White Beans & Chorizo – A Paean to the Pyrenees

Yesterday was really yucky out. Add M and Casey driving back from Spokane in less than wonderful conditions, and I thought some serious comfort food was in order. I had a half pound of really lovely Spanish chorizo, which got the gears grinding.

I came up with this spicy paean to the Pyrenees, with ingredients from France and Spain, powered by the legendary piment d’Espelette chile. You can read more about those in this post on Basque Piperrada I did back in 2015, (that won a formal nod from the Basque tourist bureau). Feel free, of course, to tweak this as you see fit and make it your own. It’s a relatively quick dish to prepare, and an absolute joy to have cooking low and slow for a few hours.

Spicy white beans with chorizo

Urban’s Paean to the Pyrenees Beans & Chorizo

1 Pound Rancho Gordo White Beans, (I used my fave, the Mogette de Vendée)

3 Cups Bean Broth

8 Ounces Spanish Chorizo

1/2 Yellow Onion, (about a cup or so)

1-2 fresh Jalapeños (any chile you like is fine, as is green pepper)

1/2 fresh Red Bell Pepper

3 cloves fresh Garlic

2 large fresh Tomatoes

1 1/2 Cups Tomato Sauce

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

2 Tablespoons Rancho Gordo stone Ground Chocolate, (other good Mexican disc chocolate is fine too)

2 Tablespoons Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar, (Live Cider Vinegar will do as a sub)

2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard

2 Tablespoons Smoked Paprika

2 teaspoons fine ground Black Pepper

2 teaspoons ground Piment d’Espelette Chile, (You can sub hot Spanish paprika if need be)

2 teaspoons crushed Celery Leaf, (1 teaspoon of seed or celery salt will do fine – crush the former, omit kosher salt for the latter)

1 teaspoon fine kosher Salt

White beans and chorizo in a veggie-laden, spicy sauce

Choose a baking vessel with a lid – If you’re cooking in clay, (and I hope you are), soak your vessel if needed.

Cook the beans in the RG manner – stove top, covered with 2+” of fresh water, with 2 bay leaves and 2-3 small cloves of peeled and trimmed garlic.

Bring to a full boil for 10-15 minutes, then reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook until the peas are tender, always maintaining at least 2” of water above the peas – add simmering hot water from a tea kettle to top things off.

Do as Steve Sando advises on the RG website for cooking beans – reduce heat as far as you can while still getting a simmer bubble and let them go low and slow until they’re done.

Drain beans, remove bay leaves, and reserve 3 cups of bean broth.

Stem, peel, and fine dice onion and red pepper.

Stem, trim, and devein chiles – you want the flavor from these, not the heat, (but if you’re a chile head, go wild.)

End trim and dice the tomatoes.

Smash, peel, trim and mince garlic.

Dice chorizo, (depending on the form of your chorizo, this may vary).

If you’re not cooking in clay, preheat oven to 300° F – No preheat for clay vessels!

In a large mixing bowl, add 2 cups of the bean broth and all other ingredients – whisk thoroughly to incorporate.

Add beans and veggies and stir well to combine – You should have a very soupy consistency at this point.

Load your chosen vessel and bake – for clay, I start out at 250° F for 30 minutes, then go up to 300°.

Check and stir your pot every 30 minutes or so – if things start to get too thick, add more bean broth.

The bake takes me roughly 3-4 hours to get creamy beans and a nicely caramelized, bubbly sauce.

Serve with fresh, rustic bread rubbed with garlic, (and if you don’t have that, whatever floats your boat).

Savor smugly while your diners swoon.

Gastriques

While we’re on the subject of sauces that seriously elevate your game, we must touch on gastriques. Not only are they fairly simple and quick, they’re delicious – and they give you another tragically hip French culinarily word to casually toss about.

Urban’s Sweet Cherry Gastrique

Gastriques are a combination of caramelized sugars and acids. They’re great for several reasons – Standing alone, they add a delightful zing to dang near anything – meat, poultry, seafood, tofu, veggies and spuds to name a few. Added to a basic pan sauce, they’ll elevate the flavor profile and add a really nice shine, (we do eat with our eyes, after all). They’ll also add depth and complexity to other sauces, soups, or stews. Of course they’re also perfect to play ‘what have I got that needs to be used’ with – If your kitchen’s like ours, fruit can find itself in that category fairly often, and a lot of that works wonderfully in these sauces.

