Big Beans and Bitter Greens

4 11 2010

It was a while ago, at some salon or other, that Nick and I first made the acquaintance of the haricot de Soissons.  They immediately earned themselves a nickname: the Big Beans.

haricots de Soissons

I think you can see why.  The beans are grown in the Aisne valley (a name you may recognize from this beer post), located northwest of Reims and Northeast of Paris.  It’s in the Picardie region, which isn’t necessarily known for its food, but these beans are notable for more than just their size – they’re also creamy-textured and incredibly flavorful.

So why am I writing about them now?  Well, a few weeks ago I got some escarole in my CSA bag.  The same week, Andrea from Cooking Books featured a recipe for a delightful fall stew with beans, greens, and sausage.  She didn’t use it, but the original recipe called for escarole, and I had some!  I figured it would be a good time to use the Big Beans, so I soaked them for a day and a half in salted water.  All of you who are gasping in horror at the thought of adding salt to beans before they’re cooked should really go read this post at Nose to Tail at Home.  (Thanks for the tip, Ryan!)  Then I simmered them in more salted water until they were tender, about 45 minutes or so.

And then, I was ready to make stew.  I didn’t have Italian sausage, and wouldn’t even know where to look for it in Paris, but I did have some ground pork.  Which I cooked, seasoning it as though it were going to be sausage with red pepper flakes, fresh thyme and rosemary, and of course, plenty of salt.  (If I’d had fennel seeds I totally would have used them, but it happens to be a gap in my otherwise fairly comprehensive spice collection.)  From there, I just made stew: I added some onions, some broth, tomatoes, and the Big Beans.  I let it all simmer for a bit while I cleaned and tore up some escarole, and then I stirred that in until it wilted.

beans & greens

We ate it for lunch on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, and it was just the ticket.  Filling and warming and nap-inspiring.  We had quite a bit left over, which Nick took to work and ate for lunch a few more times during the week.  If that’s not a compliment to the chef, I don’t know what is.

Yesterday, in 2009: How to Make a Cream Soup (It may be cheating a little from the “This day in history” standpoint, but I think it’s an important post, so I’m putting it up anyway.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Cooking Colonial in Paris (Project Food Blog Challenge #2)

26 09 2010

There’s a downside to cooking a lot and experimenting with all types of international cooking: when Foodbuzz challenges you to make a classic dish from a cuisine with which you’re unfamiliar, the pickings can be slim.  French is out, for obvious reasons (e.g. I live there).  As is American (e.g. I am one).  Mexican, Chinese, and Indian all get a fair share of play on my table.  I have been known to cook Japanese, Russian, and Italian.  And I’ve cooked Bulgarian, English, Thai, North African, Vietnamese, and German, too.

I thought about cooking feijoada, the Portuguese/Brazilian bean and meat stew.  I even asked one of the Portuguese women at work for her recipe.  But somehow it wasn’t wacky enough.  (I mean, I’ve done pig’s ears and feet before.)  I asked my sister-in-law, who is Filipina, if she had any classic family recipes.  She sent me a very tasty-sounding recipe for chicken adobo.  The same day, Nick came home from work with a recipe from one of his colleagues.  A Frenchman who used to live in West Africa, notably Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, had given him a recipe for mafé, a type of groundnut stew.  It varies widely from country to country, but is popular throughout the region.  At its heart it is a basic braised chicken (or lamb, or beef, but never pork) dish, but the spicy tomato and peanut-based sauce combines familiar-to-me ingredients in a very unfamiliar way.  The recipe also came with specific instructions as to an appropriate beverage – jus de bissap, a chilled, sweetened tea made from hibiscus flowers.  I was seduced.


1. Athithane, 2. Sweet potatoes & Manioc, 3. Bissap bags, 4. “Produits Exotiques”

Living in France can have its disadvantages, too, especially when it comes to cooking something not French.  (The challenge is reduced somewhat if the country in question is a former colony of France, which Senegal was until 1960.)  Fortunately, I live in a very diverse neighborhood in Paris, and there are a handful of “exotic product” shops selling products from places as far apart as Africa, India, and China.  I found this tiny one on my way to the bank Saturday morning, and they had everything I was looking for: sweet potatoes, bissap (the aforementioned hibiscus flowers), and ginger.  I love poking around in the foreign food stores here, because I never know what I’m going to find.  In this case, I succeeded in keeping focused, so after picking up the necessities, and a quick stop at the butcher for a chicken, I headed home to get cooking.


1. Boning Knife, 2. Scissors, 3. Cleaver

Aside from being in French, all the recipes I found for mafé called for whole chickens, cut up.  In the spirit of authenticity, I channeled my inner butcher and cut the bird into ten pieces – two legs, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts, halved.  I saved the backbone to make stock at a later date.  The vegetable components in the recipes varied wildly, but onions, carrots and sweet potatoes featured in several, so I figured they would make a fairly classic stew.  Like any good French-trained cook, I got all my mise en place together before starting to cook.

Read the rest of this entry »








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