Good food and good music go together well, but little did I know when my friend Liz Graves asked me to see The Mammals in concert in Belfast, that the music and food might come from the same people.
Adam Nordell and Johanna Davis, who grow organic beans and grains and heritage varieties of wheat and Abenaki flint cornmeal at Songbird Farm in Unity, were the inspiration for Mark Messer’s Black Bean-Butternut Squash Chili. PHOTO BY MARK MESSER
Two of the members of The Mammals, Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar, are friends of Liz, so she was excited to hear them play last summer at an evening show at The Crosby Center, but it was the opening act, Sassafras Stomp, that impressed me most. Johanna Davis (on fiddle and shruti box) and Adam Nordell (on guitar and banjo) played with skill and sincerity that captivated me. A shruti box is a harmonium-like instrument.
While engaged in stage banter, they told the audience a lot about themselves, including that they run Songbird Farm in Unity, a farm with an unusual farm share program. Most farm share programs deliver produce every week during the growing season, but Adam and Johanna’s Pantry Share provides about a dozen locally grown organic grains and beans, including heritage varieties of wheat and Abenaki flint cornmeal, at the end of the season. They also offer a share of storage vegetables, like cabbage, beets, carrots, even Maine-grown sweet potatoes.
Most weekly vegetable shares are too large for me to use by myself, but a winter’s worth of grains and storage vegetables sounded great. I persuaded a few friends to join me, and Liz and I picked up the shares last November.
About a week after we picked up the shares, I was inspired to create this chili from the black beans and a butternut squash included in my share of the goods.
In a medium bowl, toss the squash with the oil, then the salt, sage and peppers. Roast the squash on a baking sheet in a 450 degree F oven till just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
In a skillet, heat the oil on medium till it starts to shimmer. Turn the heat down to low-medium then add the garlic and cook, stirring, till the sharp smell fades, about a minute. Add the onions and cook them, stirring, till soft. Add the chili powder, oregano and cumin, mixing well. Stir in the tomato paste.
When it is well blended with the garlic, onion and spices, stir in the tomatoes. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, till most of the liquid has cooked off.
In a heavy-bottomed large pot, bring 3-4 cups of double-strength bouillon — I used beef — to a low boil. Stir in the tomato-onion mixture and the cooked beans. Bring back to a low boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally until the contents thicken, perhaps 10 or 20 minutes. Stir in the squash and cook till heated through.
This chili is rich and complex as is, but feel free to dress it up to taste, perhaps with cheese, plain yogurt or sour cream.
Note: oregano and cumin are already in most chili powders, but I added extra of both to enhance the vegetables in this chili. If this were a meat chili, I might not have done so.