Monday, February 4, 2008

Putting the "ooh" in ragout

When I'm cooking for myself on a weeknight, I usually stick to one-pot meals that take almost no preparation, contain some combination of beans, potatoes, and greens, and don't look very pretty. If I were to assign them a name, it would be "peasant food," because they are so cheap and hearty. They are also very tasty, despite bearing a mild resemblance to the contents of a dry heave.

I was quite flattered, then, when I read the New York Times's "Dining In" section this past November and noted that food columnist Melissa Clark had not only bestowed on these types of dishes the somewhat elegant name, "ragout," but featured them as vegetarian main courses for Thanksgiving dinner!

Clark's gourmet-ified peasant food recipes all sound wonderful; I have yet to try them, but will offer you the link.

In the meantime, here are the details of a ragout I made the other night. What it lacks in presentation it makes up for in flavor, convenience, and nutritional value.

Recipe: Sweet-Savory Vegetarian Ragout
Makes 2 generous main course servings.

1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2 in. cubes
2 T olive oil
1 C vegetable or chicken stock, divided, plus more as needed
1 small chopped onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t cumin
1 t nutmeg
big handful of spinach
2 T chopped slivered almonds (optional, but highly recommended -- though expensive, a bag can go a long way)
2 T raisins
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium to large pot on low-medium heat; add sweet potatoes and stir until potatoes begin to stick a bit to the pot. Scrape up browned bits and add about a half cup of stock. Turn heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once potatoes are fairly soft, turn heat back down to low-medium and add onions, garlic, spices, and beans. Cook until onions and beans are soft, adding more stock as it's absorbed. When beans and potatoes are very soft, add spinach, almonds, and raisins and cook until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

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