Just back from a wedding en Haute Provence. Weather like you might dream of. Landscape like you might dream of. Love like you might dream of. Old friends, new friends like you might dream of. Bref... a precious celebration of the union of two dear souls.
I arrived, of course, with bags full of kitchen goods and ingredients that were met by crates of freshly picked vegetables from a neighboring farm, and spent a delightful day cooking up many a savory nibble for the reception feast. And this with the indispensable help of a wonderful group of jolly women, hands eager to the tasks I administered—hopefully with gentle sway.
There were mounds of almonds to be blanched, mounds of beet greens to be wilted, mounds of cherry tomatoes to be cut in half, mounds of carrots and zucchini to be diced, mounds of walnuts to be cracked, mounds of garlic to be chopped, mounds of Borlotto beans from Basilicata to be soaked and slowly cooked, mounds of fresh herbs to be leafed, mounds of flour to be rubbed with olive oil, kneaded into a fine dough and rolled out into even finer sheets. Polenta to be stirred and stirred and stirred, Parmigiano-Reggiano to be grated, and so on...
Last to be called to life was focaccia, which had to be cooked in an oven a few paces up the road just as the guests were arriving from the wedding ceremony. By the time I returned with the first pipping-hot batch, most everything else had literally been inhaled. I'd planned on photographing for posterity the many dishes... In the end I managed snapping a few shots of les restes (the leftovers). Actually I found quite titillating to the eye the concluding haphazard arrangement of the plates and bowls of much devoured nibbles.
I promised to send the gals who rolled up their sleeves with me in the kitchen the various recipes we spun into existence. Thought I'd share them here with you, as well.
recipes in previous posts :
roasted almond-green olive medley :: smoky carrot soup w/ goat cheese toasts :: focaccia :: rocciata con l'erbe
recipes down below :
fresh shell bean salad :: polenta squares w/ zucchini-lemon chutney
A word about the Borlotti (also known as cranberry) beans I cooked up. Alessandra, a dear woman with a heart of gold and as generous as is her passion for all things truly earthen, owns and runs a tiny Italian boutique—the type you'd stumble into in an off-the-beaten-path village anywhere in Italy—RAP Paris, stocked from floor to ceiling with the most delectable artisan fare from every region, nook and cranny in that gastronomic country (read David Lebovitz's post on her store.... I took him there one day to indulge in her vision and offerings).
L'épicerie RAP is just down the hill from Montmartre in the 9th arrondissement, and as I was in search of fresh shell beans for my spring/summer wedding salad, I paid her a visit thinking she might have a tip or two as to where I could find a few kilos—it not yet quite being shell-bean season. Alas, she could point me nowhere, but, it so happens, she did have a producer from Basilicata who had recently contacted her and was sending her off a few kilos of lovingly dried fagiolo borlotto from last year's harvest, still plump with moisture, and in tow a small bag of fagiolo tondino nero, a compact black heirloom bean bursting with flavor. If they arrived in time, she wanted me to take them down south the following week and test them for her. Well they did arrive on time, and I did take them down south, and I did test them for her, and they were absolutely marvelous. So fresh in their dried form that not one bean fell apart during cooking—which I did at a "heat-diffused" simmer and yet which took no time at all: the fresher the dried bean, the more moisture it contains, and the quicker it cooks—tout simplement.
The salad was of course a great success, each bean giving a burst of crunchy texture and creamy depth. I thank Alessandra from the bottom of my heart for her lovely gift!
700 | 25 oz fresh shell beans, in shell : Borlotti, Michelet, Paimpol, or other… (or 400 gr | 14 oz dried beans)
1 FRESH bay leaf
1 garlic clove, slightly crushed
4 – 5 sprigs flat parsley
20 cherry tomatoes
1 celery heart, with light green leaves
1 small red onion
1 - 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves
Unrefined coarse and fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings for garnish
||| Shuck the beans (best to soak in cold water for 4 – 6 hours). Drain and place in a large pan with water to cover by 3 cm | 1 inch. Add the garlic clove and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil then cook covered over low heat, at a light simmer, until nicely al dente, 15 – 25 minutes depending on the bean. Test at 15 minutes—they should have a “crunch” to them. Remove from the heat and add a couple pinches of coarse sea salt. Let sit for a minute, test for seasoning, add a bit more salt if necessary and let sit for another minute. Drain, remove the bay leaf and garlic then transfer to a large bowl. Add a couple generous drizzles of olive oil and gently stir. Add a couple squeezes of lemon juice and gently stir again. Let cool to room temperature. (If using dried beans, soak over night. Drain, rinse and transfer to the pan with water to cover by 6 cm | 2 inches. Add the garlic clove and bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil. Cook over very low heat (even using a heat diffuser), with the lid ajar, until al dente—check the directions on the package for an idea of the cooking time, though cooking with a heat diffuser will increase the time. Let stand in their cooking water for a good 10 minutes before draining.)
