Snowstorms and even blizzards in early spring that make you stick close to the hearth, are not unknown in Maine. The current one, created by a rogue virus and constant alarming news updates, is different. There are no swirling white flakes. The roads and sidewalks are not in need of shoveling. It took a little longer to arrive in Maine, but suddenly our world has become conducive to staying close to the hearth.
We find children on protracted leave from school. Vacations, most travel and social events are cancelled, and working from home has become mandatory in some cases. University classes and even some churches can only be attended ‘on-line.’ Distancing has become the word of the day for the foreseeable weeks. It is “hunker-down-time.”
This enforced relief from the ordinary rush of our daily lives may feel like a novelty for a time, but becoming a couch potato can be debilitating. It is a bit too early to start a garden, but it might be an opportunity to try something new in your kitchen and surprise your family with something delectable.
Our early spring is still cool enough to savor a hearty soup, especially one that improves with reheating and can provide multiple meals.
Portuguese black bean soup
Rinse ¾ lb. black beans, cover with cold water and bring to boil in a pot for 2 minutes. Set aside for 1 hour, drain and set aside. (Alternative: soak beans in cold water overnight). In a 4 qt. pot sauté chopped: 1 onion, 1 stalk celery, 1 carrot and 4 cloves of garlic in 1 tblsp. olive oil for 5 minutes. (If available – include a ham hock or ham bone.) Stir in 1 tsp. oregano, 1 tsp. thyme, 5 cloves, 1 bay leaf, 6 peppercorns, 2 tsp salt, 1 16 oz. can chopped tomatoes or 8 oz tomato sauce and 4-5 cups water. Bring to boil and cook for 45 min. to 1 hour until beans are soft. Remove any ham bones and bay leaf. Stir in 1 ½ cups chopped chorizo, 2 tblsp. red wine vinegar and 1 tblsp. balsamic vinegar (optional). Serve hot with finely chopped chives or parsley on top.
Dishes combining pasta and greens have a certain eye appeal, so I was recently intrigued by a recipe in Food & Wine magazine which combined pasta with radicchio. Unfortunately, the heavy cream and abundance of cheese in that recipe were designed for a lumberjack dinner. Here is a slimmed-down version for two.
Baked pasta with radicchio
Cook 2 cups short tube pasta or small shells in salted boiling water, drain, saving 1 cup of the water and set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large high-sided skillet, sauté ½ thinly sliced red onion in 1 tblsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. butter for 10 minutes. Stir in: ½ small head radicchio thinly sliced, 1 chopped clove garlic, ½ tsp. salt and 2 tsp. red wine vinegar. Continue stirring and cook for 1 minute until radicchio is wilted. Stir in 1 tblsp. flour and the reserved pasta water, making a sauce, on low heat. Remove from stove and stir in: ¾ cup cottage cheese, 2 oz. shredded Asiago cheese and the reserved pasta. Mix well and toss with 1 ½ cups diced smoked farmer’s sausage (or torn small pieces of 4 oz. prosciutto). Transfer to a greased deep pie dish and sprinkle with 1 oz shredded Gruyêre. Bake for 30 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Spring will come and this too shall pass!
(I. Winicov Harrington lives in coastal Maine and is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)