Great New Reliable Green Beans

photo 2

I don’t love redemption narratives, at least when it comes to thinking about my own life. There’s always the chance that one’s triumph will sour, plateaus will be reached, or any number of twists and turns that these stories are err to in real life. Yet I’ll make an exception for green beans. Growing up, I mostly encountered frozen green beans and green beans out of a can. And I hated them. Their limp, beige-green color made me ill, as did their potted-water smell; even disguised under cheese sauce and in a vegetable mix with corn and sliced carrots, nothing about them was appealing. (That said, Thanksgiving green bean casserole — you know, the one with the cream of mushroom soup and crispy onions on top? — was and is still incredible. But those aren’t really beans anymore, a fact I note in love (!) rather than disgust.)

As the years have gone by, and I’ve gotten older, wiser, and a kitchen of of my own, I’ve learned to tolerate green beans, especially the overflowing baskets you get at the farmer’s market. They’re fresh and snappy! Delightfully green and healthy! They go with anything! Good, old reliable green beans. I made them amadine, that toasty, sweet-savory dish prepared with butter, almonds, and garlic; I made them bright and bustling with lemon, drawing out their green flavor with olive oil and a healthy smattering of parsley, all pulled together by the rich, nutty undertone of pine nuts. I even grew to like them nearly raw, quick-blanched and served with hummus, green goddess, or red-pepper dip. Like broccoli or even summer squash, they’re a substantial green vegetable that you can turn to automatically as a side dish, one not expected to upstage the main course but that helps to fill out the meal.

Then this past year rolled by, and I found two versions that changed the way I thought about (or rather, tasted for) green beans. Rather than boiling the beans and quickly sauteeing them with your nuts and aromatics, these recipes called for the beans to cook for a good long time, in the pan, with butter. One of the recipes said you want them to “stew in their own juices,” which was a revelatory way of thinking about green beans; both of them told you to cook them until they browned, shrunk, and got tender. This, as I found, intensifies the flavor, a pure concentrated green bean goodness that one very rarely experiences in other preparations. Once the beans are browned and almost caramelized, you then throw a good amount of chopped garlic into the pan, enough to flash cook it but still keep its bite, which provides a welcome contrast to the vegetal sweetness. And voilà! Beans living up to their fullest and best potential.

 

The cooking process.

The cooking process.

 

Penelope Casa’s Garlic Green Beans (from Food52)

  • ¾ pound Fresh Green Beans
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 Clove Garlic, crushed
  • Coarse Salt

Trim the green beans. Melt butter in a skillet, add beans, and cook over medium to med-high flame, stirring, until they beging to brown.

Lower the flame, cover, and cook 15-20 min, or until the beans are your desired tenderness, stirring occasionally.

Mix in crushed garlic, sprinkle with salt, and serve.

 

Chinese-Restaurant Style Green Beans (from Fine Cooking)

  • 1 Tbs Less-Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbs Honey
  • 1 Tbs Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1# Younger Green Beans, trimmed
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tbs Minced Garlic

In a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan, heat the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the green beans and ½ tsp salt and toss with tongs to coat well. Cook, turning the beans occasionally, until most are well browned, shrunken, and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. (The butter in the pan will have turned dark brown.)

Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, until the garlic is softened and fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Carefully add the soy mixture (you’ll need to scrape the honey into the pan). Cook, stirring, until the liquid reduces to a glazey consistency that coats the beans, 30 to 45 seconds.

Immediately transfer the beans to the serving dish, scraping the pan with the spatula to get all of the garlicky sauce. Let sit for a few minutes and then serve warm.

