Cuban Black Beans

December 1, 2017

Black beans are ubiquitous on tables in Cuba.

Getting beans to the right texture and the liquid to the right thickness is almost an art form.

Food is scarce in Cuba…at least if you’re a Cuban paying in Cuban Pesos. Not so much if you’re paying in CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos), which is what foreigners use. The CUC is pegged to the US Dollar but if you change Dollars for CUCs you pay a 10% penalty as opposed to exchanging another currency, say the Euro, for CUCs.


Click HERE to follow us on Twitter


Prices in Cuban Pesos at a locals’ only market

One view of a locals’ only market
Another view of a locals’ only market

I visited a butcher shop in Havana which pretty much now only sells chicken; when chicken is available, that is. If you notice the door to the cooler is open. That’s because the cooler isn’t on because there’s no inventory.

A butcher shop in Havana

The butcher is just waiting around for chicken to arrive.

When that chicken does arrive, it will likely be frozen Tyson chicken from the United States. Even though, when this picture was taken, the US embargo of Cuba was in full force.

Most of the chicken in Cuba is frozen Tyson chicken from the United States

The same is true of hot sauce. If one asks for hot sauce at a restaurant in Cuba one is likely to get a bottle of Tabasco shipped in from Avery Island, Louisiana. Clearly there are exceptions to the embargo for some American companies!

If you pay in CUCs, the food available increases dramatically.

One stall in a multi-vendor market where prices are denominated in CUCs
Another stall in the same market
Locally prepared beverages in the CUC-denominated market

The disparity in prices for food purchased with Pesos vs CUCs is so large that average Cubans cannot afford to buy food with CUCs, even if they can get them. It takes 25 Cuban Pesos to buy one CUC. Paying in Pesos limits one to shopping in pretty-much locals’ only stores, with limited inventory where the products, like rice and beans, are sold at subsidized prices.

Rum is widely available regardless of the currency.  You’ll pay more if you’re a foreigner, however.

Havana Club is a popular brand of rum in Cuba
A well-stocked bar ready for the day’s customers
Cuban cigars for sale at the bar

After returning from the trip to Cuba in 2014, I tried but couldn’t get the texture of my “Cuban” black beans right. But then, my mother-in-law got a recipe from Beatriz (Betty) Scannapieco. Betty is from Cuba. She was in the exercise group my in-laws attend. Betty’s recipe, using a pressure cooker as is common in Cuba, works like a dream. It’s really pretty effortless, too. The green pepper, onion, and garlic add tremendous flavor but are removed after cooking leaving just beans and the silky cooking liquid.

I made three changes to Betty’s recipe. She called for 1 teaspoon of white wine. I use 1 tablespoon. Betty didn’t use tomato paste or black pepper but both are common ingredients in many Cuban black bean recipes.


Follow us

              


Click HERE to join our mailing list and you’ll never miss a recipe again!

Print Recipe
Cuban Black Beans
This recipe came from Beatriz (Betty) Scannapieco in my in-law’s exercise group. Betty is from Cuba. I added the tomato paste and black pepper to Betty’s recipe. I also increased the wine from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. It can be challenging to get the bell pepper, onion, and garlic out of the beans as they very soft after cooking. If you want to make it easier, you could tie them in cheesecloth.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/4 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/4 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Wash the beans.
  2. Cover beans with water by a couple of inches and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. The next day, cut the bell pepper in half and remove ribs and seeds.
  4. Cut the onion into 4 or 6 wedges, but do not cut the whole way through the root end.
  5. Bruise the garlic by laying the blade of a chef's knife on top and gently pounding the knife blade.
  6. Drain the beans. Put the beans in a pressure cooker along with 3 ¼ cups of fresh water.
  7. Bring the beans to a boil, uncovered.
  8. Skim the foam from the beans then remove the pot from heat.
  9. Add the green pepper, onion, garlic and bay leaves to the beans.
  10. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to 10 pounds pressure.
  11. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes.
  12. Remove the pressure cooker from heat and allow pressure to dissipate naturally.
  13. Uncover the pressure cooker.
  14. Add the olive oil, tomato paste (if using), wine, vinegar, salt and black pepper (if using).
  15. Bring to a boil uncovered and boil for 5 minutes.
  16. Remove from heat. Cool slightly and remove bell pepper, onion, bay leaves, and garlic.
  17. The beans can be served immediately but are better if refrigerated overnight.
  18. Serve the beans in a shallow bowl with pieces of finely diced raw onion in the center. Black beans are customarily accompanied by white rice.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

Share this Recipe

Tiella (Southern Italian Vegetable and Pasta Casserole)

September 18, 2017

When I was growing up, we mostly socialized within the extended family plus a very few close family friends (that’s you, Joe and Betty Slivosky!).

