Friday, February 1, 2008

A reliable Pinto

I promise I'll make something that doesn't come from Cooking Light soon. In fact, I have another slow cooker adventure planned for next week involving a beef roast currently chilling in my freezer. But that's for another day. Right now, I need to tell you the big secret about stews: they're usually better the next day.

OK, that's not really a secret: most stews are far tastier after sitting overnight, mingling the flavours of the various ingredients and mellowing a bit. This rule rang particularly true for me this week as I ate this pinto bean and winter squash stew, first for supper and then as leftovers for lunches over the next two days.

It looked so gorgeous and colourful, and all the ingredients were tasty on their own; I figured how could I go wrong? And yet, when I tasted it, something seemed lacking. It hadn't come together the way I had hoped. The squash felt grainy on my tongue, and none of the other flavours had managed to infuse into it, despite long cooking and strong elements like chipotle (hot!) and tomato. It wasn't bad, but it was disappointing somehow.

Since I hate wasting food, and it was certainly edible, I brought some to work the following day. Once I got it up to temperature in our crappy break-room microwave, I sat down to eat it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it had improved immensely overnight in the fridge. The texture of the squash had smoothed out, the chipotle had mellowed into a more pleasant heat, and everything had bonded and made friends. It was, all of a sudden, delicious.

I chose the recipe to use some of the huge batch of pinto beans I cooked up in the crockpot last week. Chris had requested that we eat some squash soon, because he missed it, and the frozen corn was on sale at the store. I had some canned chipotles in the freezer already to sub for the dried chile, which I think was inspired - the smokiness works beautifully with the squash. If you wanted to be decadent, or if meatless meals don't appeal to you, you could add two chopped strips of bacon at the beginning and I think it would be delicious. The recipe claims to make four servings; we got five out of it and didn't go hungry. I found that by using the amount of water called for in the recipe, it was quite soupy, but that's fine with us - not all stews have to be thick. They just have to be left alone to ponder their existence overnight, apparently, and that's when they go from good to great.

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