September Featured Produce: Eggplant

September is the height of the late summer harvest on the Monterey Bay and the markets are abundant with ripe summer fruits and vegetables. This year, some of the fall/winter crops are also arriving early—it’s a cook’s paradise — so many things to get excited about, so many possibilities for the table lining the aisles! The fragrance alone caused me a moment of euphoria last time I was there – it was as I walked past vendors selling basil on both sides of the aisle and came up to a booth with bundles of lavender that literally stopped me in my tracks. It was like an instant vacation to the Mediterranean. Continue Reading →

Cooking Basics for Dried Beans

Dried beans are part of every well-stocked pantry. Here are some basic cooking tips:

  • If you buy fresh dried beans (beans under two years old), no soaking is needed prior to cooking.
  • Soaking beans overnight will speed up the cooking time. No need to change the water — the soaking water now contains vitamins and flavor — don’t throw it out.
  • One cup of dried beans makes about three cups of cooked beans. 1 lb. of beans yields 6 cups of beans.
  • Do not add salt to the beans until after they are cooked to prevent the skins from splitting.
  • Store dry beans in a cool place in a glass jar with a lid or other airtight container. They will be good for about two years. Older beans are still edible, but the quality and nutritional value decline.

Salad of Red Lettuce, Cranberry Beans, Lavender Pickled Carrots and Fennel

This is a substantial salad that is good when it is hot. Lavender is fun to use in savory dishes and goes well with fennel. The meaty blandness of the beans and the vinegar of the dressings keep the lavender from being too much. The lavender should come across as a piece of pleasing music heard from the next room, not like someone wearing too much scent sitting down next to you.

INGREDIENTS:
1 head of Red Leaf or Red Oak lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized bits
2-3 cups cooked cranberry beans (see Basic Braised Shelling Beans)
1 cup fennel quickles, drained (see Quick Pickled Fennel)
1 cup lavender carrot quickles (see Quick Pickled Carrots Scented with Lavender and Fennel)
1 cup White Balsamic Vinaigrette (see recipe)
1-2 cups micro-greens such as New Natives mixed or arugula sprouts
Salt(use a large flake such as Maldon or Murray River if you can) and pepper to taste

METHOD:
In a bowl just large enough to hold them, mix the beans with half the dressing and allow to marinate up to a day, but at least toss them to coat well with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, mix the lettuce with the sprouts and add just enough dressing to moisten them. Gently toss and distribute amongst 4 serving dishes.

Use a slotted spoon to lift beans from the dressing and distribute equally into the center of the lettuce and sprouts.

Drain the quickles and mix together, then distribute them onto the salads.

Season lightly with salt and pepper and serve right away.

YIELD: Serves 4

Stew of Cranberry Beans, Carrots and Collards

This is a flavorful mélange that is not wet enough to be a soup, but not dry, either. Although you could easily add more liquid for a soup or cook it dry as a side dish.

INGREDIENTS:
3 cups cooked cranberry beans (see recipe for Basic Braised Shelling Beans on site)
2 cups carrots, cut in ¼-inch dice
½ bunch collards, stems stripped and cut into ¼-inch shreds
½ onion, diced ¼-inch
½ bunch scallions, whites cut into ¼-inch slices, greens finely sliced, kept separate
2 tomatoes, peeled and diced ½-inch
1 clove garlic, minced
Optional-¼ cup “instant” barley (a.k.a. 10-minute barley)*
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed
Romano cheese to pass at service if you wish
Optional- 2 cups potatoes such as Bintji, cut into ½-inch dice, cooked in boiling water until just tender, then shocked in ice water to arrest cooking
4-8 slices of sturdy country style bread, sliced thickly and toasted until firm and golden

METHOD:
Heat a chef’s pan or straight sided sauté pan large enough to hold all the ingredients over medium heat. Film generously with oil. When hot, add the carrots and cook to color them golden. When evenly golden and still a bit firm, use a slotted spoon to remove to a bowl.

Add the onions to the pan and cook until “clear”. Add the scallions and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the garlic, cook until fragrant, then add the tomatoes. Lower heat to medium and season with salt and pepper and add half the herbs. Stir vigorously and cook to break down the tomatoes. Toss the barley in, if using, after a minute.

Cook 5 minutes. The tomatoes should be fairly broken down. Add the rest of the herbs, and the stock. Add the collards and bring to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring to keep the barley from sticking to the pan bottom.

After ten minutes, add the carrots and the beans to the pan. If using, add the potatoes. The liquid should just come even with the top of the ingredients. Simmer, lid off, for ten minutes. Gently stir, turning the ingredients under the diminishing liquid. After 10 minutes, taste a carrot to see if it is tender. Taste the stew for flavor/balance and adjust if needed. If the carrots are cooked and the beans are heated through, the dish is ready to serve.

The liquid in the pan should come to about half-way up the vegetables. If there is a lot more left in the pan, raise the heat under the pan and cook down to reduce the liquid a bit.

Put a piece of toast into a large bowl and ladle vegetables over the top of the bread. Pour some liquid around, drizzle with a little oil, scatter the top with the finely sliced scallion greens, and serve. Pass the cheese if desired.

Chef’s Notes:
*Instant barley is par-cooked barley that only takes around 10 minutes to become tender. It also seems to not have quite as much starch as cooked form scratch does, which is nice for this stew. It thickens the broth a little for a little substance, but not too much. It is also good to use the barley, because with the beans and some dairy, like the cheese passed at the end, this stew makes a complete protein, which is a good thing. Look for instant barley at health food stores, Trader Joe’s, and better grocery stores.