 

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Tomato and Corn Pie

It’s summertime in Minnesota, which means one thing and one thing only: tornado season.  So perhaps you’ll excuse me if this post is rather brief; I’ve got my eyes peeled on the television, which is proclaiming a tornado watch.  Seriously, people: if it’s not one thing, it’s another (warning: this contains spoilers to a really excellent film.)  But back to the softer side of seasonality…

Chances are:

  1. It’s the middle of summer where you are, and
  2. it’s blistering hot and humid, and
  3. the mere thought of turning on the oven (not to mention wrangling with pie dough) makes you want to cry, and
  4. you would cry, you really would, were it not for the fact that saving your bodily fluids Dune-style because the heat index is just! that! intense!

While all these things may be true, this recipe will make you say pooh pooh.  Imagine layers of pure tomato and corn goodness, bound together by cheese and a tangy lemon mayonnaise, its savoriness accented by basil and chives, all wrapped up in a buttery, flaky, biscuit crust:

Does it need more saying?  Very well, then.  If you take a chance on this pie, you will:

  1. Discover an undeniably sexy butter-brushed biscuit pie crust that will take your breath away!
  2. Learn the most amazing flash-peel technique for tomatoes, a technique whose genius and simplicity will shock and awe you!
  3. Develop a new-found taste (no, scratch that, esteem…no, scratch that, obsession) for savory pies!
  4. Capture summer in a piepan!

This pie is a rock star. I promise you nothing but good things from it.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch the weather report.

Update, 6 pm: Storms have moved south of us, thankfully, at least according to Channel 5.  Calling in from Watertown, MN, a certain Molly Hoof reports golfball-sized hail and strong winds, noting: “I grabbed some cheese and crackers because I didn’t know what was gonna happen.” Spoken with all the wisdom of a true Minnesotan, doncha know. I tell my mother, who responds thoughtfully, “Sounds good to me.  She’s a smart woman…”

Update #2, 8 pm: Um, never mind.  Grabbing the cheese and crackers, heading to the furnace room with dogs and company in tow.

Final update: We’re all okay!  (Locked?) door somehow blew open, sailboat and neighbor’s dock flipped over, huge branches all over the yard, but otherwise things are looking clear and calm, with a consolation prize of the most amazing sky you’ve ever seen.

Tomato and Corn Pie

As found on Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Gourmet, who adapted it from Laurie Colwin and James Beard.  This pie gets around!  (Further support for its rock star status.)

Ingredients:

2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tbsp Baking Powder
1 ¾ tsp Salt, divided
¾ Stick (6 Tablespoons Or 3 Ounces) Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, plus 2 teaspoons melted
¾ cup Whole Milk
⅓ cup Mayonnaise
2 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
1 ¾ pounds Beefsteak Tomatoes  (I used regular tomatoes; they worked well.)
1 ½ cups Corn (From About 3 Ears), coarsely chopped by hand, divided
2 Tbsp Finely Chopped Basil, divided (optional, but worth it!)
1 Tbsp Finely Chopped Chives, divided (again, optional, but worth it)
Salt and pepper
7 ounces Coarsely Grated Sharp Cheddar (1 ¾ Cups), divided

Directions:

Dough: Whisk together flour, baking powder, and ¾ tsp salt in a bowl, then blend in cold butter (¾ stick) with your fingertips or a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until mixture just forms a dough, then gather into a ball.  (N.B.: I probably only used 1/2 a cup of milk, if that, of the 3/4 called for by the recipe.  Nothing worse than a sticky, too damp pie dough–it makes it miserable to work with and severely diminishes the flakiness of the resulting pie.)

Divide dough in half and roll out one piece on a well-floured counter (my choice) or between two sheets of plastic wrap (the recipe’s suggestion, but I imagined it would annoyingly stick to the plastic) into a 12-inch round (⅛ inch thick). Either fold the round gently in quarters, lift it into a 9-inch pie plate and gently unfold and center it or, if you’re using the plastic warp method, remove top sheet of plastic wrap, then lift dough using bottom sheet of plastic wrap and invert into pie plate. Pat the dough in with your fingers trim any overhang.

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. If your kitchen is excessively warm, as ours is, go ahead and put the second half of the dough in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Filling: Whisk together mayonnaise and lemon juice.

