Pasta w/ Cranberry Beans and Mangalitsa Bacon

Just as I probably wouldn’t classify the movie Airplane as a tragedy, I probably wouldn’t call any dish that includes bacon vegetarian friendly. But many of the problems caused by our typical American diet stem not just from the fact that we eat meat but the fact that we eat so much of it and cutting back might be a good first step. There are plenty of 16 oz steaks on menus all over the place. And yes, they can be delicious. Lots of books about diet and sustainability suggest cutting meat serving sizes down to 3 or 4 ounces. Many times, I find myself hungry after such a small serving. But what if I found perhaps the most delicious and richest meat to cross my palate in a long while? What if it came from a small farm in Florida and had been cured by a man very passionate about bacon? That’s a different story.

The NY Times ran a story about a breed of pig called Mangalitsa that produces incredibly buttery, rich meat. Truthfully, this was something I had wanted to taste in NYC for quite some time but had not been able to find. So I was pleased when the gentleman who runs the Transatlantic Sausage Company at the farmers market in Sarasota offered me a small package of Mangalitsa bacon. He compared it to Italian pancetta or guanciale, both of which you might have tasted if you’ve ever eaten an authentic carbonara. It’s pricey by the pound but it’s used in such small quantities that the cost per serving is lower than a fast food meal deal.

The same week I saw the bacon, I noticed a stunning bin of cranberry beans. Cranberry beans are beautiful at every stage; at the market, after they’re shelled, in the cooking water, and on the  plate.  I posted a recipe for Fava Bean Crostino last spring and the prep is very much the same but they only need to be shelled once. They are sometimes called ‘shell beans’ and have an almost nutty flavor.

I ended up serving the pasta for guests who were used to eating meat. Plenty of meat. But instead of a 5 or even 6 oz serving of meat per person, I used a grand total of 2 ounces for 4 of us. The dish was rich and meaty and satisfied the inner carnivores in all of us. The bacon was smoky and earthy and the beans themselves were hearty in a fresh and sort of ‘snappy’ way.

So no, the dish is not vegetarian and I of course wouldn’t serve it to a vegetarian. But I think all of us should play around with using smaller amounts of better quality meats and then filling out the dish with great seasonal legumes or vegetables. So while I still wouldn’t classify Airplane as a tragedy, I would classify this dish as moving in the vegetarian direction. ‘Vegetarian direction with bacon? Surely you can’t be serious.’

I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

Pasta w/ Cranberry Beans and Mangalitsa Bacon (Farmers Market Bill $8/4 Servings = $2/Serving)

Set a medium-sized saucepan full of salted water on the stove over high heat

Remove a pound of cranberry beans from their shells and add them to boiling water

Reduce the heat and simmer the beans for around 25 minutes or until tender

While beans are simmering, bring another pot of salted water to a boil

Chop 2 cloves of garlic and 4 oz of the highest quality local bacon you can get your hands on

Add to skillet along with a tablespoon of olive oil and saute over medium heat for around 8 minutes or until bacon just starts to crisp

When beans are done, strain them and add them to the bacon and garlic mixture and saute for another 2 minutes

Add a splash of white wine or stock and turn burner down to low

Cook 3/4 pound of pasta according to package directions

Strain and toss with ingredients in skillet

Add salt and pepper but taste first as the bacon has some salt to begin with

I love to garnish smokey dishes with red pepper flakes


Grass-Fed Beef Stew with Root Vegetables and Atrocious Knife Skills

When it gets really cold out, we sometimes slack off a bit. We might hit the snooze button a couple extra times or procrastinate when we have to do our chores. For me, my knife skills go down the drain as the temperature falls. My knife skills aren’t that great to begin with, but I can make pretty uniform slices for a gratin and I can even fillet a fish pretty well. But that’s for warm weather. In the cold, I put ingredients on the cutting board and bat them around with my knife as if they are little cat toys. Eventually, I notice that everything is a bit smaller than it was when I began and that seems to be good enough. Into the pot it goes!