Goodies for a cherry gastrique

If the description of a gastrique makes you think of sweet and sour sauce, you’re spot on. Many cuisines employ this trick in a dizzying array – whether it’s gastrique, sweet and sour, agrodolce, agre dulce, Thai sweet chile sauce, al pastor, hoisin, Worcestershire, or catsup, they’re all the same concept – Think about what most American barbecue sauces use for primary ingredients, and there you are again. Just as with those examples, a gastrique can be anything from a thin sauce to a very thick one, depending on what you like and want it to do.

These days, we’re blessed with a whole lot of options when it comes to sugars and vinegars – I see white, brown, dark brown, Mexican, rock, turbinado sugars, as well as honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, molasses, and various simple syrups we’ve put together. In vinegar, I see white distilled, cider, balsamic, white balsamic, white wine, red wine, sherry, port, malt, Japanese rice, Chinese Chinkiang (black, plumb, and white), banana and pineapple from Rancho Gordo, and likely some more I missed. You probably don’t have all that at hand, but the point is that you can if you want to. Lighter sugars give lighter flavor, even when caramelized, whereas using molasses means you won’t have to caramelize much at all. Light vinegars yield light taste, while intense fruit varieties, or smoky black Chinkiang are much bolder. Gastriques are a delight for experimentation.

All that stuff aside, a simple gastrique is fast. Let’s say you’re cooking beef, and you just want a little sparkle added to that – sugar and red wine or vinegar will do the trick – couldn’t be simpler. Add dried cherries or cranberries and you’ve got something bolder. With any variant, make sure that what you’re using tastes good to you. Taste the vinegar and the sugar, so you know exactly what to expect.

Booze, especially good stuff made from fruit, can make spectacular sauces – brandy in any of its iterations is wonderful, (plain old brandy, Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, and so on). Port and sherry will too. The cooking process will remove the raw alcohol flavor, and if you use fairly high proof stuff, you can flambé it to do that quickly without losing flavor – and it’s fun – just don’t burn your house down.

Damn near any fruit will work great in a gastrique. You can mash, blend, or purée before you add if you want, or you can let stuff cook in the sauce – it’ll release all its goodies that way, and ripe fruit generally cooks down quite quickly. Dried can be reconstituted first, or just tossed in to do its thing. Citrus fruit can simply be squeezed, zested and squeezed, or rough chopped. Do give some thought to what sugar and vinegar you use – heavy versions of either will overwhelm delicate fruit, so pair accordingly.

General caveats – since you’re caramelizing sugars, don’t leave gastriques unattended for long, because those will burn. Cook over medium to medium-low heat. A little butter added at the end of cooking helps the shine stand out. Herbs and spices are fine and go great with all the constituents mentioned – Just choose carefully, and watch your ratios – These should be a minor flavor note, not a knock out punch. Warm spices like cinnamon or allspice go well with stuff you’d expect them to, like apples and peaches. Rosemary or thyme pairs well with berries and citrus, and so on.

Think of the gastrique as specifically providing a tangy element to your overall presentation. For instance, you might use a honey/malt vinegar/tomato/lemon gastrique for a pan sauce made from a whole roasted chicken. Gastriques will keep for a few days refrigerated in an airtight bottle, (repurposed hot sauce bottles are perfect). That said, fresh is best, so Len toward building in small batches that will get used pretty quickly.

Here’s a super simple iteration that you can customize hundreds of ways. You can serve this stand alone, or add a basic pan sauce, as the second version below does.

1/2 Cup Sweet – Sugars, Honey, Agave, Molasses, etc

1 Cup Acid – Vinegars, Wines, Booze, or combinations thereof

1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter

Pinch of Salt

Add sweet to a sauce or sauté pan over medium heat and cook, whisking steadily, until whatever you’ve used darkens in color, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the acid and whisk thoroughly to incorporate.

Continue cooking and whisking until the sauce reduces to a syrup-like consistency, about 5-10 minutes.

Add the butter and salt, whisk to incorporate, and turn the heat off.