(And here’s the cool flash-peel technique:) Cut an X in bottom of each tomato and blanch in a large pot of boiling water 10 seconds. Immediately transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to cool. Peel tomatoes, then slice crosswise ¼ inch thick and, if desired (see Notes above recipe), gently remove seeds and extra juices. (Yes, do this.  It helps the pie be more like pie and less like stew.) Arrange half of tomatoes in crust, overlapping, and sprinkle with half of corn, one tablespoon basil, ½ tablespoon chives, salt and pepper (if you want to be exact, the recipe calls for 1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper for each layer; I just seasoned with a pinch of each) and one cup of grated cheese. Repeat layering with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil, chives, salt, and pepper. Pour lemon mayonnaise over filling and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Roll out remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round in same manner, then fit over filling, folding overhang under edge of bottom crust and pinching edge to seal. Cut 4 steam vents in top crust and brush crust with melted butter (2 teaspoons). Bake pie until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes, then cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Do ahead: Pie can be baked 1 day ahead and chilled. Reheat in a 350°F oven until warm, about 30 minutes.

Two Things to do with Ricotta: Sugar Snap Peas and Strawberry Graham Tarts

A few months ago, if you asked me how I felt about ricotta–and yes, I find that a perfectly legitimate topic of conversation, don’t you?– I probably would have answered with a shrug.  Ricotta, eh. A bland grainy substance masquerading as cheese, essential for stuffed pasta but not much else.  In short, I was not enthralled.

But then–oh then!–I went to the Italian Market, found myself in Claudio’s Mozzarella (a little jewel of a shop that only sells pesto, mozzarella and ricotta), decided on a whim to buy some fresh-made ricotta and dear god, it was love at first bite.  Creamy, soft, and cool, it was exquisitely and surprisingly flavorful with an almost shy and tender sweetness.  When I wasn’t eating it plain, I had it with berries and a bit of honey, marveling at the profound distance between mediocrity, on the one hand, and the truly, heartachingly good on the other.

Since then, I’ve been trying to expand my ricotta repertoire, and have found some real stunners that I’d like to share with you.  Two, in fact: one savory, one sweet, and both are simple and seasonal.  The first is for Strawberry Graham Tarts, originally from Food & Wine and found again on Smitten Kitchen (pictured below); the second is a delightful dish with sugar snap peas adapted from the Amateur Gourmet (which I ate so quickly there was no time for photography!)  Enjoy.

Strawberry Graham Tarts (from Food & Wine, April 2010)

Excellent picnic food, perfect to make ahead, and the easiest tart you’ll ever make as they are essentially cookies.  What I especially love about this recipe is that each element is its own rock-star and could stand very well on its own (no Ringo here, folks!), especially the cheesecake-like ricotta mixture, which I’ve been eating with blueberries and apricots.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour (or graham flour, if you can find it)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses (or honey, if you don’t have molasses)
3/4 pound strawberries, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups fresh ricotta (10 ounces)
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (note: I used more, at least two teaspoons)

  1. In a bowl, whisk both flours with the cinnamon, salt and cloves. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter, light brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in the honey and molasses, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the side of the bowl and beat in the flour mixture at low speed, just until incorporated. Pat the dough into a disk, cover with plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2-inch oval cookie cutter, stamp out 16 ovals; reroll the dough scraps if necessary. Transfer the ovals to the baking sheets and bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until lightly golden around the edges. Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer the ovals to racks to cool completely. (Note: while I liked a bigger base–I used a 3.5 in round biscuit cutter–I think smaller tartlets would also be very charming.  Just not a lot of room for strawberries on top…)
  3. In a bowl, toss the strawberries with the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and the lemon juice. Let stand until syrupy, 20 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar and lemon zest. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the ricotta mixture on each oval. Arrange the strawberries over the ricotta, drizzle with the syrup and serve.