I exaggerate a little of course but there are days when I don’t want to spend much time prepping. I noticed some stew meat at the farmer’s market from New York Beef. I like these folks because they like to talk about how their meat changes with the seasons. Sometimes the beef is better marbled than other times and sometimes there are cuts that seem to be especially good that very day. They also do a great job aging their steaks which makes the flavor of their beef even richer. I believe the stew meat is pieces of chuck but I’m not sure. This recipe can be made with most cuts although I would save the more pricey tenderloin and strip steak for a different dish.

I had no beef stock on the house but I had a batch of turkey stock in the freezer leftover from the holidays. If you’re using good quality poultry bones and trimmings, your stock will be plenty rich enough for the stew. I also had around a third of a bottle of red wine that needed to be used up. Good enough. Most of us have plenty of root vegetables available to us this time of year as well as good potatoes. If your farmer has turnips, go for it. If he or she has only celery root, that works well here too. Follow your farmer’s lead and get ready to do some sloppy prep work.

So with some grass-fed stew beef, some winter veggies, frozen stock, and some VERY poor knife skills, I knew I had a good cold weather meal in my future. When it warms up, I’ll be ready to chiffonade some basil, but until the temperature breaks 0 degrees, I’m happy hacking away.

Grass-Fed Beef Stew with Root Vegetables and Atrocious Knife Skills (Farmers Market Bill $15/6 servings = $2.50/serving)

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil in a frying pan on high heat

Season around a pound of stew meat salt and pepper and dust with flour

Brown the meat for 2-3 minutes per side and transfer to a dutch oven (if necessary, brown the meat in batches to make sure it all gets good color)

Using poor knife skills, chop 1.5 pounds or so of carrots, turnips, onion, celery root, potatoes, and parsnips or any combination

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and brown veggies for 7 minutes or so stirring occasionally (they’ll pick up some of the meat flavors)

Transfer veggies to the dutch oven

Deglaze frying pan with 2 cups of stock and a cup of red wine, scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure you get the yummy bits

Pour stock/wine mixture into dutch oven with another 4 cups of stock

Add 3 bay leaves and 2-3 whole, peeled garlic cloves, and a hefty dose of salt and pepper

Simmer on stovetop over low to medium heat or place in oven at 200 degrees

Simmer uncovered for 3 hours or longer if you can

Taste again for seasoning and salt and pepper again if necessary

Serve with some toasted ciabatta

The leftovers are even better

BBQ Spring Training

$25/6 meals = $4.16 per serving.

One of the downsides of living in New York is that it’s very hard to barbecue without doing something either unsafe or illegal. While I’m happy to take some risks, I’d rather not find myself with a summons from the city for grilling on the sidewalk. So when I found out I’d be visiting my dad in NH for the week, I checked the weather and decided that overcast skies and 50 degree weather sounded like nearly ideal cookout conditions compared to what I was used to. It was time to fire up the grill.

The Concord, NH Farmer’s Market was not scheduled to open for another month or so and my favorite local farms were closed as well. So we were off to the Concord Co-op which sources vegetables, dairy, eggs and meats from nearby I knew we were about to get flooded with the early spring vegetables, but for now, the late winter vegetables would have to do. My father is a big fan of chicken so I wanted to see what might be available.

Misty Knoll is a VT poultry farm that raises very good chickens and turkeys ( For those of you who haven’t grilled a farm raised chicken, the difference in the quality of the meat (particularly the breast meat) is striking. Overly lean factory farmed chicken meat just can’t remain moist and flavorful on a hot grill. Give the better chicken a shot and the difference will be very clear. The Misty Knoll chickens weighed about 3.5 pounds and are sold fresh for around $4.20 a pound. The cost of the bird was $15 and a nice bag of organic parsnips, carrots and sunchokes ran me about $8. We also found a piece of a deliciously sharp raw milk cheese called Landaff ($3), also a NH product ( It’s nutty and almost a little ‘citrusy’ and would be perfect with a spoonful of jam for dessert. That brought our total grocery bill to $25.

