There is a recipe for shaved fennel and radish salad in this week's Eatwell Farm newsletter and both ingredients in the box, along with green garlic. Chicken broth, arborio rice and green garlic seem like natural companions to me, so I'll add some shrimp and we'll have risotto with a little sauteed kale and this salad on the side.
The Eatwell Farm newsletter from last week mentioned a similar dish, Celeriac and Lentils, which reminded me of this recipe from Canal House Cooking Volume 4, p 78. It was surprisingly delicious last time, so I'm glad a fennel bulb arrived with today's CSA box. They're always available from the grocery, but I hate to buy additional produce when we get so much from the farm. I'll throw in the celery root, too.
This year I made my desires for Mother's Day known well in advance: no gifts, just a day at home in the garden and a big dinner, cooked as a family. It was delicious, and I got gifts anyway - three of Andy Goldsworthy's books, much loved by my kids after we watched his Rivers and Tides together a week or two back.
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.
We had a wonderful lunch today - and the best part? I didn't cook it. My husband Jason, who likes meat, cooked a leg of lamb and a pot of beans. He made fennel and blood orange vinaigrette. My friend Laure brought cream puffs. All I had to do was go out into the garden and snip some lettuce and arugala. Luckily, I have a nice raincoat.
The lamb was a two day project - Jason picked it up from Avedano's on his way home from work friday and somehow managed to cram it into the refrigerator. Saturday he realized he'd incorrectly instructed the butcher and removed the thigh bone himself, much to the horror (or was it fascination?) of our children and their guest, Iris. He made a paste of garlic and parsley and little fish and rubbed it all over the lamb, inside and out. Then he tied it up with some string and crammed it into the fridge again. Sunday he roasted it in the oven. After the work was done, he assured me that really it wasn't much work at all.
Then, after lunch, he took the kids out to see a movie. It was great to have the house to myself, but a little lonely to wash all those dishes in silence. I guess I could have turned on the radio. I did get a chance to do some reading on the sofa, though, which is really rare. Usually I read in my bed, in the middle of the night when I can't sleep.
Right now I'm reading Best Food Writing of 2009 for the Food Lit Book Club I moderate at 18 Reasons. 18 Reasons is a non-profit spin off of Bi Rite Market, over in the Mission, that hosts a variety of food related events - lots of tastings and how-tos. And it's an art gallery, for food related art. Right now Sita Bhaumik has a show there, "To Curry Favor", that includes a huge wall print made of curry - its' fragrance fills the room.
We're starting the second quarterly session of our book club this month, and will be also be reading Farmer Jane by Temra Costa and It Must've Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten. Meetings are on the last Saturday of each month, from 1:00-3:00. We've had special guest stars at two of our three meetings so far, Anne Zimmerman, whose biography of MFK Fisher is coming out soon, and also Novella Carpenter, the author of Farm City. If you're interested in joining, send an email to email@example.com for details.
Roast Leg of Lamb (adapted from Canal House Cooking Volume 3):
One 8-10 pound leg of lamb, tail, pelvic and thigh bones removed; shank and heel bone left attached. Have the butcher give you the removed bones, to flavor the beans.
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 anchovy fillets, minced
1 bunch parsley, leaves chopped
extra virgin olive oil
1 handful fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
salt and pepper
Make a paste with the garlic, anchovies, half the parsley and salt and pepper. Open up the meat so it lays out flat and rub the paste into the inside of the meat. Wrap the loose flaps up meat over the inside areas with paste and tie kitchen string around the leg to hold it together. Put the lamb in a large dish and rub about two Tablespoons of olive oil, the rosemary and lots of salt and pepper on the outside. Refrigerate the lamb overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Put the lamb in a large roasting pan, meatier side up, and let the lamb come to room temperature before putting it in the oven. Roast the lamb until it is browned and crusty, and the meat inside is rosy with an internal temperature in the thickest part registering 120˚ for rare (about 45 minutes), 130˚ for medium-rare (about 1 hour). Transfer the lamb to a cutting board or serving platter and let it rest, covered loosely with foil, for 10 to 20 minutes before carving.
Carve the lamb and serve it with the remaining parsley.
3 cups cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1 large yellow onion, quartered
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 sprigs lemon verbena
salt (tomato salt or rosemary salt, if you have some)
bones from a leg of lamb (have the butcher put them aside for you when you purchase the lamb)
The night before, cover the beans by an inch or so of water and let them soak. The next day, put the beans, lamb bones, onion, carrot, celery and lemon verbena in a big pot and cover all parts by 1/4 inch of water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently over low heat until the beans are tender, one to two and a half hours. Be sure not to add salt until after the beans are soft. If you do add salt early on, the beans will never soften and cause indigestion.
When the beans are soft, add salt to taste - start with 1 Tablespoon and go from there - be sure to taste the broth instead of the beans, because it will take a while for the beans to absorb the salt. After salting, continue to cook the beans over very low heat (or just let them sit with the stove turned off) for at least another half hour, but not so long that the beans cook too much and fall apart. Before serving, remove the onion quarters and large chunks of celery. Use a slotted spoon to serve, leaving the liquid in the serving bowl.
Spring Greens with Orange Fennel Vinaigrette (adapted from Epicurious.com):
makes 8 servings
1/4 cup fresh blood orange juice or fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh fennel bulb
2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
3 blood oranges or seedless oranges
12 cups torn assorted salad greens (such as arugula, watercress, mâche, and endive)
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted
salt and pepper
Whisk the orange juice, shallots, orange peel and honey in a medium sized bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in the oil, then fennel and fennel fronds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. This dressing can be made up to a day in advance. Re-whisk the dressing before using.
Peel the oranges and divide them into sections. Working over a bowl, cut the membranes off each section of orange. Combine the greens and walnuts in a large salad bowl. Drain the orange segments and add them to the salad. Toss with enough dressing to coat the greens evenly, you may not use all of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and serve right away.