Thursday, September 22, 2016

Green Bean and Shell Bean Fattoush

A new book from Martha Stewart always gets my attention and so do books focused on vegetables. I was delighted to receive a review copy of the latest, Martha Stewart's Vegetables. This brings together dishes for every season with all sorts of vegetables, but it’s not a vegetarian cookbook. The recipes highlight what’s great about the vegetables, and in some cases the star vegetable isn’t the only player in the dish. The chapters group types of vegetables like Bulbs, Roots, Greens, Pods, Fruits, etc. In this case, Fruits refers to tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and cucumber because they are technically fruits due to the seeds held within the flesh. Each chapter begins with an introduction to its type of vegetable with good information about how the plants are grown, their growing season, and some general tips for buying, storing, and preparing. This book is a little breezier about the vegetable information and doesn’t go quite as deep into the taxonomy of the plants as does Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, but it offers a very good overview of the different kinds of plants we include in our meals. And, page after page reveals beautiful dishes ranging from stir-fries to sandwiches to soups, salads, and pasta with inspiration from several types of cuisine. The Herb-and-Scallion Bread Pudding would be perfect for Thanksgiving, Beet Risotto with Beet Greens would brighten a winter table, and Twice-Cooked Potato and Leek Casserole looks like a comfort food dish no one could resist. I want to try the Fried Rice with Collard Greens, Fennel and Smoked Salmon Salad, and Moroccan Vegetable Soup. Right away, I was intrigued by the Green Bean and Shell Bean Fattoush, and all the main ingredients are in season here right now. 

In the book, the recipe name is Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fattoush. But, I have an onion thing. I only use onion if it’s minced or if it’s in pieces large enough that I can easily scoot them out of my way on the plate. So, in my version, the onion was minced and whisked into the dressing for this salad. But, the important parts of this dish were the green beans, shell beans, and cucumber. I found all of those at Boggy Creek Farm. For green beans, I used purple and green long beans that I cut into two-inch lengths before blanching. The shell beans were fresh, golden creamer peas that cooked quickly with just about 15 minutes of simmering. Both kinds of beans were shocked with cold water after cooking and left to drain. The dressing, in my case, was made with minced onion, lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic. Olive oil was whisked into the mixture. Pita was grilled and broken into shards. The cooled and drained beans were tossed with chopped cucumber, parsley, and homegrown basil rather than mint. Crumbled feta was added along with the dressing, and the pita pieces were added to each serving. 

This was a light and fresh take on using shell beans for me. Each year when their season arrives, I usually add them to a summery stew with chunks of summer squash and tomato. This herby, lemony salad was a delicious way to highlight their mild, buttery flavor. I know I’ll be reaching for this book often as different vegetables appear throughout the coming months. 

Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fattoush 
Recipe courtesy of Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2016 by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Photographs copyright 2016 by Ngoc Ming Ngo. 

In late summer, fresh green beans and shell beans make a wonderful pair, one sharp and crisp-tender, the other buttery and plump. They’re the beginnings of our version of fattoush, a Middle Eastern bread salad that’s a fine way to enjoy summer produce. You can blanch the beans in the same pot: first the green beans, and then the shell (and not the other way around, since shell beans release a lot of starch). 

Serves 4 

2 lemons, 1 zested and both juiced 
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing 
1/2 pound haricots verts, trimmed 
3/4 cup shelled fresh shell beans, such as limas 
3 pita breads (6-inch) 
1/2 large Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped 
1 English cucumber, quartered and cut into 1- inch pieces 
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish  
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

1. Whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic, and season with salt. Whisking constantly, pour in oil in a slow, steady stream and whisk until emulsified. Season with pepper. Let stand 15 minutes; discard garlic. 

2. Blanch haricots verts in a pot of salted boiling water until crisp-tender and bright green, about 1 minute. Transfer beans to an ice-water bath (reserve pot of water); let cool, then drain and pat dry. Place in a large bowl. 

3. Return water to a boil. Blanch shell beans until just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to ice bath; let cool, then drain in a colander and pat dry. Combine with haricots verts. 

4. Heat a grill (or grill pan) to medium. Split each pita in half. Brush both sides of pita halves with oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill pita, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 1 minute per side. Let cool, then tear into 1-inch pieces. 

5. Add onion, cucumber, feta, herbs, and pita to the beans; drizzle with ½ cup vinaigrette; toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper; garnish with mint. Let stand at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour before serving. 

TIP The pita is charred on the grill (or under the broiler) to make it sturdy enough to soak up the vinaigrette without falling apart. The longer the salad sits before serving (up to an hour), the better the flavors and textures will be. 