During the summer, I love to grill fish or meat along with lots of summer veggies like yellow squash and peppers. In the winter, I tend to use heartier winter vegetables that work better roasted for a long period of time. I essentially wanted to make a dish on the grill that I usually make in the oven. Not too hard actually. I started by drizzling some olive oil and lemon juice over the cut up chicken and vegetables along with some salt and pepper. Over a hot grill, I cooked the chicken pieces skin side down and then turned them. Then, I added the veggies to the grill and placed the chicken pieces on top. People roast vegetables in the same pan with meats because the juices and fats from the meat flavor the veggies and help them to cook more evenly. Why not try the same thing on the grill? While most of the juices would be lost to the fire, some would no doubt season the vegetables along with the smoke from the fire. When the meal was plated, we realized, we had another chicken breast for the next day along with most of the trimmings and carcass which could very easily be made into a chicken soup for later. We even had a handful of extra sunchokes which could make the soup even nicer. So along with the 3 dinner servings, we had more than enough for at least 3 more lunches or dinners with the leftovers and 0 court appearances for violating the NYC Fire Code.

Slow Grilled Chicken with Winter Vegetables

Slow Grilled Chicken with NH Root Vegetables

Cut up one chicken into, wings, legs/thighs, and 2 breast halves

Season all pieces with salt and pepper and drizzle the juice of one lemon over the meat with around a tablespoon of olive oil

Rinse 1.5 pounds of carrots, parsnips, and sunchokes and season them in a bowl as you did the chicken

Preheat a gas grill to high or light a charcoal grill and wait until briquettes are entirely gray

Place chicken skin side down and leave for 5-7 minutes

Scatter seasoned vegetables around the grill, turn chicken pieces and place them on top of vegetables

Cover grill and leave for 25 minutes (15 if using a hot charcoal grill)

Check internal temperature with a meat thermometer. Breast meat should be around 155 and dark meat closer to 165

If breast meat cooks sooner, remove from grill and cover loosely with foil.

If you’d like, drizzle the cooked chicken and veggies with some additional lemon juice or olive oil.

This meal is best with beer. Drink it. Enjoy.


Change of Plans

About a year ago I started speaking with a butcher named Jacob Dickson. He sources beef and lamb from small farms and has very high standards for animal welfare and sustainability. Recently, Jacob opened Dickson Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market.The space is beautiful and the meat case full of beautiful pieces of both grass and grain fed meats. Occasionally, Jacob runs out of popular cuts. One of the things I love about shopping there is hearing him offer alternatives to people who came looking for a rib eye steak but are not sure how to cook flank or a small chuck roast.

About a week ago, I went to pick up some lamb chops for a quick dinner party I was hosting for a couple friends of ours. I had already made some potatoes earlier in the day and needed 4 small loin or rib chops. The three customers in front of me all wanted cuts that were not available that day but Jacob had beautiful tri-tip roasts and was eager to help them learn how to work with new cuts. When it was my turn, I asked for four small lamb chops but was then informed that there was little lamb that week and that all that was left was shanks. “Give them around 2 hours and they should be fine,” Jacob said. I knew I did have the time and wasn’t sure what to do. As much as I liked seeing other customers readjust their cooking and eating around what was available that day, I didn’t like it quite as much when it happened to me.

I consider myself a decent to good cook but I still get thrown off when cooking and eating plans have to changed completely. I’m thinking though that that might be an important part of going local. Few of us will be walking out into our gardens to see what’s ripe and then planning our dinner from there. But we may go to the farmers’ market or open a box from a CSA and let our findings guide our next few meals.

In any case, when my guests arrived, we enjoyed a bottle of wine for an hour or so, salad for a bit longer, and then braised lamb shanks. Many of us our in a rush, but a little extra time is a small price to pay for good food that was sourced responsibly.

Braised Lamb Shanks (4 servings)
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven on top of a high burner
When it begins to smoke, salt and pepper 4 lamb shanks and brown in the oil 4 minutes per side
While the lamb is browning, dice up some carrots and onions or whatever veggies you can find. Anywhere from 1-4 cups is fine.
When the lamb is done, transfer it to a plate and brown the veggies for 4 minutes or so.
Deglaze the bottom of the pan with a cup of red wine and some water
You could throw in some balsamic too if you wanted to or even some stock if you had it ready
Place the lamb on top of the vegetables and cover the Dutch oven
Place in oven at 300 degrees and cook for about 2 hours.
Serve with the reduced liquid from the bottom of the pot with some bread on the side.