City Noir

Disgusted with poor umpiring, the stretched out playoff schedule (which I can only assume was designed by the TV networks), and rather sloppy play, I skipped baseball last night and watched a different LA event: Great Performances broadcast of Gustavo Dudamel’s Inaugural Gala and Opening Night Concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I’m not a big fan of anything in Los Angeles, but MPR has been plugging this concert quite a bit, so I thought I would see what all the excitement was about.

The concert included two pieces: John Adams’ “City Noir” (commissioned for the event) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major. Both provided the “Hello, LA. Here I am. Let’s have some fun.” message that I think Dudamel was going for. I enjoyed “City Noir” more than I expected, especially the saxophone solos throughout, the wide variety of percussion instruments included, the use of piano, celesta, and 2 (!) harps, and the blending of Latin and film noir influences. While the opening movement “The City and Its Double” was a bit chaotic, the second movement “The Song is for You” was lovely, and the third “Boulevard Night” brought everything to an exciting conclusion.

Dudamel’s enthusiasm for the Mahler was thoroughly communicated. Mahler’s First always takes me back to my days as a music student, which means I am amused again when I hear what sounds like “Three Blind Mice/Hot Cross Buns” 🙂

For a more authoritative review of the concert, see the LA Times Review.

And catch the replay of Great Performances if you get a chance.

Minestrone and a new way to cook beans

It snowed last night and actually stuck to the ground . . . pretty early for the Twin Cities . . . melted by afternoon, but more expected tonight. As soon as the weather forecast said “snow”, I started thinking about soup. So yesterday I stocked up on onions and celery and carrots and such. And today I brewed up a big pot of Minestrone, aka Italian Vegetable Soup. I followed Marcella Hazan’s recipe from “The Classic Italian Cookbook”, though I left out the cabbage (I would have added kale, but the store I was at yesterday didn’t have any that looked good) and didn’t bother to leave it boiling for 3 hours . . . after 90 minutes I was too hungry to wait any longer 🙂

I don’t like to post recipes stolen from other sources, but I can give the basics for this soup without much guilt. For the specific details, buy Marcella’s book . . . (my paperback copy cost $5.95 many years ago and may no longer be available . . . her newer edition is called “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” but I’m betting it includes a pesto recipe.

Minestrone Soup

Put some oil and butter in the bottom of a big soup pot. Thinly slice half of a large onion (or a whole smaller onion) and add it to the pot at medium heat. Add to this some chopped carrots, celery, potatoes, zucchini, and green beans (I used 1 cup each of the carrots, celery, and green beans and 2 cups of the potatoes and zucchini). For this recipe don’t bother to prep everything ahead of time, just chop and drop each veggie into the pot, give everything a stir each time, and keep the heat low enough so nothing starts burning.

(Once all the veggies have cooked for several minutes, I would usually add several cups of chopped kale and cook until it wilts a bit.)

Add 6 cups vegatable broth (or a combination of broth and water) and one 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes. Cook at a slow boil until thick (90 minutes – 3 hours). About 15 minutes before serving add 1-2 cups cooked pasta and/or cooked white beans (see instructions below). Just before serving (or in the individual bowls) add a large pinch of parmesan cheese and/or a big spoon of pesto.

Cooking Dried Beans

I’ve always had trouble cooking dried beans. Either they boil too rapidly and split and/or boil over OR I set the heat too low and they don’t cook. Here’s a method I had never heard of before (adapted from Marcella Hazan).

1. Soak beans overnight covered in 2″ of cold water. (I used 3/4 cup of small white beans for my soup.)

2. Preheat oven to 325°F.

3. Rinse and drain the beans and put them in a large casserole dish or pot that can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven and has a lid (I used a 3-quart corning ware casserole dish). Cover with 2″ of water.

4. Bring the beans to a boil on top of the stove. Cover and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for 40-60 minutes. Leave in their water until ready to use.

This method worked GREAT! Nice tender beans with much less hassle.