Tuesday, November 4, 2008

City Kitchen Chronicles: Garlicky Long Beans and Farmers Markets

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

This past Saturday my mom came into the city for some quality time. We went out for lunch, but before that I took her along on my favorite Saturday morning fixture: shopping for vegetables.

I am a wholehearted devotee of farmers markets. Even before Michael Pollan and his amazing book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, laid out for me the brutal and beautiful repercussions of how we get our food (and subsequent case for local eating), I’d gotten in the habit of buying my veggies from the weekend farmers market that’s just a few blocks from my apartment.

When I moved to this neighborhood a year ago last summer, my eating and cooking habits changed, largely by virtue of now living alone. I started cooking more, and I was suddenly a short, lovely walk away from fresh, local veggies every Saturday morning. I’ve since traded most of those quick jaunts for a more time-intensive but even more rewarding trip to the mother of all NYC farmers markets, at Union Square.

Every week I savor the hour I give myself to stroll back and forth through the stalls (once through to see what’s good and what’s cheap, and then buying on a second pass), but my mom’s reactions reminded me how special these mornings are. “Oh, look at that broccoli! It’s gorgeous!” “Ohh, those Macouns look amazing!” “They look so fresh!” That last one was for Brussels sprouts still on the stalk, a treat you never see at the supermarket.

In the end, for all its fresh and delicious bounty, the greenmarket wasn’t exactly my suburban mom’s speed. She found herself fumbling with cash and her bags whenever she went to buy something, and the jostling crowds can be a lot. “I need a shopping cart,” she said more than once. New York City doesn’t scare her – she lived here when she was my age – but there’s a way to get zen with the slow-walking busyness of the farmers market that I realized I’ve acquired over the last year.

Then, that evening, after my mom had left, I went to Target to buy socks and conditioner and got my own taste of overstimulation anxiety. To each her own.

One of the best things about the farmers market – beyond fresh produce, environmentally-friendly eating, supporting local businesses, and damn tasty food – and especially of big markets like the one at Union Square, is that it gets me to try new veggies. When collards were cheap, I started buying collards. When zucchini went out of season, I tried – and discovered I love – cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. And every so often I’ll spot a strange and intriguing vegetable that’s cheap and looks promising.

Over the summer I tried all sorts of weird wild greens like lambsquarter and purslane, loving both. More recently I took a chance on long beans.

See, they’re like darker, tougher string beans, but loooooong.

A sign at the stall said they have a stronger, meatier texture, and suggested braising the beans. I tend to sauté everything, and had a feeling these beans would stand up to that pretty well.

And damn was I right! I went with olive oil and a metric ton of garlic, and was not disappointed. Cannellini beans add protein and creaminess, almost dissolving into a sauce over some hearty whole wheat pasta. The lemon juice cuts the salt and oil without tasting lemony. The long beans’ flavor isn’t super strong, but they hold up well and have a really interesting texture. Keeping the garlic pieces big and cooking it slow makes this more tasty and less breath-killing.

Garlicky long beans and beans
makes 4 servings (or so)

1/2 lb long beans, cut into three-inch (or so) pieces.
4 cloves garlic
1 can Cannelinni beans, drained and rinsed
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups (dry) whole wheat pasta (rotini or penne will work well)
salt and pepper

1) Cut up 4 cloves of garlic in various ways – the smaller the pieces, the garlickier the food. One or two minced, two sliced very thin, and one however you like will yield a good mix of sizes and heat.

2) Get your pasta cooking. (I hope it’s okay if I don’t tell you how to cook pasta. Err on the al dente side for this, though, cause the beans will add a lot of mush.)

3) Heat 1 T olive oil over medium-low heat. Saute garlic until starting to get color.

4) Add long beans, and toss. Saute over medium heat until they’re tasty and just about done. (10 min or so, but taste as you go.)

5) Toss in Cannellini beans, salting and peppering to taste. (The beans will take a lot of salt.)

6) Toss cooked pasta with 1 T olive oil, then mix in the bean & bean mixture and lemon juice, or serve the beans over the pasta. However you like.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
4 servings: 431 calories, 8 g fat, $0.88

1/2 lb long beans: 96 calories, 0 g fat, $2.00
4 cloves garlic: 18 calories, 0 g fat, $0.10
1 can Cannellini beans: 1,045 calories, 3 g fat, $0.70
2 T olive oil: 239 calories, 27 g fat, $0.20
juice of 1 lemon: 12 calories, 0 g fat, $0.20
1 1/2 cups (dry) whole wheat pasta: 315 calories, 2 g fat, $0.30
salt and pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 1,723 calories, 32 g fat, $3.52
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 431 calories, 8 g fat, $0.88

(Union Square photo provided by Flickr member wallyg.)


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