It's hard to start a post when I'm bored with the photograph(s) I have for it. The alternate title for this post is "A Life Fraught with Difficulty, by Molly Wizenberg."
But I am never bored with beans.
I don't remember how I first learned of Molly Stevens and her classic All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, but if you've been around here for any length of time, you will know that it is a longtime favorite. I bought it shortly after it came out, sometime in 2004. I was in graduate school then, planning to become Michel Foucault, albeit with more hair, fewer turtlenecks, and a vastly inferior command of the French language. Like anyone who has tried to read the borderline unreadable, I had a ton of Post-It flag things in my desk drawer, and I intended to use every last one when I read Discipline and Punish. But then All About Braising came along, and it was so good that I put down my schoolbooks and plastered my Post-It flags all over Molly Stevens's recipes instead. By the time I was done with it, the book looked like a hastily plucked chicken, sprouting feathery flag things from every third page. And though I cannot say the sequence of events was purely causal, I quit grad school the following year. In the decade since, I've cooked more from All About Braising than from any other book.
When I wrote about dried beans a week or so ago, I mentioned a particular Molly Stevens recipe, promising to write about it soon. Here I am. For the past few years, during the colder months, I've made this recipe every other week, and occasionally more often than that. Molly, if I may use her first name, calls the recipe Escarole Braised with Cannellini Beans, though I've made it with every kind of white, or white-ish, bean I can think of: cannellini, corona, marrow, garbanzo, great northern, navy, and flageolet, cooked from dried, or out of a can. I call it Braised Escarole with Beans. It's one of my best back-pocket meals, one I can make on short notice, assuming that I can get my hands on a head of escarole, which is a pretty fair assumption to make in the fall and winter. In the crackling heat of the pan, the escarole goes slack and silky, olive green, curling around the plump, creamy beans. This is honest food, old-lady-with-crepey-elbows-in-a-house-dress food, soft and stewy and fragrant with garlic. Everyone in my house likes it, including June, though she thinks the escarole is bok choy and I am not about to correct her, because the child is crazy for bok choy. I know when to leave a good thing alone.
Braised Escarole with Beans
Adapted from All About Braising, by Molly Stevens
The original version of this recipe calls for cannellini beans, but any light-colored bean works. I wouldn’t recommend pinto beans or any other brown or red bean, though; the flavor is too dark and muddy here. And you’ll note that, if you use canned beans rather than beans cooked from dried, you’ll need to add some stock. I like chicken stock - though you could use vegetable, I’m sure – and in a pinch, Better Than Bouillon is more than adequate.
- 1 medium head escarole (about 1 pound; 450 grams)
- ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 batch of white beans cooked according to these directions, OR about 2 ½ cups canned beans (a little less than two 15-ounce cans), drained and rinsed, plus 1 cup chicken stock
- ½ of a lemon