Italians are Some of the Most Wonderful People on the Planet.
The other afternoon I was walking back after collecting cookware to prepare one of our first meals at our new apartment I found myself trailing behind a family on Sunset Boulevard. something about their neutral and off white sweaters tied around their necks told me they were not of American origin. The father figure of the group stopped to take a picture in tourist fashion, then said something to his group as he caught up with them, now walking at pace with me. Something about his tone made me smile, and he turned to me and asked (in Italian), “Do you speak Italian?” to which I replied “No,” in an Italian way. Taking interested in the pot and pan in my bags he asked (still, in Italian), “Are you going home to cook Spaghetti??” which of course I had no choice but to answer “Sì, sì!” and we laughed together now with the rest of his family. From there we walked a little further, I tried to make out words I understood to be a conversation about the pretty girl carrying the pans to make spaghetti, I tried frantically to make out the sentences in my mind like “Let’s go get a gelato together,” (“Andiamo a prendere un gelato!”) “Let’s go get a coffee!” (“Andiamo a prendere un caffè) but sadly I had no words. We soon came to our parting streets and my heart was warmed by the parting good-byes “Ciao!” “Ciao!” and we went our separate ways. I walked for the next two blocks with an undeniably large smile on my face. What beautiful, beautiful people. I definitely considered throwing out my plans for the rest of the day and going back to catch up with them and play communication charades and land an afternoon of gelato and wonderful conversation with a lovely Italian family. Next time, I think I will.
One of the most life-giving things to me about Los Angeles is the omnipresent medley of language and culture. I love that as I sit here in a coffee shop I hear a beautiful young french girl video chatting with her boyfriend (probably in France), I just had a rendezvous with a rush of latino children playing keep away with their red balloon animal at the chairs next to mine, and I currently have three Japanese friends sitting next to me. After my bout with the Italians I did nothing other than get on iTunes the moment I was able to access internet and download as many Italian podcasts I could get my hands on, along with French, Arabic, Portugese, Japanese, and Mandarin (more on that later.) I came home, revelled in my new stainless steel 2 quart pot and lid, and promptly made some brown rice to go with our improvised Granny’s Beans with Sausage, Rice and Cornbread. Our evening meal came out to a glorious 17-bean medley with hot italian sausage with brown rice. We don’t have a stock pot yet, so I made the beans in our Crockpot. Words cannot describe the unspeakable comfort of finally cooking a meal at home, with the majority of the ingredients needed, and having an afternoon with a meal of our own in a place of our own. The beans proved to be noticeably more flavorful the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and went fantastically with our baguette, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, Pink Lady apple, and aged merlot-soaked goat cheese from the Hollywood Farmer’s market Sunday morning. This meal is fantastically budget friendly; I’ve included the costs for all the ingredients up front as well as cost per amount used in the recipe.
The original recipe consists of Pinto Beans and all beef sausage; the Pinto Beans can be soaked overnight (optional), placed in a large stock pot with Pinto Bean seasoning, a can of tomatoes and green chilies, a large amount of water and cooked on low for 4+ hours, refilling the water periodically to prevent burning the beans. Towards the last hour or so you add the beef sausage (sliced into 1/2 inch rounds); and serve it with your favorite cornbread, and serve it with your favorite rice. Simple, cheap, makes the house smell like a dream, and has the makings for ample leftovers. In my improvised Granny’s Beans with Sausage recipe- it’s made in a Crockpot (due to lack of cookware), cooked for about 5 hours, the beans consist of the ONLY dried beans the Trader Joe’s within walking distance to our house carries- a 17-Bean Medley (16 ounces @ $1.79), hot Italian sausage (1 pound/6 links @ $3.69/pound), 1 12-ounce can of tomatoes with green chilies ($1.19 or so), 1/2 of a large purple onion (I received feedback that the onion was phenomenal so I’m modifying 1 purple onion @ $.69/each into the recipe), and 2 packets of concentrated low sodium chicken stock (Note: I’m honestly not a big fan of reduced-sodium products; it just happened to be the only thing Trader Joe’s offered for concentrated Chicken Stock, @ 12Packets in 1 box @ $3.50 or so) ($.60), a medley of spices I had on hand to implement the Pinto Beans pre-mixed seasonings, and I used long grain Brown Rice (3 pounds/$3.25 or so). Being from Texas we like things HOT and SPICY with our dishes, so our beans and rice were garnished with fresh jalapeno slices (A case of fresh jalapenos @ Trader Joe’s $.99 for what I’d define as 10-12 “HOT-AS-BALLS” Jalapenos) and a sprinkle of purple onion (1 purple onion @ $.69 each). We unfortunately had to waive the cornbread due to two things: Trader Joe’s didn’t sell cornmeal (Really? No cornmeal?), and due to buying all the ingredients up front versus having some on hand already, our budget wasn’t conclusive of buying all the necessary ingredients for cornbread (eggs, baking soda, etc.)
Crockpot 17 Bean-Medley with Brown Rice
For the Beans:
1 16-ounce Package 17-Bean Medley ($1.79)
2 packets chicken broth concentrate (or equivalent of 16 ounces chicken broth) ($.60)
A LOT of water (Precise measurements to come, for now I’m going to explain it as– fill your crockpot to 1 inch below the lid with water.)
