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©Steve Pool Photography

          I don’t know when I first discovered pomegranates but it was sometime in my early teens.  I was hooked!  I loved their color, the piquancy of the arils, the messiness of pulling the fruit apart (I know, I know, there are some tidy methods of doing this but I like what I like!), the stains on my fingertips.  To this day, nothing can dissuade me from the thrill I feel when I first discover them arriving in the market…..usually long about now!  And the first thing I do is lean over my kitchen sink and begin pulling my purchase apart, almost slurping up the juicy arils as the colorful juice runs down my chin. 

          I rarely use them in cooking or baking — I just love pulling them apart and popping the arils – seeds, to me — between my teeth and feeling the juice explode on my tongue.  However, once in awhile I will patiently extract the arils and pile them up in a bowl to use in a salad, as a garnish or even in a stew.  Here is a salad in which they can shine.  It is perfect for fall.  It can stand on its own or be a side kick to almost any meat or game.

Wild Rice Salad

Serves 6

1 cup wild rice

Salt

½ cup low-fat plain yogurt

¼ cup hazelnut or walnut oil

¼ cup rice wine vinegar, preferably Japanese rice wine

½ teaspoon curry powder

¼ teaspoon minced ginger

1 cup julienned snow peas

¾ cup pomegranate arils plus more for garnishing if you like

½ cup julienned yellow bell pepper

½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Pepper

          Rinse the wild rice and place in a bowl with cold water to cover for about 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.  Drain well and transfer to a medium saucepan.  Add 4 cups of cold water and season with salt.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil. 

          Lower the heat, cover and cook at a gentle simmer for about 45 minutes or until the rice is tender, but a bit chewy.  Remove from the heat and spoon into a colander.  Set aside to drain thoroughly.

          While the rice is cooking, prepare the dressing.

          Combine the yogurt with the hazelnut oil in a small mixing bowl.  Whisk in the vinegar.  When blended, whisk in the curry powder, and ginger.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside to allow the flavors to blend.

          When the rice is well drained, transfer to a serving bowl.  Toss in the snow peas, pomegranate, bell pepper and hazelnuts.  When well-blended, drizzle in the dressing, tossing to distribute evenly.

          Taste and, if necessary, season with salt and pepper. 

          Serve, as is, or with pomegranate sprinkled over the top or on a bed of greens.

©Steve Pool Photography

In this recipe, I used Yin-Yang beans which are also known as Black Calypso beans, but you can use any white bean you have on hand.  Yin-Yang beans are a kidney bean hybrid, native to the Americas.  Half white and half black, they are a beautiful bean which doubles in size when cooked.  You will find lots of great bean recipes in my forthcoming book, The Mighty Bean, which will be published in February 2021.  In the meantime, I’ll try to be better about posting recipes that will wet your whistle for the full monty that the book will offer.

One of the joys of writing about beans was the discovery of so many different types of beans.  And, once discovered, I found many new purveyors online that, even during this pandemic, could quickly deliver them to me.  Searching the internet for new types became quite a game for me and Steve loved photographing the new-found varieties.

          As fall settles in, you will begin to see dried beans at your local farmers markets.  I first found the now-lauded Rancho Gordo beans quite a few years ago at the San Francisco Ferry Market Saturday farmers market and made another California farmers market discovery of Kandarian Organic Farms beans at the San Rafael (California) Sunday farmers market.  And, here in New York I can find dried beans at a number of stalls at the various farmers markets around town or online all year round.

Serves 6

1 pound white beans, soaked for at least 8 hours

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or canned broth)

¼ cup white wine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bunch Swiss chard, trimmed and chopped

1 onion, peeled and finely diced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

1 pound sausage links, cut into pieces – Use any kind you like – sweet Italian, bratwurst, chorizo, blood sausage – all types work

Drain the soaked beans well.  Place them in a large pot with cold water to cover by at 2- to 3-inches.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Immediately, lower the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for about 90 minutes or until the beans are just barely tender, but not mushy.  They are going to be cooked further so it is important that they are not over-cooked at this point.  Test for tenderness after about 45 minutes as the age of the bean will impact on the necessary cooking time – older beans take longer, freshly dried beans can often cook in less than an hour.  If you use a slow cooker or Instant Pot, follow whatever directions you normally use to cook dried beans.  I just stick to my old-fashioned ways!

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Lightly grease a baking dish or casserole.  Set aside.

When the beans are almost tender, remove from the heat and drain well, reserving the cooking liquid.

Transfer the beans to a large mixing bowl.  Add the stock, wine and tomato paste, stirring to blend well.  Add the chopped chard, onion, garlic, orange zest and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper and again stir to blend.

Transfer the bean mixture to the prepared baking dish or casserole.  Nestle the sausage pieces into the beans and transfer to the preheated oven. 

