips

The white part of 8 large spring onions

1 lb. fava beans (optional) 

1 lb. fresh peas or 1 cup frozen petit pois

About a dozen new potatoes, no bigger than walnut size

2 tablespoons butter

Salt, pepper and a large pinch of sugar

1 tablespoon chopped mint

Prepare the vegetables: Scrape the carrots with a peeling knife, leaving a stub of the green tops attached (for appearance).  If they’re longer than about 3″, cut them in half. Cook them in lightly salted boiling water until barely tender. Cook the turnips in the same way, without their green tops, and quarter them if they are larger than a golf ball. Blanch the onions for three minutes.  Boil the potatoes until they can just be pierced with a knife.  Peel them when they’re cool enough to handle.

If you manage to find fava beans, they are worth doing even though they’re a bit of trouble.

You need to strip them from their pods, boil them for about five minutes and then pop each bean out of its skin, leaving a wonderfully bright green gem.

Either shell the peas and cook them in lightly salted water until just tender or blanch the frozen ones for one minute.

Assemble the dish:  Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add the pinch of sugar and a little salt.

Saute the onions over the lowest heat for 3-5 minutes,  until lightly browned.  Add about half a cup of water, and when it comes to the boll, add all the vegetables and the mint.  Gently stir them around until the water has evaporated and the veggies are lightly glazed.  Adjust the seasoning.  They are best served at once but can be gently reheated.

Serve with whatever lamb you have prepared.  They may be the best vegetables you eat all year.

Well, we meant to post this recipe before St. Paddy’s day. However, the 17th came and went and we neglected to post it. Then we intended to put it up a couple of days after, while corned beef could still be readily found in local grocery stores.  But alas, we neglected to do so. Weeks passed, Jake and Brad moved back to France for the Spring and Summer months, and now here we are just in time for you to plan your feast for St. Paddy’s 2013!  Imagine, if you please, that it’s March of next year…

The annual obligation to cook corned beef and cabbage has arrived. While no self-respecting Irish person would be caught dead cooking corned beef and cabbage on March 17th, we in America (encouraged no doubt by the Corned Beef Industry and some kind of misguided affinity with the Irish) feel an obligation to do so. (Disclaimer: My mum was born in Waterford.)  It’s actually not a bad dish, especially if you cook it right, make colcannon to go with it, and use some of the “stock” to make a hearty soup for the next day.

One of the unfortunate things about blogging is that if you’re making a dish for a special occasion and want to photograph it, you either have to make it ahead and reheat it or else post it when it’s too late for anyone checking the blog to be inspired.  So maybe you want to cook corn beef at a time other than St. Patrick’s day or else remember the colcannon and soup when it comes around next year.

This is not a problem with cooking Irish Stew which is really the national dish of Ireland and which benefits from being cooked ahead. And of course it’s just perfect for the dying days of winter.

Corned Beef with Colcannon

Serves 4-6

For the Corned Beef:

Ingredients:

3-4 lb. corned beef

One medium onion,  peeled and halved

3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

2 small turnips, peeled and quartered

1 leek, white part only (optional)

Trim off some of the excess fat.  Put it in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil.  Skim off the scum, add the little package of spices it usually comes with, and turn the heat to low.  How long you cook it will depend on its size, but it will probably take 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Check it from time to time.  About 30 minutes before it’s cooked, add the onion, the carrots, turnips, parsnips and the leek, if you have it. If you don’t like turnips and parsnips, you can still make the soup without them.  Remove the corn beef to a platter, cover with foil and let rest 15 minutes.  Slice into 1/4″ slices, place in the center of the platter and surround it with about half the carrots, parsnips and turnips.

For the Colcannon

Colcannon is apparently served mainly at Halloween in Ireland but it fits so perfectly with corned beef that I have adopte it for the occasion.  Not surprisingly, the Irish have lots of ways of cooking potatoes and this is one of them. It’s a mixture of creamy mashed potatoes and cabbage with lots of butter (which of course you can cut down on if you choose).

