I like the taste, of course, but I really love the leisurely ritual of eating them…
Globe artichokes have always been one of my favorite treats. I like the taste, of course, but I really love the leisurely ritual of eating them, nibbling the flesh off the base of each leaf, with lots of gaps for conversation in between (if you are not too greedy!).
In our part of the world they are ready to pick through June and July, when they have swollen to their full size, but before they get too thistle-ish. The internet has lots of fancy artichoke recipes, and even tutorials on eating them, but I like the simple way: cover them in water and boil them. You can tell when they are ready by poking a fork into the stem. Then see if one of the lower leaves pulls of easily. Cooking might take 15 minutes for younger ones, or longer when they are older.
Drain them well and serve with something to dip the leaves in. I like mayonnaise or melted butter best, but some people prefer hollandaise or olive oil and vinegar, etc. Keep pulling and nibbling leaves until you get near the centre. Then clear the last bits, including the fluffy stuff (the choke) away from the heart, which is the fleshy disk attached to the stem. A couple more bites, and it is all gone!
Artichokes do interesting things to the taste of other foods eaten with them. I always liked to experiment with this as a child. I still do, sometimes.
Around mid-June our hardneck garlic sends up scapes – curly stems you can eat.
Around the middle of June our hardneck garlic sends up scapes as the bulbs ripen below the soil. Scapes are like flower stems, and they are delicious, only available for a short time each year. They are at their best when they are still curled around. They get tougher later, when they straighten out.
There are lots of recipes for garlic scapes on the internet – garlic scape pesto, pickles, stir fry, and lots more. My own favourite way of using them is to saute them for a couple of minutes in hot olive oil and then serve them up fresh with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Pick them up and eat them with your fingers!
Frijoles refritos are easy to make, and Borlotti beans work really well.
Refried beans (frijoles refritos) go with lots of Mexican or Tex/Mex dishes, like quesadillas, huevos rancheros, burritos, or as a dip for tortilla chips. They turn out to be easy to make, and the Borlotti beans that many of us grow work especially well.
One cup of dried beans makes two or three cups of frijoles refritos, depending on how soft you want it.
one cup of dried beans
about 60ml (quarter cup) of oil or lard
one onion, finely chopped
two or three cloves of finely minced garlic
Soak and cook the beans as usual. Drain them, but save the cooking water separately.
In a heavy frying pan, sauté the onions in the oil until they start to brown. Add the garlic, and sauté a bit longer.
Add a big spoonful of the beans, and mash them in well with the onions. Fry them for a while, then add some more beans and mash them in with the rest. Continue until all the beans are fried. This process causes a reaction between the starches and proteins in the beans (a Maillard reaction, if you want to know) which brings out the special flavour.
Now add a bit of the cooking water at a time, mashing it in as you go, until you get the right consistency. Make it a bit sloppier, actually, because they set firmer once they cool. I like to make the dip version quite soft.
Salt the mixture to taste. Beans stand quite a bit of salt sometimes. Keep tasting as you go.
It is not so hard to cook dried beans on your stove top.
Here is the method of cooking dried beans which I have refined over many years. It is easy, and it gets rid of the indigestible substances that give beans such a bad reputation. You don’t need any special equipment like pressure cookers – it works well in a covered pan on your stove top. In fact, I prefer doing it this way because I can monitor when they are done more easily.
Enough for 2 or 3 people, and combines well with one tin of tomatoes:
One cup of dried beans
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. Ok, you do have to think ahead a little. If you have to leave them a second day, just drain them and give them fresh water until you are ready to cook. Remember, they will swell to more than twice their original volume. When you are ready to cook, drain the beans. Bring a pan of water to the boil, and tip in the beans. Get them boiling again, and boil for a further two or three minutes. Drain again and discard the water. This gets rid of most of indigestible stuff without losing the flavour.
Now cover the beans in new water and simmer with a lid on the pan until they are done. Keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out and burn. And how do you know when they are done? Lift a few beans out on a wooden spoon and blow on them. If the skins start to split and peel back they are about ready. Let a couple cool down and taste them. Repeat until you are satisfied. If the skins split in the pan they are a bit over done, but it is not a disaster. Near the end of the cooking, adjust the salt to taste. Salting them at the beginning is supposed to slow down the cooking, but I don’t know if this is really true. As a guide, our beautiful white Aztec beans (a kind of runner bean, really) take about 20 minutes. Borlottis take 30 or 40, and red kidney beans a bit longer. Beans that have been stored for a long time take longer to cook.
Now drain them, and carry on with whatever recipe you are using.
I wondered if our white “Aztec” beans would work in this…
Fasolia gigantes are very large white beans much loved in Greek cooking, and I wondered if the white-seeded “Aztec” runner beans that some of us grow would work instead in this recipe which I found in Rena Salaman’s book Greek Food. I tried it out on a Greek friend of mine, and the result was “just as it should be”.
Serves four people as a main course.