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Squash, Roasted Tomato, and Popped Black Bean Salad

It just happened again. You know when you pick up a new cookbook, start looking through it, and quickly realize you want to try everything you see? I do mean everything. Every page of A Modern Way to Cook: 150+ Vegetarian Recipes for Quick, Flavor-Packed Meals has something I want to try. This is the new book from Anna Jones, and I recently received a review copy. The recipes all offer fresh, pretty combinations that are plant-focused for eating well. The colors alone in the Bloody Mary Salad with Black Rice made with heirloom tomatoes, celery, and olives, drew me to it. And, the Avocado Fritters with a polenta crust just sound like a delicious idea. The convenient thing about this book is that the recipes are organized by how long they take to prepare. If you’re short on time, stick to the first couple of chapters, and when you’re planning a more elaborate meal look to the Forty-Minute Feasts. There’s also a chapter called Investment Cooking for things to make in advance like nut butters, homemade chickpea tofu, vegetable stock, dips, and more. Last, there are also breakfast recipes and desserts. I plan to try the Salted Almond Butter Chocolate Bars soon. I had two reasons to try the Squash, Roasted Tomato, and Popped Black Beans first. One reason was that I just received a couple of little acorn squash from my CSA, and they were perfect for this salad. And, the second reason was: popped black beans. I thought, what are popped black beans? I love all things popped. I’m a complete popcorn addict, I was delighted to try popped sorghum for the first time and have made it several times since, and I’ve experimented with popped amaranth with less success. But, popped black beans was new to me. A quick online search informed me that this is something that Jamie Oliver has included in a couple of recipes in the past, and I managed to never hear of it. I couldn’t wait to give it a go. 

To begin the recipe, the squash was sliced, tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper, topped with ground seeds from a cardamom pod, and roasted until tender. Meanwhile, cherry tomatoes were halved, tossed with olive and salt and pepper, and topped with grated fresh ginger. The tomatoes were roasted for the last 20 minutes or so of the squash cooking time. Just before the squash was finished roasting, the pan was removed from the oven and flaked coconut was sprinkled on top. The pan went back into the oven until the coconut was toasted. The dressing for the salad was a simple mix of yogurt, lime zest, lime juice, and ground cardamom with salt and pepper. And, at last, it was time to try popping black beans. Black beans from one can were rinsed and drained, and the beans were left to dry on paper towels. A skillet was heated over medium heat, and the dried beans were added. The beans were dry fried until the skins popped and became crisp which takes about five minutes. I sprinkled on a little salt as they crisped. The salad was served on a platter with the squash, coconut, and tomatoes scattered about. The beans were added on top, and the dressing was drizzled over everything. 

Now, first, I have to say that the “popped” black beans were tasty, and they’d make a great snack. The edges do become crispy, and that’s always a welcome texture. But, I’m not sure I agree with the name “popped.” The beans don’t transform the way a popcorn or sorghum kernel does. They just become dry and the skins crack. They do, however, work very well as one of the many varied elements of this flavorful salad. There was so much texture from the vegetables and the toasted coconut, and the flavors of cardamom, ginger, and lime combined nicely. Now, I have several more recipes to try from this book. 

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Schiacciata all’Uva

It’s no secret that I love Italian food. And, I love learning more about the food from each and every region of the country. I was delighted to read a review copy of Florentine: The true cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies. Of course the subject matter made me happy but so did the pretty color marbling with bright orange on the book cover and the full-page photos inside of both life and food in Florence. The recipes are grouped by where you would find these types of food in the city. The Pastry Shop, The Bakery, and The Trattoria are some of the chapter names. Right away, I wanted to bake Sfogliatine or Budini di Riso or Bomboloncini to go with a morning cappuccino. There are stories along the way about how different foods became traditional like the Pane Toscano, the bread made without salt because it was too expensive. I enjoyed reading about Pappa al Pomodoro and how it originally would have been a porridge-like soup made with bread and no tomatoes prior to tomatoes being introduced from the New World. Naturally, there are pasta dishes, and one I want to try this fall is a pear, pecorino, and ricotta-filled ravioli. There are also several versions of crostini toppings and panini fillings as well as chicken and meat dishes, and every dish is simply prepared with proven, time-honored flavor combinations. The Schiacciata all’Uva is a grape focaccia made with wine grapes harvested in September and October. This slightly sweet rendition of the chewy flatbread appears just briefly in bakeries in the fall, and it’s typically made with concord grapes or more traditionally with canaiolo grapes. Sadly, I didn’t have access to either of those varieties and used black grapes instead. Usually, seeds are left in the grapes and give the bread some crunch, but the grapes I bought were seedless. It is noted that standard, red grapes aren’t deeply-flavored enough to be a good substitution here. You want a dark grape that will stain the dough. 

