Such cute little beans, just like miniature ponies.
Today was one of those days just plagued by bad decisions. In the morning we headed out to see the train at the Conservatory of Flowers, only to find it closed on Mondays. So we went to the zoo, where Little Puffer was closed as well. We looked at the lemurs, giraffes, patas monkeys, penguins, and finally, the train tracks. Our whirlwind tour ended with a delicious hotdog and lemonade "lunch", after which I delivered both children to preschool, ten minutes late. At least it was only ten. Lately they're running a half hour behind on most days.
After taking an afternoon stab at working, I was really looking forward to cooking a stew from Rancho Gordo's Heirloom Beans cookbook, using their Vaquero Beans I picked up at Rainbow last week along with lots of things in the produce box. But, sadly, that is when my worst mistakes of today occurred.
For starters, I chopped the pancetta before adding it. This recipe requires that the pancetta be left in one piece and removed after cooking, and there is good reason for it. A big chunk of pancetta is nearly impossible to chop with a dull knife, even after being sauteed. Plus, the texture is really bad, like little bits of tasty pencil eraser. But that was not nearly the worst of it.
My pesto making with the blender was a bit heavy handed, and it turned out as more of a puree than pesto. Kind of a bright green slime - just like in the TV show You Can't Do That on Television from the 80's. I thought I was doing a good thing by following the recipe, but actually, I only know how to use a blender to make yogurt and strawberry smoothies. Apparently I just don't have the proper technique for anything else. I even have a past history of problems pureeing soup.
But that was really not such a big deal. The whopper was thinking it was a good idea to give the kids a dozen easter eggs to peel while I finished up the stew. Tuna and eggs seemed like a nice accompaniment. A little extra protein for my daughter who would surely turn down the beans.
I have to admit that the eggs were a bit worse for the wear from the start. Two and four year olds have a habit of smashing them up during dying and hunting. Plus, they spent most of Easter day outdoors, being licked by the local raccoons, rats, possums and cats. And then the fridge was too cold, where they developed a coating of ice under their shells. But after my kids got ahold of them they were truly a mess - bits of shell covered the floor, table, butcher block and both kids. They hadn't had too much luck separating the insides from the shells, so most of that was smeared all over the floor and tabletops as well.
Then they brought in the brooms, and the real fighting broke out. I have trouble concentrating when two people are beating each other with broomsticks and dustpans in the same room with me, so of course I made a mistake and added all of my bright green pesto puree to the stew, instead of the one cup indicated by the recipe. Luckily all I could do was laugh - it was just that horrible. "Hot green soup" as my pink obsessed daughter would say, referring to the color and not the temperature.
I suspect this makes a really great dinner, if you can manage to follow the instructions properly. We didn't eat ours, except for Jason, who will eat most anything. I actually found it pretty good as a spread for toast, but just couldn't bring myself to eat it as a soup, even though I have no problem eating green soups that are supposed to be green. This one was just too accidentally green, too oily, and the beans too floaty.
Bean Stew with Herb Pesto (adapted from Heirloom Beans from Rancho Gordo):
2 thyme sprigs
2 flat leaf parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium carrot, cut into three pieces
1/2 celery stalk, cut into three pieces
1/2 medium yellow onion, quartered
1/4 medium fennel bulb
one 3 to 4 oz piece pancetta
1 pound yellow eye, vaquero, marrow or white runner beans, soaked and drained
4 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper
Put the thyme, parsley and bay leaf on a piece of cheesecloth, gather the corners and tie the bundle securely. This is a good thing to do so that it is easy to pull them out of the soup when it is finished, because bay leaves are major choking hazards. Not just for kids, but for grown-ups too.
In a soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the carrot, celery, onion and fennel and saute until starting to color, about 10 minutes. Add the beans, cheesecloth bundle, chicken stock and water to cover by one inch. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the beans are just tender - about 1 and 1/2 hours. Add the pancetta and let them simmer over very low heat for another 1/2 hour or so. Season with salt and pepper - and don't forget to taste the broth, since it will take a while for the beans to soak it up.
For the Pesto:
2 teaspoons capers
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 soft cooked egg (or hard boiled one)
1 oil-packed anchovy fillet
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups arugala leaves, roughly chopped
2 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves
salt and pepper
Put the cornichons, capers, mustard, garlic, egg and anchovy in a food processor (or blender, if you think you can handle the challenge). With the motor running, slowly add the oil until it is completely incorporated. Add the arugala, spinach, and tarragon. Blend until it looks something like pesto and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add about one cup of the pesto to the warmed stew (the recipe makes 2-3 cups), ladle into bowls and serve with bread.