Not long ago, Jeff pointed out that I make mostly one-pot meals for dinner. You know, pastas, stews, soups, yummy things like that. I don't really like to make meals that are composed of meat and sides, and I really can't stand to make salads. They are so often too fussy--even the most basic ones. This, I know, isn't my worst culinary habit, but it's one of those things that I thought I would have grown out of by now, you know just eating a bowl of pasta and sauce for dinner. Or just eating chicken and mashed potatoes (and maybe a steamed green). (However, it MUST be said that mashed potatoes, especially when made with judicious amounts of whole milk and butter, ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT count as a side. Mashed potatoes could be a meal themselves. I know. I did it in college. It was a great few days.)
Also, I have a problem with vegetarian dishes. They so often seem like sides, which isn't really fair. The thing is, I know know know that it doesn't have to be like that. The smart, food-savvy, environmentally sound part of me understands perfectly well that we should eat mostly locally grown, organic vegetables (and, you know, everything else). I aspire to it. But since moving to New York, it's been really, really hard. Unlike Madison, I find that food simply isn't transparent--you don't know where it came from, and helpful, organic/free-range/grain-fed/no pesticides labels are often conspicuously missing. And if there is, by some miracle, a label to scrutinize, prices are automatically by 30% or so. I guess this wouldn't really be a problem if I had the means to shop at Whole Foods all the time, but living on means such as mine don't really leave a lot of Whole Foods budget.
To get over this vegetarian psychological barrier that I have, I have even gone so far as to invest in more than a few vegetarian cookbooks. But again, unless we're talking pasta or polenta or (if we're talking loose vegetarianism), fish, everything just seems so side dishy.
Does anyone have any suggestions? I would love to have them.
In the meantime, here is my latest, greatest soup. Vegetarian(ish), of course.
Minestrone, adapted from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food
1 lb fresh cranberry beans (or 1 14-oz can)
1/4 c olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
4 garlic cloves coarsly chopped
5 thyme sprigs, or 1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
3 c chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
1 old parmasean rind (optional--though I find it adds amazing depth)
1 small leek, diced
1/2 frozen green beans
2 medium zucchini, cut into small dice
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (or 2 whole peeled canned tomatoes, drained and chopped)
1 c. bean cooking liquid
small pasta, like ditallini or orzo
1. Prepare 1 lb fresh cranberry/borlotti beans, if available: shell the beans, then cover with water by about an inch. Simmer 20 minutes, or until creamy but not to the point of discinigration. Salt to taste. Drain beans, but keep 1 cup of the water for later on.
2. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When shimmering, add the onion and sauté for 15 minutes, or until tender. Add the garlic, herbs, bay and salt to tast, and cook for five minutes longer.
3. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the parmasean rind. Add the leek and the green beans, and cook 5 mintues more. Add the zuccini and tomatoes, and cook 15 minutes more.
4. Meanwhile cook the pasta until al dente. Let cool before adding to soup.
5. Add the reserved cup of bean cooking liquid (or water, if that's what you've got) and the pasta. Heat through and adjust seasonings. Serve drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of parmasean cheese.