Baked Gigante Beans with Sliced Tomatoes

Vefa’s Kitchen is one of my favorite cookbooks. I often pick it up and marvel at the pictures, and the simple, fresh ingredient-inspired Greek recipes. As I was leafing through the book the other day, I came across this recipe for “Baked Giant Beans”.  The recipe called for dried lima/butter beans, and remembered that I had a bag of dried fava beans in the pantry, so I went about making the dish. It’s a real country/rustic dish, best served with greens and a thick slice of wheat bread.

Baked Gigante Beans (adapted from Vefa’s Kitchen)

  • 1 pound dried fava beans, soaked over night in cold water and peeled
  • 1  celery root, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound chopped roma tomatoes (I used tomatoes I peeled, diced and froze in August, but you can use canned tomatoes here, too)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (I used tomato paste I made this summer and froze in ice-cube trays)
  • Fresh parsley and/or dill, chopped, to taste
  • 2 sliced roma tomatoes
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes
Peel the lima beans. Put peeled beans, carrot and celery root and a large pinch of salt in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for about 20-40 minutes, until the beans are just tender. Strain the cooked beans and place them (along with the carrot and celery root) into an oven-safe dish. Preheat oven to 350F.
Meanwhile, heat some olive oil and sauté the sliced onions and garlic, seasoning with salt and pepper, for a few minutes. Add tomato paste, then tomatoes. (Like I said above, my tomato paste and tomatoes were both in frozen form, so it took a while for both to defrost…I was planning on using a carton of Pomi, and then when I reached for the frozen tomato paste, I remembered the frozen tomatoes…If I would have remembered earlier, I definitely would have defrosted.)
Add oregano and red pepper flakes to taste, and cook tomato mixture for about 10-15 minutes; then spread tomatoes over the beans in the dish over the beans, top with parsley and dill, and layer with sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle salt on top. Bake for about 1 hour. Serve warm or room temperature.

Something From Nothing: Fridge Clean-Out Dinner

These are my favorite types of dinners. You never know where your ingredients will lead you. Tonight, I was inspired by a small container of goat cheese that I impulsively picked up when I was walking around the Union Square Greenmarket this afternoon in the 62-degree February sun. So what did I have in my fridge that could play well with goat cheese? I found a container of leftover cooked orecchiette from last week that I really needed to use, so I decided I was going to be making something with pasta. Hmmm, lentils and goat cheese is a great combination, and I had a small amount of french lentils that would cook quickly, and hence, the dinner was borne.

I threw on a pot of water to cook the lentils, and heated a skillet to sauté some vegetables as a base for the lentils. I ended up with a great quick braise of onion, garlic, carrot and rutabaga (from our CSA) with white wine and herbes de Provence, to which I added the cooked lentils and a little balsamic vinegar. Thrown on the re-heated cooked pasta and garnished with crumbled goat cheese, another episode of clean-out-your-fridge-dinner is complete!

Rye Berries for Breakfast

I’m a huge breakfast guy. I’m one of those people that has to have breakfast within an hour of waking up, every single day. On the rare occasion we go out for brunch, I go for traditional breakfast faves like eggs, French toast, pancakes, oatmeal, bagels with lox, I love all that. Alexa on the other hand, is more of an -unch person.  She loves eating more savory things for breakfast, last night’s leftovers being her very favorite.

Steel-cut oatmeal has been a long-time favorite Winter breakfast for me, but lately I’ve been branching out, inspired by the fact that we have a ton of other whole grains in our pantry such as oat groats, spelt berries, wheat berries, farro and rye berries.  These grains all came from Cayuga Pure Organics, a bean and grain farm located near Ithaca, NY that is a provider for our CSA.

I’ve been treating these grains the way I would treat steel cut oatmeal, and it’s my new favorite way to start off the day! Follow these instructions to turn any whole grain into a warm, hearty breakfast flavored just to your liking.


Heartier whole grains such as rye berries and wheat berries cook quicker if you soak them overnight prior to cooking. A single serving is about 1/2 cup of dried grain. Just measure out the grain and put it in a bowl covered by at least a couple of inches of water (preferably filtered). Cover, and leave overnight.  The next morning (or some hours later), strain the grain and put it in a heavy pot with water in a 2:1 water:grain ratio.  Don’t worry about using too much water as this type of grain doesn’t turn into a porridge, the individual rye berries retain their integrity so you can just strain the grain when it’s cooked through, or fish it out with a slotted spoon.

Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until they tastes done.  These rye berries took about 40 minutes. They’re still al dente even after all that cooking, and they’ll pop in your mouth when chewed. At that point, you can add whatever flavorings you want, sweet or savory.   I like a touch a sweetness, so here I grabbed a small handful of raisins and sunflower seeds and it was perfect. Other great sweet options include maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, walnuts, almonds, cashews, fresh apples, bananas, etc.  For the more savory side, Alexa adds things like sesame oil, soy sauce, steamed vegetables, balsamic vinegar, and pine nuts.  What flavor combinations come to your mind? We’d love to hear your favorites, it’s going to be a long Winter and we’ve got a lot of grain to get through!

