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Cheap Eats:
Fabada Asturiana
  Asturian Bean and Meat Stew

I look more like my mom, but on the inside, I’m pretty much my daddy’s girl. It was from my dad that I inherited a passion for poetry, a love of trying new things, and a gift for exploring new places and making them mine. He’s the one who introduced me to mangoes, calamari, escargot, good wine, and trying everything once. He taught me how to look at great art, how to speak enough Italian to get around Rome, and how to tell stories and jokes. He bought me my first microscope and blew glass instruments over mom’s gas stove for my science projects.

Dad’s example was of good, hard work, putting your family first, and making the most of every opportunity offered. He loved people and made friends easily and everywhere. When we went to Rome, dad made friends with the legendary Alfredo, and I have a photograph of Alfredo sitting with me while I’m dining on his sublime fettuccine. When I was a teenager, dad was involved in a product promotion with Kenny Rogers (back when he was still with the First Edition). They ended up friends, and we got to go out for dinner with Kenny and the band when they were in town. His friendship with the president of JAL led to our having a full Japanese tea ceremony in our living room at home. That was the best part of dad’s friendships. It never occurred to him leave us out.

He was the quintessential nice guy, the champion of the underdog. He coached the team of players no one wanted in the local youth basketball league, and took them on to championship victory. The photograph of that odd lot of little boys posing with their trophies still makes me a bit misty.

There is a moment that remains vividly in my mind that seems to sum up dad’s outlook. My mom, dad, and I had just eaten at Mike Fink’s, a restaurant in Cincinnati that is on a 1920s riverboat. I had forgotten to get a postcard of the place, and dad had quickly offered to run back. As he walked down the gangplank, examining with obvious delight the postcards he’d just bought for me, mom leaned toward me and said, “You know, there is no one in the world who gets more pleasure out of doing things for others than your father.”

He would have made a great Mensan. He was an inveterate punster, loved puzzles and games, and could quote obscure things he had learned decades earlier. Even as Alzheimer’s disease eroded almost everything else, he could still quote his favorite Shakespearean sonnet (Sonnet 116).

He loved wood carving, working in clay, and building things, so my brother and I never had to worry about finding someone to play with. And it never occurred to him that there was anything I couldn’t do because I’m a girl. Whatever he did with my brother, he’d do with me, from making us tomahawks (he’d had an Indian blood-brother when he was growing up in Florida, so we had an early education in Indian lore), to hiking and climbing, to building airplane models—and building a Fokker Tri-plane together is a favorite memory.

His creativity was not limited to home projects. While Director of Advertising for United Airlines, he introduced the “fly the friendly skies” campaign. From his early days at Alcoa through to his later days in the candy industry, he worked with some of the top people in a surprising range of industries, including Walt Disney, Saul Bellow, and other creative luminaries. And the great thing was, he’d come home and ask for our input on everything, as if we were part of his success.

My father wasn’t perfect. He had weaknesses, as well as some “baggage” from a sad, hard childhood. He could be volatile. But he was also quite wonderful. My mind is full of the things he did, the things he was, and of how much he loved me, my brother, mom. Family was the key to the universe for him, and he always considered it the best part of his life.

Mom was a good match for dad: smart, educated, classy, funny, artistic, strong, tenacious, opinionated. But this is not about her, because I still have her. But my dad is gone, now. On November 19, 2003, he finally lost his battle with the several afflictions that have been wearing him down for the last few years.

As much as dad loved trying new things, I can remember a time when he fell in love with one dish almost to the exclusion of all others. We were in Spain. Our hotel in Madrid offered a dish from Asturia, and dad had it at least six times in the ten days we were there. Needless to say, I had to find a recipe for this regional specialty and make it for him. I was able to serve fabada Asturiana to my dad one more time for his 80th birthday.


Fabada Asturiana
(Asturian Bean and Meat Stew)

1 lb. dried fava beans or 5 lb. fresh pods (see note about beans below)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

¼ lb. thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

8-10 large cloves garlic, minced

4 onions, coarsely chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped

½ lb. lean beef, cut in bite-size pieces

1 ham hock (about 1 pound)

1 lb. spicy, flavorful pork sausage (see note about sausage below)

2 bay leaves

1 Tbsp. Spanish paprika, or regular paprika plus ¼ tsp. hot red pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak dry beans overnight or shell fresh beans. If using dried beans, see notes below for variation. From this point forward, this is for the fresh beans.

In a large casserole or stock pot, heat oil and cook bacon over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes. Add garlic, onions, and carrot. Reduce to low and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add ham hock, beef, sausage, bay leaf, and paprika. Add water to barely cover (about 6 cups). Bring to a boil, skimming foam and fat from top as it rises. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, on very low heat for about 1 hour. Add fresh, shelled beans and simmer for an additional ½ hour, or until beans are tender and juicy. Remove ham hock and defat surface of stew. Take meat off ham hock, cut up, and return to the pot. Discard bay leves. Taste for seasoning, and adjust add salt and pepper, if needed. Serve warm (for authenticity, use a clay bowl—though any way you serve it, it’s great).

Serves 6‑8.


Sausage:

The traditional sausage used would be a 50/50 combo of Spanish chorizo and Morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage. I don’t do blood (probably too much time in the blood pathology lab at Baxter Labs), so I just use chorizo. Mexican chorizo is different from Spanish, but is still delicious, if Spanish proves hard to find. Whatever you choose, be sure to remove the casing.

Beans:

Fava beans are also known as broad beans, feve, faba, and habas, with the name differing regionally. However, though you’ll often see a variety of names in recipes, you’ll usually see them as favas or broad beans in stores.

Depending on the time of year, this stew may be made with either fresh or dried beans. Fresh beans require less cooking time and are more flavorful. Dried beans are available all year (though often only at ethnic grocers), but need to be soaked overnight and then peeled (actually, an easy job—just make a slit with a sharp knife, and the skin comes off like a little jacket). Sometimes, even fresh beans need to be peeled, if they are very mature, which you can tell by looking at the little stripe on top where the bean connects to the pod. If it’s black, the bean is mature and should probably be peeled.

To adjust for the use of dried beans: Reserve water from soaked beans to make up part of the liquid added to the stew. Put all the meat, seasonings, and beans in the pot at the same time. Add soaking liquid and water to cover, bring to the boil, and simmer for 2½ hours. (All other steps match those above.)

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