Plate your stuff and add the gastrique.

Sherry Gastrique is made the same way – it’s great for chicken, fish, and veggie dishes and sides. Raspberries also go great with this combination of sweetener and vinegar.

1 Cup Champagne Vinegar

1 Cup Amber Agave Nectar

1/2 Cup Dry Sherry

Urban’s Sweet Cherry Gastrique

This is great for lots of things – from beef, pork, or poultry, to Brussels sprouts. Varying the sweets and acids will yield whole new iterations.

1 Cup Sweet Cherries (dried, fresh, whatever you’ve got)

1/2 Cup Broth (see below for more on this)

1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar

1/2 Cup Blackstrap Molasses

1 Ounce Unsalted Butter

Pinch of Salt

If you’ve cooked a protein, grab the vessel you cooked things in, put it over medium heat, and add 3/4 cup water.

Scrape all the naughty bits off the pan bottom, whisk to incorporate, and let that reduce to about 1/2 cup.

A simple pan sauce

If you didn’t cook anything worthy of using, any stock will do – Match that to what you’re making the sauce for, (veggie stock for veggies, beef for beef, and so on.

If you braised, slow roasted, etc, use 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

When your stock is heated through, add the molasses and whisk to thoroughly incorporate.

Add the vinegar and cherries and whisk to incorporate.

Reducing a sweet cherry gastrique

Let the sauce cook at a bare simmer until you reach the consistency you want – from fairly light to very syrupy is a range of about 5 to 15 minutes cooking time.

Sweet Cherry Gastrique

Plate your meal, add the gastrique, and smile smugly while your diners swoon and make yum yum noises.

Pot roast with a sweet cherry gastrique

Blackberry Gastrique goes great with beef, pork, and meaty mushrooms like porcini. Blueberries and cranberries also are great with this combination of sweetener and vinegar. Again, this will go great with a pan sauce version like the cherry one above.

1 Cup Malt Vinegar

1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar

1 Cup fresh Blackberries

Pan Sauces

When you hear the term ‘pan sauce,’ what do you think of? You do think of something, right? Hell, gravy is a pan sauce, albeit on the heavier end of things – Something lighter than that but still plenty potent is the epitome of this genre, and a must have for your cooking arsenal – They’re easy, fast, and they elevate your cooking game appreciably – I’d argue that employing these well is a trait that separates good cooks from OK ones.

Pan sauces are created from the liquid and the little nasty bits generated by searing or roasting meat or fowl, and that’s why such a simple thing tastes so wonderful. These sauces are traditionally put back on the stuff they’re made from, but if you don’t try them on potatoes or veggies now and again, you’re missing a big treat. In fact, spectacular pan sauces can also be generated from roasting fish, potatoes, and vegetables, so never throw that stuff away.

Pan sauces lend themselves perfectly to meat and poultry for a couple of excellent reasons – First, they add a bit more moisture and pizazz to roasted proteins, and secondly, they can and should easily be prepared during the time those proteins are resting, subsequent to cooking and prior to carving.

In essence, these are emulsions, formed by combining two or more liquids that usually don’t stay together well – AKA fat and acid. Juices from what you’ve roasted, along with the fond, (that’s the hip chef name for the naughty bits left on the pan), provide the core fat component. An acid is added, most often in the form of wine. Then comes seasoning, a little more fat, and a little aromatic base. Everything gets whisked together, et viola. With minimal prep, a pan sauce can easily be put together in the time it takes your steaks or chops to rest.

As for what you should use, it’s really a ‘what have I got’ question. Fresh herbs of any kind pretty much always get the nod. Whatever red or white wine you’ve got on hand will do fine. Onion, shallot, and garlic are all good, as are capers and olives. Used sparingly, dried herbs and blends are fine – just keep in mind that they won’t have enough time to get much past their dried stated in a sauce made this quickly. Citrus makes a dandy minor note.

Get your mis en place together before you start the sauce – that’s key to keeping things simple and fast. On the flip side, don’t leave a pan sauce sitting for very long after it’s done – This is a temperature fused emulsion, and it will separate as it cools – so get it on the plate ASAP to avoid the uglies. You do warm your plates for service, right?

