Let’s feast on the end of summer!
I spotted an orange tree in Vermont the other day, and that signals some remarkable bargains at the farmers markets! We’ve had a few days of dry, crisp air and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a few trees have started to color. While I always welcome the beauty of Autumn in New England, I’m never quite ready for it, but it is definitely ready for me.
This is the magnificent time of year when it seems, just for a moment, that we really can have it all! Summer vegetables, winter vegetables, berries, fruits, mushrooms, wonderful cheeses, pickles, preserves of every type, food to eat fresh and food to store. All grown and offered locally.
It is sometimes a practice in restraint; with all these treasures calling out to us, it is easy to get carried away and buy too much!
Some of the surplus can be assigned immediately to the freezer. Berries, tomatoes and tomato sauce, grated zucchini, ginger, quick batches of pesto. Or, we can take a little time and make jams and pickles, chutneys, and sauces. We’ve made batches of ratatouille and gazpacho and tucked the extras in the freezer. We cook and freeze and store zucchini, even make cake out of it, and when there’s no more room or will, we leave them on our friend’s porch.
The cherry tomato surplus
Also appearing in excess this time of year are cherry tomatoes. These colorful spheres are doing their best to ripen as fast they can as the days shorten. My two plants give me an amazing number of fruits! When fresh, the kids eat them like candy. I always pop bags of them whole in the freezer to use throughout the winter.
While it is handy to have them tucked away for later, they beg to offer their flavor right now. Cherry tomatoes make the quickest pasta sauce when sautéed for a few minutes with a little olive oil and garlic, a perfect late summer supper. But blister them up and add them to beans, and you have a happy dish. Even more flavor if you steam few littleneck clams in the pot at the end.
An heirloom bean
The Vermont cranberry bean is an heirloom variety that has been used in New England for hundreds of years. Popular among seed swappers, they have distinctive cranberry-streaked pods and beans, a smooth texture, and lovely sweet taste.
These and other shell or shelling beans will appear in the farmers markets any minute. If you find them, snap them up for this dish. Look for pods that are nice and bumpy and full, and with no green left on the pod. They should be brightly colored.
Fresh or dried, they are a hearty base for a meal
Fresh, they will cook quickly, so just pop the beans out of the pods, boil them until tender, about 15 minutes, and use or freeze.
But you will most likely make this dish with dried beans. Dried cranberry, pinto, or Jacob’s cattle beans work nicely in this recipe.
Use what you have on hand
If you look for them, you will definitely find lots of cherry tomatoes. However, if you happen to have an excess of other tomatoes, use those instead. Just cut them into quarters and blister, skin side down in the pan.
If you buy your clams from a fish market rather than the grocery store you will more than likely have the freshest possible, and a knowledgeable monger who can tell you about their source. Clams get sweeter as the seasons change, and you may see more varieties available right now.
Always a vegetarian option
If you wish to make this dish vegetarian, the clams and anchovies are optional, and the result is still a delicious, hearty meal.
Vermont Cranberry Beans with Blistered Tomatoes & Littleneck Clams
You can make this a really quick week-night meal if you already have the beans cooked, or use a favorite canned bean. One-half lb. of dried cranberry beans makes about 3 cups of cooked beans, which is about two cans of beans you can substitute in this recipe. Look for organic, no-salt added so you can control the seasoning.
- ½ lb. dried cranberry beans
- 1 quart water
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 lbs. littleneck or cherrystone clams, or both
- 2 tbsp. corn meal
- A quick brush of olive oil
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- An additional tbsp. oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 4 anchovy filets, minced
- 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 cup white wine or stock
- 2 cups arugula, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme, roughly minced
- 1 lemon
If using dry beans, you have two cooking options, pressure cooking or stovetop.
In a pressure cooker or multi-cooker set on high pressure, cook for 20 minutes. Release pressure quickly when done.
If you are not using a pressure cooker, cover the beans with a quart of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer and cook until tender, probably about 1 ½ hours, but it will depend on the age of the dried bean.
In the meantime, in a large bowl, soak the clams and cornmeal for 30 minutes. The cornmeal helps the clams disgorge any grit.
Once the beans are cooked, heat a large skillet or braising pan on high. Add the olive oil and cherries.
Cook until the tomatoes begin to char and split. Place them in a bowl and set aside, adding any pan juices as well.
To the same pan over medium-high add a little more olive oil, the onion, anchovy filets, and garlic. Sauté until the onions are soft and starting to brown.
Add the wine and continue cooking for a few minutes until the alcohol flashes off, then drain the beans and add them to the pot along with the tomatoes and their juices.
Combine well, season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the clams.
Cover, and cook until the clams open, check at five minutes. As they open, they will release their liquor to the pot. If any don’t open, discard them.
Add the arugula and thyme. Mix everything in together and top with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, some chopped parsley if you have it on hand, and a drizzle more of olive oil.
Vegan alternative: Simpy omit the clams, this soup is quite tasty in its own right. You can add some tofu, and a nice sprinkle of crushed nori to give a taste of the sea.
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