Bake for about 45 minutes or until bubbling and crispy around the edges.

Remove from the oven and serve hot, with some crusty bread.

©Steve Pool Photography

My dear husband loves, loves, loves broccoli – I think he would happily eat it every day.  Because of this, I’m always trying to find interesting ways to cook it so we don’t have the same old roasted broccoli every day.  I never boil it as it was brought to the table in my childhood rendering it soggy and completely unappetizing.  

When last in San Francisco – in that other time when we could travel and visit far away places and eat anywhere that pleased us – we had a few wonderful meals at China Live (chinalivesf.com).  It is an amazing emporium and restaurant highlighting great Chinese products and foods.  We came home with some of their soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil – each one better than the other.  Once you try their soy sauce, it is very hard to go back to the supermarket choices.  The black vinegar is delicious and the chili oil incredible.  You can easily order all of these products online.

This is an easy and very tasty method of introducing broccoli into your menu IF you are not fond of it.  And, if you, like my husband, love it, this recipe will make you love it even more.  If you don’t have the China Live chili oil, use any Chinese chili oil you have on hand.

In case you don’t know this easy technique to mince garlic and ginger – just peel them and use a rasp grater to quickly grate.  Easy-peasy!  

Serves 4 to 6

1 head broccoli

½ cup plain yogurt

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

One ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon lite soy sauce

1 teaspoon China Live chili oil

¼ teaspoon red chili flakes

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Line a baking sheet with sides with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil.  Set aside.

Trim the broccoli, discarding the leaves and cut it into florets with some stem attached.  If the broccoli is older, check to make sure that the stems are not woody.  If they are, cut most of them off.

Combine the yogurt with the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, chili oil and chile flakes in a large mixing bowl, stirring to blend well.  Add the broccoli and toss to evenly coat.

Lay the seasoned broccoli out in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.  Transfer to the preheated oven and roast, turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the florets are lightly browned and the stems are tender.

Remove from the oven and serve.

Recently our neighborhood friends, Gabrielle and Jared, gifted us with fresh garlic harvested from Jared’s parents small farm in Maine.  I couldn’t have received a better present as I love garlic.  I always say I use more garlic than a Sicilian grandmother.  And, I can tell you, this fresh-from-the-Glad Tidings Farm garlic was exceptionally wonderful.  None of the underlying bitterness of stale grocery store garlic at all.  Although I have used most of it in prepared dishes, I couldn’t resist making some garlic bread out of one of the plumpest heads.  Here’s what I did……

Combined a stick of Kerrygold unsalted butter with 3 big fat cloves of Gardner Stock and about ½ cup grated Parmigiano in my mini food processor.  Seasoned it with a bit of sea salt and pepper.  Split a Shewolf bakery baguette lengthwise and slathered both sides with the butter mixture.  Put the baguette back together and wrapped it in aluminum foil.  Heated it in a 400°F oven and baked it for about 10 minutes.  Then, I unwrapped the bread and opened it up to the two halves and let them bake for another 10 minutes or so or until the edges were golden and crispy and the aroma of garlic and butter made it impossible not to grab the hot bread and tear off a hunk.  So so so good!

This recipe takes quite a bit of prep work as you neatly dice all the vegetables but the end result is well-worth the effort.  It is one of my favorite soups to make when fresh cannellini beans come to the green market.  This usually happens in the late summer or early fall.  I particularly enjoy the zen of sitting and shelling the beans.  If you have a rind of Parmesan cheese on hand, throw it in the pot.  It will add a lovely richness to the broth.

A version of this recipe will be found in my new book, The Mighty Bean, which will be published in February 2021.

Serves 6

¼ cup unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced onions

1 cup diced leeks

2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley

2 cups fresh cannellini beans

6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup diced potatoes

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced zucchini or yellow summer squash

1 cup diced green beans or yellow wax beans

1 cup fresh peas

1 cup chopped Savoy cabbage

2 cups diced Italian plum tomatoes with their juice

Salt and pepper

Extra virgin olive oil for serving, optional

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving, optional

Combine butter and oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  When hot, add the onions, leeks and parsley.  Lower the heat and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or just until the aromatics begin to soften.

Stir in the cannellini beans and add 2 cups of the broth.  Cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Begin adding all the vegetables except the tomatoes, one at a time, and cooking each one for 3 minutes before adding the next one.  They should be added as they are listed in the ingredient list as this allows for the proper cooking time for each one.  

When all the vegetables have been added, stir in the tomatoes and remaining vegetable broth.  Season with salt and pepper, raise the heat and bring to a boil.

Immediately lower the heat to a bare simmer.  Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the soup is very thick.

Remove from the heat and serve with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if desired.