If you try a sauce from potatoes and/or veggies, keep in mind that there’s no fat, so add that accordingly – another couple tablespoons of oil and/or butter will do the trick.

Varying pieces of the puzzle will reward you with whole new flavor profiles – different wine and citrus, maybe a couple drops of Worcestershire or Maggi instead of fish sauce, different herbs or aromatics, mustard, horseradish, sweet minor notes from honey or agave – the sky is the limit, and again, the best way to experiment with this is to search your fridge and pantry and use what needs to be used.

Here’s my fave general purpose sauce to get you started. Branch out from there, and make ‘em yours.

Urban’s Go To Pan Sauce

The good stuff left over in the roasting pan

1/2 Cup White Wine (I use whatever is there and open)

2 Tablespoons minced Shallot

1/4 small fresh Lemon

3 Tablespoons Ghi (Unsalted butter is fine)

Spring or two fresh Herbs, (Thyme, Oregano, Sage leaves, Rosemary are all great – a light hand of dry is OK if that’s all you’ve got)

3-4 drops good quality Fish Sauce, (Red Boat is my go to)

Pinch of kosher salt

3-4 twists fresh ground pepper.

Pull whatever you roasted from the oven and the pan and transfer to a platter to rest, somewhere warm and loosely covered with metal foil.

Carefully pour off most of the fat from the roasting pan, leaving a couple of tablespoons.

Place the roasting pan on a burner over medium heat, (it’s already hot, so it doesn’t need a bunch of help in that regard – And handle the hot pan carefully!)

Toss in the shower, and sauté until it becomes translucent, about one minute.

Add the wine, and using a fork to scrape up all available naughty bits, and get all of that stuff loose.

Cook until the raw alcohol smell dissipates, about 1-2 minutes.

Squeeze in the lemon juice and whisk to incorporate.

Add the ghi or butter a bit at a time, and whisk steadily to incorporate.

Add the fish sauce and herbs and continue to whisk.

Turn burner heat off, add salt and pepper and adjust as needed.

Slice your protein, sauce, devour, accept raving accolades from your diners.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I’ve often said that I’d write about food and cooking even if nobody read it. While that’s true, people do read what I write, and then they go onto make what I’ve written about. Some faithfully reproduce my recipes, and some, be still my heart, go on to make them their own – that seriously floats my boat.

To those why find mistakes and point them out to me, thank you – I’m my own editor, and sometimes I miss – I genuinely appreciate the help!

So here’s to the folks who make my stuff and let me know – especially during these trying times, y’all make me very happy indeed.

If you’ve cooked from this site, show your work, please! If you find something that works better or you like more, share that too.

Blessings.

Nancy Swenson did up Chicken ala Diane, prompting her Hubs, Steve to say, ‘you can make that again!’

John Joyce did the low and slow cook on a rolled roast – here he’s slicing that up for French Dip sandwiches – Looks stunning, yes?

Jenny Lynn Talton-Proulx rain with the Clafoutis et Flaugnarde post and turned out her own amazing blueberry version – Here’s what she had to say about it – “Today’s flaugnarde. Local fresh-picked blueberries. Changed the recipe slightly: Used 4 cups of blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar, put cast iron pan in oven to pre-heat while I pulled together the ingredients. When ready to assemble, pulled pan out and added 2 T butter and a layer of organic corn meal, then the layer of chopped pecans, the blueberries, and the custard mix. Put in oven for 25 minutes. Switched around and baked for another 25. Let it cool completely then ran a knife around the perimeter onto a plate. Then flipped it right side up onto another plate and dusted with powdered sugar. It is so freaking good and Mario loves it. Made a stabilized whipped cream to top it all off!”

As Monica said, ‘that looks sooooo good!’

Clafoutis, or Flaugnarde, or whatever

For the record, Limousin is not a car, it’s a chunk of central France. Well south of Paris and well north of Provence, here’s where roughly half the fine porcelain made in Europe come from, sharing its name with the regional capital, Limoges. Limousin oak is used to make the barrels that fine cognac ages in. They’re also rightfully famous for one of the most versatile desserts I know of, the clafoutis, (clah foo tee), which also happens to be incredibly easy and quick to make. It’s great any time, but right now, when berries and stone fruit are available in all their glory, it’s ethereal.

