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Cranberry beans_DSC_4815

When I first started cooking, unless you had a garden it was rare to see any fresh beans other than green and wax beans in the market.  Nowadays, particularly if you shop the farmers market or at farm stands you will find all types of beans from fresh fava to lima to cannellini to soy to —well, you get the idea.  Among our favorite fresh (and dried) beans speckled cranberry beans stand out.  Zingone’s, my trusted neighborhood market (which I glory in my most recent book, An American Family Cooks), always has them beginning in the early fall so they are frequently on our menu.  Sometimes I just cook them in a little water or stock with some aromatics and herbs and use them to make salads.  Other times I mix them up into a great baked bean dish as in the following recipe (which should easily serve 6).  When the fresh ones are no longer on the market, I switch to dried beans from Rancho Gordo (www.ranchogordo.com) in Napa, California.

 

4 to 5 cups fresh cranberry beans

3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, and quartered

2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes

1 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil plus more to season after cooking

Salt and pepper to taste

 Preheat the oven to 375°F.

 Lightly coat the interior of a 2 quart casserole with olive oil.

Combine the beans, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and sage in a large mixing bowl.  Add the ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole and then add cold water to just barely cover the beans.

Cover the entire casserole with aluminum foil to tightly seal.  Poke a small hole in the center of the top to allow steam to escape.

Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour or until the liquid has evaporated and the beans are very soft.

Remove from the oven, uncover, and serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.  The beans are also delicious served at room temperature with some balsamic vinegar added to the drizzle.

Sardines_DSC_4704

 

I had purchased some fresh sardines for a photo shoot and didn’t want to waste them so I made some chile-spiced sardines for a Latin brunch featuring huevos rancheros.  Guess what  – nobody at the table liked sardines , except for one poor guy who got stuck with all 6 of them set in front of him.  I thought I was being tricky in spicing the fish up to mask their oiliness, but I guess my ploy didn’t work.  But, in case you like sardines  this is what I did.
I placed them over a bed of parsley in an oval frying pan along with olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, sliced lemons and jalapeños and salt and pepper.  I covered the pan and cooked the fish over medium heat for about 7 minutes.  I removed the pan from the heat and set it aside for about 30 minutes leaving it covered so the fish would be fully-cooked and well-flavored.  I served the spiced fish with the cooked lemon slices, plus more fresh lemon, but still they languished at the table.  I – don’t much love sardines, but know they are so good for you – did eat some of the left-over on toast for lunch.  A nice glass of rosé made the medicine go down.

eggplant

 

My family does not really love eggplant very much so I am always trying to think of ways to make it inviting.  My newest trick works beautifully with baby eggplant.  I trim the stems and then cut them in half, lengthwise.  I toss the cut eggplant in olive oil, whatever fresh herb I have on hand (or none when I don’t), and salt and pepper.  I grill them, cut side down first, in my trusty stovetop grill pan (Scanpan again, of course – loving their nonstick surface) for a few minutes or until just barely cooked through.  I serve the warm grilled eggplant drizzled with a bit of balsamic vinaigrette or syrupy aged balsamic (when I have it on hand) with a glass of Prosecco or an Aperol spritzer.  Every single one of those little guys is gone before the drinks are.

 

eggplant_2

Garbanzo_4727

 

If you meander back to March 9th (2012) you will experience my thrill at the discovery of fresh garbanzo beans.  Once only a rare sighting, fresh garbanzos have become a summer staple at our local green market so they come to the table quite frequently these days.  They are a bit of a pain to get out of the shell, but I just zone out and take my time.  The other night I added them to fregola (that delicious Sardinian pasta that is rather like Israeli couscous) during its last few minutes of cooking just to cook the beans slightly.  I drained the pasta and tossed it with some caramelized onions and diced mushrooms that I had seasoned with orange zest, juice, sage, and olive oil.  I used the mixture as a base for some fatty, near-the-end-of-the-season fried soft shell crab.  I made a citrus brown butter to pour over the crab that also flavored the fregola.  It was quite a delicious meal if I do say so myself.

panzanella

 

