The making of a good stew depends less on talent and more on will. Specifically, are you willing to let go and create disorder in the kitchen?
Take my friend, Katy, for example. Katy is a baking marvel. She is the Muhammad Ali of the convection oven, pitying the fool who dares rival her in the éclair, financier, and cream puff arena. But she is no stew-maker. She follows recipes the way literalists follow the letter of the law, and measures herbs and spices with the exactitude of a Swiss watchmaker. Such methodology renders perfect pastry, but as Katy is the first to laughingly admit, yields sterile stews.
The “kitchen as clinic” approach will not do for stew. Stew is at heart a flexible dish, willing to bend and bow to whimsy as much as tradition; and to achieve greatness, it requires liberal zeal, regardless of political leanings.
To begin, locate a stew recipe that appeals, then use it as a point of orientation, a stovetop roadmap for proportion, flavor, technique, and timing. From there, have fun, exerting free will and jocularity. You want more garlic? Add more garlic. You want wine instead of water? Do it. The text calls for onions, but you favor shallots? Make the change. Imbibe the cooking liquid from time to time. And poke your nose in the pot, too; breathe the heady aroma of your creation and smirk at your skill.
And in case you’re thinking a stew requires all day preparation, think again. Check out my smoked paprika chickpea and sausage stew, a 15-minute wonder. I developed it a few years back for a contest calling for quick & easy dinner ideas. It didn’t win, place or show, but I kept making it, primarily because it’s fantastic fast food—definitely a case of the sum being greater than the parts. (I made it over and over again for quick lunches when I was pregnant and craving spicy food.)
It’s an especially nice option when you’re away from your own kitchen, as it requires no special equipment (you don’t even need a sharp knife). Now please excuse me while I go heat up a bowl of the leftovers (and finish those Cheez Nips from Tuesday; I think Kevin hid the box).
Smoked Paprika Chickpea & Sausage Stew
I’m so excited that McCormick brand spices started carrying smoked paprika in their gourmet line of spices. Up until now I’ve had to mail order it or carry it back from trips to California. Holy cow, they even had it at the Wal-Mart here in Arkansas.
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 of a 16-ounce package reduced fat smoked sausage, halved lengthwise, then cut into thin slices (e.g., Hillshire Farms)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (if you can find the fire-roasted kind--e.g. Muir Glen--use them!)
1 and 3/4 cups low sodium fat-free chicken broth
1 and 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika (or use 1 teaspoon regular paprika plus 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)
4 ounces thinly sliced kale, chard, spinach, or other greens (about 2 packed cups)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook and stir until nicely browned. Remove to paper towel to drain.
In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, heat the tomatoes, broth, cumin and paprika. Bring to a boil, then add the greens. Stir well, cover and reduce heat to low; simmer about 6 minutes until the greens are just tender (this will only take a minute or so if using spinach). Stir in the sausage and heat 1 minute longer. Ladle into bowls and eat with crusty bread (or, if you are Cheez Nips crazy, some Cheez Nips). Makes 4 servings.
(I’ll post the nutrition once I’m back to my own computer; it has the software for the nutrition analysis)