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Improvising with vegetables

June 6, 2010

For me, cooking is all about improvisation. Sure, I have recipes I regularly follow, but when it comes to cooking (not baking), I generally look in the fridge, look in the cupboard, and throw together a meal. My big skillet and large, heavy-bottomed stockpots are my best friends.

Case in point: a volunteer at the museum I work at offered to share some of her CSA with me. Her significant other apparently always gets the biggest share, despite the fact that it’s just the two of them at home. So yesterday I scored half a head of bok choy, which is also called Chinese cabbage. It’s a brassica, but tastes and looks sort of like Swiss chard, except with very large, white stems, about the size of large celery stalks. It tastes very mild, especially when cooked.

I also had a giant bag of fresh green beans languishing in the fridge, a few sausages to use up, beans in the cupboard, and onions in the dark recess of a brown paper bag. So I made this:

Greens, Beans, and Sausage Skillet:

1 a small onion, roughly chopped
glug olive oil
1 lb green beans, washed, trimmed, and snapped in half
4-6 leaves bok choy, washed and sliced
4 smoked sausage links, sliced lengthwise and sliced into half moons
1 can white beans (I used great northern)
a sprinkling of shredded Italian cheeses (parmesan, asiago, mozzarella, or a mix)
ground black pepper

In a large stock pot, saute the onion until translucent. Then add green beans, bok choy, and sausage. Saute until bok choy is tender (you’ll want the green beans to stay crisp). Drain as much of the liquid as you can off of the beans. Add to the pot with a splash of water and the cheese. Stir well until heated through and cheese and water have melted into a sauce. Add pepper. DO NOT ADD SALT. The sausage and cheeses are plenty salty already. Serves 4-6 as a main dish.

Please note that this recipe is an approximation and I essentially made it in two halves. Feel free to halve the recipe. If you like more beans, keep the whole can of beans, even if you halve the recipe.

See? Isn’t it pretty? Some of the green beans are more olive-y because they were leftover from dinner the other night. Ditto the beans.

I also made clafoutis, despite the heat. Clafoutis is a French dessert similar to flan or quiche, but creamy and sweet and featuring summer fruit. It’s my favorite summer dessert, besides ice cream, and is the perfect way to showcase berries and summer pit fruits. Like peaches, which is what I used today.

It gets all puffy when you bake it...

... and then it deflates when it cools. Neat!

Clafoutis is perfect for eating out-of-hand when cool. It’s a little sticky, but sooo good. In fact, I just ate most of a wedge. Despite the fact that the boy is not home yet and we’ll be eating dinner when he gets home. 🙂

It’s a very simple dessert. I love simple desserts. The eggy/cakey/custardy part is very smooth and just a little sweet and flavored with vanilla. Which is the perfect foil for unsweetened fruit. You can use any kind of fruit, just make sure it’s soft. So pit fruit like plums, peaches, apricots, and cherries are perfect, as are berries. Although maybe not strawberries as they are kind of watery. You could even use canned fruit or preserves. I wouldn’t recommend apples, just because I don’t think the texture would go together, though ripe, soft-variety pears (like Anjou, but not Bosc) might be nice. I also wouldn’t recommend acidic fruit like citrus fruits or pineapple as they may curdle the eggs.

I’ve made clafoutis many, many times before with a variety of fruit, including rhubarb, which is one of my favorites. You can see the recipe here. It’s very easy, requiring only one bowl, a pie plate, and a whisk for tools. And very fast to put in the oven, though it takes about 45 minutes to bake.

Okay, time to go watch Dr. Who. On BBC America On Demand. Sometimes I really, really like premium cable. 🙂

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