Wednesday Morning

At 7:53 Wednesday morning, I took the photo over here on the left. I’ve read that many bloggers prefer taking their pictures in the morning light, but I must admit that I wasn’t thinking about the sunlight. All I could think about was my lunch. It had been the third day in a row of the exact same thing and I could have eaten it all week. The day before, my lunch only lasted in the work fridge until 10:30, then I had to go and get it. So I’ve decided it’s time for a new category on Cheap Beets: My Lunchbox.

Lately, I’ve fallen into bean salads. I soak a cup of beans overnight in a bowl on the counter, cook them in the pressure cooker, and once they’ve cooled down, store them in the fridge until I need them. Of course, you could just open a can of white beans and be done with it.

That cup of beans was enough for three separate lunches for me, so whenever you are ready to make this — it can be packed the night before — I’d suggest using about six ounces of beans.

To those beans, depending on the season, toss in what veggies you have lying around, about a quarter of a cup. Maybe some halved cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, or some steamed broccoli. On top of that I added about a quarter of a red onion which I toasted in the toaster oven at 400F for 8 or so minutes, as I’d learned from Abby’s amazing Tarragon bean salad.

But on top of all that — and what had me digging out the camera at that hour — I draped these zucchini pickles. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these when I saw the recipe, but I knew they had to be made. Sweet, sour and salty, these chartreuse pickles would work well on a burger, meat or veggie. I had seen these tossed by their creator, Jason Neroni of L.A.’s Osteria La Buca, with radicchio (which he soaked to take out some of the bite), mint, parsley, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and olives.

The dressing for the whole bean, veggie and roasted onion salad was a very simple vinaigrette, two parts olive oil to one part red wine vinegar, a chopped clove of garlic, pinch of salt, teaspoon of agave nectar, shaken with a dash of mustard to emulsify.

Bread and Butter Zucchini Pickles

From The Tasting Table, which adapted this recipe from Jason Neroni of L.A.’s Osteria La Buca


1 zucchini, sliced into 1/8 inch-thick discs (a mandolin works best for this)

1 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon turmeric

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/4 cup salt

Place the zucchini in a heat-proof, lidded container (I use a cleaned out pickle jar, as a matter of fact)

In a medium saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar, sugar, 1/4 cup salt, turmeric and mustard seeds and bring to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over the zucchini slices. Cover the container and refrigerate the pickles overnight.

From Waterbury with love… and garlic

There’s an unassuming Italian joint off of I-84 in Waterbury, Connecticut, called Nino’s Trattoria. It’s actually attached to a Super 8 Motel, so it’s not surprising if you’ve zipped by it a million times and never stopped. But it just happens to be  about half-way between my parents’ place in Western Mass. and my aunt and uncle’s in New York, so a few times a year, we would climb in the car and head out to Nino’s.

They make the most amazing homemade gnocchi primavera I’ve ever had, and calzones so large and bursting with goodies that they take up an entire pizza platter. But our favorite dish on the menu has to be the escarole and beans. Any trace of the escarole’s bitterness has been softened by butter, garlic and creamy white beans.  It comes on a raft of crusty Italian bread to sop up the magical juices for a bonus round of deliciousness.

When Rich and I visit friends in New York City, we ignore the GPS’s advice to stick to the Merritt Parkway so we can fill up on escarole and beans. We made it into the city for a quick visit over New Year’s, but our plans were cut short by a fast and furious bug. We missed our trip to Nino’s, but our hunger for the dish remained.

This is actually one of Rich’s all-time favorite dishes. Sometimes I make it with anchovies, and sometimes I don’t. The pile of garlic, however, is really what makes this dish, so even though the amount I suggest here might be off-putting to some, it’s really what makes the dish delicious. I’ve found that stock adds to the beans’ creaminess, but it doesn’t have to be a meat-based stock.

Escarole and Beans

Enough olive oil to cover a large heavy pan with a lid

1/3 cup garlic  (no, really) — thinly sliced

2 anchovies (optional)

Pinch of red pepper flakes

One head of escarole

16 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained in a colander and given a good rinse. (Or, 1 cup of dried beans, soaked overnight. They should take around 11 minutes in a pressure cooker.)

