Here are the recipes of the year for 2010 — the best things we cooked this year and that we’ll certainly be cooking again next year.
The first is this carnitas recipe, courtesy of Rick Bayless. I love carnitas at Mexican restaurants, and had always thought of them as deep fried chunks of pork. This simple recipe takes the fryer completely out of the equation. You need pork, salt, water, and an oven, and the results are sublime. Use the cooking times as a rough guide rather than an absolute rule. It is important to cook both covered and uncovered because it uncovered the whole time would dry out the pork. Once you’re out of the covered phase, the trick is just to be sure to cook it until all the water evaporates. He recommends using pork shoulder roast, but we found that it works just as well with country style spare ribs, which you can get at any grocery store here and don’t require as much carving. Needless to say, the results are great on a fresh corn tortilla, but they’re also great alone, or on white bread.
In November, Ruth Reichl posted a recipe for au gratin potatoes under the title The Best Potato Dish, Ever. I have always liked au gratin potatoes, although not as much as I like mashed potatoes. The problem is that in most cases, the potatoes are not uniformly done, especially those that don’t get coated with cream and stick to their neighbors when baking. Also, when the cheese is mixed with the cream during baking, it can separate and come out with an unpleasant texture. Not good. This recipe avoids those problems by calling for you to boil the potatoes in the cream you’re going to bake them in before baking. Then you dump the whole thing into the pan for baking. We used a mixture of half heavy cream and half whole milk to boil the potatoes, which we sliced thinly on a mandolin. We used mozzarella cheese on top because that’s what we had. Do not skip the nutmeg. The resulting dish is just incredibly rich and luscious, and holds together incredibly well. Is it better than the best mashed potatoes? I’m not sure. It’s certainly the best version of au gratin potatoes you’re likely to eat. This is the kind of dish that gets you invited back if you bring it to a dinner party, and it reheats very well.
Here’s one for my vegan friends. Mario Batali’s Tuscan bean soup is both tasty and healthy, and doesn’t even ask for chicken stock. The ingredients are cheap and it’s pretty easy to make as long as you can chop up vegetables. It holds up well in the refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks. The key to simplifying this recipe is using canned beans. Just be sure to rinse them. Both times we made it we left a different vegetable due to shoddy work in copying the recipe to the grocery shopping list and it didn’t suffer either time. We also substituted turnip greens for the black cabbage the first time, and kale for the black cabbage the second time. It didn’t matter, the soup was fantastic. The recipe does not mention rosemary in the ingredient list, but does in the instructions, and you’ll want to be sure to use it. Using fresh rather than dried herbs make a big difference. This recipe can also be found in Mario Batili’s cookbook, Molto Mario, which is excellent cover to cover.