Tony’s Cowboy Candy

Tony is a former 3M colleague of our friend Chris.  Tony now lives in Eclectic, Alabama, with his wife on his grandparents’ farm.  Chris, who lives near New Richmond, is the guy who has served as camp cook for many years when our cabin becomes hunting headquarters during deer season.  When he and his wife Lorraine visited Tony and his spouse this summer, Tony introduced Chris to Cowboy Candy, a spicy relish that Chris really liked.   Tony gave Chris permission to share the recipe with me.  When I decided to try it, I asked Chris for Tony’s phone number.

Chris gave me the number and told me, “Tony spends lots of time outdoors, so you may have to leave a message, but he’ll call you back.”  I left a message and within an hour Tony and I were having a good conversation.  Tony and Chris had both retired from the Animal Health Group at 3M, and both enjoyed farm work (in moderation).   Today Chris cares for a couple of saddle horses, cuts hay in the summer and works with St. Croix County Fair Animal Projects; Tony returned to Eclectic, bought the 100 acre farm his grandparents had worked and now tends a large garden.

He explained that he first made Cowboy Candy when he was swamped with jalapeño peppers from that garden.  He likes to cook and belongs to an online cooking group, so he looked there for any recipes that might use lots of those little peppers.  He decided to try Cowboy Candy and was pleased with the result.  Their friends enjoyed it too, and when Chris took a jar to his son and daughter-in-law in Texas, they devoured it and proclaimed it excellent.

When Chris and Lorraine returned to New Richmond Chris brought me a copy of the recipe with his recommendation that I make it.  Chris has shared several good recipes that he treasures, a couple of which are already on Courage in the Kitchen.  Here is another one.

INGREDIENTS:

3 lbs. firm, fresh jalapeño peppers

2 cups cider vinegar

6 cups white granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. celery seed

3 tsp. granulated garlic

1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

PROCEDURE:

Wash the peppers and protect your hands with kitchen gloves.  Remove the stems by slicing a small disk off the stem-end of the peppers.  Discard the stems.  Slice the peppers into uniform one-eighth to one-fourth-inch rounds and set them aside in a bowl.

Stir all the other ingredients in a large pot or Dutch oven to dissolve the sugar and spices into the vinegar.  Keep stirring while the liquid comes to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer it for five minutes.

While you are heating the liquid, wash and sterilize seven half-pint jars.  Put seven jar lids into a small bowl and cover them with hot water a few minutes before you fill the jars.  

Add the pepper slices and simmer them for four minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peppers to the jars, filling them to within a quarter inch of the rim.  Raise the heat under the remaining liquid and bring it to a full rolling boil.  Boil it hard for six to eight minutes to create a syrup.

Ladle the boiling syrup into the jars until it is above the sliced peppers.  Use a chopstick or a thin knife to release any trapped pockets of air and add more syrup if necessary.  Wipe the rims of the jars with damp paper towels and seal the jars with canning lids and rings to finger-tip tightness.

Place the jars in a canner and cover them with water to an inch above the jars.  Bring the water to a full rolling boil and set a timer for ten minutes.  Remove the jars when the timer goes off and cool the jars on a rack.  Let the jars cool thoroughly, wipe them with a damp dishcloth and label them.

NOTES:  For the best flavor allow this relish to mellow for at least two weeks.  Tony says a month is even better.

Chris introduced the recipe this way: “The end result is delicious with a very mild level of “heat”.  Tony likes it as a garnish for hot dogs, I believe it would be fantastic on brats!”

Tony also noted that the leftover syrup is “wonderful brushed on meat on the grill or added to potato salad or, or, or… in short, don’t toss it out!”

Pasta e Fagioli

When I was growing up, it was amazing how much you could learn if if you listened to the radio and if, like me, you had a mother who liked popular music.  For instance, by the time I was seven years old, I knew that Mona Lisa was a girl in a famous painting because Mom liked Nat King Cole’s song about a “famous work of art.”  When I was ten I learned how you said “God go with you” in Spanish because I listened to Les Paul and Mary Ford’s “Vaya Con Dios” at least a thousand times.  And then, when I was eleven, Dean Martin introduced a lot of us kids to “pizza pie” in a song my mother loved, “That’s Amore.”

I didn’t have a chance to taste pizza for another three or four years until Vin opened the first pizza shop on Hayward’s main street, but most of us kids knew the words to the song, especially the opening line: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s amore….”  Sixty years later I finally learned that the song also celebrated pasta e fagioli, an Italian dish of pasta and beans.  The line in the song uses the Neapolitan dialect for the sake of the rhyme.   “When the stars make you drool just like a pasta e fasule that’s amore.”  Fasule is what people call fagioli in Naples.

Whichever name you prefer, this combination of beans, pasta and vegetables makes a hearty and wonderful meal.  You can include meat if you want, but this peasant dish satisfies big appetites without it.  Vegetarian pasta e fagioli is an authentic, rustic Italian bean and pasta soup that’s extremely easy to make and can be on the table in less than an hour.  Be sure to try it sometime.

INGREDIENTS:

1 T olive oil

Half an onion

1 large carrot

1 celery stalk

1 zucchini, seven to nine inches long

2 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp. dried basil

1 can (28 oz) of whole tomatoes

1 can (28 oz.) of white beans

About 2 cups baby spinach

1 cup vegetable stock

2 T parsley, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt

Black pepper to taste

About 8 oz. rotini, penne rigate or other short pasta

PROCEDURE:

You need a good knife, two large soup pots or a Dutch oven and a pot, a can opener and a wooden spoon to make Pasta e Fagioli.  You also need four bowls or plates to stage the vegetables.

Clean and chop the onion, carrot and celery into a quarter to half-inch dice and set these vegetables aside in a small bowl. Wash and chop the zucchini into a slightly larger dice and set it aside in a separate bowl.  You should have about one and a quarter cups of zucchini.  Peel and mince the garlic and set it aside in a small bowl.  Rinse the spinach and parsley.  Shred the spinach into half-inch by one inch pieces and chop the parsley medium fine and set them aside in a bowl.

 Heat the pot over medium-high heat and add the oil, onion, carrot and celery. Fry them for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and transparent. 

Add the garlic and sauté it for about a minute, then add the zucchini and basil. If the vegetables look dry, you can add a little more oil.  Cook the mixture for another couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomatoes and their juice and use your spoon to break them into bite-sized pieces.

Add the beans and their liquid, spinach, vegetable stock, parsley, salt and a good grind of pepper (about a quarter of a teaspoon). Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer it for about fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile in a separate pot, cook the the pasta until it is at the al dente stage. Drain and add the pasta to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately with some good bread and wine.

NOTES:  Since you add the pasta to the hot soup, it will continue cooking, so be careful not to overcook it.  If the instructions on the package say to cook for eight to ten minutes, for example, drain the pasta at eight minutes or even a few seconds before.  

It is important to prepare the vegetables before you begin cooking the soup, so you can add the vegetables at the proper times and not overcook them.  Done properly, the celery will have a little crunch, the carrots more, and the rest of the vegetables will retain their identity.

This soup loses some of its character when you freeze it, but it still tastes good.  If you want to enjoy it only at its peak of perfection, invite some friends over to share your pasta e fagioli with them when it’s done.  There will be enough for six diners.

Cleaning and chopping the vegetables takes half the time to make this soup, so if you prepare the veggies ahead, you can serve this soup in less than thirty minutes!

And if, like me, you don’t speak Italian, you might appreciate knowing how easy it is to say Pasta e Fagioli.  It’s Pasta eh Fa-JOE-lee.