Recipe-phile: Resilient greens add to fall's (epicurean) splendor
Even though the temperatures in spring and autumn might fall in the same range, my body knows the difference between them; diminishing warmth somehow feels so different from accumulating warmth, don't you think?
The plants in the garden, on the other hand, can't seem to tell if the heat is coming or going.
I'm always amazed by the resiliency of cool-weather plants, the way they shake off the snow and cold as if it's nothing but a bother.
We have recently witnessed a beautiful crop of teenage spinach and, more miraculously, a second coming of the fava beans, the double-podded beans that look like bright green lima beans and taste like spring's first baby peas. They're awkward plants, real "slackers": lanky, extra-tall, and with no plans for the future. They reach up, up and up ... until then they fall over. They won't climb a pole, either. (My husband runs them a rope line at their middles for them to lean on and they seem to like that.)
Fava beans are typically grown in the spring in Europe and the Mediterranean, but I've found them to be a dependable cool-weather crop here in Minnesota. Every time I've planted them I pick a nice crop of favas both in the early spring and the late fall.
No doubt, they're fiddly, although I've found that their sweet, fresh taste is usually worth the work. To get at the tender fava bean you have to shuck them from their pods and then boil the beans a minute and slip them from their skins. It goes quickly but still, I've devised some recipes that require just a handful of them. I cast a mere 25 of them into a potato and leek soup a few weeks ago, pureed it (at which point it turned bright green) and then iced it down, making a greener, fresher version of vichyssoise, the french cold potato-leek soup.
But usually I pulse them in the food processor with some herbs, nuts and cheese to make a kind of fava pesto dip. The added ricotta stretches a handful of favas into a substantial bowlful, and it's a good recipe to make with frozen peas as well. If you don't have favas (and I know most people don't) the pea version is just as good and a whole lot easier.
But it's the spinach salad that really made an impression on me this week. I'm not usually a raw spinach salad person, but when it's fresh and partnered with bacon and eggs, I can't resist. Usually a salad like this would get a creamy dressing, but I wanted something lighter that wouldn't mask (or compound) the richness of the bacon and the egg, so I made a classic dijon vinaigrette, which turned out to be a great match.
Fava Ricotta Dip
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup basil leaves, lighly packed
3/4 cup shelled fava beans (substitute frozen baby peas)
1/4 cup pistachios
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 turns black pepper
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 cup grated parmesan cheese + more for garnish
2 tablespoons water, if needed
To shell fava beans: Remove the beans from their pods. Heat a small pot of water to boiling and add the favas. Boil for one minute and then transfer to icy water to cool. Drain and slip fava beans from their skins.
Place the garlic clove, most of the fava beans (save a few for garnish), basil, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add the ricotta, olive oil and pulse until combined. Turn out into a bowl and add the water if the mixture seems too thick. Mix in the parmesan cheese. Place in a serving bowl and form a decorative divot on top. Scatter with the reserved fava beans and garnish with a stream of extra-virgin olive oil and a little more grated parmesan cheese.. Serve with bread or crackers or even crudités (Belgian endive, radishes, garden carrots, etc.).
Spinach Salad with Eggs and Bacon
12 ounces spinach leaves, washed, dried and torn if large
5 slices thick-cut bacon
2 eggs (preferably farm-fresh)
1/2 garlic clove, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the bacon crosswise into 1/2 -inch thick strips. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat and cook the bacon until lightly crisp at the edges. Remove to a bowl and reserve.
Put the eggs in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer for and cook for 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit in the water for 4 more minutes. Pour off the water and fill the pot with cold water. Crack the eggs against the pot and drop them back into the water. The cool water seeps in through the cracks and helps loosen the shell from the white. Shell the eggs and blot dry on paper towels. Chop coarsely.
For the dressing, whisk together the garlic, thyme, mustard, lemon juice and vinegar until smooth. Whisk in the oil in a thin stream until emulsified.
Place the cleaned spinach in a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Add the chopped eggs and bacon and toss to combine.