When this recipe originally ran in The Globe and Mail, I received a lovely note from reader Barbara Zuchowicz. This dish reminded her of a wonderful meal she had in Italy: "It brought back joyful memories of a trip to Italy my late husband, an exceptional cook, and I took a number of years ago. In Bologna we stumbled across a little bistro restaurant, Columbina, totally unprepared for what we were about to experience. At first we were the only non-Italians in the restaurant. The pork and bean stew was miraculously delicious, and simple, the wine perfectly matched, the service warm, kind, and first rate. Classic Italian. We tried, several times, to reproduce the stew at home, but something was always missing (besides not being in Bologna). You nailed it yesterday: the lemon and thyme! But this was not all. Part way through our meal, a young couple was sat beside us; they were from Abbotsford, BC (!). They were on their honeymoon, had just arrived it Italy that morning, and, neither had never been out of Abbotsford before. They were in Italy because a friend, a recent graduate of an opera programme, had gotten his first job in a small opera house near Bologna. They were going to see him perform the next day. Having started our meal, we knew they were in for a big surprise. It was a magical, "Babette's Feast," moment when they took their first tastes of the simple but perfect food. Their world was opening. Your recipe made me wonder where they are now, and how their world has changed."
A classic cassoulet takes a time-consuming day in the kitchen to prepare. But the final result, after hours of simmering and adding ingredients, has a taste of richness, warmth and comfort that washes over you when you eat this fine dish. Classic pork and beans echoes cassoulet but is quicker and still provides a warm glow on a cool fall night. My take on the dish is perhaps more Italian then French in concept because it is finished with bitter greens. They liven up the dish, giving it that finishing twist that I like in food. Use kale, Swiss chard or collards – even arugula will suffice – and don’t overcook the greens. This dish is perfect for reheating (add the greens at the last minute) and it freezes well, too.
There are two methods for soaking beans, the slow soak overnight in water to cover and the quick soak (my preferred method as I usually forget to do them the night before). To quick soak, cover beans with water, bring to boil on high heat, boil 2 minutes, cover and let sit for 1 hour, then drain. I like cannellini beans but you could use any beans you prefer. Don’t salt beans while cooking, it toughens them.
Ready time: 2 hours, not including soaking time
The secret to juicy pork chops, which can easily become dry when grilled or baked, is brining. It really does make all the difference and renders the meat not only succulent but extra-flavourful.
I use rib chops, but loin works, too. Serve them alongside broccoli greens, Swiss chard or sautéed bok choy and a scoop or two of farro. The ancient grain, a strain of hard wheat that originates from the Fertile Crescent, is sometimes called emmer in North America. It has a firm texture, reheats well and, while it doesn’t become mushy, it does a good job of absorbing seasonings such as the aromatic garam masala and ginger used here.
A tasty stir-fry combining ingredients that are Cuban. Use canned black beans and shred the sweet potato on a mandolin or grater. This insures it cooks quickly in the skillet. Tip: Have all the vegetables and protein cut the same size and shape for eye appeal and even cooking.
For a panini, bread is layered with ingredients and then grilled in a panini pan. The panini pan is a grill with a heavy top that flattens the sandwich down, but you don't need to buy one, just press a heavy pot on top of the sandwich to compress it when you are frying it. Instead of making the Tomato-Chili Jam, you could buy a salsa that you like.
Julian Armstrong, the long-time food writer at the Montreal Gazette, is an incredible authority on Quebec cooking. In her new book, Made in Quebec(published by HarperCollins), she explores all facets of the food-fixated province. The following recipe is like a Quebecois version of sweet-and-sour pork. The kids will love it. You can serve it with basmati rice or Chinese noodles tossed with steamed, slivered vegetables, such as carrots, celery, red onions and bell peppers.
When you’re cooking with skewers it’s important to remember that steel versions conduct heat better, and therefore cook meat faster (depending on the dish). If, like me, you prefer using rosemary branches, lemongrass or wooden sticks for skewering, be sure to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes. Otherwise, they’ll flame up and burn on the grill.
If you’re working with flat pieces of meat or shrimp, remember to spear them twice before grilling as they tend to flop around if they’re not secured.
Souvlaki means skewered meats in Greek. Simple to cook, souvlaki can be made with pork, lamb, chicken or veal, and is often served with tzatziki sauce and a tomato-and-onion salad. For the best tzatziki, use Greek yogurt. If you use the base of a lemongrass stalk for a skewer, or a thick branch of rosemary, the meat will absorb the flavour.
You could top this with puff pastry, fried potatoes or just buttered breadcrumbs.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Ready time: 1 hour
Servings: 6 to 8
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp chopped garlic
6 cups challah (egg bread) cut into ½-inch cubes
1/3cup chopped parsley
1 tsp chili flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
125 g (4 oz) thick-cut bacon, chopped
4 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery root
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 kg (2 lbs) ground pork
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cup beef or chicken stock
2 tbsp quick cooking oats
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced
Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in cubed bread and cook until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in parsley and chili flakes and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.
Return same skillet to medium heat. Add bacon and cook until fat has rendered and bacon is crisp, 3 to 4 min. Add onion and cook for 4 minutes, or until soft. Add carrot, celery root and garlic and cook until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 6 more minutes. Spoon to a bowl and reserve.
Add 1 tbsp oil to same skillet and increase heat to high. Crumble in pork and cook, breaking up meat with a spoon until no pink remains, about 5 minutes.
Add spices and cook for 2 minutes, or until very fragrant. Add vegetable mixture to meat. Stir in stock and oats and cook for 5 more minutes, or until mixture is thickened but still juicy. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
Place 1/2 of mixture in baking dish. Cover with sliced hard-boiled eggs and top with remaining mixture. Top with bread cubes, patting them into a single layer if possible.
Bake for 20 minutes or until bread is crisp and filling is bubbling.
Several options. First up: A pale ale with a pinch of hoppy bitterness will tighten up this fatty dish like a flatteringly worn belt on a bulky dress. A good cider, ideally from Quebec, harnesses the natural affinity between pork and apples while delivering zippy acidity to burn the fat and build a bridge to the salad’s vinaigrette. But I’m fond of a third option, because I like any excuse to tuck into a crisp, light, peppery, cheerful Beaujolais (or Canadian gamay – same grape). In fairness, many other hearty reds could work as well, including Côtes du Rhône. Just keep the acid high. - Beppi Crosariol