Clafoutis is an old creation, around in some form since fire and flour found each other. This was a big deal dessert in the 1800s, spreading across Europe, taking advantage of whatever favorite fruit was ripe locally. The classic Limousin version is made with unpitted cherries, but frankly, that’s a tradition I can do without – if, as claimed, the stones add a certain je ne sais quoi to the dish, I say just bake the thing in clay and keep your dental work intact.

The basic ingredients are pretty much what you’d use to make pancakes, and not too far off from custard or Yorkshire pudding, yet clafoutis is unique. Cherries are just the starting point – berries, plums, apricots, nectarines, peaches are all stellar, and in the fall, apples and pears are too, (how about an apple and extra sharp cheddar version?). Nuts go great with many of those fruit options – The traditional version uses almonds, but hazelnuts, cashews and walnuts are all solid bets.

Since this is a famous regional French dish, I do have to point out that calling anything made with fruit other than cherries a clafoutis is pas correct, because, well – it’s not – That would be a flaugnarde, (Flûn-yard). Yes, it’s exactly the same thing with different fruit – and yes, it’s nitpicky, but hey – now you have two cool French words to flash while making a delicious dessert.

I’ve done the recipe we’ll share with a bunch of different things, and varied the fruit content from 2 to almost 3 cups – while the latter versions were obviously, well, fruitier, they all were delicious and baked up just fine. If you pump up the fruit ratio, add baking time, and you’ll be fine. That’s another lovely aspect of the dish – you can eyeball things after making a few of these, which makes it a perfect last minute dessert.

You’ll note that there are no leavening agents in the dish. Just as with a pancake or a Yorkshire pudding, you want to get some air into the batter – small bubbles get trapped in the lattice of flour, sugar, and egg and expand as the dish bakes, giving you an admirable rise – from maybe an inch deep as batter, you’ll easily top a 2.5” baking dish when it’s done. Julia Child used a blender to do this, and advocated spreading a little batter over the bottom of the baking pan and cooking that a bit before adding fruit, nuts, etc. I love Julia with all my heart, but this is in essence a peasant dish, and you needn’t go to all that trouble – an immersion blender does a fabulous job and is much easier to clean. I tried the thin layer pre-cook, and frankly found zero appreciable difference from skipping that step.

NOTES:

1. All purpose flour is your best choice – it’s got the right amount of protein/gluten to make a nice stretchy batter happen.

2. If you live where you can get Rainier cherries in season, there is no finer dessert on this earth.

Urban Clafoutis / Flaugnarde

2 – 2 1/2 Cups fresh Fruit

3 large Eggs

1 Cup Whole Milk

2/3 Cup Bakers Sugar

1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour

1 Tablespoon Honey

3 Tablespoons Nuts

2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract

1/2 teaspoon Almond Extract (or liqueur)

Pinch of Salt.

2 Tablespoons Turbinado Sugar

Measure out milk and leave out at room temp – same with the eggs.

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack in the middle slot.

Lightly butter a baking dish, (anything around 10” x 7” or 11” x 8” works great).

Add a tablespoon of flour to the dish and tap it around to lightly coat the butter. Turn the pan over the sink and tap out any excess flour.

Pit any stone fruit. Cherries can stay whole, as can berries – rough chop larger fruit.

Rough chop nuts – if you have raw, a quick toast in a hot skillet until they turn golden brown and fragrant is a nice touch.

Combine sugar and honey with the eggs, and whisk to a smooth blend.

Add flour and salt to the wet mix and whisk to thoroughly incorporate.

Add the milk, vanilla and almond extract, and whisk smooth.

Process the batter with a stick blender for about a minute, until lots of small bubbles form.

Scatter fruit and toasted nuts over the bottom of the baking pan.

Pour the batter over the fruit and nuts.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180° and sprinkle the turbinado sugar evenly over the top of the dish.

Bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until the top of the clafoutis or flaugnarde, or whatever you wanna call it is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.

It beats the heck outa granola bars for breakfast the next day, if any of it survives that long.

