Sunday, May 22, 2016

Asparagus, Lemon, and White Bean Pasta

Just two more weeks until the start of the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market June 5th. With the recent drizzly weather, it might feel hard to believe that summer is almost here, but it provides the perfect excuse to cook up a pot of beans. And if you do, be sure to save the bean broth. This flavor-packed liquid has recently been elevated to cult status, redubbed aquafabaas a vegan substitute for egg whites. I've been independently obsessing about bean broth as the perfect medium in which to cook pasta, such as the iconic Italian dish of pasta con ceci, described here and here. This method of one pot cooking of pasta in a small volume of flavorful broth, like risotto, is apparently standard in Italy, and what we should all be doing now that water is becomes a scarcer resource.

For a spring version with delicate white beans, I riffed off Melissa Clark's delicious pasta with fried lemons, adding in asparagus. Bean broth plus the flavored water used to blanch the lemon wedges and asparagus served as the pasta cooking medium. The possibilities are endless, and well worth making room for tubs of bean broth in your freezer for quick, one pot, weeknight dinners. 

Asparagus, Lemon, and White Bean Pasta
serves four
2-3 lemons
1 bunch asparagus
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
pinch of sugar
1/4 tbsp red pepper flakes or to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans

2 cups bean broth, salted to taste
2 cups salted water in which lemons and asparagus were blanched
8 ounces small pasta such as ditalini or elbow noodles
freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving 

1. Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil. Trim the tops and bottoms off the lemons and cut lengthwise into quarters; remove seeds. Thinly slice the quarters crosswise into triangles. Blanch the lemon pieces in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a dish towel. Blot dry.

2. Trim the asparagus and cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths. In the same water that you used for the lemons, blanch the asparagus for 4 minutes. Strain the asparagus and reserve the flavored blanching water.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat. Add the dried lemon pieces and season with a pinch each of salt and sugar. Cook until the lemons are caramelized and browned at the edges, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. 

4. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the asparagus for 2 minutes over medium high heat to char slightly. Transfer to the plate with the lemon wedges.

5. Add one more tablespoon of olive oil to the hot skillet and the chili flakes, and then the beans and toss briefly. Now add about two cups of bean broth, the pasta, and about two cups of the lemony blanching water, such that the pasta is submerged. Cook simmering, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking, and adding more broth to keep the pasta submerged, until the pasta is just undercooked, about 12 minutes. Stir in the asparagus, lemon wedges, and a tablespoon of butter and cook one more minute. Avoid overcooking the pasta and make sure that the final dish has enough liquid to form a thick sauce. Serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Market Poster and Cumin Lamb from Lucky Peach

The start of the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market's seventh season is just three weeks away. Please spread the word by downloading the market poster here and distributing it widely. 

In return for this favor, I'd like to share an addictively delicious recipe for cumin lamb from the recent Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes cookbook. The recipe calls for thinly sliced lamb, but we've been making it with ground lamb from market vender Fair Valley Farm and it's become a family favorite. Here I served it as a filling for lettuce wraps with these Sichuan green beans. For the lamb, you can dial back the amount of Sichuan peppercorns and chili flakes if serving spice-averse kids, but I recommend using all two tablespoons of cumin seeds, which may seem like a lot, but is perfect with the lamb and seared onion. Once you've tasted this, you'll want to keep a stash of Fair Valley Farm ground lamb in the freezer for when the craving strikes.

makes 2 to 4 servings

2 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp Sichuan peppercorns (we use 1 tsp for kids)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2-1 tsp chili flakes (we use 1/4 tsp for kids)
1 lb boneless lamb leg, thinly sliced, or ground
2 Tbsp neutral oil
2 cups thinly sliced white or yellow onions
1 cup sliced scallions, whites and greens
1 Tbsp sliced garlic
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp Shoaling wine or dry sherry
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro

1. Toast the cumin seeds and peppercorns in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pulse in a spice grinder or grind with a mortal and pestle, not too finely. Mix with the salt and chili flakes.

