Once in awhile I get it right. I mean REALLY right! Tonight was one of those occasions.
I had finished reading 25% of the written assignments I received last night in class, so I am well on the road to completing grading in record time. Barbara was out, taking care of our grandsons to give our daughter a break, so I could play in the kitchen on my own (that is, until she returned).
Sometimes I conjure up a dish in my mind, inspired by reading cookbooks, thinking about ingredients, and savoring the smells and flavors in my imagination. Tonight it was slow-cooked vegetables, beans, and rice as done in Greek countryside cooking.
I did have a head start. A few days earlier I had soaked three different kinds of dried beans from the larder, then prepared them the next day in a Basque bean pot. The varieties were Scarlett Runner, Controne, and small Black Beans. They were happily resting in the bean stock from the cooking water on a refrigerator shelf , so they were ready to go. I also had acquired some superb Greek ingredients in recent weeks, to enhance the flavors — Greek olive oil, Greek medium grain rice, oregano, Chili Flakes, and Caper Leaves — more about that later.
I was not working from a recipe. Instead, it was purely by feel. There were a number of little steps, not hard or too time-consuming, but as long I ate dinner by 8 PM, I was in no hurry. Here are the steps:
- cut one zucchine in quarters lengthwise, then in 1/2-inch pieces
- place cubes in a strainer and sprinkle with Kosher salt, for 1/2 hour or more
- cut one leek in quarters lengthwise, then in 1/2-inch pieces
- dice about 1/2 medium onion in 1/2 inch pieces
- chops celery hearts in a small dice
- wash and coarsely chop baby arugula, 2-3 cups or more
- chop 3 cloves of garlic
- take a handful of good quality pinoli (pine nuts) and put in a small prep bowl
- spoon 2-4 cups of cooked beans and their cooking liquid into a bowl
- reserve 3-4 canned Italian plum tomatoes with some juice in a bowl
- put 1/2 cup of medium grain rice in a bowl
- put Greek or Italian oregano, dried and crushed, into prep bowl
- do the same with chili flakes and caper leaves, in amounts to taste
- prepare a pint of good vegetable stock, homemade if possible
Now, start cooking. I had the good fortune of purchasing an 11″ wide, deep nonstick sauté pan from Zwilling via Food52 (a bargain at $69) recently, but any good sized skillet or sauté pan will work.
- start with 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat
- when oil is hot, and leek, celery, and onion, cooking until lightly colored and just tender
- wipe zucchine dry with paper towels, and add to the sauté pan
- cook a few minutes, then add pine nuts and garlic
- add oregano, Kosher or sea salt, and black pepper (always freshly ground)
- as zucchine begins to become tender, add the rice and stir
- add all the stock and stir again
- after cooking a few minutes, squeeze the tomatoes into the pot, along with some of the liquid
- add the cooked beans and their liquid, then sprinkle on the Chili Flakes (smoky flavor is good here)
- cover loosely and simmer until the rice becomes tender, adding stock, bean liquid or water, as needed
- remove the cover, add some caper leaves if you have them, caper buds if no leaves, or just whisper “capers” into the pot if none else is available
- add a couple more Tbs of Greek olive oil, stir and simmer a bit longer, until the rice is very nice and tender
Serve hot or at room temperature. You could lightly dust the dish with paprika if you wish. Serve with a full-flavored red wine. My choice was AN/2 from Mallorca.