It was a time (the 60’s) and place (small-town Western Pennsylvania) where it was rare to call in advance of a visit. One just showed up. This usually happened in the evening after dinner, though almost never on Monday or Thursday when the stores downtown were open until 9 PM and we dressed and went shopping after dinner.

Everyone would sit around (usually in the kitchen) drinking coffee (with caffeine), chatting…and smoking. Oh, the smoking! Occasionally the men would drink beer but unless it was a holiday or celebration of some sort, hard liquor was a rarity.

On Sundays, visiting frequently occurred (or at least started) in the afternoon and there might be two or three stops before heading home.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard the same stories. It’s one of the ways I developed a connection with family members, like my maternal grandparents, who died when I was very young.

To be sure, sometimes my cousin Donna and I would abandon the adults and pursue some childhood activity but we still hung out in the kitchen much of the time.

Often times the conversation would veer towards food; things my grandmother would make, the huge platters of cannoli one of my great aunts would make, what was eaten on holidays, and on and on.

There was the oft-repeated reminder of how my grandfather could come home late at night with a group of friends and how my grandmother would cook for them near midnight. There were stories of my grandmother cleaning and cooking chicken feet. My mother would talk about the time she killed a chicken in the basement and it got away from her and ran, headless, around the room. My father would remind everyone that the only food he didn’t like was gnocchi.

Food was a central feature of our lives.

So was conversation.

There were also times I would just sit in the kitchen and chat with my mother for hours. Relatives and food were common topics of conversation. There were dishes my grandmother made that I heard about over and over but never tasted because my mother never made them for some inexplicable reason. One of them was a quickly sautéed veal chop with a pan sauce made of the drippings in the pan, crushed canned tomatoes, peas, and seasonings. Back in the days when I cooked veal, I actually made it. Now I do it with pork chops.

The other dish that stands out in my memory from these conversations is Tiella. My mother talked of it frequently but never made it. The instructions were basic, a layer of pasta, a layer of potatoes, a layer of zucchini, and a can of tomatoes crushed by hand and poured on top. The whole thing was then baked. There wasn’t much of a discussion of which seasonings to use or proportions of ingredients. It was just assumed it would have garlic (of course it would have garlic) and the herbs that were commonly used in our family. Proportions…well…it just needed to look “right.”

For the number of times my mother rhapsodized about this dish, I can’t figure out why she never made it.

The first time I tried to make it was in the early 1990’s at our little house on Griffin Street in Santa Fe. That first time around, it didn’t live up to the hype, for sure, but it christened the house in an odd way.

In November 1992 my mother, my husband’s mother, and my husband’s grandmother traveled to Santa Fe with us for Thanksgiving week. We looked at property and fell for a little (1151 square foot) house on Griffin Street. My mother was terminally ill at the time. When we got back home, my mother insisted that we use her money for the down payment, which we did. She kept saying that she wanted to live long enough to return to that house in the spring. It didn’t happen. She died in early January.

All of the kitchen gear, china, and glassware for the house on Griffin came from my mother’s house. So, it was fitting that I should make this dish for the first time using my mother’s kitchenware in a house that we owned thanks to her.

It took me many years of working (off and on) on the seasonings and proportions to get it to taste great. (Well, I think it does.) The only real liberty I took with the dish is to use fresh tomatoes rather than canned when I make this in the summer.


Follow us

              


Click HERE to join our mailing list and you’ll never miss a recipe again!

