Vermont Cranberry Bean Salad

August 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

When I was a kid, my father would get a little stir crazy in winter and he’d do the worst thing a man with a 1-acre garden could do: Sit for hours with the Johnny’s Select Seed catalog. Fathers don’t get giddy as a rule, but I swear my dad would get as giddy as any school girl when the … um, somewhat large and heavy … box arrived. Sure, some of the seeds were for the farm: Seeds for 100 combined acres of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and pumpkins are a bit heavy. But then there were the items destined for our garden. Corn. Watermelon. Tomatoes. Peppers. Cucumbers. Zucchini. Squash. Yum. Yum.

But then … then there were the despised seeds: Peas and lima beans. And I swear, every single seed of those two crops came up and produced a bounty. Bleck and ugh … I really don’t like peas and lima beans. Really. Don’t. Like.

The worst part, really, and I don’t know how many of you can relate … the worst part was having to help my mother shell the bushels and bushels of pods these horrid plants would produce. You know how big a bushel is, right? It’s a lot. And now picture lots of lots. And having to take one lima bean pod or one pea pod, slicing it down lengthwise with your thumb nail, and then cajoling each pea or bean out of its home with said finger and into a pan. Pans and pans and pans of peas and beans. And Mom would blanch these mounds and mounds of peas and beans, put them into little plastic baggies, put the baggies in boxes, put the boxes in the freezers (yes, we had multiple freezers to store multiple upon multiple boxes), and then those boxes would come out of the freezer in the deepest, darkest of winter and end up on our plates. And then after dinner Dad would get out his Johnny’s Select Seed catalog and order more for the coming spring …

I really hate peas and lima beans. Really.

What did I find myself doing yesterday pre-lunch during my vacation? Shelling beans. Not a bushel, thankfully; just a gallon ziplock’s worth. The beans in question we grew in our garden this summer. No, not peas and not limas.They are Vermont cranberry beans. Beautiful pink and red speckly things. Gorgeous, really. No, I didn’t snap a pic pre-cooking. Sorry. But yes, we grew them this year—my garden plot neighbor has been growing them for years and loves loves loves them. Easy to grow. I’d tell you more about how to grow them except … well, okay, I’ll tell you. Sow the seeds about 2 inches apart in a row. Water. They will emerge. They’ll keep growing if you keep watering. I can’t even recall if I had to fertilize. It’s seriously that easy, people.

And the process at the other end of the line is just as simple, and way way way delicious. So very not a lima bean.

Vermont cranberry bean salad

Vermont cranberry bean salad

Vermont Cranberry Bean Salad  from Epicurious.com)

Serves 4

  •    1 1/2 pounds fresh cranberry beans in pods
  •    2 tablespoons salt
  •    1/4 cup evoo
  •    1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  •    2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or basil leaves
  •    ground black pepper

– Shell beans and place in a saucepan of boiling salted water. Salt the water! That way the beans really take in the flavor.Unfortunately, the boiling spoils the beans’ beautiful coloration.

– Boil the beans until they are tender. If all of your beans are picked at the same stage, they should all come along at the same time. Mine, not so lucky. To get the “more done” or more dry beans to a tender stage, the more fresh beans got a tad over-mushy. But, I kinda liked the variety within the dish.

– Drain beans and transfer to a bowl. While beans are still warm, toss with remaining ingredients and season with salt, if needed. Serve still warm for a fabulous flavor, or at room temperature.

I could eat this for days. And luckily, there’s a bunch more beans ripening when we get home.

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This Morning’s Harvest, Next Week’s Meals

August 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

Okay, so I’m rushing for two reasons: 1) A big storm’s a-brewin’ and 2) leaving town for a week. What’s that mean? Gotta hit the community garden plot this morning and harvest.

Tomatoes are gonna get whipped in the storm. Pair that with the fact that they look like hell anyway (I think we have blight – that’s like having lice to me), I decided to harvest all the tomatoes except a few very green ones and rip up all the plants except the best two.

What else is on the list? Here it is:

Harvest it all! A hurricane's a-comin'!

  • Cherry and slicing tomatoes in all stages of ripe- and unripeness
  • Vermont cranberry beans
  • Green bean
  • Lettuce
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Yellow and green chard
  • A cabbage
  • A big ol’ purple carrot
  • A zucchini – full disclosure: It’s not mine – another gardener gave it to me.

*Missing from this list are a handful of Hungarian wax peppers and a yellow squash. They were camera shy.

