Understand that Howard and I are best of friends, a relationship going back fifty-two years.
We exchanged some spontaneous thoughts on a recipe and they are so quintessentially Howard I thought I’d share them to share the spirit of this extraordinary mind.
So, in response to the talk about a cassoulet recipe that I generated, Howard sent along a recipe for lamb shanks and beans* that he’s liked, saying:
“It’s a lot of work, to be honest. But it’s worth it.
I mean it when I say, it’s my favorite lamb shank recipe, and one of my all-time favorites…”
*Lamb Shanks and White Bean Gratin with Dried Tomatoes
from “Food and Flavors of Haute Provence” by Georgeanne Brennan (1998).
I responded with this:
“but I'm not like you.
committed to scholarship.
“down and dirty more suits who I am.
whatever that means.
“what I like about her recipe is that she uses the same idiom as I did for my faux cassoulet: treat the meat, beans, and aromatics separately bringing them together as a last phase.
“but, for example, I don't see the percentage in the gratin: a lot of work for an add that does not appeal to me.
”I dig about the gratin. And understand completely. I’ve made it both ways. The gratin adds some textural complexity, a little crunch, and some flavor components that make the dish even more complex. It’s better when the dish comes out of the oven. And certainly the leftovers are fabulous, but the gratin component adds nothing to the leftovers, least of all crunch, which disappears.
“As for the m.o. you describe, it’s the one I use for almost all recipes. Even dishes that want additional long duration low slow cooking, like the last stage of most French provincial stews (Daube de boeuf, coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, and this lamb dish and others like it), is for what might be the most important step. Allowing the flavors to meld, and combine, and the differences to become subtler. I have noticed you do seem to like being able to recognize each ingredient in a singular way. Also, much experience and experimentation make it clear that the long low slow stage (and I’ve made cassoulets that cooked 10 hours overnight, and a number of daubes de boeuf that required a seal of the lid of the dutch oven – using a snake of pate de brisé around the joint all around – and the lowest flame I could manage on a Viking, also overnight, produce the tenderest meat. Merely falling off the bone is not the gauge of tenderness. Give me a piece of meat on the bone and a sauce pan full of boiling water, and I can have it falling off the bone in 20 minutes.
“But maybe when you’re a bit older and have learned a bit more patience. You do sometimes have, by my observation, a moderate case of what’s called in Yiddish, ‘shpilkes…’ in short, anxiety-driven ants in your pants. But, with age comes serenity. Be patient my son. And then you can do some real cooking.”
Howard thought a bit more and sent this “by the way.”
“In one of those fabulous, endlessly fascinating twists and turns that the French language takes, unlike the idiosyncracies of almost any other language, there’s their word for ‘shank.’
“French is a contextual and highly economic language, in terms of its development. And they have come to use words that are not specialized, as they are in English, which has singular and precise terms with meanings that are used as terms of art in the particular field of endeavor, behavior, discipline being referenced.
“So, in French, there’s ‘souris,’ which is the generalized term for ‘shank’ of an animal, intended for eating. [side note, in Italian, I’m told the word for shank is ‘stinco,’ but refers, apparently, mainly to all the major red meat animals, except the sheep and its lamb].
“But souris, as you learn quickly in the countryside, is also the word for “mouse.” That is, the generalized term. We had mice in our roof for a while in the village. But it wasn’t a souris. It was a loire. Which is a dormouse. Such distinctions are important to French provincials, who are, nevertheless, dealing with a language that is kept deliberately compact (the English language at present has millions of words in it; the French hundreds of thousands…). To make it even more complicated, computer geeks in France call that thing you push around on your desktop a ‘souris.’”
“But what I like best, in terms of the word, ‘souris,’ is that it’s also used in a way that makes me smile. That is, the verb ‘to smile’ is, of course, ‘sourire.’ And the first person present tense conjugation is ‘je souris.’
“Have a nice day.”
I replied that Howard always made me laugh.
Howard thought a moment and sent this:
”That’s because I am, as a life-long habit, doing my bit…
Laughing on the outside, but, well, you know the rest.
“I always try to leave ‘em laughing.