I think almost every culture makes a tasty dish using its stale bread to keep from wasting it.  Once upon a time, this was for the economy of it, but eventually the recipes became part of the everyday menu.   Originally most breads staled very quickly – say by the end of the day – unlike modern commercial breads that seem to stay “fresh” for weeks. I believe that a piece of dry bread was the original “teether” for babies and maybe it still is in other parts of the world (I think most American moms simply buy a package of zwieback.).
The quickest and simplest way to use those stale slices is to turn them into crumbs for use in meatballs or meatloaf or toasted on simple pasta dishes.  My mom saved every type of old bread in a big bag – brown paper before resealable plastic  – to make stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey or Sunday roast chicken or to create rich, buttery bread puddings.  Often the stale or dry bread is soaked to soften, as it is for French toast in milk and eggs or with a vinaigrette as for the Italian salad panzanella (using rustic loaves) or the Middle Eastern salad Fatoush (pita).
With the tomato season at its height right now, I turned some drying ciabatta into lightly toasted cubes to create a panzanella-style salad.  I made a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh oregano.  I tossed the bread cubes in a bit of the vinaigrette to soften slightly; then, I added chunks of tomato and slivers of sweet onion and basil to the soften bread.  I drizzled with more vinaigrette and tossed the whole mess together.  This was dinner along with a couple of grilled garlic sausages.  Perfection.

mejadrap8192846

 

Everywhere I go these days I see a copy of Jerusalem, A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and so I finally bought a copy.  Steve, my dear husband, took to it like a duck to water and began asking me to make something from it.  I’m not much of a follower of recipes and, in fact, hate to cook from one, but loving him as I do I asked him to pick a recipe that he thought he would like.  He chose Mejadra, a beautifully-flavored mix of lentils and rice with fried onions that the authors say is a favorite peasant dish.  The lentils and rice part was easy, but frying the onions in the summer heat was not.  But, I did it and we had quite a nice dinner with plenty of left-overs.  Since I don’t think it fair to publish another cook’s recipe, I will leave it to you to buy this cookbook and try the recipe yourself.  However, the fried onions reminded me of those canned French’s Fried Onions that find their way to that Thanksgiving green bean casserole and I threatened to use them should he ask me to make the dish again.  Believe me it was an idle threat as I have lived almost 75 years without them and hope to continue making things “from scratch” for the remainder of my years.

 

mejadrap8192960

stuffed-zucchini-blossoms

Zucchini blossoms only appear in the mid to late summer when farmers and gardeners begin to run out of ways to get rid of the myriad numbers of squashes that appear and grow larger and larger by the hour.  The alternative is to nip the produce in the bud so to speak and lovely little packets of bright yellow blossoms make their way to the farm stand or green market.  They are beautiful to look at, but even better to eat.  The problem is that they are messy and time consuming to prepare and disappear too quickly once brought to the table.

We got a particularly nice bunch at the green market on Sunday and I was determined to fix them for dinner.  I had made some ricotta (see post, May 19, 2014) that I had planned to serve with some grilled peaches, but since it is the perfect filling for stuffed blossoms I changed gears.  I combined 1 cup of the ricotta with the zest of 1 lemon, a teaspoon of chopped basil, about ¼ cup of grated Parmigiano, and salt and pepper.  I had Steve help as it was impossible for me to hold the blossoms open and neatly spoon the cheese mixture into the center.  I held open while he carefully spooned about a teaspoonful into the heart.  I twisted the petals closed and laid the filled blossoms out in a row while I made the batter.  (To be perfectly honest if I had some packaged tempura batter in the pantry I would have used it.)

I combined about 1½ cups of all-purpose flour with a teaspoon or so of salt.  I gently stirred in about 1½ cups of seltzer water.  You don’t want to stir to aggressively as you want the batter to have some fizz left.

I heated about 1 inch of canola oil – you could use olive oil – in my favorite Scanpan sautoir pan and when it was hot, working with one piece at a time, I quickly dipped the stuffed blossoms into the batter, allowing most to drip off and gently placed them into the hot oil.  I used tongs to carefully turn the blossoms as they turned golden brown and crisp.  It only took a couple of minutes for them to cook.

I drained them on a double layer of paper towel and served them sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with lemon —- all my hard work was gone in a couple of minutes.

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