Tuesday, October 25, 2011
When one is able to harvest tomatoes, green beans, and basil from a Minnesota garden on October 24, I think that is an event worth commemorating with the creation of a new dish. Well, a new-ish dish, maybe, not a reinvention of the wheel, but at least a let-the-garden-take-the-lead sort of dish. Braisey. To serve atop polenta, to feed to a hungry wife coming home in the dark from her training session in preparation to ski the kortelopet at the American Birkebeiner this coming winter (I'm going to ski it, too, but as a bagged-out but still (unjustifiably) cocky former athlete, I'll wait to start my training until a couple weeks prior--I mean, how hard can it be to ski 23 kilometers? A kilometer is only like, what, 50 feet or so? Piece of cake).
In addition to the fresh green beans--which are flat romano beans, and by no means of haricots verts tenderness at this season--there are also the ghostly, apparently useless husks of dried-up beans hanging on the vine. Appearances are deceiving here, for you can open those dry white shells to extract the dried bean seeds, which are just like the dried navy beans you'd buy at the co-op, only much fresher and tastier. They'll provide a creamy sweet undertone to the stew.
A leek previously pulled and cleaned up should be used up; the kale is the most prominent vegetable remaining in the garden, and will lend a leafy note. This will need a lot of garlic: it goes so well with beans, tomatoes, and greens. Foraging in my fridge, I found a cup of brown chicken stock--that goes in, plus another cup of stock or water; you could use vegetable stock to keep it meat-free.
I sauté the leek in olive oil, then add four crushed cloves garlic, then tomato (a cup and a half total, chopped cherry and larger tomatoes), cooking gently to let the tomatoes dry out a bit. Then in go the dry(ish) shelled beans, stock, and a few torn leaves of basil. Simmer 30 minutes. Add a good fistful of fresh beans, sliced on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces, and a few leaves of kale, stripped from the stems, shredded or torn. Simmer another 30 to 40 minutes, adding water as needed to keep it brothy, until everything is tender. We are NOT looking for al dente vegetables here.
Now cook up some polenta, finishing with a nice dollop of butter. A grate of cheese makes it a rich, filling vegetable dinner, BUT:
A slice of bacon makes it a vegetable dinner with BACON! I just brought a fresh batch out of the smoker. It is a rule in our house that some of the bacon gets eaten hot, fresh from the smoke.
I picked one more meal's worth of beans from the surprisingly still-green vines. I much prefer pole beans to bush--longer harvest time, easier to pick, and as they grow up a trellis, they take up less garden space. There's frost a-comin' this weekend, but I can't feel anything but grateful for this Indian summer harvest. A bit of frost will sweeten the kale, turnips, and carrots, anyway. To everything its season.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw