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In Praise of Peasant Food

Alan Levine Three SpoonsThere’s something especially delectable about humble ingredients mixed together in a big container and served up with a spoon. That is what comes to mind when I think of peasant food. Stratas, casseroles, gratins, puddings, soups… it all involves mingling an eclectic collection of ingredients, transforming their texture into something smooth, thick, creamy, and comforting, and digging in.

Recently I made two dishes that fall squarely into the category of peasant food: a cheddar cheese, scallion, and corn strata, and a rich pot of tomato soup. I highly recommend these recipes as you forge your way through the coming winter months. Peasant food translates into easy, effortless cooking and lip-smacking results that reheat well, stretching across the week. Peasant food is comfort food, and comfort food is winter food. Dig in below:

Dricker94 Corn Cropped

Corn, Scallion, and Cheddar Strata
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

Butter
4 cobs of corn (approximately 3 cups)
A bundle of scallions (white and green parts)
8 cups bread cubes
2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 3/4 cups milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Tools

9X13 inch baking dish
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Mixing bowls
Box grater
Whisk or fork
Plastic wrap

  • Generously grease your baking dish.
  • Saw the corn off the cobs and measure to see that you have approximately 3 cups. Chop the bundle of scallions and mix in a bowl with the corn.
  • Grate the cheeses and combine in a mixing bowl.
  • In another large mixing bowl, gently beat the eggs with the mayo, milk, salt, and pepper.
  • Cube the bread and measure it out into a large bowl.
  • In the baking dish, layer one-third of the bread cubes, the corn mixture, and the cheese mixture. Repeat this process twice and then pour the egg mixture over the strata. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or an entire day.
  • Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until puffed and golden brown on top.

Ross Pollack Tomatoes

Tomato Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
4 cups chicken stock
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/2 cup heavy cream*

Tools

Large pot
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Wooden spoon
Small pot

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  • Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper and bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Fill a separate, smaller pot with water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for 7 minutes, then drain the orzo and add it to the soup.
  • Add the cream and simmer for 10 more minutes.

*If you want to give the soup a little extra love, Ina Garten recommends serving it with grilled cheese croutons 🙂

Comfort Food

jmv Magic Mushrooms? NOT CC BY 2.0There is something innately comforting about mushrooms. The comfort factor doubles when you add heavy cream and butter and white wine… am I right? Last Sunday I took the afternoon to chop and sweat and simmer mushrooms to my heart’s content, and then I poured some tender loving care onto a pot of herbed basmati rice — I can’t decide what I enjoyed more, the eating or the cooking.

I’ve been suffering from blogger’s block this past week. My attempts to embellish the sautéing of mushrooms with a nugget of spiritual wisdom or worldly advice have left me dry and desperate. Just being honest. It turns out, though, that cooking is quite the complimentary activity to writer’s block — working with your hands, it seems, gives your brain a rest. If you’re good at following directions, and you know how to spot a well-written recipe, things generally turn out as planned.

Not like some other things I’ve had on my mind lately. I’ve been reading (and writing) about education reform, how many of the same, stale reforms are recycled throughout the centuries, repeatedly putting teachers at the center of controversy. Also, I’ve been busy turning a year older, wondering why I’m not “farther” in life, why certain accomplishments haven’t landed in my lap yet, you know, run-of-the-mill ruminations. (However, I do feel loved, thanks to all your calls and texts). And I’ve dug deep into Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch. The book is so full — of characters and settings and language — having already bounced from the sweet, romantic New York City life Theo shares with his single mother to the surreal interior of a bombed out art museum, to the lush, moneyed apartment of Theo’s friend Andy to the subdued, textured back room of an antiques dealer to the bright squalor of Las Vegas, I can’t predict where the plot will turn next.

So I embrace the comforting predictability of cooking, the way a pot of food on the stove sets a scene of its own. Enjoy 🙂

Creamed Mushrooms
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

1 pound of button mushrooms
4-5 tablespoons of butter
2 shallots, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream
kosher salt and black pepper
thick slices of bread, buttered and toasted (optional)

Tools

Paper towels
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Mixing bowls
Liquid measuring cups
Large pot
Wooden spoon

  • With moist paper towels, wipe the mushrooms clean of dirt.
  • Slice the mushrooms and chops the slices into 1/4-inch pieces. This takes a while — enjoy some chopping zen 🙂
  • Chop the shallots and place in a bowl. Measure out the wine and the heavy cream in advance, for some mise en place — why not.
  • In a large pot, melt 4 tablespoons of butter on low heat and add the chopped shallots.
  • Sauté the shallots until they’re soft and limp over medium to medium-high heat.
  • Add the mushrooms, and possibly another tablespoon of butter if they seem dry. Cook until the mushrooms start to soften, stirring occasionally, over medium to medium-high heat.
  • Add the wine, and cover, cooking the shrooms about 5 minutes more.
  • Uncover the pot and continue cooking for a few minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  • Add the heavy cream and cook a bit longer, allowing the cream to thicken somewhat. (1/2 cup was too much for me; I’d start by adding 1/4 cup and add  little more to achieve a thick, creamy consistency without leftover liquid).
  • Serve on top of buttered toast or on its own, with rice.

Herbed Basmati Rice
Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

2 cups basmati rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons minced dill
2 pinches black pepper

Tools

Measuring cups & spoons
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Mixing bowls
Large saucepan
Wooden spoon
Fork

  • Measure out the ingredients and mince the herbs.
  • Place the rice, water, salt, and butter in a large saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil, give everything a quick stir, reduce the heat to low and simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes. Watch to see that the mixture doesn’t boil over; you may have to temporarily remove it from the heat if the liquid bubbles up.
  • Once fifteen minutes have passed, turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for 5 more minutes.
  • Add the herbs and pepper and fluff it with a fork.

 

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