Print Recipe
Tiella (Southern Italian Vegetable and Pasta Casserole)
This is a wonderful late summer dish when tomatoes are at their peak. If you make it at other times, use a 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes in place of the tomato puree and fresh tomatoes. Pour the liquid in the can over the potatoes instead of the puree. Crush the tomatoes by hand, add the seasonings described for fresh tomatoes, and arrange the crushed tomatoes on top.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine the olive oil and crushed garlic in a small sauté pan. Sauté garlic until lightly browned. Remove the garlic and reserve the oil.
  3. Put the raw ditalini in the bottom of a deep, circular casserole, approximately 10 inches in diameter. The pasta should form a single layer with a fair amount of extra room for it to expand.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, ¼ of the minced garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil and mix well.
  5. In a bowl, toss the sliced potatoes with half the rosemary, ⅓ of the oregano, ¼ of the basil, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, ¼ of the minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
  6. Arrange the potatoes neatly in overlapping layers on top of the ditalini. Do not wash the bowl.
  7. Season the tomato puree with salt and pour over the potatoes.
  8. In the same bowl used for the potatoes, toss the zucchini with the remaining oregano, ¼ of the basil, the remaining rosemary, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, ¼ of the minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
  9. Arrange the zucchini on top of the potatoes. Do not wash the bowl.
  10. Neatly arrange half the tomatoes on top of the zucchini. Season with half the remaining minced garlic, half the remaining basil, and salt and pepper.
  11. Arrange the remaining tomatoes on top and season with salt and pepper as well as the remaining garlic, basil, and all the parsley.
  12. Put the tiella in the preheated oven.
  13. Remove the crusts from several slices of day-old Italian or French bread. Whiz the bread in a food processor to make coarse crumbs.
  14. While the tiella bakes, toss the breadcrumbs with the remaining garlic oil in the bowl used for the potatoes and zucchini.
  15. After the tiella has baked for 90 minutes, sprinkle the oiled crumbs on top and bake till golden, approximately 30 minutes more.
  16. Allow to rest at least 30 minutes before serving. The tiella can be served warm or at room temperature. It can also be reheated in the oven briefly before serving, if desired.
Recipe Notes

Here’s the link for my recipe for homemade tomato puree (passata di pomodoro).

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

Share this Recipe

Calabacitas: A New Mexican Classic

August 21, 2017

Talk about a dish that simply wouldn’t exist in any recognizable form without new world crops, calabacitas is it! Squash, corn, and chile are all new world plants.

Calabacitas is Spanish for zucchini but is also the name given to a dish of zucchini, corn, and (usually) green chile.

Often served as a side dish, calabacitas makes an awesome burrito, too. Accompany it with some frijoles (and probably a tortilla or three) and you’ve got a great high-protein vegetarian dinner. Leave out the cheese and it’s vegan! Truth be told, I’m plus-minus on the cheese in any case. When serving this for company I usually sprinkle cheese on top as in this recipe, but if it’s just for “us,” cheese isn’t usually even a thought.

This is the time of year to serve the most sublime calabacitas possible as zucchini, corn, green chile, and tomatoes are all in the farmers’ market. But calabacitas is too good to be had only a few weeks a year and, honestly, versions made with frozen corn, canned tomatoes, and roasted green chile that you’ve squirreled away in your freezer along with the ever-present zucchini in the produce aisle are too good to pass up any time of year.

For me, calabacitas shares a serious failing with succotash. They are both great ideas in my estimation but the execution often falls flat.

When I set out to finally perfect a version of calabacitas that I felt comfortable serving, I thought back on all the less-than-perfect renditions I’d had since I first set foot in New Mexico in 1991.

The litany of offenses includes being too watery, being too rich, having huge chunks of zucchini that seem mismatched next to corn kernels, being under-seasoned and being aggressively seasoned.

That set out a plan of action for me. The zucchini should be cut approximately the same size as corn kernels. There needed to be a minimum amount of liquid in the finished dish. Loads of cream or butter or cheese were out of the question. The seasoning should complement the vegetables, not assume control of the dish.

Zucchini (the namesake vegetable) and corn were a given. Pretty much everything else was up for grabs. Tomatoes, which are sometimes included, seemed right for color and a bit of acidic brightness that the zucchini and corn lack. They have the added bonus of being another New World crop. Roasted green chile, also sometimes included, was right for several reasons. It screamed “New Mexico,” it would add a bit of complimentary smokiness to the blend, and, honestly, I’m a chile-head.

My preference was for hot or extra-hot chile. This is wrong for several reasons. First, calabacitas is not traditionally a spicy dish. Second, after one of the dinners where I tested out my evolving recipe, one of the guests said that it was unfortunate that the entire “calabacitas conversation” that evening centered on how hot it was and not on how good it was.

In cooking I prefer to bow to tradition but if there’s ever a place where I butt heads with tradition, it’s in making dishes spicy. But I decided there and then that I should follow tradition and use mild chile in my calabacitas.

Finally I was on to the aromatics and seasoning. Onion and garlic are my go-to combination unless there is some compelling reason for one or the other (usually based on tradition). The herbs eluded me for a while. I really wanted to use Mexican Oregano (which isn’t actually oregano) because of its New World origins but it just seemed to overpower the dish. In the end, I decided that a modest amount of Mediterranean Oregano played best in the sandbox with the other ingredients.

