To your health!
As you may have gathered from the four pages worth of bean-centric dishes I’ve blogged about here, we like our beans, so I was very happy to learn that dry heirloom beans from Freedom Bean Farm in Maine would be returning to our Wintertime Farmers’ Market.
I’ve made some version of this white bean and roasted garlic soup for ages – probably since my teenage vegetarian years. I’ve done it with canned beans, with fresh beans in season, and with cooked dried beans, and I have to say the the last version is probably my favorite, as the bean cooking liquid adds so much flavor to the soup. In previous versions, I’d roast a head of garlic at the same time the soup cooked, but now that I’m making batches of garlic confit on a fairly regular basis, I’ve taken to adding some of that instead. You don’t have to use white beans, of course – but I like them here for aesthetic reasons.
1-2 large heads of garlic
extra virgin olive oil
Separate the cloves from the heads of garlic, peel them, and lay them in a single layer in an oven-proof baking dish. Add just enough olive oil to cover, then cook in a preheated 300 degree oven for an hour or so. Allow to cool, transfer the garlic and oil into a covered container or a glass jar, and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup
1 cup dried white beans
12 cloves garlic confit, plus 1 T of the infused olive oil
2 cups leek, white and pale green parts only, sliced into thin half-moons
1 cup diced carrot
¼ cup diced celery
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
2-3 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup water
1 parmesan rind
1 cup diced peeled potato
1 cup small dry pasta
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
Rinse and pick through the beans, place them into a pot and cover them with 4-5 cups of cold tap water. Place a lid on the pot and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the beans are just tender. Season with salt and let the beans cook just a bit longer until they are seasoned. (You can do this ahead of time and store the beans in the refrigerator or freezer in their cooled cooking liquid.)
In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the garlic-infused oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, carrot, and celery, season with salt, and cook until soft. Add the oregano and bay, let cook briefly until fragrant, then add the wine, allowing it to bubble up for a minute or two. Add the parmesan rind, water, and potato, and let cook until the potato is tender when pierced with a fork. Mash the confit garlic cloves until they form a paste. Add the beans with their cooking liquid, the garlic confit, and the dry pasta, bring to a boil, then simmer until the pasta is al dente. Add the spinach right at the end, stirring it through until it is bright green and wilted. Remove the bay leaves and the parmesan rind and spoon the soup into bowls, topping with grated parmesan if desired.
When I walked past the Roots Farm table at the Wintertime Farmers’ Market on Saturday, this kale literally stopped me in my tracks. Now, I love my greens, but really, this bunch looked just perfect. And it was the last one in the bin, so I grabbed it. I knew I wanted to make this kale a major component of a meal, and that’s just what I did last night, combining it with a few simply prepared and richly flavorful sidekicks: Jacob’s Cattle beans, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, and garlic confit.
While my beans simmered away, I prepped the kale, removing the tough stem ends and slicing the leaves into thin ribbons. I got out a wide sauté pan and added a spoonful or two of the infused oil from the garlic confit I made on Sunday, plus a pinch of red chile flakes. I tossed the kale in when the oil was shimmering, sprinkled on a pinch of salt, and tossed it all around. When the kale was a deep, glossy green, I pulled it out of the pan and put it in a serving bowl.
Then I added a cup or so of the intensely sweet slow-roasted tomatoes I also made on Sunday, plus 4 or 6 of my confited garlic cloves. I cooked them just long enough to warm them through, then turned off the heat, added a splash of champagne vinegar, and swirled it around in the pan. I drained the cooked beans, added them to the kale, then poured the tomato-garlic mixture over the top. It got a gentle toss before I spooned it into our bowls, and I finished each serving with some shards of Parmagiano Reggiano.
Simple. Hearty. Delicious.
I know, I know, Mexican again. I’m feeling overwhelmed by life this week, and when that happens inspiration goes out the window and I just want something comforting and familiar.
These are comprised of the other half of a hunk of beef bottom round I bought over the weekend, marinated with lime, seared, and sliced paper thin, then topped with diced tomato, avocado, jack cheese, red cabbage, scallions and lime crema. I had some leftover Rancho Gordo pintos in the fridge, to which I added some of my pickled serranos for a little extra punch. Good enough for a Tuesday.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago offering me a copy of Terry Walters’ new book, Clean Food. Now, I can count on one hand the times I’ve actually accepted the offers of free stuff that land in my inbox, but the premise of this book – cooking with fresh, seasonal, sustainably grown foods – is so obviously in line with the way I like to cook and eat that I gladly agreed to a copy.
What’s not so obvious about this book is that the recipes are vegan, yet they are so simple and enticing they should appeal to anyone who wants to eat better. I’ve really enjoyed leafing through the pages for inspiration, and I’m sure I’ll turn to Clean Food often as the seasons change and I’m in search of new ways to serve fresh local produce.
