Our reward for weathering the food-centric holidays are numerous year-end, trend stories from the gastrosphere.
What’s in? What’s out? What’s next? The media loves to speculate. The problem, of course, is that so many palates can’t be expected to agree.
After one source panned kale as so 2012, another pointed to its mainstream appeal now that The Cheesecake Factory features it on one of their salads. (Forget that The Cheesecake Factory, itself, was dismissed by a high-profile chef a few years back as one of that year’s worst restaurant developments.)
The National Restaurant Association attests that the top three menu trends for 2013 will be locally sourced meat and seafood, locally grown produce, and healthful kids meals. Translation: The eat-local trend has been around long enough that it can safely be called an ongoing lifestyle choice.
Also here to stay, according to several McClatchy News Service publications, is gluten-free (read more about that in next week’s food section). Consensus is lacking, however, on the next “superfood.” Will it be coconut oil, chia seeds or — get this — baobab? My two cents: Maybe durian, the topic of today’s A la Carte story will gain a stateside following.
Exotic edibles aside, regional cooking is all the rage, driven by — no surprise here — the emphasis on local and seasonal foods. Call it a return to real cooking. Southern fare, in particular, is having its darling moment.
In that spirit, here’s one of the best recipes of 2012, as recounted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which also singled out Scotch eggs, corn fritters with a fresh tomato salsa, blueberry-pepper jelly, Irish brisket stew, cedar-planked salmon, buttermilk biscones, cream-cheese coffeecake and chicken fricassee purportedly served to Thomas Jefferson and included in book of White House recipes. The final “Golden Whisk” honors go to farm egg vinaigrette and bresaola-wrapped arugula bundles, both of which were featured on our Holiday 101 page and can be found in our online Recipe Box.
Not having tried any of these recipes, I can only say that the final one on the list, Collard Cassoulet, shared much in common with a dish I made this year and was, indeed, my friends’ most requested recipe.
I frustrate my poor friends to no end by claiming there isn’t a recipe. I just made this one up based loosely on the concept of cassoulet, a peasant dish that stretches a bit of meat with a lot of beans.
Cooking for a party of about 20 people in a reasonably cost-conscious fashion furnished the initial inspiration. Dry beans are about as cheap as they come, collards were plentiful in our summertime garden and some Italian-style turkey sausage links turned the dish of vegetables into a main course.
Tester-kitchen staffers advocated as much for the following recipe from Alabama chef Frank Stitt. Add more meat to make it an entree, not a side dish. Canned beans can be a time-saver, of course. And if kale is out, maybe it’s time to cook with more collards.
My faux cassoulet plays as more of a stew with hints of fresh or fire-roasted chilies, instead of bell pepper, and toasted cumin seed as the je ne sais quoi that my friends really loved. But reinventing it — yet again — as a gratin like this would give it staying power for another year of entertaining.
1 pound collard greens, stems and tough ribs removed
Salt, as needed
5 garlic cloves, 1 crushed and 4 chopped
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
3 cups cooked white beans, 1⁄2 cup cooking liquid reserved
1⁄2 cup (plus more, if desired) diced or chopped cooked ham hock, sausage, chorizo or bacon
1⁄3 cup (plus more, if desired) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Pepper, to taste
1⁄2 cup (plus more, as needed) medium-coarse fresh breadcrumbs
In a large pot, cover the collards with salted water and boil over medium heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well and chop into small pieces. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 475 F. Vigorously rub inside of a 10- or 12-inch gratin dish with the crushed garlic clove. Discard crushed garlic and set the dish aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add collard greens, stir to coat and cook for 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl.
Stir in the beans, meat, roughly half the Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 tablespoon of the oil and the rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. If mixture seems too dry, add enough reserved bean cooking liquid to moisten. (If you don’t have liquid, use water.) Spread mixture in prepared dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Drizzle with remaining olive oil.
Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake until filling is hot and bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top of the gratin is golden and crusty, another 10 minutes. Serve hot.
Makes 4 servings, 6 as a side dish.