I’ve decided I’ve been neglecting my cookbooks. I love them dearly, so this hurts me much more than it hurts them. It’s not that I abuse them or keep them in a dank, spider-infested cupboard or anything like that. It’s just that with all the magazine clippings and internet bookmarks I’ve acquired, I really haven’t been cooking from them nearly enough.
And so I gave myself a bit of a Cookshelf Challenge. I’m going to try to cook at least one new recipe from each of the cookbooks I own. On the way, I will probably revisit a few old favorites (such as the recipe in this post) as a way to get a running start. I hope to journal these messy adventures on these pages, sharing recipes when I’ve adapted or rewritten them and offering amateur commentary and page numbers when I haven’t, giving you the chance to look up the original recipe yourself if you’re interested. There will be lists of the books I’ve cooked from and recipes I’ve tried here as well as links to relevant posts.
Last week, I kind of dug into two cookbooks to get things started: A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider and Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be cooking my way through most of Good to the Grain. I love this book, love Boyce’s philosophy, and love baked goods, so I think it’s going to be a fun ride. More on that book in another post.
While I’ve only owned Good to the Grain for a couple weeks, I’ve had A New Way to Cook since it came out in 2001. It was probably the first cookbook that I ever just read though, taking in the introductions, descriptions and author enthusiasm for good, fresh home-cooked food. The first sentence of the introduction is, “The purpose of this book is to introduce you to a way of cooking truly delicious food simply, easily, healthfully, and with pleasure, and to enhance the joy of sharing it.” In that case, I’m in.
And I have been “in” to this book for years, even though I haven’t cooked from it nearly enough. It’s not just a collection of traditional recipes re-thought and redesigned to be more healthful, but a guide to varying and improvising upon basic recipes and creating menus based on what’s in season. Reading and trying a few recipes from this book really allowed me to change the way I approached my pantry, my kitchen and my meals and helped me develop my own “new way to cook.”
When I found lots of cooked white beans in the freezer and bought a new sage plant for the patio garden, I knew I would go straight to the Tuscan Beans with Sage and Garlic. This is either the first or second recipe I tried in this book. (I can’t remember whether I tried the Cold Spicy Sesame Noodles first.) I’ve made it so often that I don’t tend to go back and look at the recipe before setting out to make it. I’ve changed a few things, but mostly because I sort of inadvertently migrated from the exact ingredients and procedures.
The recipe is based on the classic Tuscan fagioli al fiasco, which is a wine bottle full of beans, lots of olive oil, fresh sage and garlic that is allowed to bubble away on the embers of the kitchen hearth. The beans absorb the olive oil and the flavors of the sage and garlic. Sounds luxurious and heart-warming and decadent beyond belief. I, however, don’t have a kitchen hearth, so I’m glad that Ms. Schneider shared her technique for cooking the beans in sage- and garlic-infused olive oil in a pan on the stove. It’s delicious.
First, garlic and sage are cooked over low heat in a small amount (compared to the traditional recipe) of olive oil, then removed from the oil leaving behind their flavorful essence. The beans are cooked in the oil with a little liquid (I’ve been using white wine, but chicken broth is very good) and absorb the subtle but wonderful flavors the cook has created. It’s so simple, takes very little time, assuming you have cooked or canned beans on hand, and tastes so good…well, it just tastes so good!
White Beans with Sage and Garlic
Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider
5-6 medium to large garlic cloves
about 10 large sage leaves (or up to 20 very small ones)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups cooked white beans (about 2 16-ounce cans) drained and rinsed
¼ cup dry white wine or chicken broth
coarse salt and black pepper to taste
1. Peel the garlic and thinly slice it. Cut the sage leaves into ¼-inch slices.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic slices and cook a few minutes, just until they begin to brown slightly. Remove the lightly-browned garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. Add the sage to the oil. Cook for about 1 minute or until the leaves look darker and somewhat crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside with the garlic.
4. Add the beans and wine or broth to the oil. Increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring gently, until only a little thickened liquid remains in the pan. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the cooked garlic and sage.
Makes about 2-3 main dish or 4-6 side dish servings.
One year ago: White Bean Soup with Fresh Herbs
Two years ago: Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon