Monday, January 13, 2014

Basque Skillet Beans

You'll have to excuse the almost terrible cell phone photo accompanying this post. I just couldn't wait to share it with you; not even for a better photo.

It starts with two ordinary cans of chickpeas and a can of tomatoes, and transforms into something so much more than the sum of its parts. The saucy, tender-yet-chewy beans, and the healthy handful of spinach, all smothered in a thin robe of gooey Muenster cheese, alongside a loaf of freshly-baked crusty bread... It's heavenly.

As I am with many a new recipe, I was a little apprehensive about this one. I don't cook much with saffron, and I was afraid this meatless dish might not be super satisfying as a main course. But I have to tell you that this is one of the most satisfying dinner's I've had in quite some time. It is just delicious and hearty. I couldn't stop shoveling it in my mouth! I hope you love it, too.

A note about saffron: Saffron is among the most costly spices in the the world. Good thing most recipe use just a pinch! I got mine from Trader Joe's and thought the cost quite reasonable for a spice I use so rarely.

Basque Skillet Beans
from the Moosewood New Classics cookbook

1/4 tsp. crumbled saffron threads
1/4 very hot or boiling water
2 Tbsp. oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. chopped onion (about 1/2 of a medium onion)
1 minced fresh green chile (I omitted this and added a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes)
1 14.5-oz. can tomatoes with juice
1/2 c. dry sherry
2, 15 oz. cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 c. fresh spinach, chopped
2-3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
ground black pepper

sliced Muenster cheese
crusty bread

In a small bowl, cover the saffron with the hot water; set aside.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic, onions, and chiles, if using, and sauté for 5 minutes or so. Crush the tomatoes into the skillet using your hands or break up the tomatoes in the skillet with a wooden spoon. Add the juice from the can, the sherry, and the saffron in its liquid.
Stir in the chickpeas and bring the mixture to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes or so, until liquid is reduced some and sauce begins to thicken just a bit. Add spinach and continue to simmer until the spinach is wilted but still bright green. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Cover the top of the mixture with slices of Muenster and place under the broiler until bubbly and golden. Serve with hunks of crusty bread. Eat with abandon.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Salad Niçoise

Salad Niçoise and I met on a sultry summer evening. From the moment we met, all I could think was: "Where have you been all my life?" True story.
French food. I'm telling you.
Actually, I'm not sure what to tell you about that, except that I love French food -- most of the time.

Moving on.

I really did fall in love with this recipe over the summer, and it's absolutely amazing with summer's fresh produce, but everything we're talking about here is widely available year-round. The hard-boiled eggs, potatoes and green beans can be cooked ahead of time, and the dressing can be assembled days in advance as well. If you have a spare hour on a Saturday, you can have everything ready for a ridiculously quick and satisfying (oh, yeah, and HEALTHY) weeknight dinner.
The potatoes and green beans taste best if they have a soak in the dressing for about an hour, but don't leave them overnight, as they will discolor.

Salad Niçoise
via Simply Recipes


for the vinaigrette
1/2 c. lemon juice
3/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, minced or finely grated
1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. minced fresh basil leaves
2 tsp. minced fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and  pepper to taste

for the salad
2-3 cans of tuna, drained -- packed in oil is yummiest
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
10 small, waxy potatoes -- fingerlings work great
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. tender greens, such as butter or bibb lettuce, or spinach (my green of choice)
3 small, ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into eighths
8 oz. green beans, stem ends trimmed and each bean halved crosswise
1/4 c. niçoise olives (I used Luques Olives from Trader Joe's -- delicious!)
1 small red onion, sliced very thinly (optional)

Whisk lemon juice, oil, shallot, thyme, basil, oregano, and mustard in medium bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Bring potatoes and 4 quarts cold water to boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and cook until potatoes are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon (do not discard boiling water). Toss warm potatoes with 1/4 cup vinaigrette; set aside.
While potatoes are cooking, toss lettuce with 1/4 cup vinaigrette in large bowl until coated. Arrange bed of lettuce on a serving platter (I used two serving platters, shown in the photos). Cut tuna into 1/2-inch thick slices, coat with vinaigrette. Mound tuna in center of lettuce. Toss tomatoes, red onion, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste in bowl; arrange tomato-onion mixture on the lettuce bed. Arrange reserved potatoes in a mound at edge of lettuce bed.
Return water to boil; add 1 tablespoon salt and green beans. Cook until tender but crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain beans, transfer to reserved ice water, and let stand until just cool, about 30 seconds; dry beans well. Toss beans, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste; arrange in a mound at edge of lettuce bed.
Arrange hard boiled eggs and olives in mounds on the lettuce bed. Drizzle eggs with remaining 2 tablespoons dressing, sprinkle entire salad with capers (if using), and serve immediately.