My 11-month-old daughter has developed a reputation in our neighborhood. Mind you, we live in a densely populated, urban neighborhood, so this is not an easy feat. And, while she is out and about three times most days, she is not outside for that long. But each neighborhood has its characters, even if you only see them every so often. We have the compact septuagenarian with a stern gait, undoubtedly a former dancer, who walks her twin black Scottie dogs several times a day. Without fail, she is adorned in black tights, a black wool topper, and a cloche hat (yes, also black). There is also the heartbreakingly skeletal woman who used to inch along alone on her spindly pilasters of legs, but walks these days with her blond Labrador Retriever service dog. Now, apparently, there is also Elinor. While she was at the park admiring dogs with my parents, a woman announced, “There’s the naked baby again!” (“The naked baby,” as in a baby that has been previously specified as naked: people are talking about her. This is quite different from the indefinite “a naked baby,” as in, “Is that a naked baby working on her tan?”)
Alas, her reputation is accurate. For her first trip to the pediatrician on day three, we thought it would be charming to dress her in a lovely ivory cable-knit cardigan and matching pants. By the time we had fastened the car seat’s buckles, she had broken into a slit-eyed, square-mouthed wail—the Mr. Yuck face, as we call it—and her cheeks were flushed as red as an alpine strawberry. Since we had not dressed her at all in the previous three days, the clothes were the logical culprit. Without them, she rode contentedly to and from the office. We kind of forgot to dress her after that. And she has never seemed to have cared.
In her early months, during the day we cocooned her high on our chests with one of those wraps that appears to be an entire bolt of fabric—it was only as difficult to tie as, say, a double-knife lanyard knot. At night, she slept on our chests. And by the time she began to hunger for moving on her own, she had been hungering for milk long enough to have amassed an exemplary amount of insulation. Clothes were extraneous, accessories at best. So beautiful gifts, like the scalloped-edged heather-gray wool dress, the navy pea coat, and the powder-blue seersucker jacket, stayed hanging in her armoire. As the months passed and spring turned into summer—our winter—she occasionally donned a pair of pants for our nighttime walks, when the wind would inevitably shove damp clouds through our narrow streets. Even then, we strapped her to our chests and could wrap our jackets around her to ensure her warmth.
Recently, though, her feet, which are never cold, even when they dangle out from the bottom of my jacket as I carry her, are consistently chilly when we return from walks. Admittedly, it is time for clothes. Some, at least. So her new outdoor uniform is tightly knit woolen booties, calf-high, in a meringuey white. She rather resembles a semi-naked Norse child. (Metal brooches to come.) Booties—or boots, as yours may be—indicate a definitive shift in seasons. From now until February, the days will reach the low 60s and the nights will hover in the high 40s. Yes, it is winter “lite,” but it is our winter nonetheless. Like yours, our winter demands stews that stick to your ribs, even if unclothed.
And so I unearthed my go-to recipe for warming up from within. It is an Irishman’s take on Mexican mole that combines meaty borlotti (cranberry) beans with winter squash and black kale, all of which steep for two hours in a velvety sauce of tomatoes, smoky paprika, ground almonds, and a tab of dark chocolate. It is rich and loud and altogether unexpected. When I first read the recipe a few years ago, I was turned off by what appeared to be an unacceptable adulteration of a classic Mexican sauce, but I keep coming back to this, craving it even. Happily, 97% of guests are immediately smitten (though do be sure to control the heat with your guests’ tolerance for spiciness in mind). This is a bold stew to soothe those whom winter has denuded and even those whom it has clothed. Now get cooking.
Borlotti Bean Mole with Roast Winter Squash and Black Kale
Adapted from Wild Garlic, Gooseberries…and Me by Denis Cotter
As written, this recipe makes a thick stew. A different option is to add about a cup or two of the bean-cooking liquid before putting the mole in the oven; the result is a hearty soup. Admittedly, this recipe takes a bit of time to prep and a couple hours more for it to cook. It’s perfect to make on a chilly Sunday afternoon and reheat and refigure all week for dinner.