I began the recipe the night before I intended to bake. Flour, yeast, and water were combined and mixed. Olive oil was added, and the sticky dough was left in a covered bowl in the refrigerator to slowly rise overnight. I let the dough come back to room temperature for an hour or so while washing the grapes, removing them from the stems, and drying them. I borrowed a couple of tips from the Wild Yeast blog. Rather than adding anise seeds to the bread, I opted for fresh rosemary as seen there. Also, the recipe in the book suggests spreading about half the dough on a baking sheet, adding some of the grapes, then topping it with the remaining dough and the rest of the grapes. Given how sticky and difficult to maneuver this dough is, I went with the technique from Wild Yeast instead. I folded some of the grapes into the dough while it was still in the bowl. Then, I spread the dough onto the baking sheet and topped it with the remaining grapes. I dimpled and flattened the dough without crushing the grapes, drizzled on top olive oil, sprinkled on chopped rosemary, and I added just a little turbinado sugar and flaky sea salt. The flatbread baked for about 30 minutes until golden. 

The grapes added plenty of juicy sweetness with very little additional sugar, and I liked the hints of savoriness from rosemary and sea salt. As I cut the bread into pieces, they quickly disappeared. There was an addictiveness to the chewy texture and pop of the grapes. Now, I want to try making the same dough into small rounds topped with vegetables as it’s also shown in the book. And, I want to go to Florence and eat all of these things right where they were invented.

Schiacciata all ’Uva 
Recipe taken from Florentine: The true cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books, ISBN 9781743790038, $39.95 hardcover. 

500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting 
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1/4 oz/2 1/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast 
400 ml (13 1/2 fl oz) lukewarm water 
75 ml (2 1/2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing 
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) concord grapes (or other black grape; see note) 
80 g (2 3/4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar 
1 teaspoon aniseed (optional; see note on following page) 
icing (confectioners’) sugar (optional) 

NOTE Avoid using red or white seedless table grapes or white grapes for this – they just don’t do it justice in terms of flavour or appearance. If you can’t get concord grapes or wine grapes, or it’s the wrong season, try replacing them with blueberries. It’s completely unorthodox, of course, but it’s a very good substitute, giving you a much closer result than using regular table grapes. 

Born in and around the wine-growing areas of Florence and the Chianti, this delicious bread is a tradition governed by the very seasonal nature of grapes in Italy, and one that also has an extremely close tie with the wine harvest in autumn. For one or two fleeting months of the year from September to October, the appearance of schiacciata all’uva in Florence’s bakery shop windows is a sign that summer is over and the days will begin to get noticeably shorter. This sticky, sweet focaccia-like bread, full of bright, bursting grapes, is a hint that winemakers are working hard at that moment harvesting their grapes and pressing them. And then, as suddenly as it appeared, the grape focaccia is gone, not to be seen again until the following September. These days, it is usually made with fragrant, berry-like concord grapes (uva fragola) but sometimes you’ll still find it made with native Tuscan wine grapes known as canaiolo – the small, dark grapes make up part of the blend of Chianti wine, playing a supporting role to sangiovese. These grapes stain the bread purple and lend it its juicy texture and sweet but slightly tart flavour. They are also what give the bread a bit of crunch, as traditionally the seeds are left in and eaten along with the bread. 

PREPARING THE DOUGH This can be done the night before you need to bake it, or a couple of hours ahead of time. Sift the flour into a large bowl and create a well in the centre. Dissolve the yeast in about 125 ml (4 1/2 fl oz/1/2 cup) of the lukewarm water. Add the yeast mixture to the centre of the flour and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the water little by little, working the dough well after each addition to allow the flour to absorb all the water. Add 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil to the dough and combine. 

This is quite a wet, sticky dough. Rather than knead, you may need to work it with a wooden spoon or with well-oiled hands for a few minutes until it is smooth. Cover the bowl of dough well with some plastic wrap and set it in a warm place away from draughts until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. If doing this the night before, leave the dough in the bowl to rise in the fridge overnight. 

ASSEMBLING THE SCHIACCIATA Separate the grapes from the stem, then rinse and pat dry. There’s no need to deseed them if making this the traditional way (see note). Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°). 

Grease a 20 cm × 30 cm (8 in × 12 in) baking tin or a round pizza tray with olive oil. With well-oiled hands, divide the dough into two halves, one slightly larger than the other. Place the larger half onto the greased pan and with your fingers, spread the dough out evenly to cover the pan or so that it is no more than 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick. 

Place about two-thirds of the grapes onto the first dough layer and sprinkle over half of the sugar, followed by about 30 ml (1 fl oz) of olive oil and ½ teaspoon of the aniseed, if using. Stretch out the rest of the dough to roughly the size of the pan and cover the grapes with this second layer of dough, stretching to cover the bottom surface. Roll up the edges of the bottom layer of dough from underneath to the top, to seal the edges of the schiacciata. 

Gently push down on the surface of the dough to create little dimples all over. Cover the top with the rest of the grapes and evenly sprinkle over the remaining aniseed, sugar and olive oil. 

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough becomes golden and crunchy on top and the grapes are oozing and cooked. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. 

Cut into squares and enjoy eaten with your hands. If you like, dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar just before serving – although this isn’t exactly traditional, it is rather nice. This is best served and eaten the day of baking, or at the most the next day. 

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