Stew

Cuisinart 6-quart lidded potWhen I was in graduate school and had a kitchen and was a religious fanatic, I used to make this stew. I would use a covered five-quart nonstick pot very much like this Cuisinart nonstick 6-quart pot, but a six-quart pot would have held the batches without threatening to overflow.

I ate this stew a lot during the fasts of my church. I never said grace, not from principle, but because I was a fanatic and more interested in what seemed more effortful, which was fasting, than what seemed mundane, which was praying. I was young and foolish then.

Now that I don’t have a kitchen, I eat less ascetically, as a pescetarian during the fasts. I do manage to say grace silently over lunch on weekdays at work, but I must admit, embarrassed, that I forget to do it at other meals, nowdays because I’m just plain sloppy. But it’s very simple: “Christ our God, bless the food and drink of your servant, for you are holy, now and always and forever.”

I want this pot, with a kitchen to hold it and a stove to cook it on, and, critically, a big sink to wash it in. However, I am determined to live close to my office, so I keep living in my little SRO. (I couldn’t possibly afford to live as close to work if I had to rent a studio.) Thus, I can’t make even a couple of quarts of anything; the bar sink in my room limits the size of what I can wash.

But this pot reminds me nostalgically of when I was young and unhappy and poor, when life still had a great many possible directions and I was still very curious about what I would do with it.

Stew

  • water, or preferably, broth from cooking beans
  • 2 large onions, or 3 small
  • 3 carrots, unpeeled
  • 2 cups cooked beans, or 1 can undrained (any type except garbanzos or black-eyed peas will work; small reds are ideal)
  • 2 large potatoes, or 3 small, unpeeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 large tomatoes, or 4 small, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon basil, dried
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice, white or brown
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Grated romano or parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 6-quart nonstick pot

Note: This recipe isn’t suited to mise en place; the preparation of each ingredient times the cooking until the final long simmer. So you can make this in a slow cooker, layering everything at once and pouring the bean broth over it, but it won’t turn out as well, because everything will have cooked the same length of time.

  1. Dice onions and put in pot with enough water or bean water to cover. Bring to a simmer. Keep adding water or bean broth to cover the ingredients as you add them, and put the lid back on after adding each batch of ingredients.
  2. Slice carrots into 1/4″ coins. Slice the big coins in half. Add to pot in an even layer. Don’t stir. Keep simmering.
  3. Add cooked beans in an even layer. Don’t stir. Keep simmering.
  4. Cut the potatoes into 3/4″ pieces and add to pot in an even layer with bay leaf. Don’t stir. Lower heat if possible.
  5. Chop tomatoes into 1/2″ pieces and add to pot in an even layer, sprinkling basil over the top. Don’t stir. Allow to simmer just long enough to get out the rice and measure it.
  6. Add rice evenly over surface of stew. Don’t stir. Cook for 30 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle the pepper evenly over surface and stir the stew to mix.
  8. Take out the bay leaf so that the next time you eat from this batch, the stew won’t smell medicinal.
  9. Serve with salt shaker on the side. If you want to use cheese, sprinkle it on each serving.
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