2 cups dried or fresh borlotti (cranberry) beans (I cannot recommend Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans highly enough; order several varieties at once—the shipping is a flat rate)
2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar (optional)
1 medium dark-orange fleshed winter squash, about 1 to 1.5 pounds, peeled and seeded (e.g., Kabocha, Butternut, pumpkin)
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces black kale (cavolo nero)
2 ounces butter or lard
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 4 jalapeño chilies, halved, seeded, and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
28 ounces fresh or canned plum tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons paprika (I like the smokiness of Spanish pimentón)
1 handful almonds, dark roasted and finely ground
2 ounces of 70% (or more) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
C O O K .
Soak the beans. Between 12 to 24 hours in advance, rinse the beans in a colander, running your hands through them to look for pebbles; remove pebbles. Transfer the beans to a large saucepan, pour in a couple tablespoons of apple-cider vinegar, and fill with water until it is 3 inches above the beans. (This method makes the beans much easier to digest and their nutrients more available. A faster alternative is to soak the beans between 2 and 4 hours before cooking.) After the soaking period, drain the beans in a colander and rinse. Set aside.
Cook the beans. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, and pour in the beans. Reduce to a simmer, and cook 15 to 20 minutes, until the beans have softened, but are still undercooked. (If you’re making the soup version, reserve a cup or two of the cooking water, and set it aside.) Drain the beans in a colander, and set them aside.
Prep and cook the squash; prep the other ingredients. In the meantime, cut the the squash into 3/4″ chunks. Toss them in olive oil, and spread them out on a preheated rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. Roast until caramelized on the outside, but still firm, about 20 minutes. (If you don’t mind a more rustic appearance, you can seed the squash, cut it in half, coat the flesh with some olive oil, and cook it flesh-side down on a rimmed baking sheet until slightly softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Then scoop the flesh out and roughly chop it.) While the squash is cooking, prepare the onion, jalapeños, garlic, tomatoes, almonds, and chocolate as specified in the ingredient list. Reduce the oven temperature to 250°F.
Prep the kale; layer flavors; bake the mole. Rinse the kale. Without removing the stem, layer the leaves on top of one another (think The Princess and the Pea), and then roll the leaves (think cigar-making). Slice 3/4″ pieces off the roll. In a Dutch oven or a large soup pot, melt the butter or lard over medium to medium-low heat. Once the butter has stopped foaming, toss in the onions and chilies, and fry them for 20 to 30 minutes, until caramelized. Add the garlic, and fry for another 2 or 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and paprika, and then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 or so minutes to let the flavors meld. Then mix in the ground almonds, chocolate, squash, beans, kale, and a teaspoon of salt. Stir until the chocolate has melted. (If you’re making the soup version, add some of the reserved bean liquid, factoring in that the vegetables will release some liquid while cooking.) Cover the pan, and put it in the oven to cook for about 2 hours. Remove the pot from the oven, take off the lid, and let cool for 10 or so minutes before eating.
E A T | D R I N K . Denis Cotter, the ingenious vegetable-happy chef from whose cookbook this recipe comes, recommends serving this with tortillas or atop polenta, mashed potatoes, or potato cakes. If I make the soup version, I serve it with heavily buttered cornbread. Either way, I like to tear some fresh cilantro on top. As for beverages, I like to sip a full-bodied stout or a chocolatey porter with this.
R E F I G U R E . Double the recipe and make variations throughout the week.
- Second night—Reduce the Soup. Start with the soup version mentioned in the headnote above. For the second night, reduce the soup over medium heat until thickened to a stew-like consistency. Serve on top of polenta or with tortillas.
- Weekend brunch—Revisionist Huevos Rancheros. Fry a corn tortilla in some butter or lard until crisp. Top with the mole, eggs over easy, and some sour cream, cilantro, and minced red onions.
- Weekend socializing—Bean Dip. I don’t think I’ve had bean dip since the 1986 Superbowl, but I’m thinking that pureeing the mole would make an updated version of bean dip. Optional: sour cream, minced red onions, and minced cilantro.
L I T T L E E A T S . If you’re making the mole for little ones, slice the kale as thinly as possible, omit the jalapenos, and use mild paprika; offer minced jalapeños for adults. The mole comes out of the oven super soft, making it easy to mash, if necessary.
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