Perfect Roasts, Every Time

If you’re going to buy a big hunk of meat, whatever you do to cook it better work well, consistently – flunking out isn’t an option. We’ve tried a bunch of different methods for something as potentially knock out as a local, grass fed rolled rump roast, but this last weekend, we hit on a super simple method that delivered the best we’ve ever made. This isn’t a secret, and we didn’t invent it, it just works and is absolutely worth sharing.

Low and slow doesn’t often go wrong, as long as it’s monitored and you know what you’re after. What we wanted was a perfect medium rare roast throughout, with minimum fuss and equipment, repeatable and dependable in method. That’s what we got. It’s nothing earthshaking, but it sure did deliver stellar results – best we’ve ever achieved, and here’s what we did.

This was a large, 3 1/2 pound rolled roast – you want to leave that in its string while cooking – being tightly rolled helps with even cooking results.

What you’ll need –

A heavy pan, a big skillet, Dutch oven or braiser – Cast iron or heavy steel are both fine.

A fast read thermometer – we use one that gets plugged into the roast and left throughout the cooking process, but any fast read probe type will work just fine.

A rack big enough for the roast that’ll get it around 1/2” off the bottom of the cooking vessel.

A quart of stock – Anything you like will do, and if you don’t have any, use water and add half an onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery all rough chopped, and a couple of bay leaves – you’ll make your own stock that way.

Preheat oven to 225° F and set a rack in a middle slot.

Unwrap the roast and pat it dry with a clean kitchen towel.

Set your cooking vessel onto a burner with medium high flame.

When the pan is nice and hot, start searing the roast, one side or end at a time. Let it sit long enough to get a consistent, light golden brown crust formed before you turn it to the next face.

When your roast is fully seared, set it on your rack for a minute.

Pour the stock into the pan, (carefully, it’ll be frisky at first), and let the steam and boiling loosen all the charred stuff on the pan bottom – scrape that all loose.

Put the roast on the rack into the pan, rolled end up, (if you’re not cooking a rolled roast, roast fat side up.)

Lightly season the roast with coarse kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

If your temp probe can handle cooking, sink it right into the middle of the roast.

Pop that into the oven until the internal temperature of the roast reaches 100° F.

Drop the oven temp to 175° F.

Now is a good time to add halved potatoes, carrots, onions, or other veggies to the roasting pan – Keep an eye on those, as they may cook faster or slower than the roast.

Continue roasting until you reach an internal temperature of 135° F.

Pull the roast to the stove top and allow a 10 to 15 minute rest before carving. You can loosely tent it with aluminum foil, but this isn’t required.

Don’t even think about throwing away those roasting juices. They’ll make amazing gravy, or a fine base for a soup or stew – you can freeze that for up to a couple months.

This will work with anything you want to roast – Just refer to proper temperature range targets for whatever you’re cooking.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Stock

You might call it Parmesan, but it really is Parmigiano-Reggiano, ya know. It is arguably the most popular of Italian cheeses worldwide, and rightfully so. When you tase the real deal, aged between 24 and maybe 48 months, the depth and breadth of flavor notes is stunningly good. Maybe, subconsciously, that’s why so many of us save the rinds, even if we don’t do anything with them – the stuff is so damn tasty, we just can’t bear to throw out the ‘inedible’ part. Fear not, I say, because thankfully that inedible thing is hogwash. Last spring, I wrote about stuff you can do with the rinds, but somehow, I missed making stock – time to fix that.

Real deal Parmigiano-Reggiano comes from the five provinces that are allowed to call the stuff by its proper name – Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantua. Sorry, but anything else from somewhere else is just cheese. The outer most layer of a wheel of Parmesan Reggiano is the place where all the interaction with the outside world has occurred, while inside, that miraculous cheese matures. The rind hardens, forming a barrier to keep bad things out while allowing moisture to leave the cheese over time. When we buy it, we obviously want a reasonable ratio of rind to cheese. Don’t go too far on that, though, and definitely save rinds, because parmigiano rind stock is liquid heaven.

Parmigiano stock, made with aromatics, herbs, plenty of rinds, and simmered low and slow is the ticket. What you get will be redolent with the scent, taste, and umami powered mouth feel only Parmigiano-Regiano can provide. It is the stuff for staples like Italian wedding, white bean, or minestrone soups. Use it to cook beans low and slow and the results are truly ethereal. Freeze it in resealable ice cube trays and add it to pan sauces or veggies. Cook rice with it and prepare to swoon – no, I’m not bullshitting – it really is that good.

