Wednesday, September 10, 2008

hello, autumn

Well, there goes summer. Tomatoes and zucchini will be around for a few more weeks, but there's a definite chill in the air. Time to shift from cold salads to warmer dishes.

Autumn is the time when I switch from canned beans to dried beans. There's nothing wrong with canned beans (and I'll still use them if I'm in a hurry), but I like having a slowly simmering pot of beans on the stove when it's cold out. Particularly if it's also raining.

We had a torrential downpour yesterday afternoon, followed by steady drizzle, so I kicked off the season by putting a pound of dried cannellini beans on to cook.

Cannellini beans are a popular ingredient in vegetable stews, but I wasn't quite in the mood for soup. Instead, I decided to cook the beans until they had almost completely disintegrated, the point at which they develop a starchy, creamy texture like that of mashed potatoes.

The classic seasoning for white beans is rosemary, but I didn't have any on hand, so I cast about for an alternative. A little thyme, and given how similar the dish is to mashed potatoes - why not some roasted garlic?

(Bella visited Montreal a few weeks ago and brought me a beautiful braid of organic garlic that she picked up at a farmer's market.)

Once I had the beans sorted out, I cast about for a suitable accompaniment. I tend to associate beans with corn, so polenta seemed like a natural choice. Out came another pot, and in went the polenta.

Then I checked the freezer for something to liven up the polenta (I ended up using sundried tomatoes), and came across a package of Italian sausages. Beans and polenta make a complete meal in themselves, but Italian sausages go very nicely with both. Unfortunately, I hadn't had the foresight to separate the sausages before I froze them, and they were stuck together as one impermeable block, so I had no choice but to thaw and cook the whole package - all five of them.

Soon I had three burners going on the stove - simmering beans, thickening polenta, and a pan of sizzling sausages. Which was just about the time when I realised that I'd made so much food, I'd be eating the leftovers for a week straight.

Fortunately, Harry and Bella were nonplussed by my last-minute dinner invitations, and we had a very agreeable evening.

I think it bodes well for autumn.

(No photos. I tried, but it would have taken a very talented food stylist and photographer to make the meal look appetizing, and I am neither. Seriously. It was even worse than the oeufs en meurette.)

White Bean and Roasted Garlic Mash

Puree leftovers with olive oil, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a few leaves of rosemary for a tasty dip.

(Serves one for several meals.)

Take a pound of dried cannellini beans, put them in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and cover them with plenty of water. You can soak your beans overnight, but it's not strictly necessary, because you'll be cooking them for a long time anyway.

Put the pot on the stove, cover, bring it to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer. Let the beans cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to break into pieces and pop out of their skins. This will take a few hours, so it's a good time to read or do laundry. (I did laundry.)

Remove the pot from heat. Drain off the liquid, and cover the beans with fresh water or stock. Add a sprinkling of dried thyme, and return the pot to the heat.

Again, bring the beans to a boil, and then a simmer, uncovered, on very low heat. Stir occasionally, making sure the beans don't catch and burn on the bottom.

Meanwhile, take a whole head of garlic, wrap it in foil, and put it in a hot oven, 350 or 375F. Roast for forty to fifty minutes, or until the garlic is aromatic and the cloves are soft and browned. Remove from the oven. Set aside to cool.

When most of the liquid has evaporated from the beans and they have the consistency of thick puree, squeeze in the garlic cloves one by one. Add a drizzle of olive oil, then stir the beans and season to taste with salt. Wait five to ten minutes before serving. Like risotto, bean mash thickens up further after it sits.

Serve with thick polenta. Italian sausages are a nice accompaniment, but not at all necessary.

1 comment:

Yulinka said...

We've had a chilly summer in Wisconsin, and tomatoes only began to ripen in late August. On the plus side, we're in the midst of tomato/zucchini season now. My boyfriend just lugged home 10+ pounds of tomatoes from a local farm. The high today was 75 degrees. I actually miss cold-weather food, but it looks like I'll be eating sliced tomatoes for dinner for at least another week. :)