1.22.2013

The endangered dinner party makes a comeback: Cornish hens with cranberry beans and kale


Cornish hen with beans and kale
Okay, so I’m not a winter person. I feel paralyzed by the cold. I have acute brain freeze too right now, which is one of many reasons I haven’t been here for a while. I know. I should embrace the snow and the exuberance of the tingly, frigid air. I am trying. But really. Can I just crawl under the covers until spring?

Snap out of it, I say to myself, as I sit here at my computer wearing thick wool socks, wool clogs, long underwear, and two sweaters. (Winter clothing weighs heavily upon my psyche, too.) It is high time to bring back the endangered dinner party. Time to think of the friends who make me laugh and invite them over.

I made these Cornish hens for a Boston Globe Sunday Supper recently. Not only are they special and festive, they are also ideal for feeding a small group of people without too much angst or effort. The little birds, which are actually domestic chickens bred to mature in a shorter time than regular chickens, have a good portion of juicy white breast meat, and a lot of bone. If you want to avoid the expense—they are a bit pricey—you could roast a couple of chickens, or buy large hens and split them in half before roasting them and serve each person a half (make an extra one for leftovers or just in case you have one or two big eaters on your hands.) However, by the time you and your guests eat through some cheese, a couple of noshes, and a glass of wine before dinner, why, there won’t be a need for a big chow-down at the table.

In some contexts beans and kale sound a bit dreary. Your turn to snap out of it my friends! Think Tuscany and oh-so-sopheesticated, simple Italian. The beans are a revelation if you have been relying on canned beans from your pantry shelves lately. They capture a lot of flavor from the onions, carrots, and celery added to the pot as they cook. Dried cranberry beans, also known as borlotti beans, must be soaked overnight in water to cover and cooked at a low simmer. Cooking time ranges from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on how recently the beans were harvested and dried.

Listen, this soaking thing is just not a big deal. Even if you are a non-committal type, you can soak the beans, cook them the next day, and freeze them for a soup if you lose your nerve and order take-out. Leftover beans can be served over pasta, or made into pasta e fagiole by adding some tiny pasta like ditalini and stock to the beans.

As for the kale, you can buy it already prepped in convenient packages. It’s still better to buy it by the bunch, but it’s not a big compromise to buy the package if you want to save time.

Trust me, this is good food. And no one will have to break a New Year’s resolution.

Cornish hens with cranberry beans and kale
Serves 6

BEANS
1 pound (2 1/2 cups) dried cranberry or borlotti beans, soaked in water overnight and drained
1 carrot, halved lengthwise
1 stalk celery, halved
1/2 medium onion with stem intact
Salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 plum tomatoes, diced
Leaves from 1 large bunch kale cut into 1-inch pieces, or 6 ounces (6 packed cups) of packaged kale greens

1. In a large pot, place the drained beans and enough fresh water to cover them by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. With a large spoon, skim and discard the foam that rises to the top.

2. Add the carrot, celery, and onion half to the pot, and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 35 minutes to an hour, or until the beans are tender but still hold their shape. Depending on the age of the beans, this could take longer. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in salt to taste and leave the beans in the pot for 30 minutes.

3. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the chopped onion, garlic, and thyme. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the beans and their liquid, discarding the carrots, celery, and onion half. Bring to a simmer.

4. Add the diced tomatoes, and continue to simmer for 15 minutes longer. Taste and add more salt, if you like.

5. Stir the kale into the beans in the pot. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the kale is wilted and tender. Sally Pasley Vargas

CORNISH HENS

3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
6 2-inch lengths of fresh rosemary sprigs
3 lemons
6 Cornish hens (about 1 1/4 pounds each)
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Have on hand a roasting pan or a rimmed baking sheet.

2. In a small bowl, combine the rosemary, salt, and pepper. Rub over the hens, sprinkling some inside the cavities. Quarter 2 of the lemons lengthwise. Stuff 1 lemon quarter and 1 rosemary sprig inside each hen. Set them in a roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the remaining lemon in half and squeeze the juice from the lemon halves and remaining quarters over the hens. Brush them all over with the olive oil. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the hen is pierced with the tip of a knife in the thickest part of the thigh (180 degrees F on an instant read thermometer).

4. Remove the hens from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Spoon about 1 cup of the beans and kale on each plate. Set a Cornish hen on top. 

Pasta e fagiole (couldn't find ditalini, so used mini penne)

5 comments:

  1. Hurray for cornish game hens--the small fowl of choice. Beans and kale and evoo, always a great match. The only way to keep warm in this weather is to fire up the oven and then hang out in the kitchen. Good for you for finding something delicious to make while you're there. Ken

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    1. Thanks, Ken. Time for a new year's meet-up?

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  2. I am not a winter person, either, though I was born in early December, so I understand your wish to crawl under the covers and emerge only when the temperature tempts you. Both dishes look very nice, comforting during the coldest time of the year.

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  3. Yes, indeed. It's entertaining - good food, good friends, good conversation - that get us through the winter months. The more sumptuous, the more festive, the more candles, the better. Thanks, Sally.

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  4. Yes Susanne, there must be candles. Lots and lots of them.

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