									

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Eggplant Parm

 

Visiting our dear friends at their lake house I was designated the night’s cook.  I checked the fridge and found a couple of eggplant more than ready to be used.  At first I was just going to slice, bread and fry as my mom used to do – she insisted that fried eggplant tasted like fried oysters and who were we to argue – but then I remembered that I had brought a couple of jars of passata – that wonderfully rich Italian condensed tomato sauce so decided to look for enough other ingredients to make a version of eggplant parm.  However it was so hot, I didn’t want to turn the oven on so I thought why not give the grill a try……the eggplant would already to cooked and I would just need the heat to melted the cheese and give the flavors time to unite and give that delicious mixture of unctuous vegetable, rich sauce and melting cheese time to dance.

So, that’s what I did – I fried the eggplant, made a quick tomato sauce with the passata and fresh garlic and basil from the garden and sliced up a big hunk of mozzarella from the farmers market that I found in the cheese drawer of their well-stocked fridge.  Even found some pre-ground Parmesan to add that special sharp salty taste that gives that extra oomph to Italian dishes.  Put the mix together, heated up the grill, pulled the lid down and in less than a half flour we had a lovely almost Italian dinner on the deck.  Was my dish a classic – not really – but it sure was good.

Depending upon the amount of eggplant slices you have you can make a single layer, a double layer or even a triple layer of eggplant, cheese and sauce – always ending with a coating of sauce and a goodly amount of cheese to melt over it all.

You will also note that I don’t salt eggplant as many do – I’ve never found it necessary.  

By the way, just simply fried eggplant is a great easy dinner with the arugula on top and a bit of bread and cheese on the side.  And, you know what, the eggplant does kinda taste like friend oysters!

Just Plain Fried Eggplant

Serves 4 to 6 

2 large eggs

¼ cup milk

3 cups breadcrumbs (plain or seasoned, depending upon your preference)

½ cup Wondra flour

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 

2 medium eggplants, trimmed and cut, crosswise, into slices about ⅜-inch thick 

About ½ cup olive oil for frying

Lemon quarters for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  

 

Combine the eggs and milk in a shallow dish, whisking to blend well.

Combine the breadcrumbs and flour in another shallow dish.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to blend.

Working with one eggplant slice at a time, dip it into the egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off.  Then, dip it into the bread crumb mixture.  If you prefer a heavy coating, again dip into the egg and bread crumb mixture.  

Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  When very hot, but not smoking, begin adding the coated eggplant, without crowding the pan.  Fry, turning once, for about 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.  Transfer to a double layer of paper towel to drain.  If the oil gets too dark and filled with bits of the cooked coating, pour it out, wipe the pan clean with paper towel, and start again with fresh oil.

When all of the eggplant has been fried, transfer to a serving platter.  If you want to fancy it up, place a few handfuls of arugula in a mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil and the juice of ½ lemon.  Season with salt and pepper and mound on top of the eggplant. Serve with lemon quarters for drizzling on the eggplant.

If you want to make Eggplant Parm, generously coat a baking dish with olive oil.  Coat the bottom of the dish with you favorite marinara sauce, followed by a layer of eggplant and then a thin layer of mozzarella cheese and continue making layers until you’ve made as many layers as you wish, ending with a coating of sauce and a layer of mozzarella.  You can sprinkle in Parmesan at any point including on the top of the final layer of mozzarella. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until hot, bubbling and the top layer of cheese is beginning to brown.

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The Mighty Bean

We are a family of bean lovers!  I wrote my first bean cookbook almost 30 years ago and I have a new one coming out this winter – The Mighty Bean published by Countryman Press. They both are filled with recipes we love. Refried beans are right up there with the top 5 favorites even though they are not as heart healthy as we should be eating – but you really do need that bacon fat for the depth of flavor good refried beans have.  This is about as close as I come to making a traditional Mexican refried bean.  I like to make a batch and keep it on hand for making a quick burrito, enchilada or tostada.  If you keep a can of Hatch Enchilada Sauce (which I find to be excellent) and some tortillas on hand you can have a tasty Mexican-inspired dish on the table in minutes!

Refried Beans

Serves 6

1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked (see page 00)

1 cup diced onions

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves – Mexican oregano is great if you can find it

Salt and pepper

1 cup bacon fat

Place the beans in a large saucepan with cold water to cover by 2-inches.  Add the onions, cilantro, garlic and oregano and place over high heat.  Bring to a boil; then, lower the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for about 2 hours or until the beans are very soft.  The beans should still be liquidy – if not, add water throughout the cooking process.  When the beans have softened, season with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and drain well, reserving the liquid.  Place the beans in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and, with the motor running, add the cooking liquid a bit at a time.  The beans should be a bit rough – do not puree.

Place ½ cup of the bacon fat in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the beans and cook, stirring constantly, for about 15 minutes incorporating the fat into the beans as you stir.  Cook until the beans are a bit dry.

