Food for Thought: Comfort Food to Soothe the Soul

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By Linda Viertel

After one month of sheltering in place, with many self-quarantining, the question on everyone’s minds these days starting early in the morning seems to be, “What’s for dinner?” Many of us have cleaned out our fridges, emptied the contents of our freezers, and tried staying healthy by eating a balanced diet even in the midst of this dreaded pandemic. But, perhaps it is time to share some comfort food recipes, many of which are cost efficient and healthy, especially if they can be accompanied by salad or a simple high-roasted vegetable of your choosing.

By relying on pantry staples such as dried or canned beans, rice, canned tomatoes, pasta, day old bread, a few fresh or dried herbs, it’s surprising how easy it is for home cooks to create a delicious low cost meal. I’ve chosen three easy recipes for you to try, experiment with and enjoy the multiple leftovers: red beans and rice, pane con pomodoro, and for a big treat— slow roasted pork shoulder.

Red Beans and Rice (serves 6-8)

Red beans and rice, an emblematic dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine, was commonly served on Monday – washday – and utilized the leftover ham or ham bone, pork or pork bones from the Sunday supper. Smoked sausage such as andouille, chorizo, kielbasa or any Italian or American smoked sausage are flavorful additions to a recipe that slow-cooks throughout the day. Though Monday may no longer be “wash day,” protein-filled beans combined with rice, chopped peppers, onions and herbs is a common dish in many cultures: Cuban moros y cristianos  (Moors and Christians/black beans and rice) and central American gallo pinto. All are variations on a theme involving beans and rice, peppers, onions and herbs; and all are easy to cook, low cost, feed a family (or provide numerous leftovers), provide nutritional value and taste divine.

  • 1 pound dried red beans (** Or two 15 ounce cans red beans)
  • 3 cups chicken broth (approximately – enough to cover and cook soaked dried beans thoroughly)
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced 1/2-inch thick (smoked sausage of any type can also be used)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium onions, finely diced
  • 1 large rib celery, finely diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (red pepper or poblano may be substituted)
  • 1½ teaspoons black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • ¾ teaspoon rubbed or dried sage
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 bunch fresh green onions, chopped
  • 1 finely chopped serrano or jalapeno (optional)
  • Cooked white long-grain rice, for serving


  1. In a large bowl, cover beans in water and soak for at least 4 hours or overnight. (Water should cover beans by at least an inch.)
  2. In a large, heavy pot, brown sausage in 1 tablespoon of oil until slightly crisp. Add remaining oil, then the garlic and onions. Sauté over medium heat until onions become transparent and limp. Add celery and bell pepper and sauté for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour soaked beans and water into the pot with more chicken broth to cover and bring to a simmer. Add black pepper, cayenne, salt and all herbs except parsley. (** If using canned beans, add all spices and herbs, heat through and then adjust seasoning. But, the dried/soaked beans will have more flavor and texture. Skip to #5.)
  4. Cook until dried, soaked beans are softened, about 11/2 to 2 hours. Make sure to add broth as it becomes absorbed by the beans until you have a creamy liquid. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  5. Fifteen minutes before serving, remove 1 cup of beans to a bowl and, using a fork, mash them and stir back into the pot to enhance the silky texture of the dish. Add parsley and green onions. Simmer about 15 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning, and add up to 1 cup more broth if beans seem too thick. Remove bay leaves. Serve over white long-grain rice with chopped hot chili on the side.

Pane Con Pomodoro (serves 4)

This simple and inexpensive soup is full of flavor, perfect for using up stale bread such as ciabatta, sourdough or any Italian or French loaf. It’s a common way to stretch a meal in mid-summer when tomatoes are at their ripest and basil is fresh, but we aren’t there yet. Canned good quality Italian tomatoes will do just fine.

  • 1 large can (28 oz.) good quality canned tomatoes (San Marzano works best)
  • 1 large loaf Italian or French bread of 4 ciabattas, crusts removed and broken into pieces
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic (if desired)
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • A bunch of basil, leaves picked and torn into pieces (1 tablespoon of dried basil will do, though not quite as tasty as fresh)
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Roughly chop the full can of tomatoes with their juices. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive in a pan (with sides high enough to accommodate the tomato sauce and bread) and saute the garlic until softened. Put the blended tomatoes into the pan and bring to a gentle boil. Add the bread (and dried basil if using instead of fresh) and stir until it absorbs the tomato sauce. Then stir in the fresh basil, if using, and check the seasoning. Add more salt or pepper, as you wish, and drizzle with extra virgin oil. May be served with crumbled dried red pepper on the side for those who prefer to add a little “heat” to their dish. Complement the pane con pomodoro with grated parmigiana cheese if desired.

The River Cafe Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder (serves 8-10)

One of the most rewarding low stress, melt-in-your-mouth, tasty recipes there is. It can feed a crowd; but don’t worry, cold or sauted slices make delicious leftovers – perfect in sandwiches too. You can be creative and chop the meat into a tomato sauce for your own form of pasta Bolognese. It’s an inexpensive cut of meat that will last for multiple meals.

  • 1 small 6-7 pound whole, bone-in pork shoulder, with as much skin on top as possible.
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4oz. fennel seeds
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5-6 small dried red chilies, crumbled
  • Juice of 5 lemons
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Using a sharp knife, score the whole skin of the shoulder with deep cuts about 14 inches long and about ½ inch apart.

Smash the garlic with the fennel seeds, then mix with salt, pepper and chili to taste. Rub and push this mixture into and over the skin and all the surfaces of the meat and allow to sit for a while to come close to room temperature. Place the shoulder on a rack in a roasting tin and roast for 30 minutes or until the skin begins to crackle up, blister and brown. Baste the top with plenty of lemon juice and two tablespoons of the oil. You may need to place tin foil over the top at this point to keep the fennel and garlic from browning any further; don’t worry it won’t taste burned.  Turn the oven down to 250 degrees F. and leave the meat to roast, basting every hour or so with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and a tablespoon of olive oil. It may take 6 to 8 hours.

The shoulder is ready when it is completely soft under the crisp skin. You can tell by pushing with your finger: the meat will give way and might even fall off the bone. Pour the remaining lemon juice and another tablespoon or two of olive oil over the roast or the sliced meat before serving. Serve each person some of the crisp skin and meat cut from different parts of the shoulder.


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