When I first moved to Puerto Rico as a grown-up and got a job in San Juan, I lived several weeks with my godparents (from Confirmation, if you’re Catholic) in Ocean Park, in their art-filled, book-lined, sun-drenched house on the beach. When I found an apartment, I didn’t go far; for the next six years — más o menos — I lived around the corner, five houses away, and I spent almost as many dinnertimes there as in my own little house.
Carmen and I assembled lots of meals together, inventing pasta dishes, reviving old family recipes, experimenting with local ingredients from the farmer’s market, trying out exotic ingredients from whatever new specialty shop opened nearby and talking, talking, talking, to a soundtrack of the classical music station (Schumann, Schubert, Bach, come to mind) or old boleros from a more refined past (Trío Los Panchos, Rafael Hernández).
Those are some of my favorite memories from that time. So it’s always a pleasure to visit Carmen and Efrén when we are back in Puerto Rico — now I bring my son! — and, of course, get back into the kitchen. Over the holidays, Leandro, my parents and I stayed a few delicious days with them in Ocean Park (my parents and they have been friends for about 50 years now!), including visits from Carmen’s best friend, the noted playwright and director, Myrna Casas, and Baby Llenza, another notable chef!
Carmen made this as part of one lovely dinner and I couldn’t wait to try it myself. She recently sent me the recipe via email. It really is better with giant Spanish-style alubias in a jar, but cannellini from a can are a very tasty substitute if that’s what you have on hand. Just cook gently so they don’t fall apart!
Carmen’s Alubias con Chorizo
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
3 (or more!) cloves garlic, minced
15 oz can crushed tomatoes, drained (reserve liquid) or 1 ripe tomato, chopped or 2 Tbs tomato paste (you can add a handful of chopped grape tomatoes, if you’ve got, to freshen the flavor)
4 oz spicy Spanish chorizo (the hard, continental kind, similar to Italian hot dry sausage), peeled and chopped
19 oz jar of alubias from Viter – do NOT drain (or, 28 oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed)
Heat the oil in a pot until fragrant. Add onions and garlic, reduce to medium and soften. Add tomato and cook down a few minutes. Add chorizo and sauté briefly, just until it is releasing its oil. Add beans and cook until flavors incorporate (canned cannellini will soften very quickly, so do not overcook!). Use reserved tomato water, or just water, for a more liquid pot of beans.
According to Carmen, the Spanish eat this with sautéed Swiss Chard. In Puerto Rico, we accompany it with rice.