Every cook can improve. Recently, I made some improvements in a few favorites. Not all on purpose. My popovers improved purely by chance.
Every cook can improve. Recently, I made some improvements in a few favorites, but not all on purpose. My popovers improved purely by chance.
I already had a chicken roasting in the oven at 375 degrees instead of the 400 I needed for the popovers. I needed both to be ready at about the same time. So I decided, in the interest of getting everything finished, to take a chance. Sure enough, the popovers puffed up more slowly than usual, but higher. I was sure they would never brown, but I was wrong. I was sure that they would deflate. Wrong again. Instead, they held their shape beautifully, turning out much more tender than usual, and with enough properly placed and lovely hollows for jam or butter.
In the case of a soup, I wanted to translate some ingredients. The kids like American bacon better than pancetta, the Italian version, so I decided to try it in the recipe. I also reduced the amount of fat, sautéing the bacon in just a teaspoon of olive oil fat, then draining it so that the fat barely filmed the bottom of the pot. And, in the interest of saving time, I switched the beans from dried to canned as well as embellishing the recipe with a couple of huge handfuls of baby spinach. The result: a deeply soothing winter soup.
Lastly, I set out to change plain baked, stuffed potatoes from a side dish to a vegetarian main course. Looking for Idaho-grown russets, I instead found some really huge potatoes from Montana. Because of their size, I baked them for over an hour, letting their aroma fill the house. While they baked, I sautéed a huge amount of baby spinach leaves in a few drops of olive oil. (Spinach cooks down to nearly nothing, so a cook should double whatever amount seems like a lot.)
I hollowed out the baked potatoes and chopped in the spinach, adding grated Swiss and cheddar cheeses, a few dollops of Greek yogurt (healthier than sour cream) and seasoned the mixture with salt, pepper and a few grindings of whole nutmeg. Then I stuffed everything back into the potatoes and baked them again for 20 minutes with a tiny drizzle of olive oil on top. Now, there’s a new main dish for a meat-free meal.
A word about russet potatoes: the best-tasting ones grow in Idaho. Yes, I understand about eating local, but too many fruits and vegetables are shipped in from Mexico and South America during winter. Plus, I see nothing wrong with and, in fact, prefer produce from the USA –– California, Florida, Idaho and even neighboring Montana — rather than importing it.
All the recipes that are provided improved in flavor; some got healthier with reduced fat and more vegetables.
Country Bean Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium red onion, diced
1 cup dry red wine
8 cups stock, half beef and half chicken
2 (14-ounce) cans red kidney beans
1 cup orzo pasta
salt, pepper, to taste
6 to 8 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano
6 to 8 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)
1. Heat oil and bacon in large stockpot over medium-high heat.
2. Add onions; sauté, stirring frequently with wooden spoon until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Add wine. Simmer gently, uncovered, until half the wine evaporates, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add beans. Cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Stir in orzo; cook 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Ladle soup into individual bowls. Top with grated cheese; drizzle each bowl with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, if using.
Makes six to eight servings.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease six nonstick popover or muffin cups extremely generously.
2. Blend eggs, flour and milk in a processor, or whisk by hand, until smooth.
3. Pour equal amount of batter into muffin tins, filling about three-fourths of the way to the top. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees while letting muffin pans sit for 10 minutes.
4. Transfer pan to oven. Bake 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately.
Makes six servings.
Bakes Stuffed Potatoes
Served with a very crunchy, fresh vegetable salad, these make a great vegetarian main course. They can, of course, also sit on a plate beside a pork chop or hamburger without a bun. The varying amounts in the ingredients below are up to the cook’s judgment according to the size of the potatoes.
Once you grind whole nutmeg yourself, you will discover such a great flavor that you will never go back to the powdered stuff in the jar.
2 very large russet potatoes
1 bag baby spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 to1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
3/4 cup to 1 cup Greek yogurt
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes. Pierce several times with a fork or knife. Place potatoes directly on the oven rack for 1 hour and up to an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.
2. While the potatoes bake, wash the spinach and dry on paper towels. Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, adding a tablespoon or two of water if it gets too dry. Chop coarsely.
3. Remove the potatoes from the oven. Cut in half and hollow the pulp, leaving enough inside the potatoes so that the skins do not collapse. Set the skins in a baking dish. Put the pulp in a bowl. Turn oven heat down to 350 degrees.
4. Add the spinach, cheeses, yogurt, salt, pepper and nutmeg to the bowl. Mix well. Refill the hollowed potato skins with the mixture, mounding it up. Bake for 20 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden and cheese has melted.
Makes two oversize potatoes.
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.