Let me know what you think of my rendition of a New Mexico classic.


Follow us

              


Click HERE to join our mailing list and you’ll never miss a recipe again!

Print Recipe
Calabacitas: A New Mexican Classic
Traditionally calabacitas is not a spicy dish so it is best to use mild roasted green chile unless you and all your eaters are chile heads. Bacon fat gives a great flavor but olive oil or other vegetable oil is fine, too. Frozen corn works well as there are so many other flavors in the dish but using fresh corn cut off the cob is a definite treat. I prefer to thaw frozen corn before cooking. Ice crystals can sometimes carry a "freezer" taste and rinsing them off can eliminate it. Also, it is easier to time the cooking of the corn in combination with other ingredients if it is not frozen when cooking starts. Rotel packs tomatoes in 10 ounce cans and they’re a bit of a Southwestern classic in and of themselves. In a pinch feta cheese can be used instead of Cotija
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Dice the zucchini.
  2. Thaw the corn under running water.
  3. Roasted New Mexico green chile.
  4. Peeled and seeded chile, ready to be chopped.
  5. Sauté the onion until translucent.
  6. Add the garlic and continue to cook until the onion is golden but not brown.
  7. Add the zucchini and sauté until the zucchini is hot.
  8. Add the corn, green chile, tomatoes, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  9. Simmer until the liquid has evaporated and the zucchini and corn are cooked, about 10-15 minutes, depending on your preference.
  10. Adjust oregano, salt and pepper in the last few minutes of cooking.
  11. Serve sprinkled with crumbled Cotija cheese.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

Share this Recipe

Frittata con Cipolle (Frittata with Onions)

July 10, 2017

American chefs frequently do not understand Italian food.  Many can produce technically excellent dishes that lack the Italian sensibility.

One common error is putting in too much.  Too much of most anything into most anything.  To be sure, there are many restaurants headed by American chefs that serve excellent Italian food but there are far more that just don’t get it.

The usual culprit is what Italians would call the First Course, Il Primo Piatto.  This is soup, pasta or rice that is served as a separate course before the the Second Course, Il Secondo Piatto (usually meat, fish, or other protein), which is usually accompanied by side dishes, Contorni, in Italian.

Pasta “specials” are quite prone to this phenomenon.  There are many otherwise excellent restaurants that think that if a little is good, more is better, when it comes to their pasta “specials.”  Because I love pasta, if I’m at a restaurant that has a pasta special I always ask what it is.  More often than not, I start yawning (well, not really) part way through the list of ingredients added to the pasta.  After more than 2 or 3 main ingredients (not counting things like garlic, olive oil, and a few herbs) it’s too much.  You don’t need shrimp, artichoke hearts, chopped tomato, diced onion, roasted peppers, capers, and olives.  It’s simply too much.  The distinctiveness of the ingredients is lost.

I’m ragging on pasta because that is the most common culprit at American restaurants featuring “Italian” food.  Risotto and polenta are prone to the same phenomenon, however.  The most common offense is that both of these dishes are turned into vehicles for butter, cream, and cheese.  That is not what an Italian would do.  In a typical Italian household, polenta is cornmeal, water and salt.  That’s it.  There’s not usually a pat of butter or a spoon of cheese in sight unless added at the table to the diner’s preference but even that is rare.  The polenta is a foil for whatever is served with it.  It is not meant to scream, “Look at me!”  That doesn’t mean it isn’t supposed to, or doesn’t, taste good.  It’s not intended to be so rich and filling that it tries to steal the spotlight or dampen one’s appetite for the rest of the meal.

Unlike polenta, which is meant to accompany other dishes, risotto is meant to stand on its own as a First Course before the Second Course.  Risotto alla Milanese is the only exception.  Traditionally Risotto alla Milanese accompanies a veal cutlet (in Milan, of course).  No other risotto would be served with the second course in an Italian meal.

I realize that most of the time we do not eat a formal Italian meal, even in a restaurant.  Most of us have either what would be the first course (pasta or risotto, usually) or the second course (meat or fish plus a side dish or two), preceded by some sort of antipasto (appetizer), which literally means “before the pasta.”  Even so a risotto that is a fat “bomb” overly laden with butter, cream and/or cheese, might be American but it is simply not Italian in its sensibility.

