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Friday Tip|Easy Meals (part three)

Kashe pictured with penne and no cheese

Kashe Varnishkes is one of the best and easiest dishes on the planet.  It’s also one of the cheapest.  Double score.

There’s not much to write about this dish before the recipe, because there really isn’t much to it; pasta, onion and buckwheat.  That doesn’t sound impressive as a meal, but it’s very hearty and very satisfying, due at least in part to the frying of the onion in chicken fat.

If you’re a vegetarian, chicken fat is a no-go for you and you’ll probably want to use olive oil to make this.  I can’t vouch for the version made with olive oil, because I haven’t tried it, so if you do, please let us know how it is!

If you’re not a vegetarian, I highly recommend using the chicken fat and rendering your own.  It’s really easy (and fun in the way that being thrifty and using all of an animal that you are eating is fun).  There is a step by step explanation of how to render fat below.

The Kashe recipe is my adaptation of Mark Bittman’s adaptation of his mother’s recipe.  She approved of his recipe, and mine’s not much different, so I’d like to think I’d get the seal of approval as well.  But even if she hated it, I’d still make it this way – it’s just too easy and good not to!


With cheese and bow ties


Kashe Varnishkes with Bow Tie Pasta

Adapted from Mark Bittman

Serves 2

1 medium onion, sliced (not super thin, but a half an onion shouldn’t give you 4 slices either)
1/2 cup uncooked buckwheat
5-6 handfuls of uncooked bowtie pasta, grabbed by someone with medium sized girl hands (I’m not really sure how much this is exactly – you want enough pasta to feed two people – I’ll try measuring next time and update with a weight)
1/4 chicken fat* (instructions on rendering below)
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese (for serving)

Prepare the buckwheat.  Rinse it, put it in a small or medium saucepan and add 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil, then turn it down and simmer, covered, like you would if cooking rice.  It will take about 15 minutes.  I like to fluff it up a bit when it’s finished cooking, and take the lid off to let the steam escape while I’m cooking everything else.

Prepare a pot of boiling water to cook the pasta.  I like to have this on the back burner, ready to go so I can time it with the onions.

Melt fat in a non-non-stick frying pan over medium high/high heat.  When fat is hot, add onions, sprinkle with a bit of salt**, and cook, stirring regularly (not like someone with OCD, but stir them once every minute or so), for about twenty minutes, or until they are mostly brown, but not brown/burnt.  Add water as needed (a couple of tablespoons to about a quarter cup) to keep it from sticking and to deglaze the yumminess.  When onions are done, add the buckwheat and fry it all together for a bit.  Add more salt to taste and lots of pepper.***

While the onions are cooking, you can cook your pasta.  My bit of advice here; I like to have it all synch up and have the pasta ready just as the onion stuff is ready, but if they aren’t done at the same time (happens more often than not), it’s better to have the onions done before the pasta.  Pasta that just sits around tends to get icky and stick to itself, so don’t worry about the onions being done first.  Just turn off the heat.  Reheating them won’t hurt them at all.

When pasta is done cooking, drain it and add to the frying pan with the onions.  If a bit of pasta water gets in there as well, so much the better.  Additionally, if anything is sticking to the pan, add a bit more water.  Cook just to get everything nice and mixed up and heated through (2 minutes – maybe 3 unless your onions are really cold).

Turn this out into bowls (warm ones are not a bad idea!) and add more of whatever you like (salt, pepper, rooster sauce, peanut butter).  I like to add finely grated Parmesan****.


How to render poultry fat

Kathlyn’s method

Save the fat from whole chickens or ducks***** that you roast (collect the fat from the bird’s cavity and around the neck pre-roast and store in a ziplock bag).  The great thing about rendering fat is that you can collect this stuff for quite a while******.  I had a ziplock in the freezer for months with chicken fat in it – it did look a little weird when I finally rendered it, but it turned out fine.  If you’re big on roasting chickens, you’ll have a pretty easy time of this.  If you’re not big on roasting chickens, read this.

When you decide you have enough fat (you could have fat from three chickens or 40 – more fat=more rendered fat, but it doesn’t really matter how much you do), chop the fat up into more or less uniform 1″ pieces and put it in a sauce pan,  adding enough water to cover the fat.  Put a lid on the sauce pan and set it over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  The steam from the water is going to get some of the fat out of the…fat?  I know that makes no sense, but the fat you want to cook with will start to come out of these fat chunks.

Take the lid off the pan and keep boiling for another 20-30 minutes.  The water will boil off, and the liquid fat will start to darken.  I’ve seen instructions that say the chunks will melt, but I’ve always strained something out of my rendered fat.  You’ll get a sense of what it looks like and you’ll definitely be able to tell that the water is gone – you won’t have any more steam and it will start to smell different.

Strain the liquid fat and either use it immediately, or put it in an air-tight container for storage.  If you’re really hard-core, you can leave it on the counter (like we used to do with bacon grease back in the hippie 70s), but if you refrigerate it – or freeze it – it’ll keep for quite a long time.  How long?  Not sure but nothing smells quite like rancid fat, and it’ll smell like something you don’t want to eat.

You can use rendered fat to cook all kinds of things – it’s really yummy.  It’s not a good general fat substitute for olive oil or canola, especially if you have heart problems, but it’s a nice treat, and you can always use it sparingly or in combination with other oils that are a bit “better” for you.

*Duck fat would probably be really nice in this as well.  I think lard or tallow would be too strong.
**Adding this salt here is something you can do, or not do.  I picked up the habit of doing it when cooking onions, and I like it.  It’s one of those things that will spark debate with cooks (when to season, salt, etc.) but in my opinion, it’s all opinion, and you should do exactly as you please. So experiment.  Add spices early, add them late.  There is one Indian dish I make where I learned that adding the spices in exactly the same sequence with the same timing as the recipe calls for makes a big difference.  But there are a lot of times when it just doesn’t.  So add salt here, or don’t.  You will want to add some salt eventually, but when you do it – like so many things in cooking – is totally up to you.  Isn’t that cool?
***Unless you hate pepper.  Please see note above.
****Which is definitely not part of the Bittman recipe, but it’s my kashe and I can smother it with cheese if I want to!
*****Not sure what would happen if you mixed the two kinds of fat.  It could be like crossing the streams, or it could be completely fine (more likely).  If you try it, please let me know how it works out!
******Apparently, you can get more fat off a whole chicken if you cut it up into pieces.  We really never do that, but it makes sense that you’d be able to.  From what I’ve read, a home-butchered bird will give you enough fat for about 1/2 cup of rendered.  If you do it the way we do it, just pulling the fat out of whole chickens, you’ll probably want to save the fat from at least 5 or 6 birds.

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