Ad Hoc at Home
Recipe: Borlotti Bean Ragu
Let's be clear: Ad Hoc is one of the seven wonders of the world. Back in 2006, renowned chef Thomas Keller decided to open a restaurant in order to make use of a property he had purchased with the intention of creating a diner. The diner had lain dormant because of other projects, so Keller thought it would be "fun" to open a temporary restaurant that made family-style meals five nights a week. Thus, Ad Hoc was born. By September of 2007, Keller was having so much fun with this accidental restaurant that he decided to throw out the idea of the diner altogether and keep the temporary restaurant open for good.
Last week, my dear friend from high school came to town, and she said that there was really only one thing she wanted to do while in Northern California--eat at Ad Hoc. In a Keller-themed day, we drove up to Napa last Thursday, where we had a lunch of sandwich and eclairs at Bouchon Bakery and wandered the gardens at the French Laundry (both Keller creations). Not to worry, we also went to Cakebread and Grgich Hills for wine tastings, so she got the full Napa experience, even if all of it wasn't associated with Thomas Keller.
Reservation time rolled around, but there was a problem. When we arrived at Ad Hoc, we discovered that our reservations were not for June 15, but for July 15. To boot, the normally $49 four-course fixed menu had been replaced with a $149 ($99 with no wine) six-course extravaganza entitled "Pig and Swig." Lucky for us, they were willing to accommodate us and settled us in at the bar. And sweet jesus, sweet, sweet jesus, it was well worth it.
Because I had to drive, only my friend had the swig: eight glasses (really only a couple of flights) of wines from Peay, (the San Francisco Chronicle winery of the year in 2009) in Sonoma. The wine was superb (she let me have a sip of each), particularly the Roussanne/Marsanne (and they grow only one acre (!) of these grapes). However, we both gorged on the pig. Seriously. Prepare yourself for the list. In six courses, I ate parts of a pig I would never have willfully ordered on my own. But I am so glad that Chef de Cuisine Dave Cruise knew much better than I about what parts of the pig I would like best.
We ate buttermilk fried chicken stuffed with guaniciale, a watercress and endive salad topped with pig ear lardons, house-cured lardo and sea urchin on crostini, petrale sole with shaved pig heart pastrami, sauteed pork trotters with smoked wild mushrooms, pate-stuffed pork chops, buttermilk sorbet, candied bacon, and miniature sourdough waffles. Champions that we are, we oohed and awed and ate every last bite.
So I came home and immediately purchased the cookbook so I can pretend to replicate the sweet, sweet beauty of this restaurant. While I come only fractionally close with this ragu, it is a transcendent way to pretend. This cookbook, which many of you may already have since it has been a New York Times best seller, is lovely, providing cooking tips, whimsical photographs of Keller, the story of the restaurant, and superb recipes. It's worth the price if only for the story of cooking even if you're not ready to start cooking. A word to the wise, this cookbook is chock-full of family favorites (fried chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, beef stroganoff) and the techniques are accessible enough for the home cook; however, the recipes take some advance planning, often involving a brine or two to three subrecipes. But such attention to detail makes each dish delectable indeed.
Anyway, let's get to the ragu--
Two days before you wish to eat the ragu, make the garlic confit and to soak the beans. Garlic confit?--you ask. Oh yes. And do not skip this step, because the garlic and the oil are amazing, and the recipe makes plenty of it. Which is a bonus because then there is oil for your pizza crusts and your vinaigrette and your garlic bread and ....You get the idea.
One day before you wish to eat the ragu, cook the beans and make the rest of the recipe. And then do your very best not to eat it. Because it is much better on the second day.
While this is a typically winter dish, it is just a gussied up pork and beans, which works wonderfully with any summertime barbecue, which is how we ate it with another set of friends who have just arrived into town.
Finally, this entry marks the halfway point for this blog (and apparently the year). Here we are on cookbook number 26. Such thinking about cooking and writing each week has been a joy, even if it has meant that I had to eat squab. I am refreshed by cooking again and am reintroducing myself to old cookbooks and seeking out new ones. What sweet joy.
Next week, be prepared for two entries early next week, as I am traveling out of town for ten days for another amazing friend's wedding. There won't be much time for cooking with all the dancing I plan to do.
Garlic Confit and Oil
1 cup peeled garlic cloves
About 2 cups canola oil
1. Cut off and discard the root ends of the garlic cloves. Put the cloves in a small saucepan and add enough oil to cover them by about 1 inch--none o the garlic cloves should be poking through the oil.
2. Set the saucepan on low to medium-low heat. The garlic should cook gently: very small bubbles will come up through the oil, but the bubbles should not break the surface; adjust the heat as necessary and/r more the pan off the burner if cooking too quickly.
3. Cook the garlic for about 40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the cloves are completely tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the garlic to cool in the oil.
4. Refrigerate the garlic in a covered container, submerged in oil, for up to 1 week
[Use leftover garlic cloves or the oil in vinaigrette, brushed on baguette slices, or spread on toast).
1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) dried borlotti beans
1 medium leek, trimmed, split lengthwise, and rinsed
1/2 large carrot, peeled
1 sachet (1 bay leaf, 3 thyme spices, 10 black peppercorns, 1 garlic clove (smashed and peeled))
8 cups water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1. Put the beans in a large bowl, add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Soak overnight.
2. Drain the beans. Put them in a large saucepan, add the leek, onion, carrot, and sachet, and pour in the water. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 50 minutes to 1 hour. The beans should be tender but not falling apart. Remove from heat.
3. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the beans into a bowl or container, discording the vegetables and sachet. Strain the liquid over the beans. Season with red wine vinegar and salt. The beans can be refrigerated in their liquid for about 3 days. Drain before serving.
Borlotti Bean Ragu
1 (6-ounce) piece of salt pork or slab bacon
8 tablespoons (1 stick or 4 ounces) of unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup minced shallots
8 cloves of Garlic Confit (recipe above), crushed
3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped thyme leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste
7 cups cooked borlotti beans (recipe above)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock (preferably homemade), plus more as needed
1/4 cup chopped chives
1. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot: preheating the pan will prevent the pork from sticking. To test the heat, hold a corner of the pork against the pan: if it sticks, heat the pan a bit longer. Add the pork fat-side-down and lower the heat as necessary to render the fat without crisping and browning the meat. Turn the pork to cook all sides, about 15 minutes total.
2. Add the butter to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, swirling the pan often, until the butter has browned and the bubbles begin to subside, about 2 minutes.
3. Add the shallots, garlic confit, 3 tablespoons of thyme, and the vinegar, then add the beans. Season with salt and with a generous amount of pepper. Add the chicken stock, stirring to emulsify the liquid and butter. Bring to a simmer to heat the beans through. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon thyme and additional salt, pepper, and/or vinegar to taste as necessary.
4. Serve immediately or keep in a warm spot for up to an hour. If the sauce begins to break or the beans look oily, stir in a small amount of chicken stock to re-emulsify it. Reheat gently before serving, if necessary. [I cooked these a lot longer!]
5. Stir in the chives and serve.