All of this will be processed in some form or another – along with a boat load of beets I harvested last week – in the coming week. Stay tuned!

Any suggestions? Anyone have experience frying sage leaves? What should I do with a huge purple carrot? Leave a comment, let me know.

Grilled Pizza

August 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

Summertime … and the grilling is easy. Cheese is melting, and the pizza is fine.

Okay, I’m no George Gershwin, but what I’m trying to say is this: Pizza on the grill is not only easy, it’s one of the quickest summertime grilled meals possible. What do I like about it most? The fact that I don’t have to deal with my smoke alarms going off. Yeah, that happens whenever we cook pizza inside. The super-heated oven ends up burning the corn meal that remains on our pizza stone. Pizza in January usually means both our front and back doors are open to prevent smoke buildup. No. Kidding.

So, when we can slap that pizza dough on a hot grill, we go there.

And you can go there, too.

I’m not going to tell you what kind of pizza to make. Your toppings are your toppings. You want pepperoni? Have pepperoni. You want smoked salmon? Go for it. Sauce? Yes, please—but don’t go overboard. A little dab will do ya (I’m showing my age with that quote).

My assorted pizza toppings, minus a bowl full of kale-ricotta mixture.

Plus, I’m not the pizza maker. Jennifer is the star when it comes to assemblage. I make the dough, I’ll make sauce. I’ll sous, but she chefs when it comes to pizza time. We’re practiced at this, but the following are our tips, not our must dos. Also, p.s., our grilling is done on a gas grill. Charcoal? A slightly different animal, so adjust as you see fit.

Grilled Pizza Tips

A hot hot grill is good. 500F is good. Clean it really well, not leftover burnt chicken skin, please.

Prep your toppings. I can’t emphasize that enough. Slice, dice, chop, stir. Get ’em ready. AND, pour a small bowl – maybe 1/3 to a 1/2 cup? – of olive oil to have on hand. Put ’em all on a big cutting board or tray to carry out to the grill.

Roll out a nice flat but not too thin dough. Round, square, oblong, whatever.

Here’s a great trick: Lightly oil a section of aluminum foil. Take that dough you just rolled out and put it down on the foil. Now, lightly swab the top of the dough with oil.

Okay, maybe I over-oiled this one. Swab off any extra oil!

Grill’s good and hot. Your toppings are ready to go. Your dough is ready to go. So, go out to the grill and … Quickly flip that dough, oiled top side down, on top searing-hot grill, and peel back the foil.  There’ll be some “yikes!” and “oh, sh*t” moments, I’m not gonna lie to you. Pull the dough one way or the other, make your tweaks QUICKLY, and then close that grill cover. And fast. The sooner heat completely surrounds the dough, the quicker that dough is going to turn into a pizza crust. Right? Right.

Two-three minutes. Peek once or twice to make sure the underside is not burning. Oh, it’ll burn. Believe you me.

Oh damn, I burned the first one. These things happen.

NOTE: The first dough got kinda … well … crispy. I started another. Much, much better.

Get your mise en place in place, ready to go. Open the grill, flip that crust over.

Not using a sauce? Then give a quick brush all over the top with evoo. Using a sauce? Spread it thinly and quickly. Layer everything else on as you see fit. And be quick about it!

Close the lid for another couple of minutes. Keep an eye on the bottom, making sure it’s not burning. When the cheese (if you’re using) and the sauce look melty and hot, it’s time to take it off the heat.

Let sit for three minutes to let the sauce and toppings set. And then cut yourself a slice.

Worth it all, huh?

Basil Pesto: Can’t be Easier

August 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Basil pesto ingredients

All the fixin's for basil pesto

Think of all the good things in life.

Basil. Mmmm … Parmesan cheese … Olive oil … Garlic … Nuts … Chocolate … Okay, wait, drop that last one. All these are tasty on their own, very tasty. But whir them up together in a yummy pasty sauce and you have heaven on a spoon—basil pesto.

Basil is just one of the pesto varieties we make in the Dainty household. There are others. Oh, there are others. But typically, basil pesto is the shining star in so many dishes. A couple of dollops on pasta for a quick on-the-go meal. Spread it cautiously as a pizza topping. And schmear it on some rye bread for a tomato-provolone-pesto grilled cheese. Oh, yeah, I went there. Grilled. Cheese.

The secrets to good basil pesto are two-fold: Great-quality ingredients and a nice ratio of basil:parm:pine nuts:evoo. The amount of garlic, honestly, depends on your tastes. The recipe I use is from an old, back-‘n-the-day Moosewood cookbook called the Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden. Not too much cheese. Not too saucy. Plenty of basil flavor.

