Berkshire native Alana Chernila, local politician, mother of two, and author of the new cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), dispenses change and cooking ideas at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market. She shares her peak-of-the-season recipes with Rural Intelligence to help us make the most of what’s growing in our region. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has just announced that she has a new one in the works: Meals from the Homemade Pantry (Clarkson Potter), due out in 2014.
There was a bakery in Santa Fe that I used to go to when I was in school, a place called Sage Bakehouse. It was all concrete inside, big and cavernous and always warm from the ovens. They had a few little tables and a counter up front, and I loved to sit there and eat a muffin and just inhale the smell of everything. They had fantastic coffee, and this was before there was wireless everywhere, and you wouldn’t bring your computer. And their muffins were good enough that you didn’t even need another activity besides enjoying the muffin.
The primary draw of Sage Bakehouse was their bread, and they made big mushroom-top shaped loaves of sourdough, not with a crunchy crust that would cut the roof of your mouth, but with a soft crust that sliced well, and it was so good for sandwiches and even better for toast. If it wasn’t a day for a muffin, there was always a toast basket, and they would give you three kinds of toast with a little ramekin of strawberry jam. It was a princess breakfast.
I went there a lot over my four years in Santa Fe, and I almost always went alone. It’s one of the only places that I used to go in that wonderful town where I don’t have a memories of being with other people. It was college, and most places hold some undertone of a dramatic conversation or a heartbreak or something. But I went to Sage Bakehouse to smell the bread, and that is all I ever did there.
There was a day when I was there, alone before an afternoon class, and the soup was white bean with garlic and rosemary. I had that soup, and it was a revelation.
I only mention it, because it struck me that as I made a big pot of this soup this week, altered with the variations that the week (and pantry) required, that this soup is the first thing for which I ever asked the recipe.
I finished the bowl of soup, and I mopped up the creamy white broth with my sourdough bread, and when the bowl was absolutely empty, I stood up, and I walked to the counter, and I said, “Please tell me how to make that soup.”
And the the lovely woman with the apron and her hair tied back in a kerchief said this:
“One pound of dried cannellini beans, covered with water that extends at least 4 inches over the top of the beans. Bring them to a boil, then cover and simmer, along with 5 peeled, unchopped garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs of rosemary, and a whole lot of salt and pepper. Cook for several hours, or until the broth turns creamy. Add more water as you go if it seems to need it.”
That’s it. That was the recipe.
And what happened then was that it became the first soup that I made that my mother had never made. It became a soup that I made for dinner, and then people asked me for the recipe. It was the recipe that made me feel like I might be able to cook.
Over the years, there have been endless variations, but the basic soup is good enough to make over and over. But this week, there was a half can of crushed tomatoes added to the cooked beans. There were several chopped leaves of curly kale. There were three garlic sausages, chopped in little slices. And instead of rosemary, there was fresh chopped sage.
There could also be chicken broth instead of water. And olive oil drizzled on top is a good idea. And parmesan cheese, too, if you’ve got a nub of it around.
And that, friends, is the entire recipe. Until you add something else, that is. — Reprinted with permission from Eatingfromthegroundup.com . All text and photos copyright 2008-13 by Alana Chernila.