As a special treat during the holiday season, Melina Hammer is not only sharing a delicious recipe with us, but also filling us in on some of her favorite handmade goods. —Anh-Minh
The scene: winter picnic, fireside. Friends, comfort food, and the beautiful objects that enhance our lives.
In sharing this month’s delectable recipe and in the spirit of the giving season now underway, I wanted to feature some goods I love, curated by the fine folks at Scoutmob. Scoutmob champions independent makers (over 1000 of them!): from bitters to handmade art prints, block-printed textiles to handmade ceramics. I’ve loved the quality and variety available (read: addicted) for almost two years. Many a story has included props sourced through them, and I have given lots of *great* unique gifts.
The handmade goods you’ll find are all small-batch quantity, made in the USA, by real people. Scoutmob also has fantastic customer service, which in this era of internet-based buying, helps them stand apart. Their customer service was a major selling point for me a few purchases back, when I needed something customized and found out I could have it just as I needed. And shipped to arrive in two days!
The perfect-in-a-hand ceramic “quail egg chili” bowls set the stage for my three bean Tuscan-inspired stew. Jessie Lazar makes contemporary heirloom pieces and her workmanship is delicate yet unfussy. With my stew … Why settle for one when you can have the amazing textures and flavors of three? Specifically, savory and buttery great northern, flageolet, and cannellini. YUM.
For the cheat’s soppressata cheesy breads, this gorgeous solid walnut board made the perfect backdrop. It’s the century-old board you’ve always wanted, at the beginning of its journey.
And to lay it all out, lolling the afternoon away with amazing food and friends, the colorful and hand-woven rug by Re:loom made the transition from kitchen prep to afternoon enjoyment a no-brainer. These rugs are made from donated fabrics (no two are alike), created by low-income families working towards self-sufficiency through initiatives like this one. While you find beauty in a lovely product such as this, you’re additionally helping support people refine a craft and earn a sustainable income. Winning all-around!
Now, for the food …
I’m a sucker for a great stew. This one can be made vegan or with chicken stock, up to you. The combination of textures and deep savoriness, along with a bit of spice, makes this a steady go-to in my home. You can use canned beans in a pinch, but the texture and flavor of cooked dry beans is meaningful. Given they play a starring role in this recipe, try dry beans if at all possible.
The added delight of cheesy breads to the stew makes everyone’s face brighten. It’s even in the name! These are so simple to prepare, it’s kinda dangerous … Invite your friends, present them with these, and they will thank you between enthusiastic mouthfuls. :)
Three Bean Tuscan Stew
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 7-9 small carrots, chopped (if you can find heirloom varietals, it makes for an even more beautiful stew, especially since we eat with our eyes first)
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 cup chicken stock or water
- 1 1/2 cups dry cannellini beans
- 1 1/2 cups dry flageolet beans
- 1 cup great dry northern beans
- 1 head garlic, divided 2/3 and 1/3
- 1 jalapeño
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tbsp rosemary, quills picked and finely chopped
- 1 tsp chile flakes
good olive oil
Cheat’s Soppressata Cheesy Breads
- 6-8 good quality sandwich rolls
- zest from one lemon – use organic as you’ll be eating the skin
- 1 cup mascarpone
- 5-7 thin slices soppressata or other hard salami
- 1/3 head garlic (from above)
- 1 cup gruyere cheese, finely grated
- freshly cracked pepper
Soak each of the dry beans in enough cold water to cover by two inches, and in bowls large enough for them to double in volume. After soaking 6 hours or overnight, drain and rinse each, then transfer to a large heavy bottom stewpot. Preheat oven to 375°F.
Add enough water to cover with an inch or so extra. Add two or three bay leaves, and if you’re one to save parmesan heels (or a similar hard cheese) in the freezer, add a few to the beans as they cook. If you’re not, start doing it! Cheese ends impart great depth of flavor to any soup or stew, and there’s no extra cost to you in doing so… you already bought and enjoyed that cheese and here, it gives its final gift. I store mine in resealable bags in the freezer. Once you accumulate a few, have at it! Turn heat to high to bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook beans on a low simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until beans are tender.
While the beans cook, cut across the top of the head of garlic (enough to reveal the cloves inside). Nestle it in a sheet of aluminum foil and dress it in olive oil. Fold the garlic into the foil and place in a baking dish. Do the same—foil and oil—>with the jalapeño. Roast the two in the oven for as long as you cook the beans, then remove and set aside to cool.
Once the bean mixture is ready it will have absorbed much of the water. Now you have a flavorsome broth. Pull out the cheese ends and discard, and transfer beans to a large bowl. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper and set aside.
Return pot to burner, medium heat. Add a couple good glugs of olive oil and add the onions stirring occasionally. As they start to become translucent, add in the celery and carrots, as well as the rosemary and chile flakes. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or so. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.
I cook the vegetables separately from the beans because I prefer them to retain a little character. If they were to cook with the beans, they would be mush. To experience the creaminess of the beans, contrasted with the toothsome veg adds another yummy layer.
While the veggies sauté, place into the bowl of a food processor: 2/3 of the roasted garlic—use your fingers to press at the base and the cloves will slide out—2-3 cups of the cooked bean mixture, the roasted jalapeño (minus its stem), and the chicken stock or water. Pulse until you have a creamy mixture. This will add body to the stew. Empty the pureed mixture into the pot, along with the bowl of cooked beans and their liquid and give it all a good stir. Place the lid on top and simmer at lowest heat while you prepare the cheat’s cheesy breads.
For the cheesy breads, stir the zest and mascarpone together to incorporate. Place the rolls onto a baking sheet, and divided evenly, slather a the mascarpone onto each roll.