Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Len Deighton's Action Cook Book" - Minestrone

Date I made this recipe:  April 19, 2015

Len Deighton's Action Cook Book by Len Deighton
Published by:  Penguin Books (England and Australia)
© 1965
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Richfield
Recipe:  Minestrone – p. 112

People often ask me what prompts me to buy a certain cookbook and I often say that it's the cover art, or in this case, the cover photo.

I mean here we have a James Bond-looking guy and behind him is a woman in a lace negligee stroking his hair while he's removing pasta noodles from a pot.  Well, at least that's what it looks like, right?  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  But that's just the front cover.  On the back, the roles are reversed and he's hugging her while she's the one removing the pasta from the pan. Right then, right there, this book was mine!

Then there was the intrigue:  who was Len Deighton?  Thank goodness for the internet or I would not have learned the following:  he's a "British military historian, cookery writer (translated to American English that means "cookbook writer"), graphic artist, and novelist."  Quite. 

Still, I hadn't thought about cooking from this book anytime soon until one day last week when this happened: there I was, scrolling through the "New [Cookbook] Releases" section of Barnes and Noble's website, and suddenly, this book appeared as an upcoming new release.  I mean – what?  Why would this book, published in 1965, suddenly be on a "new release" list?

So I pulled the book off my shelf and believe I found the answer in this statement on the back cover:  "For copyright reasons this edition is not for sale in the U.S.A."  And a quick perusal of the book's details on Barnes' website shows a release date of March 2015.  So hooray, hooray, it now looks like the copyright reasons are no longer in play.  Smashing.

Also smashing?  In addition to resembling somewhat "Bond, James Bond," our man Len could also pass for protagonist Don Draper, on TV's Mad Men.  I made this dish on Sunday and wouldn't you know, Mad Men is on on Sunday nights.  I mean, if Don can't distract you from finishing your pasta, can anybody?

The recipes in this cookbook run the gamut – "Cassoulet," "Caneton (Duck) a l'Orange" to "Chili con Carne," "Low-Calorie Lunch" to my choice, "Minestrone."  All recipes are illustrated, likely by Len himself since he is also a graphic artist and are all fairly easy.  We quite liked our minestrone, especially since the weather turned colder yesterday and it felt like a soup kind of day.

What I liked best about this recipe though, is that he recognizes that minestrone can be a hodge-podge of ingredients, especially vegetables, so you can add things like potatoes, turnips, tomato puree and sweet corn if you want.  You can also use 2 large onions or 1 onion and the white part of 1 leek.  I went with the onion and leek combination for something different.  I also decided to use a mix of chicken and beef broth just to mix it up a bit.  The result was great and made for a great Sunday night dinner before we got down to the business of watching Mad Men.  As the Brits would say – "It was bloody brilliant!"

Minestrone – serving size not given but likely enough for 4
¼ lb. haricot (navy) beans
2 ½ pints stock (veal, chicken or beef)
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
2 large onions – or – 1 onion and white part of one leek, chopped small
1 cup shredded cabbage
½ cup green beans
½ cup celery
Thyme (handful)
Salt, pepper to taste
Basil (handful)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons olive oil
¾ pound tomatoes
1 cup peas
Pinch sugar
1 – 1 ½ cups tiny pasta (optional)
Optional:  potato, turnip, potato puree, sweet corn (if using potato or turnip, chop small)
Parmesan cheese for serving

Soak the ¼ haricot (navy) beans overnight, strain, cook until they are tender.  Ann's Note:  I decided to make this dish at the very last minute so I didn't use the beans because I didn't have time to soak them.  There are so many other vegetables in this that it didn't really matter.

Stir gently for 5 minutes over low heat the following items:  parsley, onions/leeks, cabbage, green beans, celery, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, basil.

If using potatoes or turnips (optional ingredients), add them into the pot at this time. 

Add the stock, tomatoes, peas, pinch of sugar and (for me) tomato puree, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Ann's Note:  He didn't say what to do with the tomatoes, so after seeding them, I cut them into small pieces and added them to the soup.  Seemed to work!

Once the soup is done simmering, add the beans and the pasta and cook until the pasta is done.  Ann's Note:  it is far easier to cook the pasta separately like I did than to add it.  And if you add it, to the soup uncooked, be sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn't overcook.  The author suggests 15 minutes.

Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and lots of grated Parmesan cheese.

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