Frequently, the issue is clouded even more but the addition of too many ingredients to the risotto.  Look at the asparagus risotto from a few weeks ago.  There are no competing flavors:  a light broth to add some savoriness, a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano, and a dollop of butter.  This is a classically Italian risotto.

I guess I’m really beating this one.  I clearly have strong feelings about Italian food and what passes for Italian food in America.  Think purity of flavor and simplicity of ingredients.  If an ingredient doesn’t support the main ingredient it shouldn’t be added.  I believe Italian food is the original “ingredient-driven” cuisine.

Ok, off my soap box an on to a recipe; one that is the essence of simplicity.

I’m going to guess that most of you have not had a frittata.  It is a fluffy but firm egg dish, usually with some sort of vegetable included.  Sometimes a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese is added but only if it supports the vegetable that is the star of the show.

Today’s frittata is onion.  That’s it, onion.  Plus a little olive oil and salt and pepper.  The onion is cooked slowly until it caramelizes.  The onion in this recipe was cooked for 50 minutes.  You should plan on 45-50.  It is mostly hands off, though you do need to stir every few minutes.

Once the eggs are added, they are cooked slowly.  Unlike a French omelet where the eggs are barely set and there isn’t (supposed to be) a touch of brown, a frittata is intended to be firm, slightly brown, and puffed up and airy from the cooking style.

Although I have converted to making, almost exclusively, a classic Italian frittata, when I was in college I did it the way my Italian Grandmother did.  She included a pinch of baking powder and a bit of flour.  It was a little firmer than a classic frittata; more like a savory eggy cake.

That frittata, alternating with sandwiches of butter, onion and blue cheese on homemade bread (not on the same day), constitute my lunchtime memories from my junior year in college.


Click HERE to join our mailing list and you’ll never miss a recipe again!

Print Recipe
Frittata con Cipolle (Frittata with Onions)
I recommend NOT finishing the frittata under the broiler as called for by a number of food writers. First, it isn’t traditional. Second, if the frittata doesn’t slide out of the pan easily so that it can be flipped, you won’t be able to get it out of the pan to serve it after putting it under the broiler. I like using a good quality, heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan though a well-seasoned cast iron pan would work too. It is easier to get the frittata out of the pan if it has sloping sides rather that sides that are completely vertical. You can caramelize the onions several hours in advance and then complete the frittata later.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Slice the onion in half from top to bottom then across into 1/8 inch thick half-rounds.
  2. Warm the olive oil in a 12 inch heavy-bottomed sauté pan with sloping sides.
  3. Add the sliced onion and ½ teaspoon of salt.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the onions are soft and caramelized. The onions should take on a uniform golden, then light brown, color. There should not be any dark brown or dry spots. This will take between 45 and 50 minutes. If it takes longer don’t worry. If it seems to happen in less time, the heat is probably too high.
  5. This picture was taken 15 minutes after the onions were added.
  6. This picture was taken 30 minutes after the onions were added.
  7. This picture was taken 45 minutes after the onions were added.
  8. This picture was taken 50 minutes after the onions were added. They are appropriately caramelized.
  9. While the onions are cooking, beat the eggs with a fork. Do not use an egg whip. The idea is not to beat in air but to uniformly combine the whites and yolks. Season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  10. When the onions are fully caramelized, be sure there is an even slick of oil in the bottom of the pan. If not, add a tablespoon or so more.
  11. Turn the heat to medium high and evenly distribute the caramelized onions on the bottom of the sauté pan.
  12. Pour the beaten eggs on top of the onions, being sure to distribute the eggs evenly. DO NOT STIR THE EGGS once they are added to the pan. Immediately cover the pan and turn the heat to low.
  13. Cook until the eggs are just set in the middle and golden brown on the bottom, approximately 30 minutes. Move the pan around so that the heat is evenly distributed, including putting the pan off-center occasionally so there is heat directly on the edges of the pan, not just concentrated in the middle.
  14. When the eggs are just set in the center, the frittata should release easily from the pan. Sometimes it is helpful to run a silicone spatula around the edge of the frittata to help it release.
  15. Slide the frittata out of the pan and onto a large pizza pan.
  16. Invert the pan over the frittata.
  17. Grasp the sauté pan and pizza pan with both hands and flip them over in one quick motion.
  18. Put the sauté pan, with the now-upside-down frittata, back on the heat, uncovered, for about 5 minutes until the bottom of the frittata is golden brown.
  19. Slide the frittata onto a serving platter.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

Share this Recipe