Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Give him ramen noodles, and you don’t have to teach him anything.
- Lawrence Downes
Bless Mark Bittman. He solved a riddle of many years for me, and doesn't even know it. You see, I am enamored for more than just nostalgic reasons of B&M Brown Bread, which comes in a can. It's a New England thing; you're supposed to eat it with baked beans. I know, I know, not exactly high cuisine, but it's also really good the next day, sliced - it's actually sort of fun to slice it from the can - and toasted, with butter or cream cheese.
I have looked for a recipe for years that would come close to the B&M stuff. Back in grad school, I found one and tried it, but it was pale (not enough molasses), overly healthy-tasting, and really rather a pain to make, because you had to organize coffee cans in a water bath and tie a cover on them, etc. So when they didn't come out to my liking, I was unwilling to risk that kind of effort a second time.
Anyway, back to Bittman. In today's New York Times, he has a recipe for Quick Whole Wheat Molasses Bread. I have adapted it to my preferences, and I renamed it by shuffling the words around, as you can see. Except for the clabbering of the milk that Bittman does, it's one of the simplest, most non-technical recipes I can imagine, so I'm not entirely sure why there's a video, except that it seems there's now a Bittman video every week. (And that's fine with me, because, well, the guy is kind of growing on me, ever since the life-changing No-Knead Bread.
This quick bread is delicious. It is dead easy to make. And while a lot of people won't be impressed by this, it really comes pretty close to the taste of B&M. (Please, Mark, if you read this, don't be offended till you try it.)
Oil or butter for greasing pan
1 2/3 cups plain yogurt, or 1 1/2 cups milk and 2 tablespoons white vinegar (see Step 2)
2 1/2 cups (about 12 ounces) white whole wheat or regular whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup raisins (optional, but recommended)
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-by-4-inch or 9-by 5-inch loaf pan, preferably nonstick.
2. If using yogurt, ignore this step. Make soured milk: warm milk gently — 1 minute in the microwave is sufficient, just enough to take the chill off — and add vinegar. Set aside.
3. Mix together dry ingredients. Stir molasses into buttermilk, yogurt or soured milk. Stir liquid into dry ingredients (just enough to combine) then pour into loaf pan. Bake until firm and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan.
Yield: 1 loaf. Serve with butter or cream cheese, on its own for breakfast or alongside baked beans for lunch.
Finally, a vegetarian French onion soup worthy of the New York Times... (Well, "finally" is probably not fair - this originally appeared in 1974 - but I've been looking for something like this for a long time.) It's probably not quite analogous to the classic bistro dish, either, containing a whole baguette and substituting tomato purée instead of beef stock. The Times' Amanda Hesser says it's really like a savory bread pudding. In any case, how can you argue with onions cooked to sweetness, butter, melted cheese, and french bread?
1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 25 to 30)
9 tablespoons butter, softened
9 ounces Emmental cheese, finely grated
8 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 12 cups)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 cup tomato purée.
1. Toast the baguette slices and let them cool. Spread a generous layer of butter on each slice (you will need about 5 tablespoons), then lay the slices close together on a baking sheet and top with all but 1/2 cup of cheese.
2. In a large saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until very soft and golden, about 15 minutes.
3. In a 5-quart casserole, arrange a layer of bread slices (about 1/3 of them). Spread 1/3 of the onions on top, followed by 1/3 of the tomato purée. Repeat for two more layers. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. To avoid boiling over, the casserole must not be more than 2/3 full.
4. In a saucepan, bring 1 1/2 quarts water to a boil. Add the salt. Very slowly pour the salted water into the casserole, near the edge, so that the liquid rises just to the top layer of cheese without covering it. (Depending on the size of your casserole, you may need more or less water.)
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the casserole on the stove and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, then transfer to the oven and bake uncovered for 1 hour. The soup is ready when the surface looks like a crusty, golden cake and the inside is unctuous and so well blended that it is impossible to discern either cheese or onion. Each person is served some of the baked crust and some of the inside, which should be thick but not completely without liquid. Serves 6.
I love risotto, and even though it takes a lot of stirring and attention, it's fun to make and really not so hard. It's also infinitely adaptable. I haven't tried this recipe (I stole it; are you surprised?), which seems like a particularly West Coast-y version, with the Meyer lemons. I might try it soon, though, because I have a ton of pine nuts left to me by a friend who went abroad for the year. Regarding the lemon zest: try to buy organic lemons, to avoid pesticides in the rind. If you can't find Meyer lemons, I'm sure the regular kind will work fine. Squeeze the juice and freeze it.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups lightly pearled barley, or Arborio or Carnarolli rice
1 cup good quality dry white wine
6 cups light vegetable stock (or water)
Grated zest of 4 Meyer lemons (more to taste if you like)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup crème fraiche (or sour cream)
3 big handfuls of greens (chard, spinach, arugula, etc.), chopped
Handful of toasted pine nuts, for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the onions, shallots, garlic, and salt and saute, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften.
Add the barley to the pot and stir until coated with a nice sheen, then add the white wine and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes, until the barley has absorbed the liquid a bit. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle, active simmer.
In increments, add about 6 cups of water or stock, 1 cup at a time, letting the barley absorb most of the liquid between additions; this should take around 40 minutes altogether. Stir regularly so the grains on the bottom of the pan don't scorch. You will know when the barley is cooked because it won't offer up much resistance when chewing (it will, however, be chewier than Arborio rice).
When the barley is tender remove the pot from heat. Stir in the lemon zest, Parmesan, and crème fraiche. Taste and adjust - add more salt if needed, more lemon zest. Then stir in the greens. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and a dusting of extra Parmesan before serving.
Easily serves 4 to 6.