Cranberry bean gratin with potato leek soup and arugula salad with fennel and parmesan

Tonight I had a friend over for dinner. On a Wednesday. cranberry bean gratinWhich 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. ( 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
parmesan cheese
1/4 lemon
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.



Quesadillas with Great Mother Stallard beans, sauteed cauliflower, and roasted butternut squash

Yes, I know. This post begs for a photo. I feel terrible not posting one. But I fell down on duty last weekend, abandoned ship, did not build light box. And it was dark last night. So, even though this dish turned out beautifully, the image I captured made it look like something (as my father would say when I was growing up) that I wouldn’t even feed the dog. In reality, I’d feed these quesadillas to anyone. They’re gorgeous AND delicious. Which means this is a perfect example of when no photo is better than a bad photo.Because a bad photo might make you decide against trying this recipe. Which you should.

I can also justify no photos here because I know I will make some version of this again soon, by which time I will have a light box. Because in addition to the fact that quesadillas make a super quick lunch or supper, they’re also a great vehicle for reinventing leftover ingredients into something completely new. I did have to cook the cauliflower last night, but the beans and squash were leftover from Saturday. Which made this come together super fast.

I’m a little obsessed with this cauliflower preparation, which I learned about in one of Alice Waters’ cookbooks. Seriously. I make it almost every week, so that I always have some in the fridge. It’s super easy and delicious, essential qualities, but I think the real reason I love it so much is its versatility as an ingredient for other dishes. I’ve made up so many crazy delicious things because of this cauliflower always being there. And I bet you will too. Here’s what you do.

Heat a large cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Then trim out the core of the cauliflower, wash, and slice it horizontally into pieces that are about 1/2″ thick. Although the edges will fall apart, the centers will look like cauliflower “steaks.”

Pour 1-2 T. of olive oil into the skillet. Add a single layer of cauliflower, arranging the steaks in the center, where the heat is probably concentrated, and placing the smaller pieces around the edge. Leave enough space to prevent steaming the vegetables and sprinkle generously (although maybe not quite as liberally as I always do) with salt. If you have a spatter guard, you’ll probably want to use it now.

After about 4-6 minutes, when you start to smell the cauliflower carmelizing, use tongs or a spatula to turn the pieces. Cook for another 3-6 minutes, until the other side is browned. I usually have to rearrange a bit to account for hot spots. And sometimes the process takes more or less time. Use your eyes and your nose. The point is that you want the cauliflower to be well browned but not burnt.

I love to serve (and eat!) this cauliflower as part of a composed plate, usually with kale and maybe a lentil salad. But it’s also a wonderful ingredient in frittata. And, obviously, quesadillas.

4 flour tortillas
1/4 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
2 T. cooked beans
2 T. diced, roasted butternut squash
2 T. diced, sauteed cauliflower

Heat a cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add a tortilla. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the top and then evenly distribute half of the beans, squash, and cauliflower. Cover with another tortilla. Cook for 1-2 minutes, spinning once or twice. Turn carefully with a spatula and cook for another 1-2 minutes on the other side. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

If you like, you can serve this with guacamole, salsa, and Greek yogurt or sour cream. Mango salsa might also be nice. But I thought this particular variation, with the sweetness of the squash and cauliflower against the spicy cheese and earthy beans, was very good plain. Again, I apologize for not having a photo. Fingers crossed that I’ll get it together to build a light box next weekend.