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One-pot cooking

Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 9:21 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 9:21 a.m.

The ancient method of feeding many mouths with one pot is as old as cooking itself.

“That's the way most people ate way back when,” said Paula Wolfert of Sonoma, author of “The Food of Morocco” and an expert on Mediterranean cooking. “Everything was one-pot cooking in the beginning, and they were lucky if they had one fire going.”

Thrifty and efficient in terms of fuel and utensils, one-pot cooking has roots in almost every culture, from Spain's piquant Chicken Marbella to Japan's brothy Nebemono stews.

These time-saving dishes are especially popular during the winter months, when a cut of tough meat, a little stock and a few root vegetables can magically transform into a hearty, rib-sticking feast. Whether braised in a Dutch oven, sauteed in a skillet or steamed gently in a clay pot, the humble stews and ragus of winter provide a welcome return to simplicity after all the rich foods and treats of the holidays.

At the Worlds of Flavor conference in November, chefs from around the world demonstrated a wide range of one-pot dishes during the international symposium held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.

As part of its “Arc of Flavors” theme, the conference explored the culinary connections along the great spice and silk trade routes, from the Mediterranean through the Middle East into Asia.

Anissa Helou, a native of Lebanon, and Yotam Ottolenghi, a native of Israel, both offered some interesting, one-pot dishes boasting unusual flavor combination.

Helou, a cookbook author who owns a cooking school in London, shared a recipe for a traditional dish ideal for the winter kitchen: Citrusy Stew of Lamb, Carrots and Peas. The seasoning includes warm spices like ground cinnamon and allspice, along with the peels of oranges and lemons.

“Most stews are tomato-y, but this one has a citrusy flavor,” Helou said. “The vegetables and the zest are dominant, and the spices lighten it up.”

Ottolenghi, who is a cookbook author and co-owner of five popular restaurants in London, recently published an intriguing cookbook, “Jerusalem,” with Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi.

Both men were born the same year in Jerusalem, one on the Arab east side and the other on the Jewish west side. Between its delicious food and its symbolic story, the cookbook is expected to rake in awards.

“Ottolenghi is the man of the moment,” Wolfert said. “Everything in that book is fabulous. It's original and magnificent.”

At the conference, Ottolenghi shared a simple one-pot dish that represents Jerusalem fusion food at its best: Braised eggs with lamb, tahini and sumac.

“The flavors are intense and the contrasting colors and textures are also pretty dramatic,” he said. “You should really serve it on its own, with minimal distractions and just a piece of bread.”

Using a cast-iron skillet, he sauteed the aromatics — onions, garlic and chili — then browned some ground lamb and threw in the spices, pine nuts, harissa paste and preserved onions.

To finish the dish, he added chicken stock and dug four small wells in the lamb mixture to cook the eggs. The dish was garnished with a dollop of yogurt sauce and cilantro.

Roasted Chicken with Jerusalem Artichoke and Lemon, another one-pot wonder, demonstrates how simple this ancient form of cooking can be.

Like Chicken Marbella, the dish needs to be marinated in advance, so that the saffron and tarragon can infuse the dish with their flavors.

“The combination of saffron and whole lemon slices not only makes for a beautiful-looking dish but also goes exceptionally well with the nutty earthiness of the artichokes,” Ottolenghi wrote in the recipe notes.

Many one-pot dishes can also be adapted for the slow cooker, allowing the cook to go to work all day and come home to a steaming, hot meal.

“The crockpot takes old cooking and puts it into the last century,” Wolfert said. “It's bottom up, it's slow and you can use inexpensive meats.”

Ideally, Wolfert said, you should cook a one-pot dish the day before, let it cool, then lift off the fat and reheat the dish to caramelize the outside.

“Before serving, run it under the broiler,” she said. “That way, you get the pretty look, the fat is off and the flavor is better.”

This recipe was presented by Yotam Ottolenghi at the 2012 Worlds of Flavor conference and published with permission of the author. Harissa paste, preserved lemon and sumac can be found at Oliver's and other gourmet markets.

Braised Eggs wtih Lamb, Tahini and Sumac

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

10 ounces ground lamb

2 teaspoons sumac, plus extra to finish

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Scant ½ cup pistachios, unsalted, toasted, crushed

7 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 teaspoons harissa paste

1 tablespoon preserved lemon, finely chopped

1½ cups cherry tomatoes

½ cup chicken stock

2 medium free-range eggs

For yogurt sauce:

Scant ½ cup Greek yogurt

1½ tablespoons tahini paste

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Salt as needed

Ground black pepper as needed

Heat up the olive oil in a medium, heavy-based frying pan for which you have a fitting lid. Add the onion and garlic and sauté on medium to high heat for 6 minutes to soften and color a bit.

Add the minced lamb and brown for 5 to 6 minutes on high heat. Season with sumac, cumin, ¾ teaspoon of salt, and some black pepper and cook for another minute. Off the heat, stir in the nuts, harissa, and preserve lemon and set aside.

While the onion is cooking, heat up a small separate cast-iron or other heavy-based pan. Once piping hot, add the cherry tomatoes and char on high heat for 4 to 6 minutes, tossing the pan occasionally, until slightly blackened on the outside. Set aside.

Prepare the yogurt sauce by simply whisking together all the ingredients with a pinch of salt. It needs to be thick and rich, but you may need to add a splash of water if it is stiff.

You can leave the meat, tomatoes, and sauce at this stage for up to 1 hour. When you are ready to serve, reheat the meat, add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Make 4 small wells in the mix and break an egg into each. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the eggs on low heat for 3 minutes.

This recipe is reprinted with permissionfrom “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.

Roasted Chicken with Jerusalem Artichoke & Lemon

Makes 4 servings

1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut lengthwise into 6 wedges

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, or 1 medium whole chicken, quartered

12 large shallots, halved lengthwise

12 large cloves garlic, sliced

1 medium lemon, halved lengthwise and then very thinly sliced

1 teaspoon saffron threads

3½ tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup cold water

1 tablespoon pink peppercorns, lightly crushed

¼ cup fresh thyme leaves

1 cup tarragon leaves, chopped

2 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Put the Jerusalem artichokes in a medium saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and add half the lemon juice. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool.

Place the Jerusalem artichokes and all the remaining ingredients, excluding the remaining lemon juice and half of the tarragon, in a large mixing bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight, or for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up, in the center of a roasting pan and spread the remaining ingredients around the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook for a further 15 minutes. At this point, the chicken should be completely cooked. Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Stir well, taste, and add more salt if needed. Serve at once.

This recipe is from Lebanese chef Anissa Helou, a presenter at the 2012 Worlds of Flavor conference.

Citrusy Stew of Lamb, Carrots and peas

Makes 2 to 4 servings

2 ounces butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 lamb shanks

14 ounces carrots, peeled, medium cut on teh bias

2 14-ounce cans tomatoes, chopped

Peel from 1 orange

1 lemon peel strip

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Salt, to taste

1 pound, 2 ounces peas, fresh or frozen

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; add the onions and saute until golden. Add the meat to the onions and brown on both sides.

Add the tomatoes, ¼ cup of water, and the orange and lemon peels. Season with the cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste. Bring this mixture to a boil then cover the pan; lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove both the orange and lemon peels and then add the carrots; simmer for 10 more minutes. By this time the sauce should have thickened. If it is still too runny, uncover the pan and let it bubble over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the peas just before you are ready to serve to preserve their bright, green color and cook for a couple of minutes, or until they are just done. Serve hot with plain rice or good bread.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemorat.com

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