Creamy Garlic Polenta with Sautéed Mushrooms

There’s a secret that people don’t tell you about polenta: It’s easy to make! I’m pretty sure I don’t make it the traditional way since I always hear about people slaving over a pan of polenta, à la risotto, and that’s not at all what I do. I just boil water, whisk in cornmeal (fine or coarse – chef’s choice) and stir. Within a few seconds, the polenta thickens up, and you can have a meal in 15 minutes. It’s literally that easy. It’s a great side dish for thanksgiving, especially if you have vegans in your family, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?! In terms of additions to polenta, people often add cream or grated cheese, but I’ve found that if you’re looking for a vegan/parve polenta, a great way to both flavor and add to the creaminess, is to add tons of roasted garlic. Our CSA farm offers a separate 3-pound garlic share, of which I ordered 2. That’s how much I love garlic. 6 pounds much! Roasting garlic is easy – all you have to do is lop off the very top of a head of garlic (but save those little tips!), wrap tightly in tin foil, and throw in a 400F oven for about 30-40 minutes. Once cool, you can squish out the resultant roasted garlic easily with the back of a knife and add it to anything you’d like, from marinades to pasta sauce – or even schmear a little on top of bread.

I am a sucker for the polenta/mushroom combo, a flavor profile you’ve probably seen before on this blog. In terms of the mushrooms, I often choose shitake and maitake, which can be expensive, but worth it when you factor in the immune-boosting properties. Just chop them up, and sauté over medium/low heat with the tips of the garlic,  salt and pepper, thyme (if you have it) and olive oil. Mushrooms give of a lot of moisture when cooking, and I find that cooking slowly over low heat insures they soften up without burning.

The Tuv Ha’aretz Forest Hills CSA we belong to also organizes shares of grain, bean and flour from Cayuga Pure Organics, an Ithaca-based company. They offer both cornmeal (finely ground) and polenta (coarsely ground). If I’m planning on keeping the resultant cornmeal soft and smooth, I use the finely ground cornmeal. If I’m planning on baking it or cutting it into squares (like this other mushroom polenta recipe), I use the coarsely ground cornmeal. Either way, cornmeal is something you want to try to buy organic, since corn is often genetically modified and sprayed with tons of pesticides. It also keeps pretty much forever, so you don’t have to worry about it going bad if it’s kept either in the fridge or freezer. I find the ratio for creamy polenta is a little more than 2:1, so if I’m cooking 1 cup of cornmeal (which will serve 2 for a main course), I use about 2.5 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, and whisk in the polenta. I like to use a flat whisk, but whatever you have that you can keep whisking with will be fine. If there are clumps, keep whisking, and it it becomes too think, just add more water. When the cornmeal has thickened, add the roasted garlic, salt, about a tablespoon of olive oil and more water if needed. Whisk until smooth, top with sautéed mushrooms, and voila – a delicious, vegan side dish!

Moroccan Carrot Cumin Salad

This is a synergistic salad, meaning the resulting dish is much greater than the sum of its parts. Not that the ingredients on their own aren’t fabulous – I love them all. But together, they meld into a salad that is just out of this world.  The first time I had this dish I fell in love with the flavors. The salad is based on a recipe from my dear friend Victoria, whose mother Josiane is Moroccan. In the original version, the carrots are par-boiled and chopped. While it’s not an extremely complicated step, I’ve removed the need to cook the carrots, and instead rely on The Cuisinart, and possibly my favorite attachement – the shredder. Once you peel the carrots, a quick zip through the shredder creates a beautiful confetti of orange.

This salad is a perfect combination of bold flavors, and you can really play with and vary the proportions of each: GO CRAZY!  If you want to use a whole bunch of parsley, go for it! If you’re feeling like you want it more garlicky, as you wish. You won’t be disappointed, as I have yet to use any measuring utensils when making this salad, and all times it’s come out perfectly. The one thing I will say, is that it is essential that you use a good amount of whole cumin seed and toast it before tossing with the salad. This will give the spice a warm earthiness that contrasts nicely with the freshness of the other ingredients.

Moroccan Carrot Cumin Salad

  • Carrots, peeled and shredded
  • Garlic – diced or put through a press*
  • Parsely – cleaned and chopped
  • Cumin seed – toasted
  • Lemon juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients. If you make this salad the evening before, hold off on the olive oil and store in the fridge. Toss with olive oil an hour before serving. Serve cold or room temperature.

* I used to be majorly anti-garlic press. I was ridiculously rigid about having to chop or dice my garlic by knife, on a board…until one day, I took note of Cooks Illustrated’s review of the best garlic presses. The next time I was at a kitchen supply store, I bought their recommendation, and (let me tell you) it kinda changed my life. Sure, there are still times when I want to be intimate with my garlic, but on a day-to-day basis, I just smash a clove with my knife, peel the clove, throw it in my press, and squeeze. It’s a breeze.  (Couldn’t resist!)