Ingredients:

4 large Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and quartered

1/2 cabbage, sliced fairly thin (or you can use kale)

1/2 cup milk, warmed

1/4 – 1/2 stick butter

4 green onions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon parsley

Salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes in salted water until cooked, 15-20 minutes.  Put them through a food mill or mash them until smooth, adding the warmed milk and half the butter.  Separately boil the cabbage for about eight minutes, drain it well and pulse it a few times in a food processor (or chop it finer).  Add it to the potatoes, along with the green onions and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pile it in a serving dish, making an indentation in the center into which you slip the remaining butter.  You may need to pop it into a microwave for a minute or two so that you can serve it hot with the corned beef and vegetables.

For the soup:

When you’ve removed the corned beef and half the veggies from the cooking pot, check the “stock” for saltiness. Depending on how salty the corned beef was and your salt tolerance, you may decide that it’s too salty to use.  But if not, get rid of about half the stock and blend up the remaining vegetables with the stock, adding enough water or milk to make a smooth cream.  Then, assuming you have some leftovers of corned beef and colcannon the next day, blend the potato/cabbage mixture into the soup, chop up the remaining corned beef, adding it to the soup and voila!, you have a perfect leftover meal.

Irish Stew

This celebrated – and delicious – dish started out as a meal for hard times, composed mainly of potatoes and scraps of mutton.  But as mutton is not widely available these days, even in Ireland, it has evolved into a simple lamb stew. Some add carrots, even turnips and parsnips, but I prefer it in its pure form with just lamb, potatoes and onions. These ingredients are layered in a heavy casserole and slow-cooked in the oven, allowing the flavors to meld and the cook to walk away and two hours later to have a mouthwatering meal.

Serves 4

Ingredients

6 smallish Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 pounds lamb shoulder, bones removed and cut into 1″ cubes

Salt and pepper

A few springs of fresh thyme, about a tablespoon

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Layer about a third of the potatoes in the bottom of an oven casserole, then half the onions, followed by all the lamb.  Season well with salt, pepper and the thyme. Continue with the rest of the onions and the potatoes, seasoning as you go. The reason why you want a thicker layer of potatoes on top is that the bottom layer will mostly disintegrate, forming the body of the sauce, while the ones on top will mostly retain their shape.  Pour over water to cover by two-thirds(about 2 cups).  You can now either bring it to the boil on the top of the stove and then put it in the pre-heated oven or, if your casserole doesn’t like direct heat, just pop it straight into the oven.  Check after an hour and reduce the heat if it’s bubbling too rapidly.  It should take about 1-1/2 hours by the first method and up to a half hour longer by the second.  

You can serve the dish at once, bubbling hot from the casserole, or reheat it the next day when it will be even more flavorful.

(Photos by Jake)

Soon after I met Brad thirty-six and a half years ago, I cooked him osso buco for his birthday and he remarked,”This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.” So I’ve continued to make it for him every birthday since, and he still reports that there is no better dish in the world. Then, when I had Fête Accomplie, my gourmet carry-out and catering business in Washington D.C. in the 80’s, a woman in the line of 30 customers declared loudly, “I’m Italian and I’ve never had better osso buco,” to which the other customers said, “What’s osso buco? I want it!”  From then on there was a constant demand. I do think it’s a wonderful dish and that simple cooking is best: No onion, no carrots, no celery in the sauce. Just the pure flavor of tomatoes and white wine and the incredible essences that pour out of the veal and the marrow. You must have the right cut of veal shank: Not those 3″ high solid bones with little marrow and less meat, but slices about 1 to1-1/2 inches thick with large marrow-filled bones and plenty of tender pale meat that falls off the bone and becomes slightly gelatinous when cooked. Osso buco means hollow bone and within the hollow bone is marrow and without it the purpose and perfection of the dish is sadly reduced. So, If the idea of eating this succulent morsel turns you off, then osso buco is probably not for you.

I like to serve it with the traditional risotto Milanese and gremolata, a chopped up mixture of lemon, garlic and parsley.

