Creative Cookery



 

BEAN SOUP AND CUBAN BREAD

Yesterday morning, with an ice storm in the forecast, I decided that it would be great to hole up indoors with a nice warming dinner of old-fashioned bean soup and crusty homemade French/'talian/Cuban bread.

As it turned out, we not only didn't get an ice storm but it turned mild; but the dinner was a good one anyway.

Both components require a little planning ahead and scheduling; I started puttering in the kitchen around 3 for dinner at 7. But it was by no means four hours in the kitchen; rather, it's a matter of wandering in, handling a procedure, and then going back to work on other things until time for the next chore.

The soup is a simple rendition pretty much based on the ubiquitous Senate Bean Soup recipe; the bread is my evolved version of James Beard's "French-style bread," which is actually Cuban bread and the best FAST French-bread recipe I know of. Just for fun, I'll put both recipes together, time-table style, to show how I worked it:

3 p.m.: Put 2 cups dry navy beans in a dutch oven with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to the boil, boil for 2 minutes, then cover and turn off heat; let stand for 1 hour.

Go back to what you were doing for about an hour.

3:55 p.m.: Start bread. Put 2 cups warm water in a large crockery mixing bowl; stir in 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 packages dry yeast; stir with a fork until the yeast dissolves, then set aside for about 10 minutes until it starts to bubble.

4 p.m.: Drain soaking liquid from beans, leaving them in the pot. Put in 5 cups water, 1 ham hock, 1 whole peeled onion, 1 bay leaf, 6 whole cloves and 12 whole black peppercorns. Bring to the boil, then turn down heat to a bare simmer and let cook for 3 hours, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat as necessary to keep it at a bare simmer.

4:05 p.m.: Mix 1 tablespoon salt into 5 cups bread flour. Start stirring the flour, a cup at a time, into the water-yeast mixture, continuing to work in flour until the dough is stiff; turn it out onto a floured bread board and knead, working in a little more flour if necessary, until the dough is smooth and not at all sticky, about 10 minutes. Clean the bowl, pour in a little olive oil, and put in the dough, turning it so the upper surface has a little oil on it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth towel and put it in a warm place (inside a gas oven with the pilot light on is perfect) to rise until more than doubled, about two hours. (If you want to do this a little earlier, no problem, just punch down the dough when it's fully risen and let it rise again; this will give you an extra hour and possibly result in even better bread.)

Now you can knock off for another hour-and-a-half or so before you're needed back in the kitchen.

5:40 p.m.: Peel a large baking potato, cut it into cubes, put them in a saucepan in salted water to cover, and bring to the boil, turning down heat when the water boils.

5:45 p.m.: Peel a large carrot, cut it into chunks, and put it in the Cuisinart (steel blade). Cut 2 celery stalks into chunks, and put them in the Cuisinart. Peel a couple of garlic cloves and add them to the Cuisinart. Process all together until it's very finely chopped. Add all these vegetables to the soup.

6 p.m.: Drain the potatoes, reserving the cooking water. Mash them with a fork, stirring in enough potato water to make a thin, creamy batch of mashed potatoes. Put this in the soup, stirring it in well. Take out the onion and the ham hock. Chop the onion (which will be very soft and sweet) into a puree; put it back in the soup. When the hock cools a little, trim away all the fat and bone and chop the edible ham parts into tiny dice. Put them back in the soup. Remove the cover and continue simmering with the cover off for the last hour, stirring a little more frequently now that it's getting very thick.

6:10 p.m.: Take out the risen dough, punch it down, and pat it out flat on your floured board. Cut it into two equal pieces and roll each into a long, free-form loaf. Sprinkle a little cornmeal on a baking sheet and place the loaves on it. Slash the top of each loaf with a sharp knife, making four or five diagonal slashes.

6:20 p.m.: Put the loaves in a COLD oven. Turn the heat to 400F, and bake for 35 minutes or until they're golden brown and sound hollow when you thump them.

6:30 p.m.: Throw together a quick salad.

7 p.m.: Check the soup for seasoning, and serve.

Looking at this closely, it appears that I actually spent about 1 hour actually working in the kitchen; it's just that it was spread out over four hours!