“Some people just don’t have a sense of humor.
I hope that, with me, we all recognize what is a unique mindset coupled with erudition that I call Howard.
I am honored that he empowers me to bring him into the blog as often as I’m able.
Monday, January 28, 2019
My 291st consecutive posting, committed to 5,000.
Time is 12.01am.
On Monday, Boston’s temperature will reach a high of 28* with a feels-like temperature of 23* under sunny skies.
According to the Blog’s Winter Calendar, Jan2 to Feb13, we have only 17 days remaining to our winter.
Dinner is a Three-Soup Clean-Out meals with toasted crusty sourdough boule and butter.
Question of the day:
What is the recipe that the two of you were discussing?
Answer to Question of the day:
From: Howard Dinin
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2019 11:27 AM
To: Dom Capossela
Subject: Georgeanne Brennan's Lamb Shanks
Lamb Shanks and White Bean Gratin with Dried Tomatoes
SERVES 4 OR 5
Lamb and beans are a classic combination in Haute Provence. The beans might be round, white coco beans, fresh or dried, but small white beans are a good alternative. A tablespoon or two of coulis or a bit of tomato paste could be used in lieu of the dried tomatoes, but the latter give an added texture and impact to the dish that l like.
The beans are cooked separately, flavored with bay leaves, winter savory, and eventually the dried tomatoes. Omitting the dried tomatoes, the beans may be served to accompany any meat dish. The shanks are first braised and then the meat is removed and added to the cooked beans. Although the dish may be eaten at this point, the additional topping and baking adds a final flourish to the combined flavors.
FOR THE BEANS:
1 cup dried coco, Great Northern, or other white beans
7 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 fresh bay leaves, or 1 dried
4 tablespoons minced fresh winter savory
8 dry-packed unsalted dried tomato halves
FOR THE LAMB:
2 lamb shanks, about 1 ½ pounds total
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup chicken broth
FOR THE GRATIN:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup coarse dried bread crumbs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
• Pick over the beans, discarding any tiny stones, or other impurities. Put the beans in a saucepan and add the water, salt, bay leaves, and 2 tablespoons of the winter savory. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beans are soft, 2 to 2 ½ hours. Drain the beans, reserving 1 ½ cups of the liquid. Set the beans aside in the saucepan.
• Pour 1 cup of the hot liquid over the dried tomatoes in a bowl and let stand until the tomatoes are soft, 10 to 15 minutes. In a blender or food processor, puree ½ cup of the beans along with the soaking tomatoes and their broth. Set aside.
• While the beans are cooking, prepare the shanks. Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F. Sprinkle the shanks with the salt and pepper and place in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Turn the shanks over and top with the onion, carrot, celery, the remaining 2 tablespoons winter savory, and the rosemary. Pour the wine and broth over all and cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and cook until the meat is tender and pulls away easily from the bone, 2 to 2 ½ hours. While the shanks are cooking, remove the cover occasionally and baste with the vegetables and broth, then replace the cover.
• Remove the shanks from the oven. Leave the oven set at 350 degrees F. Strain the pan juices which will be brothlike, through a fine-mesh sieve, and discard the vegetables. Skim off the fat, and reserve 1 ½ cups of the broth. Remove the meat from the shanks, and add it to the beans, along along with the tomato-bean puree and ¾ cup of the reserved broth from the shanks. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes. Add more of the reserved bean liquid and broth if the mixture begins to dry out. The resulting mixture should resemble a very thick soup.
• To assemble the gratin, grease a 3 ½ to 4-quart deep gratin dish with ½ tablespoon of the butter. In a bowl, stir together the bread crumbs. salt, pepper, and parsley. Pour the bean mixture into the prepared gratin dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the bread crumb mixture. Cut the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons butter into small pieces and generously dot them on the surface. Bake, uncovered, until the topping is golden, about 15 minutes. Serve hot directly from the dish.
Good morning on this Monday, January 28
While we did speak a bit about time and weather, most of today’s post went to the opening thoughts, sharing correspondence between Dom and Howard, vis a vis a recipe.
As a result, it’s Time to go.
Che vuoi? Le pocketbook?
See you soon.