Sunday, October 6, 2013

Winning the Shell Bean Game

My brother-in-law Dave had bought a big pile of fresh cranberry beans at the farmers' market as part of the Saturday night dinner he was planning to make for friends at their cottage in the marshes near Plum Island Sound. However, at the last moment, the trip was postponed, and the beans would be part of our dinner in Portsmouth, instead.

"No problem," I told him, "we'll make Asunta's beans -- a favorite Marcella Hazan recipe that I posted on this blog a couple of years ago. It seemed at fitting tribute, as Hazan had died earlier in the week. There WAS a problem, though. In Hazan's recipe, the beans are gently simmered for an hour and a half, which meant we wouldn't be sitting down to eat until well past 9:30.

"We'll have to have the beans tomorrow night," said Dave. "We'll have to find another recipe," I replied. I was sure that fresh shell beans could be prepared in more like a half an hour.

A quick Google search  proved me correct: in a recipe by chef and cookbook author David Tanis, the shell beans took just 30 minutes. That's because the beans are briefly brought to a boil before being gently simmered, as in the Hazan recipe. For seasonings, I combined the best of both recipes -- using some red onion, garlic, sage, and thyme.  The result was creamy and delicious -- not to mention fast!

Fresh Shell Beans 
Adapted from recipes by David Tanis and Marcella Hazan

2 garlic cloves, smashed, then minced
1 small red onion, minced
4 cups of shelled fresh cranberry beans -- about 3 pounds unshelled.
Splash of olive oil
2 bay leaves
A few sage leaves and thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper

1. Film a splash of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Briefly sauté the onions, taking care not to let them brown. 
2. Add the garlic and heat briefly -- again don't brown. Then add the beans, water to cover by an inch or so, the herbs and a generous pinch of salt.  
3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. 
4. Simmer the beans for about 30 minutes until the skins are soft and the beans are tender and creamy. Taste the beans and add salt if necessary. 
5. Cool the beans in the broth. (The beans can be cooked several hours in advance and reheated just before serving.) 
6. To serve, drain the beans, add some freshly ground black pepper and a little dash of olive oil.

Serves four as a side dish

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pea Heaven

I woke up early this morning and turned on the radio. On Being's Krista Tippett was interviewing spoken poetry poet Sarah Kay, who was talking about why she loves the word "flux". It was "fluffy and sharp", she said. Maybe it was the "x" sound, but the word "elixir" popped into my head. Right now, that's the word I'm in love with. See, I'd made Deborah Madison's recipe for pea soup the previous afternoon, as part of my brother-in-law Dave's birthday dinner. Madison calls the recipe "elixir of fresh peas" and trust me, it is the essence of peas--the holy grail for someone like me who's been carrying this idea around in my head for a long time of what pea soup perfection should taste like.  
I'm not exaggerating. 

Of course, this soup has to be made now, while fresh shell peas are in season. (I got mine at the farmers' market in Boston, but they can be found at the Portsmouth market, too.) This is not a recipe that tells you to substitute frozen peas. No. That's because the stock is made with the pea shells! Just that, some scallions or leeks, and parsley stems.  It's not time intensive either. It takes about 20 minutes to simmer the stock and then just another 4 or 5 minutes to make the soup itself. It practically takes longer to shell the peas. 

I followed the recipe pretty closely, though I first sweated the scallions for a couple of minutes before adding water for the stock. I also added some chopped chervil and chives to the finished soup.  Madison suggests adding a few drops of truffle oil to each bowl before serving, but I didn't want anything interfering with the heavenly taste of those peas.

Though of course, the soup can be served hot, I recommend serving it chilled. It stays that beautiful frothy, pale spring green color, even after a couple of hours in the fridge. (If you want it warm, it's best to make it just before serving.) Unlike some soups that lose a little something when served chilled, this one was still full of flavor. One warning: Madison is not kidding when she tells you to be careful when pureeing. Even though I used the towel, as suggested, soup just exploded out of the blender. (Luckily our kitchen walls are green!) I suggest doing it in small batches.  

Elixir of Fresh Peas (adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison)

1 bunch scallions or 2 small leeks, thinly sliced
5 large parsley stems with leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds english peas
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced spring onion or young leek
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Truffle oil, optional

To make the stock, bring 1 quart water to a boil. As it's heating, add the scallions, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add about 3 cups of pea pods as you shell them. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, then strain.

Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the sliced onion. Cook over medium heat for about a minute, then add 1/2 cup of the stock so that the onion stews without browning. After 4-5 minutes, add the peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the sugar. Pour in 2 1/2 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for 3 minutes, or until the peas are soft and cooked through, larger peas may take a bit longer.

Transfer the soup to a blender. Drape a towel over the lid and give a few short pulses to make sure it won't splatter. Then puree at high speed for 1 minute. Pour into soup bowls, adding a few drops of truffle oil to each, and serve immediately.

4-6 servings.