Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What I made for lunch


I still haven't been cooking, and the fridge has been pretty bare as a result. We've been so busy on Saturdays that I have been deprived of my weekly farmers' market ritual, deprived of the mind-blowing delight of seeing the food stalls change from week to week to week. You can imagine my surprise then, when after a month's absence (!!!) I finally stole away for an hour or two last weekend and found myself waist-deep in the bounty of a farmers' market spring. The oranges were still around but waning. The apple guy was still trying to sell off last-season's used-to-be good edibles. I expected this. But to my utter shock, the mulberries and loquats have already made their debut, and I can just feel those strawberries wanting to join the fun.

On the vegetable front, there were cones of sweet cabbage, bunches of asparagus, chard and kale, lettuces, tomato starts, squash starts, cucumber starts, herbs up and down and all over, and finally, fava beans. In a moment of hope and I-just-can't-help-myself compulsion, I bought all I could carry. I bought the healthiest, hardiest dill I have ever seen, a cone of cabbage, the last trickles of asparagus, and--my new spring fling--fava beans. I am revived. And overwhelmed. And revived, did I say that already?

I have already made plans for my next market visit (now that I know what's new)--something to do with loquats, garlic scapes, and avocado, but until today I hadn't had any recipial insight into the bits and pieces I picked up this time around in that dizzy fit of ecstasy.


Finally, around eleven I found myself alone in the kitchen. Raffi played in the other room, to which Cedar was happily tapping his chopsticks to the beat of "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer". All I could think about was salad, fresh, spring salad. So salad it was. I had potatoes I needed to use. I got out the asparagus because I wanted it, and in the process, remembered I bought fava beans and dill  and allofthesudden I had a recipe.

I suppose I am not so surprised the salad came together nicely. The ingredients are fresh and they were each given ample attention. What does surprise me about this salad is how well it worked after so little effort my brain had to expend to make it. This is how life is supposed to be. Or, this is how cooking is supposed to be. Easy. Easy because I have mint that refuses to die despite our tendency to never water it. Easy because asparagus, fava beans, and herbs go really well together. Easy because no one is grading me or looking over my should to see if I have come up with some grand new combination of flavors. And even if someone was, who cares? The salad tastes good and I wasn't exhausted after it was made. Apart from how it fills my belly, that is all that matters.

Spring Salad with Fava Beans   

(inspired by Heidi's "Mostly Not Potato Salad" from Super Natural Every Day)

I had this for lunch just as it is, but it would likely taste nice on a bed of arugula, spinach, or other lettuce, wilted or not. Mostly, it is just a nice way to eat a lot of spring vegetables at the same time. Play around then--peas instead of favas, fresh baby artichokes instead of asparagus. The sky's the limit. 

4 small potatoes, quartered
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch chunks on the diagonal
2 large spring onions (substitute 1 small leek), white part sliced in half moons, dark part in rounds
about a pound fava beans to make just shy of 1 cup shelled and peeled favas
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
5 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
salt and pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil and couple four-finger pinches of salt. Add potatoes and cook until just fork-tender, about ten minutes. Drain and set aside to cool a bit.

Heat a medium to large pan (I used a cast iron skillet) on medium-high heat, add a glug of olive oil (about two tablespoons), a four-finger pinch of salt or two, a healthy grind of black pepper, and the asparagus. Toss or stir to coat and cook for five to ten minutes, or until tender and starting to brown. Take the browning as far as you like. My favorite is when the tips are well-crisped. When done, scrape the asparagus and any leftover oil into a large bowl and set aside.

To prepare the fava beans, listen to those who know: steel the beans from their pods just as you would any pea or bean. When you have them all out, boil some well-salted water (perhaps the potato water you may have saved) in a pot, add the fava beans, and cook 10 seconds, then cool in a basin of cold water (with ice added, if you have it). Pop out the beans by first piercing the skin with your thumbnail and sqeezing the bean out the hole. (If you are new at this and are still confused, try this tutorial.) Labor-intensive, but, as everyone seems to agree, worth it.

When all this fava bean hoo-ha is over, heat the asparagus pan over medium heat and add another healthy glug of olive oil (two-three tablespoons). Add the fava beans and the spring onions, and cook for about five minutes, or until a few bits just start to brown. Turn off the heat and stir in the herbs. Let sit five minutes, stirring, if you are around, from time to time.

Meanwhile, chop the potatoes into smaller chunks about an inch squared and add to the asparagus. Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of champagne vinegar, add the fava mixture, add another pinch of salt and perhaps a grind of pepper, and gently toss to distribute flavors and goodies.

Mound the salad on a serving platter and surround it with the quartered hard boiled eggs. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold (the warmer the better in my humble opinion). If you do serve it cold, refrigerate it in the bowl, covered, and before you plate it, taste for seasoning. It will likely need more vinegar if it is cold. Enjoy!


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