2 cups dried “Aztec” beans, or about 4 cups of fresh ones
Half a cup of good olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
2 tins of tomatoes or about 1kg of fresh ones
Salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
If you are using dried beans, soak them overnight, drain, then boil until just tender, but not too soft. Fresh beans just need boiling for a few minutes and draining. Heat the olive oil and fry the onions, garlic and dried herbs until they start to be golden. Add the tomatoes and their juice and a bit of water and mash them up a bit and cook for 30 minutes or so, until the sauce starts to thicken. Spread the beans across the bottom of a nice oven dish or casserole. Mix the parsley into the sauce, pour it over the beans and mix them all together. Sprinkle a bit of oregano and black pepper on top and bake at 180 degC for 40 minutes, until they start to look a bit crisp on top.
My favorite bean dish, using our large white “Aztec” beans, or borlottis.
This is my very favorite bean dish. It works especially well with the large white “Aztec” beans that some of us grow on our plots, dried or fresh. It might be even more delicious with borlotti beans, it that is possible. It serves 2 or 3 people.
A cup of dried beans, or about 2 cups of fresh ones.
Half a cup of extra virgin olive oil
Six fresh sage leaves, or a sprig of sage blossoms
A small dried chili pepper, crumbled
Four good cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper
A 400g tin of tomatoes or about four fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped.
If you are using dried beans, soak them overnight and drain. Boil the beans for about an hour, until they are nice and tender. Drain them.
Get about half the oil hot and simmer the sage, chili, and garlic in it for a minute or two, then add the beans and fry them all together for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and simmer it all for about 30 minutes. Top up with water if it gets too thick.
Season to taste, then pour the rest of the olive oil over the top and serve. Do not be tempted to skimp on the olive oil!
I like it with steamed brown rice, but my wife prefers it with mashed potatoes. If you manage to have any left the next day, try Tuscan Beans on toast. Sublime!
I found the original version of this recipe in a wonderful little book called The Goodness of Beans, Peas and Lentils by John Midgley. It is full of great things to do with beans. Any of the recipes that use cannellini or haricot beans are even better with Aztec beans.
Another good way of using up surplus or damaged apples …
Apple butter has always been associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch in America who have made it for several centuries. It is another good way of using up surplus or damaged apples, and you can try mixing in some crab apples.
3 kg apples cleaned and quartered
2.5 litres of water or apple juice
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Simmer the fruit and liquid until it is very tender. Rub it through a sieve and weigh the pulp you get. Weigh out and set aside 750 grams of sugar for every kilogram of pulp. Simmer the pulp until most of the water has evaporated, then add the sugar and spices and boil, stirring frequently, until the mix is creamy. Pour into hot jars and seal.
What do you do with all those windfall apples? Make apple juice …
What do you do with all those windfall apples? We only recently discovered how easy it was to make apple juice if you have some form of mechanical juicer. Surprisingly, the apples from our old Bramley tree, normally too sour to eat, make the most delicious juice with just the right balance of sweetness, acid and tannin – like a fine wine. All we do is wash them in plain water, cut off the damaged bits and chop them small enough to go into our juicer. With our machine you get a lot of froth at the top of the juice which seems to hold most of the original tartness. Let it sit for a while, then scrape most of it off, and carefully decant the juice into a fresh bottle, taking care to fill it right to the top. Try putting a small wedge of lime through the machine for every litre of so of juice for an extra lift to the flavour.
What to do with the courgette that got away? Courgette soup …
You come home from your summer holiday, and your zucchinis (courgettes to you) have nothing -ini or -ette about them. Look at that one – what is it? A courge? A zucchalone? A zeppelin? And what can you do with it? Here is a recipe from the late Ric Masten of California, poet, folk singer, lover of food and all around great human being. Joe Foster
Slice and boil
the one that got away
the one that would play the lead
in THE SQUASH THAT ATE CHICAGO
that always has the crowd wild eyed
My god! Is that really A zucchini.
Strain off the water
Adding one bouillion cube (any kind)
and one tablespoon of olive oil
to every quart of cooked squash.
Puree and serve hot and steaming
with a slug of cold sour cream
dumped into the center of each portion.
Top with a sprinkle of dill seed,
salt and season to taste.
and now let us praise the chef
the only artist whose creative work
must speak to every sense
the literary labors of Shakespeare are immense
feeding and filling the soul
but a steady diet of language
leaves the stomach growling
and although it would garnish your life
and delight your eye
a garden salad by Picasso
would be as tasty as old canvas and varnish
and whatever the sculpture Rodin
might put out on the table
would be a masterpiece for sure
but nothing you could get your teeth into
the sound of a string quartet is more uplifting
than the sizzle of bacon in a pan
but by intermission a sweaty musician
doesn’t smell as good
the fine art of cookery demands the heart
hand and eye of a complete renaissance man
and as always
muttering into her napkin counterpoint to this
why is it when a woman cooks a meal
it’s just a meal
but when a man cooks a meal
it’s such a big big deal