Ciao'd while watching Monday Night Football.


Judging from this photo, no one can resist Red Beans and Rice. Back in the day, the iconic Creole dish was made on Monday using the bone from Sunday's ham supper for flavor. As the women went about their household chores (Monday was traditionally laundry day), the beans simmered leisurely on the stove. I'm guessing that the smoky, spicy, rich aroma made their tasks more enjoyable. I know it would for me. 

What's not to like?  Earthy, creamy kidney beans, smoky, often spicy sausage, and the salty ham bone that sends a rich ripple through the dish compose a triumvirate of tasty goodness. It's the kind of dish that even when you know you should stop eating, you insert your spoon again. And again. Red Beans and Rice brings warmth to the table on a cold day. And it's just the thing to feed a crowd.

So what's up with the Italian thing? My riff on Red Beans and Rice doesn't bastardize the original version. It tilts it just a bit. Rather than the kidney beans that form the base of the southern dish, I opted for Borlotti beans. Borlotti beans are related to kidney beans so this is not much of a stretch. That said, I appreciate the Borlotti's chestnutty flavor and creaminess.  I replaced the bacon with pancetta which does take the smokiness down a notch but its quiet sweetness contributes a subtle counterpoint to the saltiness of its fellow ingredients. Basil, oregano and a generous dose of garlic round out the deliciousness. 

A word about the rice.  The bean mixture is traditionally served atop long-grained white rice. When I cook the rice, I toss it in butter with a dash of salt and pepper to lightly toast it prior to adding the liquid. Toasting refers to a light pre-cooking of the grain to enhance its flavor and aroma rather than imparting color to it.  Some of you may recognize this as a technique employed when making risotto. Italian meet Creole. It's so nice when diverse cultures can get along. 

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This dish cooks at a leisurely pace but the prep is a cinch. Cook the beans until the mixture is less of a soup and more of a creamy, slightly thickened stew. If you prefer a thicker consistency, remove a cup of the beans, mash them and return to the pot. The saltiness of the meats will naturally flavor the beans. Wait until the end of cooking to adjust the seasoning, if needed. 

Serves 6 to 8

1 pound dried Borlotti beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound smoked sausage, such as Andouille, cut into 1-inch slices
1/4 pound diced pancetta
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 ham hock, about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds
Kosher salt, to taste
Chopped green onions or parsley, for garnish
6 to 8 cups hot, cooked long-grain rice

Rinse beans, place in a large deep pot, cover with water by two inches and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, cover, remove from the heat and soak 1 hour. Drain.

In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat is rendered. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, black pepper, and the red pepper, if using, along with the basil, oregano and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Return the sausage to the pot along with the beans and ham hock. Add 8 cups of water. 

Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Remove the ham hock, pick off the meat and add to the pot. Taste for seasoning. Serve over hot, cooked long-grain rice topped with green onions or parsley, if desired. 

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Ciao'd after eating rice pudding - no raisins! 


When my husband and I were startled out of our sleep by the ruddy smell of fire, we thought our home was on fire. No. And then we thought a house in the neighborhood was afire. No again. Instead, there were thousands of homes and vineyards burning 40 miles north of us in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

We didn’t realize the terror until the next morning, which I shouldn’t term “morning” at all. The sky had disappeared. The light was little more than a smudge. The sun rested against a pillow of grey. Powdery ash punctuated the air. Shards of black, the afterlife of trees and, bless them, people’s homes, wallowed at the bottom of our pool and on the wide white arms of our Adirondack chairs. I gazed through my kitchen window at a surreal, sorrowful and dreamlike landscape. Any color I could discern lurked only in the sepia tinge of the air. The green leaves had dissolved into the brown branches. Sparrows and squirrels went about their business in grey camouflage. Even the red hummingbird feeders had assumed a plum hue.

Smoky air is different than fog, a familiar visitor to those of us who live near
San Francisco. Smoky air doesn’t come on little cat feet like fog (thank you, Carl Sandburg). It infiltrates and then it hangs. Smoke doesn’t wear fog’s mantle of misty and cool. It’s heavy and smothering. And unlike fog, which can highlight the colors it surrounds, smoky air mutes everything into a single muddy gradient.  

 Joni Mitchell’s song Big Yellow Taxi began spinning in my head and would not let go.

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

When the air cleared, my mind did, too. My eyes opened wider. The sky flaunts all manner of blue depending upon where your gaze alights. Cerulean, cornflower, steel, Duke, Yale and UCLA blue. Far from one note, the sparrows flock in a fluttering mix of grey, white, black, and brown. The squirrel flourishes red highlights in its fur. The Adirondack chairs are whiter than white. They glow with their whiteness. There is so much green. The lime green of the lime trees. The yellow-green in the bamboo. The Japanese maples strutting autumnal dappled greens.  The grass outside the kitchen is bright, the sage in the garden is silver-green. I could go on and on with this green thing.

I know, I know. It’s not lost on me that the “green thing” signifies life, renewal and nature. It's a promise and I believe that promise will be kept. Soon green will return to the fire-ravaged areas to the north. It will manifest itself in new beginnings of the structural and soulful kind.  

During times like this, manifested in wildfires, hurricanes, and the playpen aka the White House, sorrow and helplessness can permeate our days like smoky air. We all have different means of dealing with the unfathomable. My friend, Tori Ritchie, wrote a heartfelt and heart wrenching post on her blog, Tuesday Recipe, today. And then she shared a recipe “that might make you feel better.” It’s a recipe for Farro, Squash & Kale with Currants. I could not have shared a more spot on recipe myself so I’m spinning the spotlight to Tori. And I’m making that Farro goodness tonight. #grateful #lifeisshort #letseattogether

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So why Modena? Renowned for balsamic vinegar, Modena also gave us (the lucky lot of usfast cars (Ferrari) and luscious iterations of pork. Marcella Hazan remarked, "The Modenese touch with pork can't be beaten." She is spot on. I've had the good fortune to visit Modena and enjoy pork in many variations. Each time, the taste was a revelation. Marcella prefaced her recipe for Braised Pork Chops with Sage and Tomatoes by saying, "This recipe is one of the simplest and tastiest ways of doing pork chops I've ever found." Again, spot on. 

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