This recipe is the result of a convergence of two obsessions: Rancho Gordo beans and Tessa Kiros, the lovely and talented writer and cookbook author. She’s of Finnish and Greek-Cypriot heritage and has wandered the world, detailing her experiences and memories through food. Recently, my dad gave me Falling Cloudberries for my birthday and I’ve been slowly leafing through it each night, wishing it’d never end. The photos are just dreamy, and the recipes are both evidence of Tessa’s heritage (classic finnish meatballs with lingonberry jam, stroganoff, and moussaka) and a postcard from her travels (spinach and truffle pies, champagne risotto, and lemon vanilla jam). It’s one of those books where it’s truly hard to decide how and where to begin. Lucky for me, the decision just showed up on my desk with a bag of colorful Christmas lima beans.
After moving to the city, I’ve started filling in at the restaurant where I used to work before teaching. I work in the catering office and get to talk to people about food all day. It rocks. The ironic thing: it’s in Marin–where I was living until just a few weeks ago. So I’m spending a little more time in my car than I’d like to, but I’m breaking out the travel mugs and relishing the excuse to listen to more NPR (did anyone hear that replay of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me! with Neko Case yesterday? Love her). In addition to serving amazing food, the restaurant sells interesting olive oils, salts, sauces and chutneys–and Rancho Gordo beans!
If you’re not familiar with Rancho Gordo, they’re out of Napa and many farmers markets around here sell their heirloom beans, dried corn, and ancient grains. These guys are a variation on the traditional lima, but obviously bigger. They still have the “meat” of the lima, but with a subtle chestnut flavor. With a little bag in tow, I set off to explore the first of Tessa’s recipes: a substantial and satisfying vegetarian side dish that will absolutely become a stand-by in my very slowly growing repertoire. I did adapt the recipe just a bit, using panko crumbs instead of normal bread crumbs to add a bit more texture and crispness to the top, and played with the proportions of garlic and tomato. I like them saucy. I think you will, too.
Please note, not included in the cooking times below, is the fact that you must soak the beans overnight, so do plan accordingly.
Slightly adapted from: Falling Cloudberries
Drain the beans, put them in a saucepan with the bay leaf, cover generously with cold water, and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the top, decrease the heat slightly, and cook for about 30 minutes or until they’re very tender. Add salt towards the end of cooking time.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Drain the beans, reserving about 3/4 cup of the cooking water, and put them in a large baking pan.
Heat about 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Gently saute the onions until they’re lightly golden and softened, stirring so that they don’t stick. Remove from the heat and fold in the celery, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, and remaining olive oil. Season with pepper and a little salt. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved bean water into the beans, and mix through well. Save the rest of the bean water in case the beans start drying out as they cook (otherwise, you’ll just throw it out). Cover the pot l and bake for about 45 minutes, them remove the lid, stir beans, adding a little extra water if they seem to be drying out. Sprinkle with panko bread crumbs and return to the oven, uncovered, for another 30 minutes.
The beans should be tender and still with a little sauce. Serve warm, with an extra drizzling of olive oil and some crusty bread.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.