Friday, January 25, 2008

Bean there, done that? Think again.

Whenever I bart down to the Ferry Building for a Saturday morning market, I sit on the train and fiddle with my self-allocated $40, reciting a plan of attack in my head. I envision myself proceeding calmly between booths, buying kumquats out front, leafy greens in back, hitting up the the corner lavender stand for a bundle of mixed herbs that fit nicely into my last remaining pocket. But somehow I always end up fumbling with cash as I crisscross aisles and inevitably crush something delicate under a hefty impulse purchase—blood oranges or cherimoya, say.

One standard fixture in my biweekly meanderings is a stop at Rancho Gordo's Embarcadero-facing booth for a 1 lb sack of heirloom beans. In my early market-going days, I felt physical pain when handing over a 5 dollar bill for a single, seemingly humble item, but now I know that every bag I buy will sustain me for days. Whether simmered with garlic and onion, reheated and mashed in olive oil, sprinkled with cheese over quinoa, or enfolded in a breakfast burrito, beans are the ideal ingredient for stretching across a succession of meals. Plus, the Rancho Gordo folks are invariably helpful when it comes to describing each variety's characteristics and cooking requirements. (Visit their website for an quick tutorial in dried-bean preparation.)

I've eaten ojo de cabra, Good Mother Stallard, and the more traditional cannellini in the past, but was most recently convinced to buy burgundy-speckled Christmas Limas. So named for their chestnut flavor, they were promised to be "something different, with a pot liquor you'll just want to drink up" by their vendor. After giving them a quick rinse in a colander, I covered the large (lima-sized) and glossy specimens with an inch of cold water, then diced and sauteed a combo of carrrot, fennel, garlic, and yellow onion, which I added to the pot (along with a few fresh thyme sprigs) before bringing it up to a boil. Once the pot was bubbling rapidly, I lowered the heat and covered the beans, letting them simmer for almost 2 hours, until a test-bean possessed my preferred balance of starch and squishiness.

That first night, I salted them, poured on some good olive oil, and ate them alongside gruyere cheese toast. On a forthcoming chilly evening, I'll probably turn the remaining legumes (and their subtly sweet cooking liquid) into a sausage-studded chili or stew, or maybe whip them into a spicy mash paired with creamy polenta.

**NOTE** If you wish to avoid the often-swarmed ferry building outpost, RG beans can also be procured at Blue Fog markets and various grocery stores around SF, as well as on their aforementioned website.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy Radishes!

So, Erin's been away in Palm Springs being glamorous at a film festival while I've been sleeping a lot and not posting. I had a dream that she got angry at me for taking a bite out of her winter down jacket that I thought was made out of cheesy potatoes and interpreted it as a sign that I should be contributing more regularly. My Weird Veg resolutions for 2008 include trying out recipes from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook my brother Stephen gave me for Christmas. It is such a gorgeous book. The contents are arranged in alphabetical order by vegetable, from "Amaranth Greens" to "Zucchini and Other Summer Squashes." Each vegetable section gets its own color plate of an exquisite vegetable print by Patricia Curtan, whose illustrations also adorn the daily Chez Panisse menus.

The radish seems to be Chez Panisse's unofficial veggie mascot, judging by the free-floating radish drawings that adorn the introductory pages to the book. "No meal at Chez Panisse is quite complete without radishes," Waters writes in the radish section. "In one brilliant flash of red and green, they help define where and who we are." She's not talking about a universal sense of humanity expressed in our crunchy, spicy garden friend, but is referring specifically to northern California, where radishes are abundant and in season all year long.

I picked up a bunch of French Breakfast radishes at the Noe Valley Farmers market a couple of months ago and used them to brighten up a mid-afternoon snack (top photo). I think their compactness makes their flavor sharper than larger radish varieties, which seem more watery. I laid slices of cheddar cheese on top of pumpernickel rye bread and warmed them in the toaster oven. Then I covered each toast with thin slices of radish. Waters's favorite preparation for the radish: rinse in water and serve.