Monday, August 25, 2008

Back in Action!

After a whirlwind tour of wine country and a sleepless red-eye, I'm finally back home and ready to cook!

I had a wonderful trip and I'm a bit sad to be leaving San Francisco, which has one of the most vibrant and exciting food cultures of any city I've been to (not that I've been to all that many, but still, it's totally awesome).

In addition to the foodie treats I talked about in previous posts, some of the other highlights included a trip to the famous organic grocery store Rainbow, which has more bulk bins than any of the Whole Foods I've been to combined, and a lovely dinner at a seafood restaurant in Berkeley, where I had grilled calamari with pesto and giant lima beans.

At a Whole Foods in Mill Valley, California, I sampled (ok, I ate the whole bag) some amazingly sweet and delicious figs, rounding out my whole California produce binge.

My last two days in California were spent touring wine country once again, but this time I was sure to explore the culinary gems of Napa and Sonoma in addition to tasting some lovely wines. On Friday night we ate in downtown Sonoma at The Girl and the Fig, which has one of the nicest outdoor patios I've seen. I had a cranberry bean soup and a salad with grilled figs (how could I resist?), pecans, and goat cheese. It was everything that dinner in wine country should be.

The next morning, we trekked out to Sebastopol on a mission to find the famed Wild Flour Bread, a bakery that eschews electric machinery for manual labor and a wood-fired oven. The sticky cinnamon rolls were out of this world, and the sour dark rye, which was encrusted in caraway seeds, was unlike any other bread I've ever had. We all agreed it was well worth the drive.

Being a New Englander at heart, I couldn't resist the opportunity to seek out some freshly-harvested Gravenstein apples, which are Sebastopol's claim to fame (at least in my book). Like my favorite New England varieties, Gravensteins are slightly tart, crisp, and mottled red and green. We found some at an out-of-the-way farm which also grows 26 other apple varieties, most of which appear in September. I stowed three away on the plane home, and now have just one left. Those Gravensteins have started making me a bit anxious for apple season in our neck of the woods...

The humid weather here doesn't seem quite ready to yield to autumn produce yet, even though I think I'm ready for it. Despite all of the sweet, juicy deliciousness of California's summer bounty, the fall harvest - apples, pears, squash, and more squash, is still my favorite. The recipe today is a hearty, yet light dish that doesn't require any fancy fall produce. In fact, it's a riff on the soup I had at The Girl and the Fig, made with dried cranberry beans. It's easy and delicious, and makes a lovely late-summer meal that hints at the fast-approaching deliciousness of fall.

Smooth and Simple Bean Soup

1/2 lb. dried cranberry, borlotti, or Roman beans
1 medium onion
1 carrot
1/2 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
plenty of water
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
red chili flakes or aleppo pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. herbs de Provence, crushed
1 tbs. white wine vinegar
high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling


Prepare beans: Rinse and pick through dried beans, then place in a pot and cover by about 1 1/2 inches with cold water. Place pot over medium heat, bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let sit, covered, for about 1 hour. After beans have soaked, roughly chop the carrot and onion, and add them to the pot with the beans. Add the bay leaf, garlic, and a sprinkling of chili flakes, and return to medium heat. Once the pot is simmering, reduce heat and continue to simmer until beans are toothsome and vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Check beans regularly and add water if the liquid level is low. Once cooked, season generously with salt and pepper. Using an immersion blender (or regular blender), puree the soup until it is completely smooth. Adjust seasonings and add additional spices and herbs. Add water to soup to achieve desired consistency. Finally, add vinegar, and adjust seasonings once more. Reheat, if necessary, and serve with a drizzle of good-quality olive oil and a few leaves of parsley or cilantro, to garnish.


Kristin at The Kitchen Sink said...

Mia: This soup looks delicious---a perfect way to ease into fall (which I'm excited about too!).

Also -- I tagged you for the Ten Favorite Food Photos meme on my blog today.

Christina said...

The soup sounds great. I like how it's smooth and creamy, yet it doesn't contain any cream.