Pesto Genovese (from Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden)

  • 3 cups loosely packed basil (avoid stems)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup evoo
  • salt/pepper

-Place the basil, pine nuts parm and garlic in a food processor. I like to put in half of all the ingredients, give it a whir, and then add the other half and give it a whir. That’s just the best way in my machine – things don’t get jammed in there that way. Be sure everything is chopped evenly. Give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

-With the food processor on, sloooooowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. It’ll slowly become paste-like. It may bunch up on the bottom—stop the machine and get all the good stuff from the corners. DON’T add all the oil. Stop the machine, give it a tasty. Good? Needs salt and pepper? Add some. Is the consistency kinda rough and thick and you like it? Then stop. Like it a bit more smooth? Keep whirring and add the remaining oil.

NOTE: The beauty of pesto is this: It can be any way you want it to be. Chunky. Rough. Pasty. Saucy. Hey, you’re the one eating it. Eat what you like.

-When it’s whirred to your liking, use what you intended it for right away.

Basil pesto

Basil pesto

OR—and this is the important part—take action to keep the pesto’s vibrant, fresh-green color. Here’s how:

-Place the pesto in an airtight food storage container (glass, plastic, whatever) that is large enough to allow some room on top. Smooth the top into a flat layer.

-Drizzle a thin layer of evoo on top so it completely covers the pesto. You don’t need to much but you do need to make sure all the pesto is covered.

This keeps the air from oxidizing the basil and keeps the bright green color. But you’re smaht, I’m sure you already knew that.

Enjoy. And maybe when it’s time to harvest our parsley before the first frost, I’ll share my super-secret recipe for parsley pesto.

Food Trucks: Lefty’s, Bon Me & Roxy’s

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our neighborhood has this gem of a Sunday market—the Sowa Open Market. With our summer travel schedule – both work and pleasure –  it’s a not a place we get to a whole heck of a lot. And that’s a darn shame. We definitely are able to get there during the “shoulder seasons” – spring and fall. And if you like to explore all the artsy-craftsy stuff going on in Boston and New England, this really has been the place to go for the last eight years.

More recently – maybe in the last couple? – they’ve also had a pretty nice array of food trucks. I put a question mark down there because, like I said, we don’t get there a whole heckuva lot. With the food truck craze that’s traveling in the left lane nowadays, it’s probably one of the major draws of the Market.

And considering that one of their usual food trucks is participating in the second season of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, we decided to take one of our atypical in-town weekends are check out Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, among the other dozen or so trucks parked within the Sowa Open Market.

Of course, I scheduled only an hour (including walking time) between my various work-related activities to check out the food trucks. Seriously, not a smart move.

We decided to divide and conquer. We didn’t get far.

I stood in the Roxy’s line while Jennifer stood in the Bon Me line. Guess which line was longer? Jennifer decision to hit the Vietnamese street food truck was smart. My standing in the ‘order waiting to be picked up’ line at Roxy’s was not.

Jennifer was already chomping on her tofu and shitake mushroom banh mi (aka a sandwich on a baguette) before I decided to abandon my chance to nibble on a TV star. She shared, of course. Excellent flavor in the marinated tofu and mushrooms, a nice pickled topping. Great filling. Bread? Not the best, but I’m a bread snob. I’d definitely line up there again.

I was determined to have my own food truck experience, so I lined up for Lefty’s Silver Cart for a specialty sandwich. What drew me to that one? Pressed for time, it was close by, the line wasn’t long, and I judged a book by its cover—I really liked the old-timey font they used. Menu items were intriguing, too. It took me a good couple of minutes to realize they had a vegetarian menu, that’s how fun their combos were. I was torn between the Granny-B-Good – a grilled cheese with Vermont cheddar and Granny Smith apple – and the Figment, which was baguette with truffle-dressed mixed greens, goat cheese and fig jam. LOVE fig jam, so ordered the latter. Can’t go wrong with fig and goat cheese, and putting it on bread makes it a very healthy thing, I’m sure. Very happy with my order. Plus, Lefty’s baguette rocked. Now, if Bon Me had that baguette, they’d kick it up a notch. The difference? Baking technique, definitely. More steam produced a better crust for whoever is making Lefty’s bread.

Dainty Rates: 4 Dots.