And here’s the lovely Alice, chef, foodie, and food-model extraordinaire with one of the tarts:

Our second recipe is Sugar Snap Peas and (Whipped) Ricotta, a fresh, clean, and uniquely savory pairing for the sweetness of ricotta.  A surprisingly harmonious dish.

sugar-snap peas, ends snapped off and de-stringed
olive oil
lemon juice
lemon zest
torn mint (optional)
shallots or green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
ricotta cheese
milk (optional)

  1. Put a pot of water on to boil, and when boiling, briefly submerge your beautiful sugar-snap peas (for about half a minute to a minute, enough to get them bright and green but still crisp-tender.)  Drain, and submerge in cold water (a technique called “shocking,” which helps them keep their color and texture.)
  2. Strain shocked peas, and toss with a healthy glug of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of lemon zest, mint (if you’re using it) and the shallots or green onions (again, if you’re using them).  Toss gently, and salt and pepper to taste.  Taste one; it should be amazing.
  3. Here’s the exciting part: you can either just do what I did and serve the peas over a dollop of ricotta (drizzled with a bit of olive oil), or do as the Amateur Gourmet did and beat the ricotta, slowly drizzling in a bit of milk until it gets smooth and airy.  He recommends doing it in a stand mixer, but I’m sure you could do it by hand.  Either way (regular or airy), I’m sure this dish would be equally amazing.

Happy January!

Hello everyone, and happy January!

Though it’s currently the beginning of a new semester here, with all the frenetic and expansive energy attending the return to academia, it seems to me that the food world holds its own temporal court, keeping us in something like a stasis of old apples, sweet carrots, potatoes and cabbage. I still can’t shake the sense that January is so very much locked between November and March, in the culinary doldrums of sister winter. There is no freedom in a root vegetable, if you catch my drift. Its flavor-fullness comes through a sense of warmth, comfort, perhaps even staidness–but at the moment, I’m ready for all that is solid to melt into air (wink). I’m ready for the giddiness of spring, mainly for fresh rhubarb and salads–oh, salads!–that you feel are necessary rather than salutary, ones you don’t even have to think about, the components just jump right into your bowl.

Now don’t get me wrong, I happen to like winter produce, especially when it comes in your farm share:


It’s true: everything does taste better when from a CSA share. Alice and I are splitting a half-vegetarian share from Keystone Farm, which is pretty much perfect. We also get eggs, granola and cheese every week, which is wonderful! West Phillians, if you’re thinking about doing CSA, you should definitely check out this option. Plus they give you a print-out about your weekly share, detailing what type of produce you’ve gotten as well as recipes to try featuring–you guessed it–the inexorable march of apples, onions, carrots, and potatoes. I’ll post one ASAITO (As Soon As I’ve Tried One.) But for now I’ve been turning to all of Molly’s really great braised vegetable recipes, the ones that make cabbages really lush and lovely, an unforgettable symphony of tenderness and savoriness. I happen to really like braising with its mixture of simplicity and time; it’s perfect for the winter when it’s harder to care about you food, and yet you still want your food to care about you in complex, interesting, layered ways. Roasting also gets me there, but somehow it’s not as exciting (at least right now, at least to me.)

Here’s a great recipe for braised red cabbage, a sweet-and-sour take on the theme that really pops. For a winter vegetable, it’s so flavorful and bright, almost in a summery way. The first time I made it I ate almost all of it. Dolefully scraping the last bits of it out of the container, I honestly considered making it again that night–and I’m telling you people, that was no small amount of cabbage. Trust me. You’re going to like it.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
From the Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook (I know. But it was only 8 bucks at Marshalls and the recipes are really quite good. Its holiday spirit got me through paper-writing.)