Best of all, it’s incredibly simple to make. There’s a lot of versions out there – This is my take on it, powered by soffritto, the legendary Italian aromatic base, with fresh herbs. Try it the way I’ve written it, then tweak your next batches to your liking, and make it truly yours.

Note: if you’re not a rind saver, you’ll find that quite a few retailers now sell them by the pound – so long as the initial quality is good, and they’ve been properly kept, you shouldn’t hesitate to buy them that way. If you do save them, refrigerated in an airtight container is fine – they’ll last for months.

Urban’s Parmigiano-Reggiano Stock

1 Gallon (16 Cups) fresh Water

1 Pound Parmigiano Rinds

1 large Sweet Onion

2 fresh Carrot

2-3 stalks Celery

6-8 fat cloves fresh Garlic

1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

8 sprigs fresh Oregano (2 Tablespoons dry)

6 sprigs fresh Thyme (1 Tablespoon dry)

1 Tablespoon Tasmanian Pepperberries (regular old pepper is fine, but not nearly as complex)

2 Turkish Bay Leaves (not California!)

Peel and quarter the onion, smash and peel garlic, rough chop carrots and celery.

Add the olive oil to a heavy stock pot over medium high heat, and heat through.

Add onion and carrots and fry for 2-3 minutes.

Add the garlic and celery and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the water to the veggies and allow to heat through until the stock starts to simmer, about 6-8 minutes.

Add the all remaining ingredients and stir to incorporate.

Once the stock comes to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, uncovered.

Simmer for at least 2 hours, and up to 4, stirring occasionally to make the sure the rinds don’t stick, and to test the strength of the stock.

When the stock smells strongly of parmigiano, is slightly cloudy, and everything other than the absolute outer hardest layer of rind has gone into solution, you’re done.

Pour the stock through a colander and send all the non-liquid stuff to compost.

If you’re finicky, you can further clarify the stock through cheesecloth, but frankly, who bother? This is good, rustic stuff in your kitchen, not something done for presentation at a white linen restaurant – live a little and let it be.

Cool stock to room temperature. Store in clean glass jars with enough headroom to not break the container when freezing, about 2”. Also do some up in ice cube trays for smaller batch fun.

Stock is fine refrigerated for 3-4 days. If you want to hold it longer than that, freeze it – it’s good there for a couple of months.

A Couple Quick Fajita Marinades

Decided to make fajitas with some leftover steak, only to discover we really didn’t have enough for three folks. I dug into the freezer and found some very nice, fat shrimp that wanted to join the party, so two marinades needed to get made.

Steak or Chicken Fajita Marinade

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1/4 Cup Chili Powder

3 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 Lemon

1 Lime

2-4 cloves fresh Garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon ground Cumin Seed

1 teaspoon crushed Chile flake of your choice

2-3 drops Red Boat Fish Sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground Pepper

Juice and zest the citrus, grind any whole spices.

Combine all in a non reactive mixing bowl and whisk with a fork to incorporate thoroughly.

This batch size will marinate 2-3 pounds of steak, chicken quite nicely – 3 to 4 hours will do the trick nicely.

Here’s my go to chili powder mix, too –

Urb’s House Made Chili Powder

3 Tablespoons ground Chiles of your choice

1 teaspoon ground Cumin

1 teaspoon Smoked Sweet Paprika

½ teaspoon ground Mexican Oregano

½ teaspoon ground Garlic

For the shrimp, M wanted something ‘lighter and more herbaceous,’ and asked me to use up some oranges too if I could – I could.

Shrimp Fajita Marinade

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

2 small Oranges, zested and juiced.

2 fat cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1/2 teaspoon Lemon thyme

I Green Onion top, diced.

3 finger pinch of Salt

5-6 twists fresh ground Pepper

Combine all in a non reactive mixing bowl and whisk with a fork to incorporate thoroughly.

Shrimp don’t need to want too long in an acidic marinade – 30 minutes tops will get the flavors infused without making the shellfish mushy.