Steamed or sauteed zucchini is a nice accompaniment. It’s certainly a dish worthy of a special occasion.

Osso Buco

Serves 2-3 

Ingredients:

For the veal:

4 1 -1/2 inch meaty slices of veal shank

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup dry white wine

1-14 oz. can of the best tomatoes you can find

1 clove garlic, salt and pepper

For the risotto:

1/2 small onion, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1-1/2 cups chicken stock

a pinch of saffron

3/4 cup arborio rice

For the gremolata:

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 large garlic clove, chopped fine

Grated rind of 1 lemon

3-4 small zucchini (optional)

Heat the butter in a sturdy pan over fairly high heat and brown the veal on each side for 2 minutes.  Pour over the wine and let it bubble and reduce by half.  Chop the tomatoes finely – I pulse them a few times in the food processor – and add them to the pan.  You may not need the full can, they should barely cover the veal.  Add the chopped clove of garlic and salt and pepper.  When it comes to the boil, turn down the heat, cover the pan, and let the veal simmer gently for 40 minutes.  Carefully turn the slices over, making sure you keep the veal and its marrow intact, cover the pan again, and continue to simmer.   Check after 20 minutes. The meat should show little resistance when pierced with a fork and the sauce should be thick – it may need another ten minutes or so with the lid off to further reduce the sauce.  The meat won’t mind.

For the risotto, cook the onion in the butter until softened, about five minutes.  Add the rice to the pan and stir it around for a good minute or two to make sure the rice is impregnated with the butter. Meantime warm the stock, add the saffron to it with a half-teaspoon of salt (if the stock isn’t salted) and add it to the rice, stirring.  As soon as it comes to the boil, cover the pan tightly, turn it down to the lowest possible heat, and cook for exactly 17 minutes.  Fluff it with a fork – it should be perfectly cooked but can rest, covered, for a few extra minutes.

For the gremolata, combine the parsley, garlic and lemon rind.

For the optional zucchini, cut it into either rounds or batons and steam it until just tender.  Or, if you prefer, you can saute it in a little butter.

Assemble the dish:  Mound the rice in the center of a large oval platter.  Surround it with the veal, placing the zucchini in between.  Spoon over the sauce, sprinkle with the gremolata and be ready to have one of the best things you’ve ever eaten.

Alsatian Onion Tart

To tell you the truth, this is really a type of quiche, but because quiches developed a bad rap back when they were so overdone in the 80’s, we’re calling it a tart to avoid immediate rejection. Quiches have some excellent qualities–easy to make, relatively healthy, they can be eaten hot or at room temperature, taken on picnics, served at cocktail parties, and of course with a salad they make an excellent lunch or light supper. So bring back the quiche!  From the ubiquitous Quiche Lorraine to those made with spinach and mushrooms or ham and cheese, there’s a quiche to suit everyone’s taste.

My very favorite is the rich yet earthy onion tart. Its origins are in the Alsace region of France where it is often made without eggs or with the addition of cheese instead of bacon. I like to pack a pie shell to the brim with long-cooked, deliciously sweet onions, cover it with a mixture of eggs and cream and top it with a shower of crisp bacon. I start to feel hungry just thinking about it.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1  9″ tart shell 

3-4 large onions (about 5 cups), thinly sliced and separated

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

4 slices bacon

3 large eggs

1 cup half and half (cream)

1 pinch nutmeg, salt and pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for 15 minutes until the bottom is cooked and the pastry shell is lightly browned around the edges.  Remove foil and weights and cool the baked shell.

Meantime, cook the onions:  Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the onions, the thyme, and a half teaspoon of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring, for a couple of minutes then cover the skillet with a tight-fitting lid and continue to cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are soft and beginning to caramelize.  If there is liquid remaining, drain them in a colander, reserving the wonderful onion juice for another use.

Cook the bacon strips in a non-stick skillet until barely crisp.  Drain on paper towels and cut into small pieces.

Whisk the eggs and cream, adding a grating (or pinch) of nutmeg, plus salt and pepper.  

