January 26, 2009

Sausage and beans cassoulet with roasted peppers - Carnati cu iahnie de fasole si ardei copti

This is one of those times when i am sorry there is such a big gap between our cuisines or cooking styles & trends, the Romanian and the American one, because i am not sure how good of a job i'll do when telling you how Romanian this food is. Just as much as the pancakes with bacon and eggs are the American breakfast, or the steak and the apple or cherry pies are culinary staples here.
It wouldn't be so hard if I was Radu Anton Roman. And again, who heard of him here, besides the Romanians who live now on this side of the world? Unfortunately, you cannot find to many things online about his books and there is no biography written in English, or at least I didn’t find it. But for the Romanians who read these lines, here is an interview which i didn't read until two months ago. To make an out of line comparison to somebody American foodies know, he was like Michael Ruhlman, more of a " food poet" ( i found this somewhere, don't remember the source now, but that's how my comparison was born), story teller and historian than recipe author, but not a chef.
Radu Anton Roman put together the most amazing and representative book with traditional authentic Romanian recipes and had a Tv show traveling the country and finding our gems. His book has a wonderful style, it's just like a story that brings back in front of your eyes an archaic Romania, with its people and their traditions, customs, and superstitions, their wisdom and humor, their songs and poems. All the richness of our culture and history, combined with our culinary treasure, which we, the new generations did not get to know and live. Reading his book and watching his televison show for about two years before i moved here, made me realize how little I know about us and what a petty is that today we are so far away from that old Romania. I am not talking about the physical distance, but about the distance between the past generations and us, with our rush of being like any of the western civilizations, our rush to deny and forget who we are and where we are coming from. Moreover, it was a lesson for me that indeed we have our own Romanian cuisine, and he brought it on our tables again. His wit, charm and gift of story telling were a treat, and his anthology is a legacy cherished by so many of us, who discovered again the charm and beauty of Romania.
The back cover of the book has a quote from Jacques Yves Cousteau, who, discovering our ‘extraordinary "tchiorba" (thicker soup) and our to dream of "tourta" ( kind of a cornbread)’, said that ‘not only the world doesn’t know almost anything about Romania, but that the Romanians don’t know their miracles. As a cuisine, at least, you are a very rich people in our so called poverty’.
And the editor talks about how this book helps showing our culture through the act of cooking, intertwined with our symbolism, mysticism and traditions and how it carries you to the pan with the feeling that your ancestors will tell you what and when to do. All of this clarifying for you the troubling question: is there a Romanian cuisine? with a subtle, but well proven answer: YES.
In the opening of his book, Radu Anton Roman writes about how only a few of us today still cook Romanian food. I blush thinking that these lines were written for me... "it seems the Romanians apparently don’t love their cuisine. All of grandma’s goodies lie in dusty, abandoned recipes notebooks. We eat pizza, hamburgers, kabob or sushi. Why? For the same reason people drink cheap bad vodka from bottles with colored labels on them, instead of savoring the Romanian authentic superior plum brandy." He talks about how our recipes might not be original or unique, because after all we are part of Europe and have always been. But even the recipes we got from others, we made them our own, to the point you don't even recognize what could they have in common, besides their names. Our musaca, stuffed cabage rolls, crepes, soups and meatballs were not ours, but they are "sediments" of the Otoman occupation, or French, German, Greek, and other influences. We made them our own "discretely arranging" the original recipes, "tailoring" them like hand-me down clothes that don't fit.
This post is a come back to my roots, a confession about most of the food i actually cook and we eat in our home, but don't take pictures most of the times, because it is not very good looking. I know it sounds vain, and maybe it is. But if there are many others like me, visual eaters, and if those by chance would stumble upon this blog, my pictures would not make them crave any of those foods, or at least not yet. So, from now on, i'll try my best to cook, photograph and post more photos of Romanian foods.
In the mean time, since the next posts will not be Romanian recipes at all, consider this my mea culpa and my pledge of allegiance.
Ohhh, and please don't laugh at my smug snobbish attempt of finding an English title for this using the french cassoulet, but it was the closest i know to what this food is really like. I followed the recipe from Radu Anton Roman's book as much as i could, but there were some changes i made because i couldn't get or didn’t have all of the ingredients. That's why the one below is not the exact one from his book.

Sausage and beans cassoulet

1 -1.5 lbs smoked meat (pork ribs, hocks, shanks, or turkey drumsticks/ wings)
1 lb smoked sausage
1 - 1.5 lbs beans (I use baby lima, but any other kind you like or have works well)
1 onion diced
1 bell pepper diced
2 carrots shredded
14 oz can (420 g) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon pepper paste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup oil (I use sunflower, canola or grapeseed)
1 cup white wine
fresh dill and tarragon

Soak the beans in cold water over night or at least for about 4 hours. I cook the beans in cold water and after they boil for about 3-5 minutes, I drain them and throw away that first water.
Cover the beans again with cold water, about 3 quarts, add the smoked meat, bring them to a boil, then lower the heat and let them simmer for at least an hour.
After an hour take the smoked meat out, and add the onion, carrots, bell pepper, oil, pepper paste, dry thyme, bay leaves and the wine and let it simmer for another half an hour. Stir from time to time to make sure the beans don’t stick and burn on the bottom.
Cut the smoked meat into pieces if you have a larger shank, ribs or turkey drumsticks and put them back. When the half an hour passed, add the crushed tomatoes and the meat and let it simmer for another 20 minutes or so, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the beans. The sauce should not be too watery, but not too dry either, if needed add a little bit of hot water.
In a separate fry pan saute the smoked sausages, which could be served either on the side or added to the beans in the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Add fresh tarragon and dill if you like and serve with some pickles or a salad.
Possible side dishes:
- assorted pickles or sauerkraut salad,
- coleslaw ( red and white cabbage and shredded carrots, fresh dill, oil, vinegar, salt & pepper),
- roasted red bell peppers (broiled, peeled and marinated w oil, vinegar, sliced/minced fresh garlic, salt & pepper)
The beans are even better with a glass of red wine, like a Caubernet Sauvignon.


Anonymous said...

Arata sublim totul!
Te pup,Daniela

Irina said...

Mancare buna, de iarna grea! Din pacate, la noi doar ploua si sunt 5°C.
O zi buna,

Mona said...

Bine ai revenit Roxanel !!..tare dor mi-a fost de tine...acum sa nu ne mai parasesti.. daca nu ai timp, scrii cateva borbe si asa stim si noi ca sunteti bine sanatosi...

iti mai doresc inca odata un an cat mai imbelsugat, sanatate si Domnul sa va aiba mereu in paza Sa...

multi pupici domnisoarei Clara..este o mica printesa scumpa foc...

te pup si va doresc un sfsrsit de saptamana cat mai frumos :))

Anonymous said...

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