March is my least favorite month. That tender time of year when I'm most desperate for relief, but least likely to get it. Right now there are two deep ruts in the solid block of ice that is my alley. I whisper a feeble prayer every time I try to make it inside my garage, because it feels like I'm jumping the wagon tracks in a Pioneer-era buggy. I'm pretty sure the Oregon Trail was more forgiving. The ice may melt by and by, smoothing out the ruts, but hey! Didn't you hear? Another snowstorm is on its way.
T.S. Eliot had it wrong–March is by far the cruelest month.
I realize this is a terrible introduction to a recipe, but I can't help but be honest.
This is one of my go-to, brainless winter meals. The kind of dish I make on a damp, chilly winter night when my spirits are low and my body is tired. Why does it work so well? Well, it's easy, it's ridiculously fast, and I'm likely to have the ingredients on hand. It's also a rare recipe whose taste exceeds the effort you put in to it. I sometimes wonder, does it taste better in proportion to how exhausted I am? It kind of does.
(Oh my god. Since the time I began typing this, it has started snowing... I think I know what's for dinner tonight.)
Fast Winter White Bean Stew
From the January 2007 issue of Gourmet
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 (14- to 15-oz) can stewed tomatoes, coarsely cut with kitchen shears right in the can (save the juice)
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 (19-oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (3 cups)
1 (1/2-lb) piece baked ham (1/2 to 3/4" thick), cut into 1/2" cubes
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (5-oz) bag baby arugula (10 cups loosely packed)
8 (3/4"-thick) slices baguette
This recipe works best if you measure and chop all the ingredients before you start cooking. Pour a glass of wine, start prepping, and you'll have dinner ready in 20 minutes, I promise.
Cook garlic in 1/4 cup oil in a large heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until golden and fragrant, about 60 seconds. If you haven't already, coarsely cut up tomatoes in can with kitchen shears, then add (with juice) to garlic in oil. Stir in broth, beans, ham, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes.
While stew is simmering, preheat broiler. Put bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Broil 3-4 inches from heat until golden, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Or, bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until toasted.
Place arugula in the bottom of each bowl and top with stew. Alternately, you can mix the entire portion of arugula into the stew, but it makes for better leftovers to add the greens after the fact (My husband minds soggy arugula, I guess, thought it makes no difference to me).
Serve stew with toasts.
P.S. To all of my dear friends with March birthdays: I love you, you're fabulous, and I really wish you would throw an annual birthday party in Mexico.