Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Fest 2010: Week 3 -- Herbs, Greens, and Beans


Wow, week three already! And, it's a big undertaking: Herbs, Greens, and Beans! Now while I am practically worshipful of herbs and the range of flavors they offer to enhance a dish, it's almost too big a topic for me to tackle--especially, when I also have greens and beans to address.

I have huge rosemary bushes in my garden that offer me abundant opportunities to make dried herb rubs, spear vegetables for grilling, or infuse drinks. I've recently discovered the joys of lemon verbena in baking and also as a marinade ingredient for chicken and fish. Chives are plentiful in my garden, as are oregano, thyme, and mint. At the Hillcrest farmers market a vendor sold me a mojito mint seedling and, oh, I love its sweetness when muddled in a cocktail or chopped into a summer salad of watermelon, French feta, kalamata olives, and arugula. I'll fry sage leaves to use as an edible garnish with lamb or steak or to top a thick stew or soup. And, Italian parsley shows up everywhere in my kitchen, especially in chimichurri.

And, then there's basil. Now, that's the star of summer herbs. Its sharp flavors traditionally complement summer's heirloom tomatoes and, frankly, that's my favorite pairing. I look forward to my stacked salads of tomato, red onion, capers, burrata, and fresh basil, topped with Temecula Olive Oil Company's Basil Olive Oil and white wine vinegar. I include basil in an easy relish for steak or my favorite eggplant souffle with tomato, onion, garlic, pepper, and thick balsamic vinegar. And, there's basil pesto. I can't get enough of it so I always make big batches to store in the freezer for winter.

Greens
Living in San Diego means I have fresh greens year round. Roasted Swiss chard and kale are favorites. I grow sorrel and make soup and pesto with it. I also grow arugula for fresh salads or a saute. Even when the plant finally bolts, I'll use the flowers in salads or as garnishes.

I was at Specialty Produce last week and picked up some unusual greens (Wild Surrey Arugula and White Peacock Kale) and beans (Romano, cranberry and black-eyed peas) to play with, along with a bottle of lovely Agrumato tangerine flavored olive oil, which comes from the Abruzzo region of Italy. The tangerines are crushed with the olives to produce the distinctive tangerine aroma and flavor.


I did a quick saute with the Wild Surrey Arugula, adding a little minced garlic to the pan and then finishing it off with a drizzling of the tangerine oil. The arugula's bitterness paired with the aromatic  oil was a great success, especially accompanying a couple of pieces of chicken baked in SoNo Trading Company's champagne garlic mustard (blended with my own roasted garlic and olive oil) and a side of farro.

I came up with something completely different for the kale: empanadas. Awhile ago at one of the local Hispanic markets I had discovered packages of empanada dough rounds in a freezer case and bought one--then promptly put it in the freezer and forgot about it. It caught my eye in time for this week's challenge, though.


Now usually these turnovers are filled with meat, but I came up with a vegetarian combination of sauteed kale and onions, toasted pine nuts, roasted garlic, raisins marinated in Cointreau, and French feta.


The white peacock kale is smaller than other varieties, very pale, and very frilly. You do need to cut out the tough spine in the center but even so, the leaves don't go down without a fight. Instead of quickly wilting when sauteed, like spinach or chard, they hold their own. Only after I added liquid in the form of Cointreau did they finally collapse. At that point, with all the other filling ingredients in a mixing bowl waiting to be transformed into a sweet and savory stuffing for the dough, it was clear sailing.


The dough was easy to work with and strong enough that I could add a couple of tablespoons in the center without it tearing. And, as you'll see, there was no leakage and I got a flaky crust.

 

Kale and Feta Empanadas
Makes 1 dozen

Ingredients:
1 head of garlic
½ cup raisins
Cointreau
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 bunch (about 7 oz.) kale
½ small onion, chopped
3 oz. French feta, cubed
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 package of a dozen empanada dough rounds (could substitute with puff pastry cut into 4-inch rounds)

