BATW’s February cooking Zoom focused on making dinner with what we have on hand, (the busy travelers that we are). Now, how many of us have a rutabaga in our pantry? Or white miso in the frig? I don’t have an elegant Dutch oven. I do have a large copper bottom cooking pot my Aunt Josephine gave me 48 years ago. It still works. I did have celery, an onion, cans of white beans, a can of garbanzo beans, and ground chicken. I did not have ground fennel. Reading the recipe, though, excited my exploratory spirit. The pandemic has heightened my cooking skills.
BATW’s celebrity chef was Linda Carucci, granddaughter of an Italian cheesemaker. She’s followed her genetics and dedicate the last 30 years to teaching cooking, to both professional chefs and home cooks across the United States and beyond. She is the author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks (Chronicle Books, 2005), a finalist for both James Beard and IACP Julia Child First Book awards.
Hailing from Massachusetts, Linda is the former dean of the California Culinary Academy (also her alma mater) and served as the inaugural Julia Child Curator of Food Arts at COPIA in Napa Valley. She worked as a live-in private chef for a prominent San Francisco family (confidentiality agreements kept her from telling us which SF family). She also has cooked at and managed restaurants and culinary operations in several San Francisco Bay Area restaurant kitchens.
The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller describes Linda as “the consummate teacher, cook, and coach all rolled into one.” Linda showed up at our BATW gathering via Zoom in her kitchen with two prep assistants.
Spoiler Alert: Follow the attached recipe. It’s easy and fast.
While cooking for our remote class, Linda energetically filled the Zoom room with happy chatter and miscellaneous prescient cooking tidbits. Some bordering on the magical.
“Add a little salt to the onions to draw in the moisture,” and “cook until the onions become translucent.”
She recommends Rancho Gordo Beans because they are not so dry.
“White miso is healthy for our diet. It provides the umami flavor that adds a savory tang to the stew. Two tablespoons are more than enough of the white miso for that ‘umph.’”
“Use the liquid in the beans, just dump in the entire contents of the can into the stew.”
“Add the herbs (in the recipe) to the hot oil.”
“Stir ingredients in a pot in a figure 8.”
“Don’t store onions and potatoes in the same bin!” Why not? Onions produce and emit ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process and can cause nearby potatoes to rot and spoil more quickly! Got it, Linda.
“Taste with a wooden spoon.” This had to do with the wooden device allowing the real taste of the food to come through, no metallic aftertaste.
“Get Dorot Gardens crushed garlic, saves time. It’s in the frozen food section at Trader Joe’s, near the frozen peas.” Found some and bought the cute red packs.
“Use Mediterranean bay leaf only.” Check, that what’s in my pantry.
“Use the Kuhn Rikon root peeler.”(In addition to rutabaga, it works wonders with beets too! I bought one, of course.)
And the rutabaga in the recipe: for color! Its orange small diced chunks brightens the white chili.
After our energetic cooking session ended nearing 8 pm, as Linda ladled the chicken rutabaga chili over crusty day-old Italian bread, I rushed to my kitchen and dashed together the entire recipe in less than half an hour, cooked the chicken bean stew sans rutabaga, sans powdered fennel, and sans old Italian bread. I enjoyed the chicken chili all week, what great flavor and texture (the buzzed can of garbanzos added a smooth base to the stew). Gave some to my son who loved it.
I’ve learned that rutabagas store well in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months (per the Internet). I have one in my larder now. Also, I have a lifetime supply of powered fennel. Anyone passing through my Inner Richmond San Francisco neighborhood, do stop by and I’ll pack you a fennel snack bag. I’ve started adding the fennel to egg dishes. It’s a lovely color and spices up my pantry.