Here’s a simple dish that surprised me with its depth of flavor, and I wanted to share it because I think I know why it turned out so much better than in previous incarnations…
Actually, it’s not that complicated: use fresh ingredients of a higher quality. For example, I recently heard an Italian woman on the radio complain about the poor flavor of the garlic that comes from China in grocery stores. I hadn’t thought of garlic as an ingredient that existed in many forms before. I’d seen it at the market but I had overlooked it. Now, lets make one thing clear, it’s not that China can’t make great garlic, it’s that those smaller, very white bulbs often found in packs of three are of the cheaper variety that gets shipped here. I now mostly buy local garlic at a bit of a premium when I shop. I can’t find it everywhere, but it’s around and I know where to get it now. There are also other varieties that pack a flavorful punch, and I suggest you try a few and see the difference it makes in your cooking. Garlic is often considered a very healthy addition to food, and I suggest you do a bit of research about it. One doesn’t need much of it, and it is easily added to many recipes. Perhaps you’d benefit from using it more often…
What do you need: eggplant, zucchini, green beans, carrots, garlic, green bell peppers, an onion, olive oil, canned tomatoes, fresh bay leaves and brown rice.
I still had(and have) some of the fresh bay leaves I bought for last week’s tajine dinner and I made great use of them once again when I prepared this meal for Carolina and I. They release such a fragrant and beautiful flavor: there’s no comparing it with the dried stuff as far as I am concerned, and I will start using it exclusively from now on when I care about how my dish tastes… The canned tomatoes I used were San Marzano tomatoes, which are tomatoes that come from a small village in northern Italy that are apparently among the best in the world. They cost more than other tomatoes though, and there is skepticism as to the legitimacy of these actually being San Marzano tomatoes. Rob, from Pasta a-go-go, did mention that you can get these tomatoes in great quantities around North America, despite the fact that San Marzano is a tiny village that could not produce the quantities necessary to fulfill everyone’s needs. That being said, the tomatoes are now grown in other parts of the world as well. I did find some information about Rob’s concerns, however, and I’m posting it below:
Most San Marzano tomatoes sold commercially are grown in Italy, though they are produced commercially in smaller quantities in other countries.
Unfortunately because of San Marzano’s premium pricing there is an on going battle against fraudulent product. On November 22nd of 2010 the Italian carabinieri confiscated 1,470 tons of canned tomatos worth €1.2 million of improperly labeled product, some branded with names mentioned above.
Anyways, San Marzano tomatoes are often considered great for sauces and I think that this dish came out better because I used them.
I started by making the rice. I heated olive oil, added two of the bay leaves and a whole garlic clove. When they had released some of their flavors, I added rinsed brown rice and mixed it in with the olive oil; attempting to coat each individual grain with some of the oil. I learned to this when taking a vegetarian Indian cooking class some years ago. The theory is that by doing so they won’t stick to other grains as much.
While slowly cooking the rice, I started with the stew.
The process is simple: sweat garlic and onions in olive oil. Roughly chop each vegetable and add to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and add the canned tomatoes with a bay leaf. Most of the vegetables cook quickly, so I waited until the carrots, which I had cut into larger pieces, were cooked through but not soft to know that my stew was ready. It didn’t not take very long, and I managed the keep each vegetables’ textural integrity in the process.
I served the stew over the savory rice and enjoyed. The whole thing took me less than half an hour to prepare and cook.