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.
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.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.