Tonight I had a friend over for dinner. On a Wednesday. Which is super fun and exciting. Because, while I love to entertain, I don’t do it that often these days, particularly on weeknights. But unlike my extravagant mole for one, this dinner only took about an hour of active time in the kitchen. Indeed, I worked all day, at the office, while the cranberry beans were in the slow cooker. So all I had to do when I got home was throw the gratin together, cook soup, and chop fennel for the salad.
For the beans, I decided to experiment and use the cranberry beans from Rancho Gordo. I figured they would stand out in the gratin. Which they did. But honestly? They were no better than the Goya beans I buy from the market down the street for $2, as opposed to $5.99 plus shipping for fancy imported beans. From here on out, there are definitely some beans that are worth the extra money, like Vallarta, Rio Zape, and probably others that I haven’t tried yet. Not cranberry beans, though.
Now, recipes! The gratin is based on an Alice Waters’ recipe that I found in Elizabeth Berry’s Great Bean Book. (http://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Berrys-Great-Bean-Book/dp/1580080316) The original recipe is titled “Fresh Shell Bean Gratin.” Since it’s February in Chicago, fresh shell beans are not an option. But I figured dried beans would be adequate, if not quite as delicious. I also changed the original by subbing kale, which I had leftover in the fridge, for swiss chard. Otherwise my version is pretty true to the original recipe.
3 c. cooked cranberry beans, with about 1 c. cooking liquid
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Vidalia or other sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1/2 t. dried sage
1 c. chopped, cooked kale or other green
2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. toasted bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 350. Heat 2 T. oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the onions, garlic, and sage, season with salt, and cook, over low heat, for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add the kale and tomatoes. Cook for another minute or two. Add the beans, stir to combine, and transfer to a gratin dish. Add bean cooking liquid to almost cover. Top with the bread crumbs, drizzle olive oil over the top, and cook for about 45 minutes.
1 leek, white and pale green part only, rinsed, halved, and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
4 medium baking potatoes
1/2 t. thyme
2 T. olive oil
3 c. chicken broth
3 c. water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Saute the leek and the onion for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the potato and thyme. Cook for another 4 minutes or so. Add the chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Blend with an immersion blender.
1/2 fennel bulb, cored, halved, and thinly sliced
3 cups baby arugula
1 T. walnut oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
Divide the arugula between 2 bowls. Top with the fennel, a pinch of salt, walnut oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few curls of parmesan cheese over the top of each bowl.