1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable broth or stock (about four cubes worth, if you’re using frozen stock)

Salt to taste

Crusty bread for sopping

Directions

Clean the escarole leaves under cold water. This step actually takes the longest because escarole gets pretty dirty — it is, after all, grown in dirt — so I wash each piece individually. Give them a quick ride in a salad spinner to get off some of the water, but the leaves needn’t be perfectly dried.

Heat the olive oil in the pan. If you’re using anchovies, toss those in the pan and break them down with the back of a wooden spoon.  Then add the garlic and pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for about a minute and a half. You basically want to perfume the oil with the garlic without browning it. Bitter garlic is never fun.

Once the smell of garlic perfumes your kitchen, add the escarole, a pinch of salt and give it a stir. The leaves should still have drops of water on them from their cleaning, which will help with the inevitable shrinkage that always happens to leafy greens (Don’t even get me started on spinach). Cover the pan for about five minutes, during which time the leaves will shrink down.

Remove lid and gently stir the beans into the garlic (anchovies) and escarole. After about five minutes, add the half cup stock.  Cook for another five minutes or so. The beans should kind of melt into the dish, giving it a creamy texture.

Serve over crusty bread in a low-rimmed dish.

Tarragon, where have you bean all my life?

i’m obsessed with this bean salad.

I’ll be the first to admit that as much as I love cooking with fresh veggies and herbs, there’s tons for me to still learn. It wasn’t too many years back that my entire trivia team was stumped by the question “What herb is the basis of a bearnaise sauce?” There were actually a few “foodies” on the team, so my embarrassment was mitigated some. The star of bearnaise sauce, it turned out, was tarragon, and I chalked that up to it being one of those herbs that’s used to flavor things like chicken, eggs, fish and steak. Stuff truly out of my repertoire

This past summer however, all that changed. I was at my friend Mel’s graduation party — Ph.D. in neuroscience, no less — which was hosted by another friend, Abby. And, boy, what a spread! Platters full of salads, grilled things and cupcakes completely covered an enormous dining room table. And it was there that I came face to face with the bean salad THAT CHANGED MY LIFE.

A new day, a fresh bowl of bean salad

Seriously, I kind of sat and ate and moaned at a table in the yard. “What is this? Tell me everything!” I begged my hostess. Abby just kind of shrugged, saying it was the simplest of salads, just stuff from her pantry. “But what is it I’m tasting?” I asked when not moaning and stuffing my face.

“Just a vinaigrette with some fresh tarragon.” Tarragon, that devilish herb, my trivia team’s downfall, had come back to haunt me. And thus began my love affair — really, lust affair — with this aromatic “King of herbs.” I got hold of a bunch of tarragon and no joke, made this salad no less than nine times in a six week period. This is one of those salads that tastes great on the third day, as the anise undertones of the tarragon really seep into the beans.

Rich used the tarragon in a marinade for the trout and fennel he grilled.

The bean salad I’m obsessed with. (Abby tells me that it’s Fosters Market in Chapel Hill, NC, that really deserves the credit for this one.)

I think the thing that I love most about this salad, I mean, aside from it being so so so delicious, is that it is made of things that I always have on hand in my pantry. Some might find my own version too full of its ingredients, so I actively encourage you to experiment until you find amounts that suit your palate best.

Ingredients

One can of little white beans (Or a cup of dried beans, soaked overnight)

Half a red onion, sliced into rings and roasted*

*Abby also introduced me to another fantastic idea, which is roasting the onions to take the bite out of them. I’ve found my happy medium tossing them into my toaster oven set at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Feel free to play with times for that as well.

Before…

… and after

Half a can of artichoke hearts

Five pepperocini

For the Tarragon Vinaigrette

Four tablespoons olive oil

Two tablespoons red wine vinegar

A clove of garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon jarred mustard (for emulsifying)

Two heaping tablespoons tarragon

Pinch of salt

Directions

Open can of beans, pour into a colander, and give them a good rinse (or cook beans according to package — it should take about 7 minutes in a pressure cooker)

Slice the half onion and roast in oven for 10 or so minutes

Quarter the artichoke hearts

Slice up the pepperocini into rings

Toss all together in a bowl

Place all dressing ingredients in small glass jar, give it a shake, and pour it on the bean salad

I clean out jam jars and use them for dressings

Yes, that’s all.

Do you have a favorite recipe for tarragon?