1. Place raisins in a small bowl and pour Cointreau over the raisins just to top. Let them soak for at least an hour. Drain, place raisins in medium-size mixing bowl, and reserve the Cointreau.
2. Slice the top off of the garlic head, place on a sheet of foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap the foil around the garlic, and bake at 300 degrees for an hour or until the garlic cloves are very soft. Squeeze out the garlic from each clove and mash it into a paste, then add it to the mixing bowl.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
4. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet until just brown. Remove from heat and add to the mixing bowl.
5. Saute the onions in olive oil until they begin to brown. Remove and add to the mixing bowl.
6. Thoroughly wash and dry the kale and chop into bite-size pieces. Saute the kale in olive oil until it wilts. Add a little of the reserved Cointreau to help wilt the kale and add flavor. Add the wilted kale to the mixing bowl.
7. Add the feta cheese to the bowl, along with salt and pepper to taste. Mix all the ingredients  thoroughly.
8. Grease a large baking sheet. Pull out the first empanada dough round and place on a flat surface. Spoon about two tablespoons of the filling onto the dough. Draw one side of the dough over the filling to meet the other edge. Press down on the dough along the edges, then use the tines of a small fork to crimp and seal the edges. Place on the baking sheet and repeat until you’ve used up all the dough rounds.
9. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.


Beans
One of these days I'm going to try growing beans, but in the meantime I love exploring the farmers markets for interesting varieties. Check out these wonderfully bizarre dragon tongue beans alongside traditional yellow wax beans:


These purple-and-cream beans do lose their color when cooked but they have such a lovely flavor, it's not that disappointing. Steam them briefly. Mix up a blend of lemon juice (about 1 tbl.) and olive oil (1/4 c.) with sea salt and pepper and fresh thyme leaves (lemon thyme is even better). Then toss with  the beans and let marinate for about an hour.

I'm also a fan of large flat Romano beans.

 
Roasting vegetables has become a habit to me. The caramelization that happens in the roasting process brings out a marvelous sweetness in vegetables, from tomatoes to winter squash. But it hadn't occurred to me to roast beans until I saw it suggested in a Boston Globe, which I then adapted for ingredients I had. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Wash and trim a pound of beans. Then toss them with olive oil, about a tablespoon of homemade Rosemary-Oregano dry herb rub and a couple of teaspoons of hot pepper flakes (I use Marash pepper because of the marvelous smoky flavor). Peel and crush a few big garlic cloves and add them to the mix.

 

Spread the beans and garlic in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, then pull them out of the oven, flip the beans over, and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes. Let them cool enough so you won't burn your mouth, then dig in. (The garlic cloves are hugely tasty, too! In fact, I'll add more in the future.)


Freshly shelled beans can be such a huge flavor improvement over dried beans that when summer comes and you can get your hands on pounds upon pounds of them, consider having a shelling party. Cranberry beans, known as borlotti beans in Italy, are in season now. They have a cream colored background with splashes of red. (The equally go-go pods are inedible so save them for the compost heap.)


Unfortunately, with cooking the dramatic patterns fade away to the point where they resemble pinkish beige pinto beans, but the nutty flavor remains. Boil them for 15 to 20 minutes, drain and toss with a good vinaigrette and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese and serve as a side dish. Or add them to pasta with fresh heirloom tomatoes, chopped basil, garlic, and crispy pieces of bacon or pancetta.

Also in season now are black-eyed peas. These small light green beans with their dramatic eye in the curve originally are from Asia but have long been associated as a Southern treat in Hoppin' John. Unlike cranberry beans, which are wide, plump and easy to shell, black-eyed peas can be a challenge. The pods are long and fairly skinny. Don't even bother with the less mature ones unless you have nothing better to do. They just don't want to be shelled.


Go for the more mature ones and you'll still find it labor intensive but the peas will be larger and the pods more forgiving.


I've got some of each from Specialty Produce and some lovely slab bacon that I'll render. After cooking the beans in boiling water just for a few minutes, I'll toss them in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, the bacon pieces, and whatever herbs look inviting in my garden--and maybe even a little hot sauce. Those and the empanadas will be a fine summer dinner.

Now, here's what's cooking with my fellow Summer Fest participants:
Now It's Your Turn!
This collaborative effort won't be much fun without you! The more info we all give, the more we'll all enjoy summer's harvest. Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting with our posts of Wednesday, July 28, for five Wednesdays through 8/25 and possibly longer, you can contribute in various ways, big or small.
  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas. Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big red tomato Summer Fest 2010 badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #summerfood as our hashtag. Here's the schedule:
  • 7/28: cukesnzukes
  • 8/4: corn
  • 8/11: herbs, greens, and beans
  • 8/18: stone fruit
  • 8/25 tomatoes
  • more to come if we all want it — stay tuned!
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