More often than not, our weekday dinners are determined by an item in the fridge that’s near its “use-by” date. Such was the case on Monday, when my husband announced that we had a pound of Italian sausage that needed to be used or tossed. When I suggested making my go-to sausage and roasted peppers, he said: “Again? Why not try something new and use it for the blog.”
While making something new might not pose a problem for those of you who have a nearby market or a car, for those of us who don’t, it often involves seeing what’s on hand and then searching for a suitable recipe. After discovering a package of green lentils in the pantry, I turned to my cookbook collection, where I found the perfect match, “Lentil and Sausage Casseroles,” in a volume from the Good Cook series by Time-Warner: Dried Beans and Grains.
Way back in the early 70s, I used to watch “The Romagnolis’ Table,” a cooking series on PBS that attempted to do for Italian cooking what Julia Child did for its French counterpart in the United States. Featuring a husband-and-wife team, Margaret and G. Franco Romagnoli, it sought to bring authentic Italian dishes to an audience who thought spaghetti and meatballs with its long simmering Sunday sauce epitomized Italian cuisine. In a Christian Science Monitor interview, he declared: “Ninety percent of pasta sauces are made by the time you bring that pasta to a boil.”
My Neapolitan aunt, with whom I used to watch the show, enjoyed it as much as I did and found their style of cooking similar to hers. Her only objection to their no-frills show came at the end of each episode when Margaret and George sat down to sample their food at their kitchen table. “Why can’t they be like Julia,” she said, “and have their meal in the dining room.”
Because I’ve always been intimidated by dried beans, I thought it might be a good idea to join the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. The company has a well-deserved reputation for high-quality products and offers a wide variety of heirloom beans, many of which cannot be found on supermarket shelves. So, when, after two years on their waiting list, they notified me a club membership was available, I quickly signed up for quarterly shipments of six packs of beans. To date, I’ve received three deliveries and have only cooked four packs of beans, the last of which inspired today’s post: Royal Corona Bean and Wild Mushroom Stew.
Having had some success with my three previous segues into bean cooking, I decided to attempt something more daring. Rather than following the package direction for cooking the beans, I used a recipe from Alison Roman that called for cooking the beans without soaking them, uncovered, at a bare simmer for one to two hours in a rather unorthodox broth. In addition, the bean-stew recipe from the Rancho Gordo newsletter called for a couple of brand-name ingredients as well as for Swiss chard that I didn’t have on hand. But being in a daring mood, I decided to make some substitutions.
Well, my intrepid foray into bean cooking hit a few snags along the way. My beans took close to five and a half hours to cook and still were a little more al dente than I would have preferred. Likewise, the supermarket’s replacement of baby kale for the fresh kale I ordered didn’t deliver the flavor or texture I had expected. On the brighter side of things, however, the cooking method of the beans yielded a mighty flavorful broth owing largely to its use of caramelized onions, garlic, and lemon along with dried chiles. Similarly, my substituting more dried porcini for the recipe’s brand-name seasoning blend as well as replacing the called for miso with tahini spiked with soy sauce gave the stew the woodsy and umami flavors I was looking for.
Spotting two perfectly plump pork chops on a recent trip to the market inspired this week’s post. Each weighed a little more than a pound and measured at least 1½-inch thick; the ideal size for an Italian-American recipe I’ve been wanting to make for some time: Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers from Patsy’s Cookbook by Sal Scognamillo.
Similar to a dish I wrote about here almost 9 years ago that was based on my mother’s recipe, this one also has a family tie. My father was the attorney for Patsy Scognamillo and urged him to buy the building on New York’s West 56th Street, where Patsy’s continues to be one of the city’s landmark restaurants. It was one of the few restaurants that met my father’s stringent standards for the Neapolitan (or at least Italian-American) food with which he grew up. Who knows; these pork chops could have been a favorite.