|
|
|
The Times
  • Kitchen Call: No meat, no problem

  • Originally determined by nature, there was simply nothing left in the larder in the dead of winter but dried beans and a few wrinkled root vegetables. In later centuries, religion set down meatless meals as law.

    • email print
  • Although a growing number of us are going vegetarian as a lifestyle today, meatless meals at this point in the calendar are a long-standing tradition.
    Originally determined by nature, there was simply nothing left in the larder in the dead of winter but dried beans and a few wrinkled root vegetables. In later centuries, religion set down meatless meals as law.
    Later, with the dawn of fast transportation and refrigeration, the faithful kept to their traditions, avoiding meat on certain days of the week. The arrival of meat once more kept the arrival of springtime still majestic.
    For some of us, avoiding meat is challenging, but it doesn’t need to be. Drawing on European traditions, vegetarian fare can be downright delicious.
    The classic tortilla of Spain is not, as some might be led to imagine, a soft flour wrapper holding veggies. It is a large, thick omelet that is first flavored with onions and garlic, then packed with potato slices and pimiento-stuffed olives and finally slid under a broiler where it puffs and tans up golden.
    Choose a skillet that can go right into the oven without its handle melting — an old-fashioned black cast iron one that New Englanders still call a “spider.” And don’t forget to grab a potholder to take it out of the oven. Then, cut it like a pie and serve it right out of the skillet.
    Italians make a meal of stale bread, giving it a hot bath in tomatoes scented with carrots, onions and celery, the “trinity” that forms the base of many soups and stews. Once thought of as poor people’s food, this recipe holds the health benefits of dark leafy greens.
    White kidney beans provide the protein, and dried red pepper flakes the spice. At the last minute, stir in just a spoonful of fresh basil pesto or, if basil is a casualty of your winter, drizzle on a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and a scatter on a few flakes of coarse sea salt.
    On another meatless night, tweak classic lentil soup with a flavor combination from the Greek islands. Rather than the old ho-hum canned tomatoes, add a few caraway seeds to the simmering pot. Then finish the whole thing off with tangy Greek yogurt and fresh mint leaves.
    The cook gets to decide whether to keep the soup totally meat-free by choosing to use vegetable or chicken stock. (I keep a few low-salt boxed ones on the shelf for when my freezer is bare of homemade.)
    CLASSIC TORTILLA ESPANOLA
    6 to 8 servings
    This looks gorgeous emerging from the oven. Warning: The eggs deflate as they cool, so get everyone lined up and looking in the right direction for prime visual impact before cutting into it.
    Page 2 of 3 - I’m not a fan of leaving minced garlic in an egg dish, so I just give the clove a walk around the pan in the warm oil until it turns a light gold and adds its flavor to the oil. Then I fish it out with a slotted spoon and throw it away.
    This is also good at room temperature in a sandwich, if you have any leftovers.
    2 tablespoons olive oil, or enough to film the bottom of the skillet
    1 clove garlic, peeled
    1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
    1 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
    6 large eggs plus 1 tablespoon water
    Salt, pepper, to taste
    Stuffed green olives, sliced
    1. Preheat the broiler. Break eggs into a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk until they foam slightly. Set aside.
    2. Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; cook until lightly golden, NOT brown; remove and discard. Add onion; cook 2 to 3 minutes until softened.
    3. Add potato slices. Cover and cook over medium heat, 20 minutes, until tender, moving several times during cooking.
    4. When onions and potatoes are tender, pour the eggs over them, whisking again if the foam has subsided. Sprinkle olive slices over the top. Cook, shaking the pan and lifting the edges of the cooked eggs with a spatula to let the uncooked eggs run under them until the bottom is set and golden.
    5. Place the whole pan under the broiler, leaving the oven door open, until top is lightly browned and slightly puffed. Serve warm or at room temperature.
    RIBOLLITA
    6 servings
    I use day old Italian or French bread for this. Or, if I have only a fresh loaf on hand, I cube the bread first, then “stale it up” on a baking sheet for 20 minutes in a 300-degree oven, stirring once or twice. 
    1/4 cup olive oil
    2 medium onions, finely chopped
    2 celery stalks, finely chopped
    4 carrots, coarsely chopped
    1 large can (32 ounces) “kitchen-ready” tomatoes
    1 bunch greens (chard, kale, or spinach), stemmed
    salt, pepper, to taste
    3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
    2 cups canned white kidney beans (cannellini)
    pinch crushed red pepper flakes
    1 can (from tomatoes) filled with water, or more if needed
    1 loaf Italian bread, cut in large chunks
    1. Heat the oil in large soup pot. Add the onions, celery and carrots and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring, until the vegetables are tender.
    2. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer gently on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.
    3. Add potatoes, beans, pepper flakes and water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.
    Page 3 of 3 - 4. Stir in the bread and greens; season with salt and pepper. Simmer just 3 to 5 minutes. The bread will soften.
    5. To serve, ladle into bowls; drizzle on a few drops of extra virgin olive oil or a small dollop of basil pesto.
    LENTIL SOUP WITH YOGURT, CARAWAY AND MINT
    Makes 6 servings
    Use red, green or plain brown; the cooking times will vary according to the size and age of the beans, so check the package directions. Choose either chicken or vegetable stock to your taste.
    2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
    2 medium onions, roughly chopped
    1 carrot, coarsely chopped
    2 teaspoons caraway seeds, toasted, and finely ground
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
    1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed and drained
    salt, pepper, to taste
    5 tablespoons Greek yogurt
    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
    Toasted pita bread for serving
    1. Heat the oil in a heavy 4-qt saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add the caraway and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring until the flavorings are fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add stock and lentils and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover and cook stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft, 15-20 minutes.
    2. Transfer half the mixture to a food processor; puree until smooth. Return the pureed soup to pot and stir into remaining soup. This will thicken the soup while continuing to keep its texture. Keep the soup warm over very low heat until serving. Season with salt and pepper.
    3. Stir together yogurt and mint; set aside, 10 minutes to blend flavors. Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt, a sprinkle of mint and pita bread on the side.
    Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Follow Linda on Twitter @ Kitchen Call for a daily kitchen hint, trick, shortcut or info.
      • calendar