Reading food magazines has long been a favorite pastime. In the 70’s and 80’s it was my mom’s subscription to Cuisine, then later my copies of Vegetarian Times and for a while Saveur (which I still cannot pronounce with any level of comfort and which in our house was referred to to as “that food porn magazine.”) I briefly flirted with subscriptions to Lucky Peach, Bon Appetit and Food and Wine, but as much as I enjoy reading about food and looking a great pictures of food from around the world, I really just enjoy a recipe made with whole foods that I can turn around and whip up in the kitchen. Which might be the main reason we aren’t currently subscribing to any food mags.
Our grocery options have greatly expanded since I moved to the South almost 15 years ago, but it still takes driving to three different stores in three different parts of town to get the ingredients to make, for example, an authentic spinach pie. Dishes that call for more than one exotic spice or time consuming ingredient preparation make it very unlikely I will try it out. Most cooks learn to turn lemons into lemonade (or maybe lemon curd!) by adapting a recipe to the ingredients on hand. So it was with a recipe from Saveur and Patrica Wells at Home in Provence.
The original recipe calls for starting with whole globe artichokes to get at the tasty creamy hearts as well as using fresh peeled and seeded tomatoes, blanched and skinned fava beans, asparagus tips and shelled English peas. In this adaptation, I’ve kept the shelled English peas, which are easier to find in stores in the spring, but substituted canned artichoke hearts, canned tomatoes and beans types that are easy to find on the store shelf or in the freezer. You can use frozen peas if shelled fresh ones are not available. Fresh shelled English peas are more starchy and less sweet than frozen varieties, but either will work well. Don’t skip the pesto/pistou! With only three ingredients and no dairy or nuts, it’s easy to make in a blender or food processor and adds color and flavor to the final dish.
If you can find fresh or frozen fava beans, use them in place of, or in addition to, other beans. The fava beans must be blanched and their tough outer skins removed before adding to the dish when you add the peas. Dried favas are an option, but they have a slightly different flavor than the fresh variety and still need to be cooked and skins removed. The asparagus is optional. I’ve left it out only because we were serving asparagus as a side dish with the beans and other Easter dishes. Leaving it as an option allows you to make this dish year round, and add the asparagus in when they are in season.
For the Pistou (Pesto)
2 cups of fresh basil leaves
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup of olive oil
Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until it becomes a loose paste. Put into bowl or airtight container and reserve for serving on top of the ragout.
For the Ragout
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2-2.5 pounds of cooked beans (use canned or frozen cannellini, garbonzo, or lima beans or a mix. Drain any liquid from beans before using)
two 14 oz cans of artichoke hearts, heats cut in half
4-6 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
2-3 canned peeled plum tomatoes, cut open and seeds drained out. (Freeze remaining tomatoes from can for later use)
1 vegetable bouillon cube
3/4 cup of white wine
three sprigs of thyme
three sprigs of parsley
salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 pound of shelled fresh English peas
1 pound asparagus stalks, cleaned, blanched and cut into 2 inch pieces (optional)
Cook the chopped onion in olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan (one with a lid – you will need to cover it later) until until softened, 5-10 minutes. Wrap the parsley and thyme into a bundle tied with kitchen twine to make a bouquet garni. [No twine? Just add them in the pot, but be sure to retrieve the stems later before serving.] Chop the peeled seeded tomatoes into a small dice. Add the drained beans, bouquet garni, whole garlic cloves, wine, bouillon cube, tomatoes, lemon juice and salt and pepper to the pot. Stir and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes until the alcohol has time to cook off. At this point I highly recommend that you cool the dish and allow it to sit in the fridge overnight so the beans absorb the flavors of the herbs and seasonings. Before serving, re-heat the beans, add the fresh peas and cook for 3-5 minutes until they are tender. If using asparagus, blanch it before adding to the dish at the end so it retains its green color. Scoop into bowls and top with the pesto/pistou before serving. Also good with some crusty bread to dip into the bean ragout juices.