It’s Saturday morning and every corner of my kitchen has that delicious, yeasty fragrance usually reserved for bakeries. A mound of whole wheat dough speckled with dates sits in a towel-covered bowl on the counter.
In an hour or two, I’ll shape it into flatbreads and top it with onions caramelized in bacon drippings.
The aromas and busy noises in my kitchen are timely. We’re a month or so into the fall semester, and the architect with whom I’ve shared my dinner table for years is a college professor for the first time. Never having cooked around a teaching schedule before, I’m learning quickly. To guarantee good eats in the week to come, cooking a few hours on Saturday morning is the way to go.
I arrange spicy poblano chiles under the broiler to blister and soften; they’ll add just the right heat and color to creamy green chile and chicken stew.
Meanwhile, onions caramelize in a pot on the stove. When they’re deep brown and achingly soft, I set aside half for the flatbreads. The rest join with a bottle of beer and cook down for the stew.
When they’re done, I drop the roasted chiles into a bowl and set them aside to steam, making the job of peeling them later a cinch. I lower the heat on the oven and arrange a tray of broccoli rabe, dressed with olive oil and orange zest, on a rack inside. On the stove, a skillet bubbles with white wine and cannellini beans.
When the broccoli rabe is tender, some of its leaves crisp and deliciously brittle, I toss it with half of the beans; a shower of ricotta salata over the top and this hearty side dish is done.
Tossed with salad greens, the savory mix will even make a satisfying lunch next week with a piece of flatbread and a sweet fall apple on the side -- ideal for a professor’s busy day.
I puree the rest of the beans with the caramelized onions, roasted chiles and chicken stock to make a velvety poaching liquid for the stew’s chicken thighs.
I’m always keen to use common ingredients like the beans and caramelized onions in recipes because they afford me the time, even on busy weekends, for small extravagances like baking homemade bread.
As for the stew, we’ll feast on it for dinner tonight and then again in the coming week at the end of a long day. What’s more, it doubles as a surprising pasta sauce. I consider a recipe like this one -- that’s versatile and manages to get more flavorful each day -- to be the hallmark of a Saturday morning’s cooking done well.
The flatbreads cool on the counter as I wash the last of the dishes. I’m eager to tear off a hunk and smear it with farmer cheese or maybe a spoonful of thick, garlicky hummus. The smell of my early afternoon snack draws the professor out from behind his desk, where he’s been typing away.
Truth be told, I’m biding my time until midterms. He’s likely to be tough on his students, in which case they’ll surely need homemade cookies to help them soldier through.
Stir the sugar and yeast into a small bowl filled with 1 cup of lukewarm water. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, cardamom and cinnamon, if using. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the yeast mixture with 2 tablespoons oil. Stir, gently working the flour into the middle, until a shaggy dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the dates over dough in two batches and continue kneading until they’re well combined, 2 to 3 more minutes. Coat the inside of a large bowl with 1 teaspoon of the remaining oil, then transfer the dough to the bowl. Loosely cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and set aside in a very warm spot until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Lightly oil 2 large baking sheets with 2 teaspoons oil. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and press and stretch each into an oval 14 inches long and 7 inches wide. Place the ovals on the baking sheets and brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Evenly scatter the onions on the top of each oval, then set aside in a very warm spot until they are soft and puffed in appearance, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the racks in the top and bottom third of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Bake the flatbreads, rotating the trays halfway through for even coloring. Bake until cooked through and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.
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