Several days of vacation and intense engagement with my farm-share have made me much less cranky then when last I posted. Since the psychic and monetary cost of fuel consumption has become so crushing, we engaged in (what I understand to be) the very trendy “staycation,” Which was actually pretty great. There were potlucks, fireworks, visits to the farmer’s market, visits to the black raspberry bushes in the backyard, lots of gardening for me (with a little poison ivy to spice it up), a trip to the Toledo Zoo, DVD watching (The Spiderwick Chronicles for the kids, Knocked Up and LOTS of The Wire for the grown ups), shopping at thrift stores, hanging out at Top of the Park, splashing in the little backyard wading pool, bike rides, swimming and a little camping. (As a gratuitous aside, the day we went to the zoo we also hoped to hit a Toledo Mudhens game but we were afraid of overtaxing the kids. I was quite sorry though because it was “Prostate Health Awareness Night” at the park, and I was really curious about the give-aways.)
And of course, as with any good vacation, the question of “what shall we eat tonight” consumed an inordinate about of conversational space. The leitmotif of most of the week was a big pot of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans. These beans were featured in some pretty high-class quesadillas, in a penance (that is, after-decadence) meal of sauteed kale and beans, and in a farm-share dinner of sauteed greens, shreds of proscuitto, and a smattering of flageolet topped with softly fried eggs. All humble but worthy dishes.
Where did all this flageolet-ness come from in the first place? (And did you know that a flageolet is also a woodwind musical instrument and a member of the fipple flute family and that the flageolet register is highest register of the human voice lying above the modal register and falsetto register? But now I seriously digress and must be recalled from my pleasure in saying “flipple flute family” ten times fast.) About two months ago, the forces of the blogosphere, coupled with my nagging guilt that I was in some way cheating by always using canned beans, drove me to order a Rancho Gordo sampler (cannellini, borlotti, scarlet runner and flageolet beans). They arrived in the mail, I unpacked them with pleasure and put them away with a sense of anticipation
And there they sat. I opened the cupboard and pointedly looked past them. I reached for the pasta. Risotto is good. I feel like a salad tonight. Because, you see, dried beans scare me. I used to try to cook them in college, when I shopped in dusty hippy stores and fished beans out of deep bins, and I remember days of soaking, followed by hours of cooking, resulting in eating something resembling the surface of my driveway. Later I bought a pressure cooker, which did much better with my beans, but since I was usually recovering from heart palpitations induced by fear-of-pressure-cooker (“she’s going to blow Jim, she’s going to blow!) by the time dinner was ready, I didn’t really enjoy the results too much.
But vacation and its long stretches of lazy time makes one brave. I pulled the beans out and dumped them in a pot and covered them with water. I looked around a bit on the Internets and didn’t actually find much advice about what to do with flageolet except straight from Rancho Gordo’s mouth — “don’t mess with them much.” Instructions I heeded, to good effect. I soaked the beans eight hours or so (I peeked in the pot about halfway through and all the water was absorbed, so I dumped some more on). Then I turned the heat way up under the pot, looking for a hard boil. While that was going on, I sauteed some minced garlic and onion in olive oil (carrot and celery would have been good too, but there wasn’t any). After the beans had been boiling for about five minutes in their water, I turned the heat, way, way down, dumped in the aromatics, covered the pot and left it mostly alone. Oh sure, there was the anxious glance into the pot once in a while, but really, I barely stirred. After about an hour, I threw in some strips of fresh sage from the garden. After an hour and twenty minutes, I pulled out a bean and tasted, sure that I was about to experience a revelation. A pebble, albeit a tasty one. An hour and forty got me to something more like a relatively fresh peanut texture. Two hours? Very good indeed. Leftovers, after two reheatings? Magnifique. Patience is rewarded.
We had the first beans with grilled lamb loin chops and a very nice Chateauneuf de Pape that was a gift from neighbors who moved to Seattle (“we can’t take this on the plane, do you want it?” — well, gosh, if it will just go to waste . . .) and ended the evening with a broken bar of bittersweet chocolate and dark cherries just hours off the tree. There was a little firefly watching involved and much praising of the weather. Summer has many pleasures.
Don’t Mess With It Much Flageolet and Lamb
Cook the flageolet, as above. Perhaps add a half hour to the cooking time (making it closer to two and half: I understand this varies with the freshness of the beans) for a just-right consistency right out of the pot the first time.
While the flageolet are cooking, take some fresh oregano (a really good fistful; if you are a smallish person, perhaps two) and put it in the blender or food processor with a couple of cloves of garlic and some coarse salt. With the motor running, drizzle in half a cup or so of olive oil, until you have something that looks more or less like pesto. Rub this paste all over some lamb loin chops; cover with plastic and set in the refrigerator. Poke at them once in a while. Or not.
Near the end of the bean cooking process, prepare a grill, wipe the paste off the chops and cook them over a relatively hot fire for probably a little less time than you think you should unless you are devoted to eradicating all pink from your meat. These chops were a bit more than an inch thick and we grilled them for five minutes a side. Let the chops rest for ten minutes or until your patience wears thin.
Arrange the lamb as decoratively as you can on the beans. Drizzle with some lemon juice and sprinkle a little parsley on top. Sit outside, if possible. Toast the wine-giving neighbors, the soft night air and the virtues of simplicity.