Monday, January 5, 2009

Submitted for Your Consideration: The Heirloom Bean

By Pat Tanner

Have you noticed how the economic downturn has generated countless stories in the food press on how to cut corners on your food budget? Frankly, I resent that food is the first place we are expected to economize. How about scaling back on clothes, cars, cable TV, and electronic gadgets? In my book, cheap foodstuffs that are inferior in taste and nutritional value should be a measure of last resort.

There is, however, one food source that has always provided bang-for-the-buck, high-quality protein: dried beans. They happen also to be devoid of cholesterol; are high in fiber, iron, and vitamins A and B; and have as much calcium as milk. I am a bean aficionado but realize that not everyone is, which is why I submit for your consideration dried heirloom beans – true treasures native to the Americas. Regular dried beans are to heirloom beans as imported hothouse tomatoes are to farmers’-market heirloom tomatoes.

This became clear to me when I ordered the “desert island” assortment from Rancho Gordo of Napa, CA. With extraordinary, highly distinctive flavors, Rancho Gordo’s leave regular supermarket beans in the dust. The assortment varies during the year: mine included Midnight Black, Vaquero, Runner Cannellini, Yellow Eye, and Christmas Limas. The last are my new favorites - they have a pronounced chestnut flavor inside tender beans that stay intact through the cooking process. I also went through my stash of Yellow Eyes in no time flat, making batches of authentic Senate Bean Soup using the recipe on the company’s website.

All but one of Rancho Gordo’s seventeen varieties sell for $4.95 a pound – amounting to a frugal $1.24 per main-course serving of high quality, delicious protein. I also found heirloom beans at my local Whole Foods, which sells the Gourmet Valley line at $6.49 for twelve ounces.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Salad Days in the New Year

By Pat Tanner

I seem to have once again fallen victim to both the excesses of holiday eating and the need for feel-good New Year’s resolutions, so I find myself drawn to salads. Which is why I’ve gleaned the interesting recipes below from some of the Garden State’s finest practitioners.

Grilled Romaine Salad
Michael Carrino, Chef/Owner, Restaurant Passionne, Montclair

2 heads romaine lettuce, split in half
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Place all ingredients into a large zip-tight bag and allow to marinate about an hour, tossing around every few minutes. Heat grill (or broiler) to high and place the four pieces of romaine on the grill (or broiler pan) making sure they do not touch. Grill for about 1 minute then turn and grill for another 2 minutes.

Sherry Vinaigrette for a Crowd
Kevin Sbraga, Executive Chef, Rat’s Restaurant, Hamilton

1 cup sherry vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup olive oil
2 cups grape seed oil, or other mild oil (such as canola or safflower)
Salt and pepper

Blend the vinegar, shallot, and mustard in a food processor. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the two oils until mixture is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Note: Recipe may be scaled down, retaining a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil. Toss with mixed greens.

Membrillo Vinaigrette
Inspired by Will Mooney, Chef/owner, Brothers Moon, Hopewell

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Scant 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons membrillo (quince paste)
Salt and pepper

Combine first three ingredients in a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over a salad composed of arugula, sliced Granny Smith apples, toasted almonds, and Manchego cheese. Makes enough for 4 servings.