Friday, March 28, 2014

Two Beans, Too Many Names: Fava and Borlotti Bean Stew

I am a compulsive reader.  Sometimes this drives Michel crazy (maybe all the time).  I am compelled to read everything that passes in front of my eyes including license plates, billboards, bus advertisements, restaurant menus, all manner of signs, but most of all: lists.  It doesn’t matter what kind of list but names in long rows are the most irresistible to me—attendance reports, film credits, charitable donors, delinquent taxpayers, members of organizations—I’m reading whatever it is.  Fortunately, I’m a fast reader. 

My fascination with names is not limited to people, which brings me to the subject of beans.  I mentioned in a previous post that Michel enjoys shopping for exotic ingredients in local food markets like Choi’s and Patel Brothers, but sometimes he finds interesting things at good old Paul’s Fruit Market as well.  Just as he always looks for fresh sardines at Whole Foods, Michel always looks for fresh fava beans at Paul’s.  No luck lately but he recently spied some fresh red-and-white speckled ones labeled “shell out beans.”  It only took a few mouse clicks to discover that those beans are also called cranberry beans or Roman beans or, more specifically, borlotti beans.  If you’re counting, that’s one bean with four names. 

Now we get to the duo of Fava and Borlotti.  Fava beans have only one alias: broad beans.  Michel remembers eating those as a young boy in Holland.  His mother would boil them--probably for too long.  Dried or fresh, fava beans have a nice creamy character that can withstand long cooking times.  So try this recipe on a leisurely day when you have time to (occasionally) tend to a two-hour stew.  Watch a movie, read a nice book, and take it easy while your beans are simmering in the pot.   

Fava and Borlotti Bean Stew

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup dried baby fava beans--overnight soaking optional
  • 1 cup fresh borlotti/cranberry beans (We found them canned at Whole Foods.)
  • 1½ cartons vegetable broth
  • ½ an onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 each red, yellow, green bell peppers chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper
Dried Fava Beans

Canned Borlotti Beans

In your favorite stock pot:

  • Heat the olive oil.
  • Add garlic, onion, bell peppers, tarragon, oregano, bay leaves, pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
  • Cook over medium heat until onion becomes translucent.
  • Add fava beans and enough vegetable broth to cover.
  • Cover the pot and cook fava beans over low heat for 60-90 minutes.  If you soaked the beans, they will cook in an hour. If you didn’t soak the beans, you’ll have time to watch an episode of your favorite sitcom while you wait out the remaining 30 minutes. 
  • Keep an eye on the fava beans as they cook to make sure there is enough broth in the pot.
  • After fava beans have cooked, add fresh borlotti/cranberry beans.
  • Allow borlotti beans to cook for 60 minutes.  Note: Canned borlotti beans will require no actual cooking time. They only need to be heated. But—fresh is always nicer if you can find them. 
  • Let your bean stew “cook down” to thicken uncovered for the final 15-20 minutes. Monitor the liquid level so the mixture doesn’t stick or burn on the bottom. 
  • Eat everything but the bay leaves. 


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Use your bean. Eat your beans. A few words about protein.

Today Michel made a delicious double bean stew (recipe coming up).  He says it's time to post some kind of declaration about why he cooks beans so often. The reason is simple: Beans are a protein-palooza.  I don't need to write about all the health benefits of various beans because Google is filled with thousands of links to the information. Prepare to be overwhelmed with more recipes and nutrition data than you can possibly consume.  

It's fair to say that we are now about 99% vegetarian, eating fish once in a while but no red meat or poultry. Michel has created countless bean dishes over the last few years, all of them inventive and delicious. (The only bean he must avoid is the soy bean/edamame because he's highly allergic to soy.)  He stores a variety of dried beans in jars--cannellini, adzuki, fava, garbanzo, etc.--just to keep his recipe options open.  The dishes he makes will start with a bean and then he takes whatever geoculinary turn suits his fancy for the day: Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, Italian, French, Thai--you get it. 

Here's a link to a useful chart--really--about beans and protein. Did you know there are hyacinth beans? Cowpeas?  Neither did I.  Read on.  It's a nice alternative to working on your taxes or speculating about college basketball.   

Beans and Legumes with the Most Protein 

And for my fellow word nerds who lose sleep over things like word and phrase* origins, here's a link to a fun list of food phrases we often use without considering where they come from. Upper crust? Takes the cake?  Unfortunately, this Smithsonian article does not provide a definitive origin for "use your bean."  Some believe the phrase derives from the bean-ish shape of the brain.  What's most important is mindfulness about our well-being, including the foods we choose. 

Spilling the Beans on the Origins of Food Idioms

* If you happen to know the origin of the phrase "dead giveaway" I would be most grateful if you'd share.  That one has been eluding me for years.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Polenta (Is That You, Grits?) with Mushrooms and Squash

Let's just get a couple of things out of the way:  First, Southerners have a lot of things to be proud of and at least as many things to be ashamed of, witness any swamp-based or pageant-driven reality television show not to mention the legacy of slavery and the Civil War.  And the antics of people such as food "personality" Paula Deen and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour aren't doing anything to elevate the perception that Southerners are bloated, bigoted bible-thumpers of limited intelligence.  Second, there is no denying that food is an important part of Southern culture.  Who doesn't like deep fried stuff?  Or pecan pie?  We can also claim a number of eloquent literary figures including William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and Harper Lee.   All that Southern craziness has yielded some brilliant fiction.  And we all know that every household has its skeletons in the closet and a maladjusted relative (or two) in the attic.

Then there is the subject of grits.  No matter how many syllables it takes you to say the word, I've yet to meet a person who is ambivalent about eating them.  There is often lively debate among family members over the issue of adding sugar or salt.  Solution? Put both on the table.  Problem solved.  Quick cooking or regular?  (Note: Instant grits are not an option. I can't tell if they're a food product or wallpaper paste.)  There is no debate about the need for butter, either way.  As for the difference between grits and polenta, it seems to depend on the type of corn that is used (dent corn or flint corn) and if you're in southern Italy or the Southern U.S.  

Michel actually used Weisenberger Stone Ground Yellow Grits made in Midway, Kentucky for this recipe. So call it what you like--polenta or grits--no matter because it's a delicious dish.

Polenta with Mushrooms and Squash

You will need: 
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup butternut squash, cut into small cubes (or any squash will work)
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 package crimini mushrooms (about 2 cups)
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped—red, yellow, green, whatever you prefer
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • grated Parmesan cheese (Vegans, you can easily omit the cheese and keep it kosher.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In your favorite skillet:
  • Heat olive oil.
  • Slice mushrooms into the olive oil and brown over high heat.

  • Stir in onion slices and scrape the little mushroom bits from the bottom of the pan into the mixture.

  • When onions become translucent, add garlic.  Reduce heat once the garlic has “released its perfume.”  Yes, that’s a direct quote from Michel.
  • Add peppers and cook mixture over medium heat until onions become limp.
  • Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

In an ovenproof saucepan or stockpot:
  • Heat vegetable broth. Add 1½ teaspoons salt and bring to a boil.
  • Whisk in polenta and add cubed squash.

  • Cover and place the pot on center oven rack.
  • Stir every ten minutes to prevent lumps from forming.
  • Cook for 40-45 minutes.
  • Remove pot from oven (wear your mitts!) and stir in grated Parmesan and chopped basil. 
Transfer your golden polenta-squash goodness to your favorite home-style serving dish and top with mushroom mixture.  Enjoy!