Remove the beans from the heat and let cool.

Then, return to the heat and, using the remaining ½ cup of bacon fat, repeat the frying process.  You may not need to use all of the fat.  

Serve as a side dish or as a topping for tostadas or as a filling for burritos and/or enchiladas.

Store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.  May be frozen.  Reheat before using.

NOTE:  When frying the beans for the first go-round, you may add finely diced onions, tomatoes and/or minced garlic to the mix.

You can also incorporate 2 cups of shredded queso blanco or Monterey jack cheese just before serving.

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C & C Provisions

I guess there is nothing more irritating than a mother crowing about the accomplishments of her children but, if you will indulge me for a moment, I think I really do have a legitimate “crow”.  My son, Chris, has started a new business that is still in its infancy but we envision it becoming a very substantial one.  It is called C & C Provisions based in Corte Madera, California.  He doesn’t have a website yet – it is in the works.

He began a few years ago making a delicious country pâté for himself and slowly people began asking for him to share.  He realized he had a passion as he has moved on to curing his own meats, building a curing refrigerator and expanding his whole line of charcuterie.  He now makes coppa (many different cures), pancetta, bresaola, guanciale, bacon, lonza, hot and sweet Italian sausage, Willa’s breakfast sausage (named after his little daughter who loves it), chicken liver mousse, pork and duck rillettes.  He has a culatello in the works and is moving up to prosciutto.  Along with these extraordinary meats, he is pickling vegetables, curing fish, making cheese and once a week offering a family meal which is usually a one pot dish that will feed a hungry family.  All while he still is in the business of selling wine…..

From time to time I will add updates as we watch him grow and expand and settle into being a full-time charcutier.  And, I hope you will forgive my crowing about his accomplishments – self taught and perfection!

Beets with Greens_DSC_6222

We’ve been visiting friends who have their first garden growing on their deck in large planters.  We have been watching the beets grow and were beginning to see the glorious red globes peeking out of the earth when we left.  Beets have always been a favorite vegetable for me and now they seem to hold that same allure with my grandchildren – except the littlest one who hasn’t yet decided that vegetables are part of the necessary food groups.

My mother loved to make Harvard Beets which was the only way I refused to eat them.  I called them slimy….  You never see them anymore and, as far as I am concerned, this is with good reason.  If you’re not familiar with them Harvard Beets are diced cooked beets cooked in a very sweet, slightly vinegary cornstarch-thickened sauce.  Why any cook ever decided to add sugar to an already sugary beet is a mystery to me.

I am so delighted that beets are beginning to appear at the green market.  They will be on our table throughout the summer and early fall.  I prefer to bake them in their skins, wrapped in foil.  When done, I push off the skins, slice them and either pickle them or give them a quick sauté in butter, season with salt and pepper and toss in some fresh dill, parsley or tarragon.  So, yummy.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about avocados —- well, you know, it is a time of isolation when our thoughts can run amok!!!!  Why avocados?  I don’t really know but I would guess it is because during this extraordinary time people have taken to cooking and blogging and social mediaing about their favorite or, often, most challenging dishes.  Among the top 2 have been avocado toasts and sourdough bread.  I have never done an avocado book but I have done a couple of classic bread books – The French Culinary Institute’s Fundamentals of Bread Baking and Master Baker Lionel Vatinet’s A Passion for Bread and you would think that I would have, by now, mastered not only sourdough bread but tons of others.  Instead I just make my own traditional white batter bread that my mom and probably my grandmother made.  So, that leaves avocados.

Even when I was a wee one, avocados were a favorite.  Before I had teeth, my mom would slather a saltine with mashed avocado as a treat.  I’m told I would lick off the avocado and hand the cracker back for more until the cracker folded….  I still love avocado slather on a saltine.  However, when our Aussie friends introduced us to their national breakfast dish, avocado toast, I took to it like that proverbial duck to water.  There are so many versions that it is hard to keep an up-to-date list but my favorite remains any that combine avocado, tomato and/or olives.

Another favorite is individual nacho-like avocado chips.  All you need is a fresh tortilla chip (I lie, you can use bagged tortilla chips.), mashed, well-seasoned avocado, some cooked chicken or pork, grated cheese and some kind of zesty salsa/sauce to drizzle as you snack.  A perfect nosh with a chilled margarita!

A note on the latter – fresh tortilla chips are so so so so so much better than packaged chips.  And, easy to make.  Cut small corn tortillas into triangles or even break them into random pieces.  Season with a little oil and salt, tossing to coat.  You can add some ground cumin, cayenne or chili powder if you like.  Lay them out in a single layer on baking sheets and bake at 300°F, tossing and turning occasionally, until they are crisp and lightly colored.  They are addictive!

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