Stocks, rice, beans and soups

Stocks, rice, beans and soups

Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi
17 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Helen Cathcart

Don’t throw anything away. Make stock using vegetable peelings, raw or cooked chicken carcasses or fish bones and prawn shells (freeze them for later use if necessary). If they are frozen, don’t bother defrosting them, just add them to the pot. A good stock is essential, as we all know, to add flavour to soups, stews and above all risotto. The better the stock the better the flavour of the final dish. Make stocks on Sundays or when you are at home and not rushing about. They need time to bubble away making the house smell like a home. Reduce them to an intense concentration and freeze them in small batches ready to be defrosted and diluted with water as necessary.

Rice (riso)

In the Veneto, risotto tends to be wetter than in other parts of Italy and the rice remains just al dente; think of it as individual grains of rice in a creamy, wave of risotto. This is achieved partly with the use of vialone nano or carnaroli rice grains, which are less absorbent than Arborio, the most commonly used risotto rice here. Risotto is eaten as a first course in small portions and usually on its own so that you can appreciate its delicate, gentle flavour and texture.

As risotto waits for no man it is either made to order or certain Venetian restaurants and bars, such as Do Spade in San Polo, will make it at a specific time, so the locals know exactly when to turn up to relish it at its peak of perfection.

Beans (fagioli)

Beans in their dried state are a relatively new ingredient in my cupboard. While testing bean soup recipes with our chef Antonio Sanzone he convinced me that a bean soup should only ever be made with dried beans. The flavour and velvety texture of a bean that has been dried, soaked and cooked is infinitely better than one lurking in the murky waters of a can. I instantly became an enthusiastic convert to the pulse and now go about preaching to others of their virtues. An inexpensive and valuable source of protein that we just don’t use enough of in the UK, all they need is a little forethought.

For some years I was confused by the terms pulse, legume and bean. Pulse is from the Latin word puls meaning a porridge-like substance made from beans or grains. The Roman word legumen meant any edible seeds that form in pods. From this the French then took legume to mean any vegetable and so we took pulse to mean the dried seed or bean that had to be soaked before cooking such as broad beans, borlotti, lentils, peas and chickpeas.

The choice of beans in the Veneto is wide with many people growing their own in the country. They are used fresh and immature in summer for salads and contorni – vegetable side dishes – and mature and dried throughout winter for soups.

Many of the chefs we spoke to in Venice were very particular about the beans they used, how they were grown and where they came from. The town of Lamon, in the valley of Belluno north of Venice, is the main area for growing beans and has been since the mid-1500s. The Slow Food organisation has protected some of the varieties from extinction, such as the spagnolit and the yellow gialet. These are hard to get outside the Veneto but delis and health food shops are a good place to look for unusual varieties.

For some reason packets of beans often miss off the cooking instructions but most beans react in the same way. Dried beans will deliver much better flavour than tinned ones, so if time permits it’s always preferable to use soaked dried beans. Here are our tips on making the most of your dried beans:

–Choose recently harvested and dried beans if you see a date on the packet. Their skins become tougher the older they are.

–Pick over the beans discarding any stones or broken beans. Wash them in cold water.

–To speed up the cooking time and help the beans hold their shape, soak in plenty of cold water so that they are well covered; small beans for around 4 hours to overnight and large, like butter beans, for at least 8 hours.

–To speed up the soaking process put the washed beans in a saucepan of plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes and remove from the heat. Cover and let them soak for 1 hour, or until swollen and the skins are softened.

–Beans can be cooked slowly in the oven. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Rinse the soaked beans and discard any broken ones. Put the beans and any flavourings, such as onion and garlic, into a heavy-based, flameproof casserole and pour in enough cold water to cover them by 3 cm. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes to remove toxins. Cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add 1 teaspoon of salt. Put the lid back on and continue to cook for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour or until cooked through.

–If you cook the beans on the hob make sure they are covered with 5 cm fresh cold salted water in a heavy-based pan. Flavour the beans with one or two of the following: 1 bay leaf, 2 sage leaves, 1 sprig of thyme, 1 onion or 1 garlic clove. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, then gently simmer until tender, stirring occasionally. Make sure they are always submerged in water, so add more as necessary.

–Soften tough skins with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) 10 minutes before the end of cooking time.

–The cooking time will vary hugely so check the beans regularly. To give you an idea, after soaking small beans take around 1 hour and large beans take around 1 1/2 hours.

–When the beans are cooked, leave them to cool in their cooking liquid. They will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

–For soups, or when serving with fish or meat, purée one third of the beans with a hand-held blender for a slightly thicker consistency. They can also be puréed completely to a velvety cream.

–If serving them as they are for a vegetable dish, dress the beans with your best peppery extra-virgin olive oil, pepper and salt. A little wine vinegar or lemon juice gives a little acidity and they always look pretty with chopped parsley.

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