Grow Your Own

Instead of pickling them, I’ve been leaving green beans on the plant once they get beyond the filet stage, which is the only stage where I really enjoy them. Once fat and fibrous, they make a decent 3-bean salad, especially when run through my Grandmother’s antique bean slicer up in Vermont, but the thrill is pretty much gone. So, along with our dragon’s tongue beans, I’ve been shelling and drying them instead with an eye towards soups and stews and, of course, cassoulet–that apotheosis of beans–and something this chilly, rainy spell is steering my mind towards with increasing force.

As a prelude, of sorts, this dinner, which was very much in the breakfast-as-dinner mold and unremarkable except for the fact that just about everything is our own. The eggs–poached, per internet food porn statute, and lasciviously punctured for the camera, are from down the road. The beans are mostly dragon’s tongue (I set aside a nice big handful to plant next year) and the aromatics, herbs, tomatoes, cured pork in the form of guanciale, and bread are homegrown or homemade. And it’s not like this was some sort of world-rocking, revelatory meal. But it was very satisfying. There’s a completeness to flavors, a deep experience of luxury at the core of properly executed simplicity that makes this kind of weeknight food everything one could want at the end of a long day. Especially with a salad of spotted trout lettuce on the side.

And this sort of humble refinement makes special meals more special. I use meat a lot as an ingredient–duck fat for the soffrito, diced guanciale or bacon to add porky heft to almost anything, stock for body, protein, and flavor–but try not do do the big slab o’ meat on a plate with garnishes thing too often. Unless I just really want to. But more often than not, we eat something like this:

I love brown rice risotto, but there’s a trick to it. Mainly that trick is having cooked short-grain brown rice already in the fridge. Cooked again, gently, with enough stock added as needed, it can attain all of the creamy al dentitude of arborio or carnaroli but still have that extra nutty flavor and all of the nutrition that comes with it. In this case, I made it with duck stock and a variety of beets and carrots cut to sizes that would cook in time with the rice. The peachy color was, quite literally, gravy. There were also, amazingly, a couple of garlic scapes in this; I found two in the back of a fridge drawer and they were as green and firm as the day I cut them. I had no idea they keep so well, but it’s good to know.

Something a bit fancier, but only by virtue of its featured ingredient, was this (also weeknight) dinner. I seared a Stone Church Farm duck breast (see here) and served thirds of it on little cakes made of the leftover risotto (crisped in the glorious fat that rendered off the breast, of course) with a sauce made from carrot-orange juice to which I added ginger and a splash of leftover miso soup and then reduced. The broccoli florets were steamed and tossed with olive oil and salt. The broccoli is still putting these out prolifically, and I keep cutting them; the plants aren’t pretty, but the sure do produce food for a long time. A few plants have kept us in these graceful green wands all summer long. I’m “letting” some of them flower now so they’ll set seeds. Besides planting them next year, I have an idea about using cabbage and broccoli seeds like mustard–as a spice. This could have used one more element–a purée, maybe, or pickled fruit–to make it extraordinary, but weeknights are all about making do. And this made did.

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  1. October 6

    “Going to seed” at least garden-wise need not be a bad thing. I’ve tried the brassica-seed trick; it works, though you sure need a lot of them. Also, radish seedpods are divine when green. (Just fyi.) We’ve been snacking on the bulb fennel’s output for weeks, and shell beans are just about my favorite meal. I would say weeknight meals are what life is made out of: little bits and bobs all rearranged yet still special.

  2. October 6

    that right there is the kinda shit i make alla the time. i mean the top pic. put a poached egg on it – and thank you and goodnight…

  3. October 6

    by the way… i know i used to a blogger but i just gotta say that regardless of any of that? you are waaaayyyyyyyy too ambitious for me.

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