This is my current favourite, ‘desert island’ dinner. It used to be a fast and lightly cooked vegetable couscous with harissa sauce to pour over, but this has capped it all. You could live on this with very minimal income, maybe costing a fiver to make a big pot for the week. It’s not that I’m a vegetarian, but if you can achieve this richness without meat, who needs it.
Braze six or so chopped garlic cloves in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until they’re brown or nearly burnt. Add a large chopped onion or two smaller ones, and let it sweat down. You can add a nub of chorizo if you believe that all bean dishes need pork, but you really don’t need to. Add two tins of black beans rinsed of their brine. Add two tins of chopped tomatoes. Grind two dried chipotle chillies and one large ancho chillie in a mortar, or cup them up finely, and add. You can get these from your Mexican shop, or on-line. Adjust the liquid level to just have everything covered. You can add a cup of freshly brewed coffee as an option for liquid, and two squares of dark chocolate. Let it simmer away for days, hardly bubbling at all.
Make a stiff polenta by stirring cornmeal into boiling water with a little oil. When it’s ready, take two desert spoons and make ovaloid dumplings and leave them to set further on a plate. When you’re ready to eat, add some of them to the beans and let them heat through and poach a little further. At the end add the greens, which can be spinach, the quickest, chard, kale or cavolo nero. Let it cook through and serve.
Of course, you can make this whole dish from scratch, but I think the quality of the tinned stuff is fine. This dish only gets better with reheating and more servings. There is some innate chemistry between the tomatoes and beans taking place, and eaten with the cornmeal dumplings, complete protein.
I was staying with German friends in Kerry when Claudio told me that he collected espresso cups, and had quite a sizeable collection of them. He wondered if there might be an Irish one to add. I was most dubious about the idea, and said that although Illy Cafe had been in my valley for a decade at a drive of some 20 kilometers away, I thought it unlikely. That morning we went to a cafe on Valentia Island and to my surprise I was given an espresso in a fully Irish espresso cup. It wasn’t new and evincing nostalgia, but probably one from the original Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton Street in the bloom of cafe society, and probably the only place of its kind in Dublin. I was so enchanted with the coincidence that I asked the waitress if I could buy it for Claudio’s collection. She in turn was so delighted that such a collection might exist at all, that she washed and dried the cup and gave it to me.
A bowl of Irish gnocchi to celebrate a return to this column after several months absence. At times I feel that Irish potatoes can only be mixed with flour and made into gnocchi as a way of preventing them from dissolving in boiling water. They don’t like ‘wet’ potatoes in Ireland, only the ones that ‘explode in your face’.
A fulsome Chicken of the Woods fungus hacked off an oak tree by Tessa and John Falvey in early June of 2011 lasted us for three or four days. We ate it as a sauté with eggs for breakfast, as strips to make a lasagne of sorts, and even grated it dry into a robust soup.There is a book to be written which might be entitled How Not to be A Vegetarian, about eating such things, for all their satisfaction and completeness, with no reference to ersatz cookery, or the ubiquitous quiche.
toad in the hole with rosemary & onion sauce with mustard, for the crossing of the Irish Sea from Rosslare to Fishguard on March 10th 2012, to install Printed in Norfolk at Norwich University College of the Arts, from March 20th to April 21st 2012. A calm sea, with much sun.