When 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Slice carrots into 1/4″ coins. Slice the big coins in half. Add to pot in an even layer. Don’t stir. Keep simmering.
- Add cooked beans in an even layer. Don’t stir. Keep simmering.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add rice evenly over surface of stew. Don’t stir. Cook for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle the pepper evenly over surface and stir the stew to mix.
- Take out the bay leaf so that the next time you eat from this batch, the stew won’t smell medicinal.
- Serve with salt shaker on the side. If you want to use cheese, sprinkle it on each serving.