Saturday, January 23, 2010

Banh Mi: The New Black

Though they aren't quite as ubiquitous as pretzels and hot dogs, banh mi are apparently well on their way to taking over New York City. I first tasted one of these Vietnamese sandwiches--at their most basic, they consist of chicken, pork or even pate; pickled, shredded vegetables; spicy mayo; and sprigs of cilantro; all on a crusty baguette--about three years ago at Bao Noodles. Then my coworkers introduced me to Baoguette. And now I'm here to tell you about a twist on the banh mi that you can easily make at home.

If banh mi are supposedly a French-Vietnamese hybrid, then the Pork Meatball Banh Mi is an Italian-French-Vietnamese hybrid, taking the meatball sub in a very interesting (and delicious) direction. This recipe, from Bon Appetit, has you combine ground pork with chopped basil, garlic, scallions, fish sauce, chili sauce, sugar, salt and pepper (plus a sprinkling of cornstarch, presumably to help hold everything together). You form the meat into small-ish balls and fry them in a tablespoon of Asian sesame oil until they're nice and brown.

Before all that, however, you've already grated some carrots and daikon (or just use regular radishes if you can't find daikon) and set them to pickle in rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt for an hour or so. And you've whipped regular mayo into a deliciously spicy concoction with hot chili sauce and scallions.

Slice open a baguette (and here's where I think I could've used some foresight: the Eli's Bread baguette I bought was a bit too crusty; next time I'll go for a softer loaf), and pile on some meatballs, veggies and mayo. Tuck a few stems of cilantro in there, and maybe some sliced cucumber or jalapeno pepper, if you're so inclined. The combo of sweet, spicy, hot and cool is excellent. Bring on the banh mi boom!--S

Monday, January 04, 2010

Soup's On

Blustery weather and quiet January weekends call for long-simmered, warm dishes—and Pasta and Bean Soup from a new book called The Best Soups in the World (sounds suspiciously Bittman-esque, no?) by Clifford A. Wright—is just the thing. It's a twist on Italian pasta e fagioli, with white beans and small bits of macaroni joining forces with pork stew meat (I used shoulder), pancetta, fennel, chickpeas and, interestingly, a cinnamon stick.

I've been trying to plan ahead (what with Spork Jr. on the way) and have been doubling recipes when possible, so Fork and I can eat one dinner and freeze another one for later this winter when we're not so inclined to shop for food, never mind cook it. This one fit the bill perfectly, and there's already a solid quart of it in our freezer. It really is tasty, with a deeper and richer flavor than your average pasta and bean soup.

If you make this soup (and I highly recommend you do), plan on cooking it much longer than the recommended 1¼ hours—it took at least three hours for the dried cannelli beans I used (which hadn't been pre-soaked) to cook fully—and you'll probably wind up using an additional two to four cups of stock. But when it's 20 degrees outside (and "feels like 8"), few things are more comforting.

Pasta and Bean Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound pork stew meat, diced
¼ pound pancetta, cut into strips
¼ pound prosciutto skin, whole or cut into strips (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb (about ¾ pound), chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
10 cups chicken broth
1½ cups (about 10 ounces) dried white beans
1 cup (1/2 pound) canned chickpeas
¼ pound Parmesan crusts (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ pound tubetti, ditali, or other short tubular macaroni
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the pork, pancetta, and prosciutto skin, if using, and cook, stirring, until they turn color, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, fennel, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 12 to 15 minutes.
2. Add the chicken broth, white beans, chickpeas, Parmesan crusts, if using, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and rosemary, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the white beans are al dente, about 1¼ hours. Add the pasta and cook, stirring, until they, too, are al dente, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and rosemary sprig. Both the prosciutto skin and Parmesan crusts can be eaten if desired. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the grated Parmesan cheese.