YIELD: Serves 4

Basic Braised Shelling Beans

This is the basic method for cooking fresh shelling beans (or “shellies” as some people call them) such as cranberry, borlotti, Tongues of Fire. You can eat these beans “as-is,” but if you have leftovers these beans are great with grains or added to a soup, such as a minestrone. You can use this basic recipe and add sausages and cooked rapini for a one-dish meal, or you can use a rich vegetable stock with some carrots and celery and add some long cooked farro, and puree for a hearty soup. If you have pesto, it is a wonderful seasoning for these beans. Just stir in a dollop and enjoy an end of summer treat. Enjoy shelling beans while you can, as the season is fairly short, and then these will all be dried beans.

INGREDIENTS:
2-3 cups fresh shelled beans*
1 brown onion, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled, de-germed, and sliced thinly
2-3 fresh sage leaves, or 1-2 tablespoons fresh marjoram, or 2 inches rosemary stalk
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable stock or water to cover by 1 inch
Olive oil as needed for cooking
1-2 tablespoons very flavorful extra virgin olive oil for finishing the dish

METHOD:
Heat a chef’s pan or heavy pot just large enough to hold the beans and liquid over medium heat.

When the pan is hot, add enough oil to coat the pan bottom generously. When the oil heats up, add the onions and cook until they are softened and fragrant, but not browning.

Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. While the garlic cooks, bruise the sage (or rosemary if that is your herb of choice) with the flat of the knife. Hold the stem in one hand, and lay the knife almost flat on the herb and slide the knife the length of the stem/leaf.

When the garlic is softened but not colored-about 1 minute, add the herbs and stir around.

When you can smell the herbs, add the beans, and then add the liquid to cover the beans by an inch or a little more.

Season with a pinch of salt and a generous amount of pepper and bring to a boil.

As soon as the water boils, bring the temperature down to a gentle simmer, and gently cook the beans until done. If you cook the beans too vigorously they will break down and turn to mush and the flavor will be watery. This should take around 30 minutes. The skins should be tender and the insides should have a creamy consistency.

Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed. The beans are ready for use now, or you can cool them in their liquid for use later. In my opinion, I think the beans have deeper flavor when allowed to sit in their cooking liquid for a few hours.

If reheating, you can heat the liquid the beans cooked in and then add the beans for a gentler re-heat, or just heat the pot over low until they are hot enough. Before serving, hit with a little fresh ground pepper and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive. A big Tuscan style oil is perfect here.

Chef’s Notes and Tips:
*To peel, just open the pod and pull out the beans. This is easiest done sitting down, opening the pods over a bowl to catch the beans as you run your finger down the inside of the shell. I frequently shuck the beans while doing something like waiting for other things to cook, or if I am watching a movie. I also find that kids find it a fun task to help with.

This dish lends itself to so many options! Half the time I cook shellies I start by cooking some kind of pork. Diced pancetta or prosciutto leaves flavorful fat to start the dish, as does sliced sweet Italian sausages.

Start by sautéing the pork until the fat is rendered or the sausage slices are browned. Remove the pork from the pan and drain, and then pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the fat in the pan. Proceed with the recipe and add the pork back into the dish in the last ten minutes of cooking. To make this heartier, sauté chunks of carrot and celery with the onions. You could also sauté rapini with garlic, and then chop it and fold it into the beans with the sausage. A nice iteration of this dish is to mix the beans with sautéed rapini, and then finish it with a squeeze of lemon juice and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. This dish is a great study in contrasts of flavors and textures.

For an elegant looking soup with deep flavor, cook the beans as above, but add carrots, and a little celery and cook until everything is very tender, and then puree it to a creamy smooth consistency. Serve with a drizzle of good oil or a few drops of truffle oil, and for a really elegant presentation, make fricco (lacey cheese “crackers”) and serve with the soup. Add grains and you have a complete protein.

YIELD: Serves 4

October Featured Produce: Shelling Beans

fagioli borlottiThe season for shellies is fairly short, starting in late July and running through late October. Between green beans and dried beans there is a short but magical time where the pod we normally eat has thinned and dried and the seeds have enlarged but are not yet dry. These beans are often referred to as shelling beans, or simply “shellies.” They cook up easily and have a flavor all their own but easily take on other flavors. Continue Reading →

Granny’s Barbecue Beans

BBQ-beans-1

This old fashioned side dish is a staple at our Memorial Day and Fourth of July picnics and the most requested potluck dish we take to parties. As you can tell from the name, this is an old family favorite — my Southern grandmother always had a pot of beans simmering on the back burner of her stove. These beans are great with hamburgers, fried chicken, or ribs.

INGREDIENTS:

3 large cans “brick oven” baked beans
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese*
3 bunches green onions, chopped
1 cup dark molasses
1 12 oz. package bacon, diced and cooked in microwave for 5 minutes (drain fat)**
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups barbeque sauce (spicy KC Masterpiece is great)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke

METHOD:

Mix all ingredients in large casserole and cover. Bake at 300°F for about 3-4 hours. (If you have a large crock pot, this works well, too.)

* For a lower fat version, delete the cheese and use a small can of puréed pumpkin. It adds a wonderful texture and richness.

** No need to cook the bacon until done — this step is simply to render a bit of the bacon fat. Remove partially cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and add to beans.