My only complaint – and it’s a small one – is that there are no photos, but hopefully my photos of Terry’s delicious green bean and fingerling potato dish with a lemon and dill dressing will give you an idea of what this book is all about.
As you can see, we didn’t eat this bean and potato dish as part of a vegan meal (instead serving it alongside wedges of heirloom tomato from Kimball’s Fruit Farm and crackly-skinned Poulet Rouge from Pat’s Pastured), but the book aims to reach a broad audience and inspire people, meat-eaters or not, to include whole, fresh foods, simply prepared and with clean flavors, into their diets.
This is an idea I can get behind.
Let’s talk about lunch for a minute. For me, it’s usually leftovers, but this time of year I don’t generate many, so I’ve had to get creative and plan ahead a bit.
And so it was that when I got home from work yesterday, literally minutes before the sky opened up, I got to work on last night’s dinner and today’s lunch. We had beans aplenty in the fridge from our weekend marketing, and since this week’s Summer Fest is all about beans and greens, a fresh bean salad was in order.
I got a big pot of salted water going on the stove to both blanch the beans for my salad and boil the pasta for dinner, then sat with a cocktail and started shelling a bunch of fresh cranberry beans. I ended up with about a cup of shelled beans, so I decided to use an equal amount of each of the other beans I had on hand for the salad. I trimmed and cut green and yellow wax beans and Romano beans into 1(ish)-inch lengths, popped them into my boiling water for a minute or two, moved them to an ice bath to cool, then set them aside on a towel to dry.
I cooked the cranberry beans with a little bit of water, olive oil, a smashed garlic clove and a crumbled chile de arbol until they were tender, adding a bit of salt to finish them before moving them with a slotted spoon to a big mixing bowl. When the cranberry beans had cooled to about room temp, I added my blanched and cooled string beans, some thin slices of Purplette onion, and some diced fresh tomato. I wanted a really vibrant dressing for this bean salad, so I whizzed up lots of big fresh basil leaves in the mini chopper with sea salt, the juice from one big lemon and some extra virgin olive oil, then I poured it over the bean salad, tossing it well.
I’m eating this as I type, and I am loving the interplay of the crunchy string beans and creamy cranberry beans with the bright flavors of tomato, lemon and basil. This is definitely not your mama’s bland bean salad.
I’m wading back in here, slowly, still trying to get my groove back as far as posting goes. I’ll be honest, the last couple of weeks have been difficult, made worse by the issue of a content thief who has yet to respond to me, and at times I seriously thought of just giving this blog up entirely. My extended weekend did me a world of good (who knew hanging out with cows could be such fun), and after a few highly successful meals at home (at least one of which is getting a do-over and its own post soon), I’m feeling a bit better about it all.
What I cobbled together last night was just the sort of thing I love eating this time of year, a big salad with lots of varying colors and textures, and it gave me the chance to test out the 90-minute no-soak bean cooking method so many people are talking about.
While my beans cooked I whisked up a lemon vinaigrette with lots of chopped shallot, opened up a can of our favorite American Tuna and broke the fish up into the dressing, and got the remaining salad ingredients prepped: young arugula from Arcadian Fields, a few mixed radishes that had been lingering in the crisper, and beautiful bronze fennel from City Farm.
After 90 minutes, the beans were as tender and creamy as promised, and after letting them cool just briefly, I tossed them into the salad. This may not have been the prettiest plate in town, but the combination of flavors and textures was exactly what I had hoped for.
So far, I’m having one of those weeks where things just aren’t going the way they should. I’ve had all sorts of minor mishaps, boo-boos and bouts of forgetfulness over the last couple of days, the biggest of which was my plan to make a risotto for Monday night’s dinner.
Except I forgot that we’re out of rice.
Of any kind.
And I didn’t have anything else that would work well in its place for the preparation I had in mind.
So this was another fall-back-and-punt kind of meal: sauteed Simmons Farm kale, black-eyed peas (which I had previously cooked, portioned out, and frozen) reheated in a bit of leftover chile broth, a thin slice of toasted, garlic-rubbed Olga’s sourdough, and a pastured egg from Aquidneck Farms, cooked sunny-side up in olive oil, with Basque salt and freshly grated Pecorino Romano sprinkled over it all at the end. This dinner was not at all what I had originally planned, but sometimes these simple, impromptu meals are just what I need – the combination of beans or grains, greens and a farm egg is something I’ve come to love and rely on in a pinch.
It’s time to come clean. Posting has been light because yes, I am still crazy-busy, with my long commute and full, draining days, but also, I feel like I’m in a bit of a slump. I just haven’t been feeling the weeknight dinners, and it’s a combination of the fact that midwinter produce is relatively uninspiring in this neck of the woods, and that we’ve really been trying to scale back on what we spend. The economy, it sucks, and though we are still among the lucky ones with a source of income and a roof over our heads, it is impacting our day-to-day lives in a very real way.