When the onions are somewhat cooled and drained, distribute them evenly in the tart shell, pour over the cream mixture, and dot with the bacon pieces.

Bake in a 350-degree oven until the filling is just set and the top is golden.

 

Conchiglie with Anchovies, Garlic, and Chard (or Broccoli Rabe or Cavolo Nero or Cauliflower)

This is easily our favorite go-to pasta dish on those nights when the question of “What shall we have for dinner?” raises its head and we don’t feel like fussing. It’s comfort food–hearty enough for a wintry night, and also a cinch to make.  A saute of olive oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes to which you add a single vegetable. What could be simpler? Because we always have the basic ingredients on hand, it’s just a matter of acquiring a bunch of chard (or broccoli rabe or cavolo nero or a cauliflower) to complete the sauce – not too difficult to manage. If you’re not fond of anchovies you could leave them out, but I guarantee you won’t even notice their hairy consistency or distinctive flavor in the finished sauce, and it certainly gives a lift to the flavor. If you’re using chard, a whole rainbow of colors is now available. Having just bought a bunch of beautiful young red, yellow and orange chard, I decided it would be criminal to throw out the beautiful stems so I cut them into 1″ pieces and cooked them briefly before adding the leaves. Success! The extra bite they give is just perfect.  I like to use a pasta such as conchiglie, fusilli, penne, or perciatelli –  sturdy enough for the robust sauce.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

Two Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup chopped parsley (optional)

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (or more, if you like it hotter)

6 canned anchovy filets 

A large clove garlic, finely chopped

A bunch of large chard, stems and tough ribs removed   or

A bunch of young rainbow chard, stems separated and cut into 1″ pieces

Parmesan

Heat the oil over low heat in a sturdy pot for a minute of two.  Add the optional parsley, pepper flakes and anchovies and cook until the anchovies have melted, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and continue to cook a few minutes longer until the flavors have melded.  I add the garlic last because burnt garlic can ruin any dish and burning can happen easily if you start with garlic in too-hot oil. In the meantime blanch the chard in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. (If you are using young rainbow chard, cook the stems for 4 minutes before adding the leaves and continuing to cook for a further 4 minutes.)   Drain well and chop it coarsely.  Add to the oil/garlic mixture and let it continue to cook over low heat for a minute or two.

In  the meantime cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions and  add it, drained, to the chard mixture. A little of the cooking water will loosen the mixture. Stir it around, adding a bit of extra olive oil if desired. Check for salt and serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan.

Variations: Use broccoli rabe instead. Blanch it in the same way as the chard for 3-4 minutes, chop into about 1 inch pieces and proceed as above.

If you can find cavolo nero (also called Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale, and lacinato kale–see picture below), you’re in for a real treat. It’s very common in soups and sauces in Tuscany and is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.  Look for it at your farmer’s market or local produce store. Tear out the tough central stem and discard it, as with the chard. You will need to cook it for about 10 minutes before draining it, chopping it coarsely and adding it to the oil/garlic mixture.

If you’re using cauliflower, a nice addition is a tablespoon or two of toasted breadcrumbs, preferably homemade, as well as a tablespoon of parsley. Cut the cauliflower into flowerets, discarding the core, and toss them in a tablespoon of olive oil. Roast them in a 350-degree over for about 20 minutes until a little brown and crisp around the edges and l still a little bitey (or you can steam or boil them until barely cooked.) Mix into the oil/garlic base, add the pasta and serve sprinkled with the  toasted breadcrumbs, parsley and parmesan.

I know I’ve complicated things by suggesting four different vegetables, but each is so delicious that I’m not going to apologize.

