Yesterday, a cold front came down out of the Arctic and the temperatures dropped so low that the news was talking about it. I did not want to go to the grocery store. Reason #4,582 for a pantry dinner.
I call it rarebit because I actually eat rabbit sometimes and don’t like to confuse things in the kitchen. It’s a simple meal — cheese sauce on toast. Here’s my variation:
Saute half an onion in a little butter until it’s starting to brown. Add a few cloves of minced garlic and stir until fragrant. Whisk in 1.5 cups (ish) of chicken broth and bring to a simmer. If you don’t have chicken broth, consider a bottle of dry cider, a bottle of porter, white wine, or vegetable broth.
Squeeze in a generous dollop of mustard. While the stock is coming up to a boil grate a lot of Gruyere and a little bit of Monteray Jack. Toss the grated cheese with a little bit of cornstarch (a trick I learned from Alton Brown’s Fondue Vudu recipe.) Add the cheese a little at a time and stir, letting it melt thoroughly before adding more.
If you don’t let it melt thoroughly, it will clump and there will be a thick knot of semi-melted cheese at the bottom of the pot. That’s okay, that’s what always happens to me. Just turn it on very low and let it melt while you finish the rest.
Defrost some chopped frozen spinach in the microwave.
A tangent for everyone who just narrowed their eyes at me about the frozen vegetables thing: It’s February in New England after a record amount of snow during a major work slowdown at the west-coast ports. Seriously, which do you think is going to be better tasting and retain more nutrition, “fresh” spinach shipped halfway around the world via truck or spinach picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen? Which is more likely to be in my kitchen after several weeks of irregular shopping? Which is going to take five minutes in the microwave and which is going to take half an hour of blanching and shocking? If you have a great source of super-fresh spinach in winter, the space to store it, and the energy to process it, then I’m happy for you. But don’t yuck on someone else’s yum.
While the spinach is doing its thing, toast bread slices. I had half a loaf of sourdough left, so that’s what I used. (The Sourdough Situation will require its own post later.)
Wring out the spinach thoroughly. Two packages of spinach, when completely wrung out, will reduce to a cottony wad smaller than a tennis ball. This is one of the many reasons I prefer frozen spinach — it’s already got a reduced volume. If I tried to do that with fresh spinach, it would take two or three of those enormous inflated bags to get enough for this meal. And the spinach is vitally important because then you can pretend it’s a healthy meal.
Stir the sauce carefully to get the melted cheese to incorporate with the stock.
Put the toast in a pasta bowl. Take the spinach and tease it apart and then sprinkle it on the toast. (It’s important to tease it apart.) Ladle the sauce on top.