2. Toss the spice mixture with the meat to coat.

3. Heat a very large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the oil, and when it emits wisps of smoke, add the onions and cook, tossing, until translucent and slightly charred. Transfer the onions to a bowl.

4. Add the lamb and any residual spices to the pan. Cook, tossing, until the meat begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the scallions, garlic, soy sauce, and wine, and bring to a brisk simmer. After about 2 to 3 minutes, when the lamb is just cooked through and coated in sauce, return the onions to the pan and toss everything together. Remove from the heat and top with the cilantro. Serve hot.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Northwest Spring Salad with Creamy Cashew and Herb Dressing

Happy May Day. The corner of Agate and 19th Ave., home of the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market, is teaming with triumphant runners and jubilant spectators today. The newly opened Sweet Life Petite is busy dispensing their pastries and beverages, as well as loaves of Hideaway Bakery bread, and the happy neighborhood bustle is a harbinjer of the upcoming seventh season of the Farmers Market, to start June 5, 10 AM - 2 PM. Mark your calendars. 

Just as we’ve had some changes on the corner, with the arrival of Sweet Life Petite and the soon to be opened J Tea, so too we have some changes in the market. After anchoring the Fairmount Market for five seasons, Farmer Erica of Sweetwater Farm has decided to turn her attention to her local Creswell Farmers Market. Sweetwater Farm will be missed, but we are excited to welcome new members Farmers Jonah and Amber of Camas Swale Farm from Coburg. Camas Swale Farm will be joined by returning members Fair Valley Farm, selling pastured meats, and Tiger Lily Art Company, selling beautiful local flowers.

Camas Swale Farm is a diversified organic produce farm that is known for offering a great CSA program (voted top 3 best CSA by Eugene Weekly in 2013). They've been growing a wide variety of organic vegetables, herbs, flowers and some fruit since 2009. Farmer Jonah grew up in SE Eugene and is happy to return with great produce for his old neighborhood and join the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market.

By way of introduction, Amber provided a delicious recipe for a Northwest Spring Salad with Creamy Cashew and Herb Dressing, which I riffed on for dinner last night. 

The creamy green dressing is made from soaked cashews, herbs, and greens. Amber suggests a couple handfuls of spinach, but since I had a big bunch of parsley I used that, along with fresh oregano and mint and some lemon for brightness. For extra creaminess you can blend in tofu or sour cream, or I took it more in the direction of a pesto and used olive oil. I employed my favorite trick of blending all the ingredients in a mason jar (the blade and base of a standard blender will screw onto a mason jar). You can top the salad with baked chicken or tempeh. We were grilling last night, so I topped ours with grilled asparagus and green onions and added quinoa and back beans for heft. The dressing is delicious and worth having around. I'm planning on using the rest tomorrow on a green spring pizza. Thanks to Amber for a great recipe and I'm looking forward to welcoming Camas Swale Farm to the market June 5.

Northwest Spring Salad with Creamy Cashew and Herb Dressing
adapted from Amber of Camas Swale Farm

Creamy Cashew and Herb Dressing (makes about 2 cups) 
1 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes
1/4 cup olive oil (or 1 cup tofu or sour cream)
zest and juice of one lemon
2 cups fresh herbs and greens such as parsley, spinach, oregano, and mint
1 Tbsp green trips of green onions or 1 tsp minced onion
~/2 tsp salt (less if cashews are salted)
~1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

If blending in a mason jar, use a canning funnel to add the soaked cashews, olive oil or tofu, lemon zest and juice, herbs and greens, salt and pepper to the jar, along with 1/2 cup water. Screw on the blender blade and base and blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon to taste and more water for desired consistency.  You could also make the dressing in a food processor or regular blender. 

For the salad (use some or all of the ingredients below)
salad greens
chopped crunchy radishes and carrots
baked or grilled chicken or tempeh
grilled asparagus
grilled green onions
cooked grain such as quinoa
black beans

Top the greens with your choice of ingredients and drizzle with ample dressing. Enjoy. 
And see you at the market opening June 5th.