1 small head red cabbage (about 2 pounds)
2 T vegetable oil
7 T red-wine vinegar
3 T honey
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch allspice
salt and pepper to taste
1 Granny Smith apple

1. Halve cabbage lengthwise; remove core, and slice leaves as thinly as possible.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add cabbage and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar, honey, cinnamon and allspice. Season with salt and pepper. Add 3 T water, and continue cooking until cabbage is almost soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Add more water as needed if pan looks dry. (NOTE: I usually just cook it for one hour before adding the apple. Life is short. More to the point, I am impatient.)
3. Halve apple lengthwise, remove core, and slice apple into very thin wedges. Add to cabbage, and continue cooking until cabbage is soft and almost dry, about 20 minutes more. Serve warm. (NOTE: Also strangely good cold, straight out of the fridge!)

ps: We got a green cabbage in our last CSA share! It was so beautiful; when I sliced into it, it looked just like a giant brussels sprout.

Green Goddess Dressing Vegetable Platter

If you’re ever wondering what to bring to a dinner party, brunch, or even holiday feast, look no further. It’s a cinch to make, fun to arrange, green and fresh and delicious. Throw all the ingredients into a food processor, blanch some vegetables, and you have the makings of a simple and beautiful platter.


And the best part about green goddess dressing is that you can use any herbs you want. My version uses parsley, tarragon, and chives; I’ve also seen it done with dill, basil, and probably any combination you desire. Add a green onion and a tad vinegar, and you’re golden…oops!…green.

Green Goddess Dressing
adapted from Gourmet, March 2002

Although I’m not one for major substitutions, I took one look at the original recipe and thought surely one can substitute something for that whole cup of mayonnaise. So I tried using half a cup plain yogurt and a half cup mayo, and ended up liking it very much: it was a bit tangy, not as thick, and overall deemed a good decision. I also upped the amount of herbs, as I like my dressing intensely aromatic.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 anchovy fillets, minced
(optional)
1 chopped scallion

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon tarragon (or white wine) vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Purée all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour into a small bowl nestled amongst an array of vegetables. My favorites are asparagus, snow peas, beans, carrots, celery and cucumbers; I usually blanch* the first four.

*On blanching: Bring a pot of water to boil and liberally salt. Cook vegetables in like batches until crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes (depending on the vegetable.) When finished, “shock” them in a bowl of ice water in order to preserve freshness and color.

Pan-browned Brussels Sprouts


Growing up, I never had a strong aversion to Brussels sprouts. Perhaps it’s because I hardly encountered them, and if I did have that sickly, limp, overly bitter version remembered and reviled by so many people, I must have conveniently blocked it from my mind. (Lima beans, however, are a different story.)

So when I first found this dish featured on Smitten Kitchen, I was happy to find a recipe for Brussels sprouts, period. Little did I know that it would transform the lowly, oft-dismissed sprout into a golden god in the minds of all who ate it, especially those reliving the childhood trauma of sitting down to these mini cabbages. And oh, am I glad I found it. They come out warm and welcoming, their beautiful browned flavor accented by roasted pine nuts. The garlic flavor does not overwhelm the dish, but rather serves as a mellow undertone. We scooped them up with expressions of delight–partially, of course, because we were eating brussels sprouts (ew? never!), but more, I think, because these were just simply divine.

Pan Browned Brussels Sprouts
adapted from epicurious.com

1/2 lb Brussels sprouts
2 large garlic cloves (I used 1)
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp pine nuts

Trim Brussels sprouts and halve lengthwise. Cut garlic into very thin slices. In a 10-inch heavy skillet (preferably well-seasoned cast iron) melt 1 tablespoon butter with oil over moderate heat and cook garlic, stirring, until pale golden. Transfer garlic with a slotted spoon to a small bowl. Reduce heat to low and arrange sprouts in skillet, cut sides down, in one layer. Sprinkle sprouts with pine nuts and salt to taste. Cook sprouts, without turning, until crisp-tender and undersides are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

With tongs transfer sprouts to a plate, browned sides up. Add garlic and remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter to skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until pine nuts are more evenly pale golden, about 1 minute. Spoon mixture over sprouts and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.