Today’s recipe is about tying up the loose ends of summer and warmly welcoming the shorter days, chillier nights, and sturdier greens. It’s about the last pods of fresh beans, the remaining few cracked and blighted tomatoes, and that last handful of fragrant flowering basil.
I’ve been re-reading chapters of Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson, a super-informative and interesting read on the history of our fruits and vegetables and how they’ve gone from their wild ancestors to what we now find in the grocery stores. While the book talks about how flavour and nutrients have generally been lost in the process, it offers optimistic and research-backed advice on selecting the best varieties currently available, along with tips on storage and preparation to make the most of what we have.
Jo frequently refers to the respiration rate of produce, which essentially means how quickly the carbohydrates are broken down in order to continue sustaining the cellular life of the fruits or vegetables after they’re picked. One of the side effects of respiration is that the nutritional value is usually diminished. The rate of respiration determines how long something can be stored post-harvest and how well nutrients are preserved during storage. Brassicas (i.e. kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.) vary in their respiration rates, with some, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts having super-high rates (Jo says they’re panting vs. breathing) and cabbage being a pretty slow breather. Even if that head of broccoli or bunch of kale still looks nice and perky at the grocery store, chances are that it doesn’t contain the max dose of all the good stuff that you’re probably going for. They’re still totally awesome for you, I’m not knocking store-bought brassicas, but I figured that they’re worth having in the garden, just for the ability to go immediately from soil to table vs. the novelty that I usually seek out with other vegetables.
If you’re not a fan of full-on kale salads, I encourage you to try adding a small amount of finely shredded and massaged kale to other salads that you’re more excited about. Cutting it into really small pieces and massaging it helps a lot with the chewy texture and having other hearty more flavourful ingredients totally overpower the flavour (which also, btw, becomes more bitter and intense the longer you store the kale, as the natural sugars break down). I paired the kale with the more robust late-season tomato and basil flavours.
I apologize for not having glorious tomato porn for you today, but the tomatoes came and went so quickly for me this year, that I barely had the chance to pay them a visit with my camera. I kept waiting for the day that all the varieties would ripen at the same time, but that day never came. It was a weird tomato season but the plants made up for their lack of quantity with generous texture and flavour. The few that we had were so good. Quality > Quantity for sure :)
- 2 cups of fresh shelled beans (I used cranberry beans, but feel free to substitute cooked dried beans or canned beans if you want, but modify the quantity to accomodate)
- 1/2 tsp. of fennel seeds
- a generous amount of salt
- 6 leaves of lacinato (dinousaur) kale, shredded (~ 1 cup)
- 1/2 a shallot, thinly sliced
- fresh lemon juice
- a handful of basil
- 4 small tomatoes
- extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Cover the fresh beans with water by about an inch and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Add fennel seeds and season with salt until the water is distinctly salty. The salinity will be diluted once the beans absorb the liquid and fresh beans don't absorb nearly as much as dried beans, so a little extra salt is needed to bring out the bean flavour.
- Cook for 20 - 30 minutes, sampling a few beans to determine when they're done. They should be soft, but not mushy. Modify the cooking time, as necessary, if using other beans.
- While the beans are cooking shred the kale and massage with a pinch of salt and a little bit of olive oil. Set aside.
- Cover the shallots with lemon juice and set aside.
- Once the beans are cooked, drain them, dress them with the lemon juice and shallots. Taste them and season with more salt if necessary, and fresh pepper. If you have some extra time you let them rest for half an hour or so, which will improve their flavour, but this isn't necessary.
- Right before serving, slice the tomatoes and toss with the dressed beans, kale, and fresh basil leaves.
- Drizzle with olive oil and generously sprinkle with flaky sea salt.