Not So Fast, Pal…

Turns out being an essential service takes a lot of time and energy, and well… the new website isn’t coming as quickly as I’d thought. Ah well – it shall in its good time, and meanwhile, there is a wealth of stuff to peruse right here on the trusty ol’ blog!

Dig in, enjoy, and as always, if you’re in need of a specific recipe and don’t find one here, hit me up – I’ll be happy to work something up for you.

Meanwhile, stay the fuck home, stop hording TP, masks, and cleaning supplies. Take care of yourselves, and one another. We will get through this as a people and a world, if we just do that. Peace to you.

Adios, Amigos! Pero, Hasta Luego…

Back in 2010, a dear friend running a Minnesota CSA asked me to start a blog, to help their customers figure out what to do with all that gorgeous produce. Now, some 10 years and 700+ posts down the line, it’s time for a metamorphosis. It’s been fun – in fact it’s been a tremendous joy, but I feel I’ve done all I can with a plain old blog – So here comes the next generation of my online passion and presence.

It was initially called KGNG Chef, and if you go all the way back there, you’ll see that I was, ummm, not as good at this as I am now. Shortly after inception, I mentioned that ‘Urb an’ Monique were headed north,’ in a social media message – those euphemisms for Eben and Monica stuck, and we became UrbanMonique. It was tongue in cheek, and cute, but, bottom line? If after 10 years one still has to explain why we’re called that, and people still kind of nod and say, ‘oohhhhhkay…’ it’s probably time to become a bit more plain spoken.

We’ve had a gas here, and I’ve learned a lot, and I like to think I’ve gotten better at what I do. Along the way we’ve gathered a whole lot of friends and followers, from literally all around the world. We’ve received official recognition and kudos from Basque, French, Spanish, and Mexican tourist bureaus for promoting home cooks to make authentic dishes from their honored cuisines. We had a lady in Walker, Minnesota ask what a jalapeño was, and then exclaim, ‘we’re Minnesotans – we only eat white food,’ (it’s not at all true, but it was funny). I’ve been accused of blasphemy by a New Mexican resident for claiming Hatch and Anaheim chiles are essentially the same beast, (They are, but it’s all about terroir and venerable seed stock, and yes, Hatch chiles are superior.) I’ve mailed corn meal to Australia and Norway, so followers there could make corn bread like I’d written about.

The shape of things to come - www.ebenskitchen.com

The next iteration of my chosen avocation will be much more straightforward in name – It is Eben’s Kitchen, and before Monica fans utter cries of dismay, let me explain – M will still be here, and she will contribute as she always has – no change there. That said, the lion’s share of what shows up on the page here is my baby, and always has been – M would be the first to tell you that. Secondly, she is an amazing jewelery designer and maker, with a focus on reworking 20th century beads and metal, (that she finds in some very interesting searches), into unique pieces with a contemporary flair. We have also built her a new website, Canary Pitcher, that she is very excited about, as am I – Her primary passion and focus will be there going forward.

The famously irascible cook and author Richard Olney once wrote this – ‘Improvisation is at war with the printed word. It either defies analysis or, in accepting it, finds its wings clipped.’ It is the spirit of that passage that has prompted me to shift gears. I’ve matured considerably as a recipe developer, and while that’s great, it’s still a pretty one dimensional achievement. What I write and what you have in your kitchen, or decide to do, are often quite different. If I’ve harped on anything over the last decade, it’s been the exhortation to do your own thing, to branch out from what I presented. That’s a thing I’m proud of, but again, writing it only goes so far.

Eben’s Kitchen will be much more multimedia, encompassing posts, images, video, and dare I say it, even some classes offered here in our kitchen and garden, and eventually, stuff for sale too. This will be a full bore website, much broader in scope, and much more capable of sharing my passion in the kitchen. UrbanMonique will not go away, for the record – There’s too much history and love and fun to just shelve it – it will, in some form, be linked to the new site as well.

Eben’s Kitchen will make its debut soon, so please stay tuned, and please do follow it too. In order to bring things full circle, the first thing to go up there will be a collaboration with my Tribal Sister, Christy Hohman, the one who urged me to start this whole thing back in 2010 – it’s going to be a great debut.