With Love from Chicago...

Who says that evening FDR traffic can't play culinary muse on an otherwise normal normal weekday ?  As I drove back and hit the slightly inclined bend around the 96th street area,  I decided to make a rounds of calls to old friends so that I could shield myself from the tedium of what often see as Gotham's bumper car street invitational, My good Italian friend Enza, picked up he cell phone. She lived in the same town as I did. Her family , just as mine, switched shores more than once, settling in a quaint, yet kind of flat (the Midwest has no hills), suburban spot less than one hour outside of Chicago. After our regular chitchat about family and old memories, conducted in conveniently orchestrated strings of Italian and English language strands, we landed on the ever important topic of food. Funny thing about this is that by the time we reached this topic, our conversation was nearing its end, as I had almost reached my destination.  Yet on that day , food talk seems to have performed a small miracle, and made time stretch or distance stretch just enough for the culinary muse to pinch me on the buttocks.

Enza described how the night before she and her italophile friend, whom I am looking forward to meet in the kitchen, made a baked rice and potatoes dish tweaked by a middle-eastern accent. Yes, a starch on starch dish. Many of my American friends cringe at such a thought. No shame here: a perfectly  good old , hearty peasant dish, quick to make and quick to wash down with a good glass of fruity white wine. I decided to run with it, literally run with it. Just as in running, things move fast, I cut out the baking part to shave at least 45 minutes off of the cooking time, and replaced rice, with middle-eastern cous-cous for extra speed.  The dish took less than 45 minutes from start to finish.

Rustic Potatoes cooked in Cous Cous

Potatoes cooked in Cous-Cous

Preparation is rather simple. Peel and cut the tubers in large chunks ensuring the at least one side of the cut potatoes has a flat edge.  Place the potatoes  face down in a high edged pan  add, EVOO, S/P, a shot of white wine, 1 to 2 cups of chicken broth (substitute water if you want) , herbs of your choice (dried thyme rocks), thin slivers of garlic and a tablespoon of Danish butter. To impart some middle-eastern flavor to the dish, add a tablespoon of ground coriander and a tablespoon of ground cumin. Cook covered with a lid until 3/4 of the liquids are absorbed. Adjust the seasoning and liquids in case you need to. When the potatoes feel almost cooked, cover them with a layer of cous-cous . The cous-cous, should absorb the remaining liquids. Turn the heat to a super-low setting, and cook for a few more minutes with a lid. Steam should form in the pan, and that steam  will take care of the final cooking, tenderizing the cous-cous.  Occasionally , sprinkle some drop of water on the cous-cous on the spots where it appears that the steam has not done its  job.  Once cooked, let the dish rest in the pan , covered for a few more minutes.Then transfer to bowl and fluff up. If you get this right, the cous-cous should remain "al dente"

Enza's daughter has studied Arabic. Maybe I should ask her how to wish folks a good meal in that langauge. For now I will stick with my old ways: Bon Appétit !


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