(Photo by Brad)

Huevos Rancheros

Just the thought of barely runny yolks, silky beans, earthy tortillas, spicy salsa, and the way they go so wonderfully together gets my tastebuds excited. It’s a Mexican breakfast dish worthy of indulgence at any time of day or night. Versions vary: Some scramble the eggs, or leave out the beans, or add cheese. We like it just as you see it pictured above. It’s not a dish to make for a crowd unless you have multiple burners and are adept at frying several eggs at once while heating up the beans and the sauce and the tortillas. I like to make it just for two – a perfect way to start the day.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

The beans:

1-15 oz. can black beans

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon lime juice

The tomato sauce:

1 small onion

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1-14 oz. can chopped tomatoes (preferably fire roasted)

1 clove garlic

1 serano chili (or use jalapeno)

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Pinch sugar, salt

4 x 6″ corn tortillas

4 eggs (wonderfully fresh organic if you can)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Half avocado, sliced (optional)

Tip the beans with their liquid into a pot, along with the cumin and garlic.  Allow to simmer gently until the flavors are blended, then add salt to taste and the lime juice.  Mash them against the side of the pot until semi-mashed. Keep warm.

Cook the onion in the oil for a few minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, the garlic and as much of the finely chopped serano or jalapeno as you think prudent.  Add salt and a pinch of sugar to taste, then the cilantro.

Wrap the tortillas in a wet paper towel and heat them in the microwave for 1 minute.  Or toast them individually in a skillet 30 seconds each side.

Now fry the eggs: In a skillet that will accommodate 4 eggs, heat the oil, gently crack each egg and slide it into the pan. Over low heat, cook the eggs sunny-side-up until the whites are no longer opague but the yolks are still just runny.  

Place two tortillas on each plate, top each with a fried egg, then add a serving of beans, the tomato sauce and optional avocado.

Have a nice day!

“People wax eloquent about this dish for good reason,” said my husband Brad last night, polishing off his third helping of feijoada. “Wax eloquent” is the way he speaks. Sometimes even his fellow septuagenarians find his language a little archaic. But he’s right about feijoada (pronounced fayje-wada), it is truly one of the world’s great dishes. We first had it in Brazil 30 years ago when we went for Carnival–a street party that takes place the week leading up to Lent. Here in America, it takes the form of Mardi Gras, in New Orleans. Feijoada doesn’t have any direct connection with Carnival, except that it’s the Brazilian national dish and when you go there, you’re bound to run into it. In it’s pure form, it’s a dish you shouldn’t attempt to make for less than 12 greedy people because it involves 5-10 kinds of meat (smoked tongue, pigs feet, dried beef, and a variety of sausages, among others) and includes black beans, rice, kale, oranges, farofa and hot sauce.  I used to do an annual pre-lenten feijoada and people would come from far and wide to see who could eat the most, but these days I am less ambitious (and it seems like a lot trouble). So after Brad asked for the third year in a row–“no feijoada?”–I decided a mini version would be better than none at all.  The brilliance of the dish is its combination of diverse flavors and textures that blend deliciously together, either one on one or all at the same time. I decided that as long as I stuck to the basic ingredients I could cut down on the meat and, while it might not be a “real” feijaoda, it might, as Brad would say “pass muster.”

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1 lb. dried black beans

Water to soak them

1/4 lb. slab bacon

1 lb. linguiça sausages*

1 lb. smoked pork chops* (* These are usually pre-cooked.)

1 medium onion plus one cup chopped

3 large cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

1 lb. kale, stripped from its tough central stalks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large clove garlic, chopped

Salt

1-1/2 cups rice

 6 oranges

 1/2 cup farofa (toasted manioc meal)

Hot sauce (the Mexican El Yucateco brand Green Chile Habanero makes a fine sub for the Brazilian)