I’m grateful for the squirrel-like impulse I had through the late-summer and fall to stock up, stash stuff away, bolster our freezer and pantry for leaner times ahead, but I feel like a lot of our weeknight meals have been less than blog-worthy lately. They’ve been tasty and nourishing, sure, but how many times can I talk about pasta with Bolognese, or the cabbage and bacon studded spaghetti that was tasty and filling, but lacking a certain “oomph.”
We made it back to the farmers’ market on Saturday after a week away, which was great, but the dwindling stocks of fresh produce were a little disheartening. Butternut squash is far from my favorite vegetable, but when it’s what you’ve got to work with, you figure something out. At least you do if you’re me.
Soup was the obvious choice, but I thought I’d use the squash as a component of a soup rather than as the focus. Since I had cooked a pound of Rancho Gordo Midnight beans on Sunday for a black bean and quinoa salad (lunch for the week), I decided to use half of the cooked beans as the base for my soup. I sautéed a sliced leek in a bit of olive oil, added the beans, the bean cooking liquid, and some homemade chicken stock, and decided to spice things up with some chipotle. I added a whole, canned chile to the soup, and rubbed cubes of butternut squash with olive oil, salt, and ground chipotle powder to offset the sweetness of the squash. I roasted the cubes until they were caramelized and set them aside for later.
The black bean soup had a good flavor, which I brightened up with a splash of sherry vinegar, but it was a little thin, so I decided to puree it with a stick blender until it was relatively smooth but still had a bit of texture. At this point, I let everything cool and then stored it in the fridge overnight. Yes, I actually did all of my cooking on Sunday, which was a good thing: after a hellish Monday commute, culminating in a walk home of a little over a mile, uphill and on ice, from the train station, the most I had in me was to put a pot on the stove and reheat everything. And toast some pepitas. And eat.
Well. That was one beautiful day we had yesterday. It was a special day for us personally, as Mike and I looked back at our wedding day three years prior, but we were mostly caught up in the history that was being made. Thinking about it all still takes my breath away.
I had scheduled a few days off this week, both to recharge my batteries and so Mike and I could spend some quality time together, and a big part of that quality time was spent planning and preparing our celebratory dinner. I had received a gift card for Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop from one of my bosses at Christmastime, and last Friday Mike took a trip up to the South End with that card to pick up provisions for our meal. Our original thought was to do a whole roast duck, but when he got to the store, there were none to be had.
They did have confit legs, however, as well as a variety of sausages and other cured meats, so when Mike called to ask if I had any other ideas for our anniversary meal, I suggested cassoulet. After all, we could do much of the work on it ahead of time, which would leave us free to do other things (read: sit glued to MSNBC) while the assembled dish cooked. And it has been far too long since our last cassoulet, so once I suggested it, we were filled with anticipation.
I got things started on Monday, making a big batch of chicken stock and cooking a pound of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans in abundant water, with our last trotter from Bobolink nestled in for good measure. After several hours, the beans and trotter were tender, so I added a bit of salt, let them go for another half hour or so, and let them cool down to store overnight.
On Tuesday, Mike got to work on the meat components, crisping up some bacon, shredding the meat and skin off of the cooked trotter, and searing a thick pork chop from Pat’s Pastured in some of the rendered bacon fat. With the meaty bits set aside, he turned his attention to the cooking liquid and aromatics: one large onion, chopped (one thing that didn’t bring tears to my eyes yesterday) and sauteed in more rendered fat; some chopped garlic, cooked until fragrant; a dab of tomato paste, which he caramelized in a hot spot before stirring into the onion and garlic; a cup of my roasted tomato puree from the freezer; some white vermouth; some of the stock I made on Monday; and finally, a bouquet garni. He added the bony bits from the trotter to the pot and let it all simmer away until it was rich and reduced.
With beans, meat and flavorful liquid ready to go, we assembled the cassoulet. First, we scattered the crisp bacon and soft bits from the trotter over the bottom of the pan, then we added a layer of beans. The pork chop and confit legs went in next, with more beans spooned all around. We nestled slices of prosciutto sausage in next, finishing with the remaining beans and the cooking liquid, and smooshing everything down so the liquid came up to the top. We let the oven preheat to 350 degrees while I pulsed some stale bits of Seven Stars country bread into fresh breadcrumbs and seasoned them with herbs, which we then scattered over the top of the cassoulet.
Mike dolloped a bit of duck fat over the top and we set the pot in the oven to bake, uncovered, for about an hour. We cranked the heat up to 425 for another 20 minutes or so, just to get the top extra brown and crusty, then Mike carefully removed the pot from the oven and let it rest briefly before serving.
This was a pretty darned wonderful effort from “Team Us,” I have to say, and plenty romantic with candles and a good red wine added to the mix. Who needs leather when you can have pig skin? (And duck. And sausage. And beans.)