If you’re around Boston Sundays through October, take a walk down to Sowa. Save room for lunch.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

August 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

Sometimes … sometimes I just want to eat bad things. Good-tasting things but bad for you, or your waistline. Fried chicken. Wings. A big drippy pulled-pork sandwich. A pile o’pasta.

But if it’s homemade, I hear, it’s half as much calories, conveniently. At least that’s what I tell myself. And if it has vegetables in it, well … then it’s downright a health food.

So that makes our roasted vegetable lasagna not only calorie-free but good for you, too. And the best thing about this recipe is it’s a combination of three previous posts. Brilliant!

Recipe

NOTE: If you’re not making your own pasta … and really, you don’t have to … buy the lasagna sheets that you don’t have to pre-boil. A few cents more, but really, the convenience is worth it.

-Our roasted vegetables of choice for this lasagna are yellow squash. We sliced it into 1/4-in. slices, lengthwise. Glug of evoo, salt and pepper, and roast at 425F for 6 minutes each side.When done, set aside.

-Roasted cherry tomato sauce – just as the recipe says. You may want to puree it.

-Homemade pasta … prepare just as the recipe says. Make the sheets to fit half the width of the pan.

We have the sauce, the pasta, the veggies. Oh, wait – one more vegetable.

-Chard. Stem it and then steam it for 1 minute, 2 minutes max. Let it cool. Squeeze the water out of it. And chop. Set aside.

-Put the ricotta into a medium bowl. Add the chopped chard, nutmeg and a pinch of salt and combine. That’s your cheese filling.

Now it’s time to assemble! It’s all about layers. Get the layers, get the lasagna.

-Lay down a thin layer of sauce. Then top with two lengths of pasta sheets. If you crank out the pasta  as you go, you can cut the pasta to the correct length. Top the pasta with some roasted vegetables. For the squash, we fit 4-5 lengths of squash per layer.

-Next, spread some of the ricotta – as much as you’d like – over the veggie layer. Dot with slices of mozzarella. A little cheese, a lotta cheese – whatever you want.

-Add another layer – sauce, pasta, veggies, cheeses. You can make as many layers as you have ingredients for. Three or four is typical. Just keep going until you fill the dish and have absolutely no more room.

-When you are done layering, you’re going to top with a layer of pasta, then a thin coating of sauce. Then top with as much mozzarella cheese as you like. And a dusting of parmesan, too. Done!

-Cover with aluminum foil. Pop into a 375F oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 15ish, or until the sauce and cheese are bubbling.

-Let it sit for 10 minutes.

Try not to make a pig of yourself at the dinner table. Really, you’re better than that.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

August 14, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’m telling you, some gardening years are better than others. A string of spectacular harvest sseasons from my small urban plot have made this summer a “meh” – that’s on a scale from “it sucks” to “this is freakin’ amazing.”

My cherry tomatoes—I’m not thrilled with them. They’re growing okay. I just don’t like the fruit. Too big. Too thick-skinned. And the flavor fell flat. Cherries are supposed to poppable, add a brightness to a salad. These? Meh.

When life gives you lemons, right?

So, these cherry tomatoes went straight into sauce. Roasting  brings out the sweetness they lack when just sitting on your salad.

Step 1: Put about 2-3 lbs. cherry tomatoes in a cast iron skillet. Add a couple of tablespoons evoo, sprinkle with kosher salt and give it a couple of turns of fresh ground pepper.

Cherry tomatoes seasoned and waiting to be popped into a 425F oven.

Pop it into a 425F oven for about 40 min. or until the tomato skins start bursting and the liquid starts bubbling. Let it bubble along for a total time of about 1 hour.

Cherry tomatoes after an hour of roasting

Step 2: Your gonna get lots of juice from the tomatoes, and you want to let it cook off. And you also want the flavor of the tomatoes come through more and get the sauce a bit thicker. So, take the skillet out of the oven and put it on the stove top over a low flame. Add 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic. Add some herbage; whatever you like. Fresh thyme or basil. Will it top a pizza? Add some chopped fresh oregano. 2Tbs is about right. Taste it for seasoning and add salt/pepper if you need to. And cook loooow and sloooooow. How long? Until enough liquid has cooked out to get the sauce to the thickness you like. In my case, 2 hours.

After two hours simmering on the stove top.

How easy was that? You might find it still a bit too chunky to spread on a pizza or spoon onto layers of lasagna. Whir it up in a blender or use an immersion blender if you like.

And how sweet is this, uh? You may never go back to plum tomatoes for sauce again.

 

 

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