The beans and meat

Soak the beans overnight in water to cover by 2″ (or use the quick-cook method of bringing them to the boil over high heat, boiling briskly for 2 minutes, turning off the heat and letting them sit for 2 hours). Add the bacon in one piece, the whole onion, one chopped garlic clove, and the bay leaves. Add enough water to cover again by two inches, bring to the boil, skim off any scum, turn the heat to low and cook until the beans are still a bit bitey, about an hour, depending on their freshness. In the meantime, brown the sausages briefly on all sides in a little oil, then drain off any fat.  If you can’t find linguica, good garlic pork sausages, chorizo, kielbasa, or a mixture will do (no fatty breakfast sausage or chicken sausage please!).   Cut the sausage into 1″ rounds and add to the beans.  Cut the pork chops, including the bones, into large bite size pieces and add them to the beans as well.  Simmer until the beans and meat are cooked, about 30 minutes more. You may need to add more water as you go – do not let the beans or meat stick. Remove and discard the whole onion, the bay leaves and the bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste.  In a separate pan, cook the chopped onion and the rest of the garlic in a little oil until softened, about 10 minutes.  Tip the onion mixture, along with a good cup of beans and their liquid (no meats) into a food processor and pulse several times to make a thick sauce, then pour it back into the bean pot. Or you can just mash the beans into the onion mixture.  Simmer for another 10 minutes or reheat when ready to use.

The Kale 

Blanch the kale for 3 minutes in boiling water.  Drain.  Roll up several leaves at a time and cut them into thin strips.  Repeat until it’s all shredded.  In batches, saute the kale in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes, adding the garlic towards the end so that it doesn’t burn.  Salt to taste.   The kale can be sauteed ahead and warmed up when needed.

Cook the rice by your preferred method to be ready at the right moment.

Peel the oranges with a knife, removing all outside pith and if necessary a slice off the bottom so each orange stands proudly on its own.

 The Farofa

If you’re lucky enough to have a Brazilian store close by, as we do, they’re certain to have farofa. You can also purchase it online here.  It’s delicious, healthy and lasts forever. (It kind of resembles a finely ground panko.) Toast about a cup of farofa in a tablespoon of oil over very low heat until light brown, stirrring from time to time (about 15 minutes).

Serve the beans and the meats (sprinkled with the farofa) accompanied by the rice, the kale, the oranges, and with as much (or as little) hot sauce as you fancy.

BOM APETIT!

About this time of year I’ve been known to say “the blossoms are more beautiful than ever this year.” The amazing trees of San Francisco’s urban forest line the sidewalks and bloom until spring has well and truly arrived here, if not in most other parts of the country. So it’s occurred to me that time is running out on robust dishes for wintery nights. I’d better get a move on.

This recipe originated in Aragon but is popular in other regions of Spain. It is also delicious with chicken legs and thighs.  I love the depth of flavor that comes from a combination of red bell peppers and dried smoky-spicy anchos, which I use instead of the unavailable Spanish choriceros. I have adapted the recipe from my friend Anya von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table. If you want to know why food in Spain is the most innovative and exciting in Europe right now, this is the book to bring you up to speed.

Spanish Lamb and Peppers Stew (Cordero al Chilindrón)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 dried ancho chilis, stemmed and seeded (available at Latino groceries)

1 cup boiling water

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 red peppers, seeded and cut into 1″ strips

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 lbs. lamb shoulder chops

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup canned tomatoes, chopped

1 cup lamb stock (or use chicken)

Flour, salt, pepper

Pour the boiling water over the chilis and let them soak for 20 minutes. Puree the chilis and their liquid in a food processor or blender.

Meantime heat the olive oil in a sturdy caserole (with a lid) and cook the onion over low heat until soft. Add the red peppers and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to make sure they don’t burn.  Add the garlic.

While you’re soaking the chilis and cooking the onions/peppers, cut the lamb into 1″ cubes, removing the fat and bones.

I usually make stock with the bones and scraps of lamb but this isn”t essential.  Dust the lamb cubes with a mixture of flour and salt and brown them in two batches in the remaining oil. 

Add the browned lamb to the onion/pepper mixture, then the wine, letting it bubble for a minute or two, then the tomatoes with their juices and finally the ancho chili puree. If the lamb is’t fully covered, add the stock or enough water to just cover.

Check for salt.  When it begins to simmer, cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook until the lamb is tender, about 1-1/2 hours. 

I like to serve this with rice but you could just use crusty bread to mop up the rich and delicious sauce. 