1 pound (6 links) of your favorite sausage (I used Hot Italian Pork sausage because that was all that was available, I would have preferred Elgin’s Beef Sausage, but alas we’re not in
Kansas Texas anymore.) ($3.63)
1 12-ounce can Tomatoes with Green chilies ($1.19)
1 onion, chopped plus 1/4 onion sliced very thin for garnish ($.69)
2 Cloves Garlic, Crushed and minced ($1.50 for bag of 2 garlic bunches, ($.08)
2 1/2 Tablespoons Pink Himalayan Sea Salt (Any Sea Salt will do) ($.06)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Chili Powder ($.04)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning ($.03)
1/2 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper ($.05)
1 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (vary to your tastes) ($.04)
1 Teaspoon Herb De Provence (I wanted Rosemary and this was what I had on hand) ($.03)
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper ($.04)
1/2 Teaspoon Cumin ($.03)
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder (Would have used more, that was all I’d packed from Texas) ($.03)
1 Jalapeno, thinly sliced, for garnish (We used about 1/2 a jalapeno per person per serving, so we’ve gone through about 5 jalapenos thus far.) (1 case of 10-12 jalapenos @ $.99/ $.10)
1/5 Cup Purple Onion Slivers (We like 2 Tablespoons per bowl.) Note: A trick here– if it’s too strong or pungent, slice your onion first and let it sit out for 15 minutes to 30 minutes before serving. The oxygen in the air neutralizes that intense, pungent bite fresh sliced onion is notorious for. The longer it sits, the more mellow it becomes.
For the Brown Rice:
2 cups Brown Rice, rinsed well (Note: Definitely rinse your rice! This makes sure you have good flavor and removes any dirt or impurities.) (3 pound bag@ $3.19, $.95)
4 cups water (I actually add a TEENY bit less due to the fact that when you rinse the rice it retains a little of that water, so adding slightly less is going to make sure you get an appropriate ratio of rice to water: 1 to 2.)
1 Tablespoon Pink Himalayan Sea Salt ($.03)
Total Costs: Approximately $9.50
Without Spices Included (If you already had them on hand): $8.30
Number of servings: 15-20 two cup servings. This equates into: Feeding a young couple for four days. This comes out to $2.37 a day, $1.19 a person per day. If you already had the spices on hand it would come out to $2.07 a day, $1.04 per person a day, at 2-3 servings per day. Not bad, eh?
For the Beans:
Plug your Crockpot in and turn it on High and set the time at 4 hours. Rinse and sort your beans from any dirt or impurities. Place beans in Crockpot, and fill Crockpot with water to about 1-inch below the lid. Add everything except your sausage and brown rice. This means your chicken broth, onion, garlic, salt, ground black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, Herb de Provence, and can of Tomatoes and chilies. Close the lid and don’t mess with it for THREE HOURS. Towards the last hour throw- okay don’t throw, add your sausage WHOLE- do NOT cut your links up yet! Let them cook for a good 45 minutes, and towards the last 15 minutes, take them out and let cool for a minute or two on a cutting board, and then slice them into 1/4-inch rounds, and add them back to the pot.
For the Rice:
At the THREE hour mark, in a 2 quart pot fill 3 3/4 cups of water and turn the heat on high. Add your 1 Tablespoon of Sea Salt, cover, and bring to a boil. Add 2 cups of brown rice, bring rice back up to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and simmer for 35-40 minutes (I usually set an alarm at 35, and check it at that point.) NOTE: A tip here– If you don’t have a heavy lid for your pot– this is a big deal. Having a well sealed pot for your rice is a huge factor in making GREAT rice. If your lid isn’t notably heavy, like the current pot I’m using, I place something with a little heavier on TOP of the lid, to help seal it. Don’t laugh, I set my glass two cup measuring cup on top of my lid, because that’s the only thing I have that’ll balance and sit well. But the goal here is to have enough weight to SEAL your pot- creating a true steam-cooking effect.
After 35 minutes you check and test if your rice is properly cooked (No excess water at the bottom of the pan), turn the heat off, and KEEP THE LID ON FOR ANOTHER 10-15 MINUTES, until you are ready to serve. I found out about this trick while googling how to cook rice perfectly from an asian blogger; they explained that having the rice remaining sealed after cooking ensures your rice is fluffy and moist, having all the brilliant characteristics a good rice should have. So after you’ve checked and your rice looks fantastic, cut the heat, and let it stay sealed for another 10-15 minutes. The goal here is that they should both be finishing up perfectly at the same time, hence the importance of starting your rice at the third hour, or one hour before the beans finish up. To serve simply remove the lid from your rice, fluff with a fork (This translates into gently mixing up the rice), and it’s ready to serve!
To plate: Ladle 3-4 scoops of your beans, sausage and bean “juice” (The liquid becomes absolutely phenomenal) into a bowl, then put a scoop of brown rice in the center, or whatever you fancy. Garnish with thinly sliced purple onion and slices of jalapeno, and enjoy!