||| While the beans are cooking, zest the lemon. Chop the celery heart crosswise into thin slices, and the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Very thinly slice the red onion lengthwise. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise. Coarsely chop the parsley. Add the vegetables, lemon zest and basil leaves to the beans when cool, and gently stir. Taste for seasoning, adding a bit more salt and/or lemon juice and/or olive oil if desired. Let sit for 30 minutes for the flavors to infuse.
||| Garnish with Parmigiano shavings, if desired. Give a few generous twists of the black pepper grinder and serve.
POLENTA SQUARES w/ ZUCCHINI-LEMON CHUTNEY — makes approx. 50 squares
note : This recipe uses traditional, not instant, polenta. I find the texture of the cooked traditional polenta to be far superior. If using the instant stuff, follow the cooking instructions on the package.
for the polenta :
200 gr | 7 oz traditional polenta (not instant)
800 ml cold water
Generous handful Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
2.5 gr | 1/3 tsp unrefined sea salt
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 sprig fresh thyme, leafed (flowering, if in spring or early summer)
for the "chutney" :
175 gr | 6 oz Gorgonzola
1 smallish zucchini (approx 175 gr | 6 oz) cut into small dice
50 gr | 1.75 oz walnuts o|oz (best if freshly cracked), coarsely chopped
1 lemon for curlicues
1 sprig fresh thyme, leafed (flowering, if in spring or early summer)
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
||| Scrub and dry the lemon. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest lengthwise in long strips. With a sharp paring knife, cut off any pith from the zest then slice lengthwise into very thin strips. (Feel free to use a citrus peeler.) Spread out in/on a thick- bottomed baking recipient and bake in the oven preheated to 100 ˚C (200 ˚ F), the door ajar, until the lemon strips begin to curl, 10 - 15 minutes. Shake the pan from time to time and keep a close eye… you don’t want them to begin to brown or dry out, they should remain soft. Cut each curlicue in half or thirds. (You can also cut the lemon strips the night before and just leave them spread out on a plate until morning. They will curl beautifully. Cover until ready to use later in the day. Can be kept in an airtight glass jar for 3 - 4 days.) Watch my youtube video...
||| Bring the 800 ml of cold water to a boil in a covered pan. Add the coarse sea salt and a slight drizzle of olive oil. Add the polenta in a slow, continuous stream, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent lumps from forming. When the polenta returns to a boil, turn the heat to VERY low (best to use a heat diffuser over a small flame) and cook uncovered for 40 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to keep a crust from forming on top, but avoid scraping up the bottom of the pan. If the polenta becomes too dry, add a small glass of hot water. At the end, add a drizzle of olive oil, the lemon zest, thyme leaves, and a generous handful of grated Parmigiano, if using. Stir well.
||| Line the large jelly roll pans (two should be enough) you'll be using for the polenta with parchment paper, brushing a smidge of olive oil underneath the paper to hold it in place. Pour in enough hot polenta to attain a heighth of 1 cm / 1/4 inch when spread out evenly—best done by brushing the top with olive oil. Set aside to cool for a good couple of hours, even over night in the refrigerator, just take out 2 hours before continuing the recipe.
||| Turn on the oven broiler.
||| Cut into 3,5-cm | 1.5-inch squares (a pizza cutter makes this step easy). Place a knob of Gorgonzola in the center of each square. Top with a four-finger pinch of the zucchini “chutney.” Broil on an oven rack placed 7 cm | 6 – 8 inches from the broiler, until the Gorgonzola is melting and the chutney golden-tipped, 5 – 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and season immediately with sea salt to taste. Let cool slightly then garnish with freshly ground black pepper, and perhaps a tiny pinch of sea salt, before serving.