This is not something that was on our blog schedule, but we made it last night and it was so good I couldn’t bear not to share it. Spring asparagus soup. I think the asparagus here in the U.S. is the best in the world, surpassing those (much touted) that arrive in June in England and the white ones that Germans go crazy about a little earlier in the year. The really beautiful, fat, mouthwatering ones arrive here in California in February to give a kickstart to spring!  Which is why we bought about 4 pounds a few days ago when they were on sale and ended up making soup. You can only eat so much asparagus, no matter how delicious. I used to save the inedible ends that you cut off when you prepare them for cooking. I’d boil them to make soup and always end up with a slimy-green, stringy mess that I would throw out and proclaim “You can’t make asparagus soup.” Then I discovered the error of my ways. Asparagus soup is so delicious that it’s worth splurging on the real thing to make it.

Asparagus Soup

Serves 2 -4

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1 leek, white and very light green parts only, cleaned and sliced (or double the amount of onion)

2 tablespoons sweet onion, finely chopped

1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 4 pieces

3 cups water (stock unnecessary)

1 lb. fat asparagus

1-2 tablespoons cream (crème frâiche or whipping)

Saute the leek and onion in the butter, until soft.  Add the water and the potato, bring to the boil and let simmer.  

Meantime, prepare the asparagus.  Cut off (and discard!) the bottoms of the asparagus that you wouldn’t want to eat.

Take a few minutes to peel them (with a vegetable peeler, you can slice away the outside layer easily if you start just below the tip.) Cut them in 1″ pieces, saving the tips.  After the potato-leek mixture has simmered about 10 minutes add the asparagus pieces and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Steam the tips separately (I put them in one of those simple rosette steamers and place it over the soup). Remove them when they are barely cooked. 

Puree the soup in a food processor or with an immersion blender until very smooth. Reheat if necessary, add the saved tips, the cream, and for an extra treat, a grating of parmesan.

Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish, brought back to England during the Raj. It combines the rich flavors of rice, curry and smoked fish and evolved from khichri, a spicy mixture of lentils and rice that contained no fish. It’s wonderful for brunch or supper, easy to put together and quite festive.  In England it’s usually made with smoked haddock (finnan haddie) but as it’s hard to find in the U.S., I use smoked salmon, not the Scottish or lox kind but the hot smoked, solid piece generally available at supermarkets.  You can of course use any smoked fish, or a variety if making a large amount. At its core this is a rice dish, so it’s important to use good rice. Basmati is best, but I’ve been known to use Uncle Ben’s Converted when making it for a crowd. (Uncle Ben’s is more forgiving than Basmati if there’s a delay in serving it.)

Serves 4 (double the ingredients for 8)

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon vegetable oil 

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, pounded

1 tablespoon good curry powder (Madras type)

1-1/4 cups basmati rice

2 cups hot water

1 piece cold-smoked salmon, 6-8 oz.

1 tablespoon crème fraîche or whipping cream (optional)

2 hardboiled eggs, sliced

3 tablespoons chopped parsley or a mixture of parsley and cilantro

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Lemon quarters

Mango chutney (optional)

In a heavy bottomed skillet or casserole (with a lid), melt the butter over low heat, add the oil and cook the onion until softened.  Add the ginger, ground coriander and curry powder and stir around for a minute or two.  Add the rice and continue to stir for another couple of minutes until the rice is opaque and is well impregnated with the butter and spices.  Then add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the hot water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to as low as possible – the rice should  barely simmer – cover the pan and let cook for 17 minutes.  Don’t peek!

Meantime, remove any skin, bones, and brown parts from the salmon and flake it.   When the rice has cooked for 17 minutes, check to make sure it’s done – the liquid should all be absorbed and the rice tender.  If it’s sticking at all, add a tablespoon of hot water to the pan.  Add the flaked salmon, half the parsley and the cream (for a richer flavor).  Stir in gently, close the pot and allow to steam for another 3 -5 minutes. Check for salt. 

Mound the kedgeree on a platter.  Decorate with the eggs, parsley and lemon quarters. Serve immediately with a bowl of chutney.