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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)