15 April 2013

uphill bean battle

Lately, I feel like Sisyphus; at least when it comes to beans. I may not be facing a constant uphill battle with a boulder, but I am combatting the seemingly endless supply of canned beans in my pantry. Seriously, it seems as though canned beans are reproducing in the cool, quiet darkness of my storeroom. And I haven't even begun to tackle the dried beans! But all of these legumes and such have been coming in handy since I've been making a concerted effort to cut back on our meat consumption, especially on Meatless Mondays. Fortunately, I'm pretty familiar with all of the beans I've got on the shelf - black beans, pink beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, beans, beans, beans, yadayadayada. There was however, one can that I remember buying on a whim without knowing how I'd use it. As of this morning, I still had no clue how to use butter beans. I didn't even know what kind of bean they were (it's pretty much just a lima bean.) So, I turned to Google.

butter beans + kale. Kale. This bunch of leafy superfood seems to be taking over my refrigerator just like beans have laid claim to the pantry. After a quick browse through the results I stumbled upon a guest post from Kelli of The Corner Kitchen on Say Yes to Hoboken for a butter bean and kale tomato sauce with mushrooms served over polenta. It was fate! I already had all of those ingredients in my fridge, it was so perfect.

Since I like to really own my recipes, I tend to use other recipes more for ideas than anything else so I put Kelli's wonderfully inspiring creation aside until later on. In my mind, the sauce wasn't the hard part even though I did decide to make it more of a hearty stew or ragu. The hard part was going to be the polenta. I cook with polenta quite frequently because unlike most corn products, I actually love polenta. But I've always bought the pre-made stuff in the tube, never made it from scratch. I usually end up slicing it and pan frying it or just heating it up and piling delicious things on top of it. But every time I've ordered polenta at a restaurant I get something reminiscent of Cream O' Wheat which then makes me wonder if I'm eating breakfast or supper (more on that at the end,) and I've still loved it. So now the challenge of turning pre-made tube polenta into creamy, parmesan-y porridge. It wasn't a challenge. The side of the package told me exactly how to do it and I improvised with a potato masher.

creamy parmesan polenta
1 tube pre-made polenta
1/2 c milk
1/2 c water or stock
splash of cream
1/4 c seasoned parmesan
salt, pepper & olive oil to taste
1. Slice polenta into 1/4" pieces and crumble into a heavy bottom sauce pan with milk, cream and water. Heat on a med-high flame and mash until you've achieved desired consistency. Stir in cheese, salt, pepper and oil and heat until hot but not bubbling, stirring often to avoid sticking.

Had I known it was that easy, I would have made creamy polenta long ago. And now for the meatless main event!

kale and butter bean ragu (inspired by Kelli's tomato braised butter beans with kale & mushrooms)
4 medium tomatoes, chopped (I used a variety of campari, heirloom, and kumato)
1 can butter beans, rinsed
5-7 c kale, rinsed and torn
1 c sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh basil, torn
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
salt, pepper, crushed red pepper to taste
1. In a large pan, heat garlic and onion in olive oil until the onion starts to get soft. Add 1-2 c water and heat to a simmer on a medium flame while tossing in kale 2 cups at a time, allowing to reduce. Season with salt and peppers. Add herbs.
2. When kale has wilted down and become soft add in the mushrooms, cooking about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and beans. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 3-5 more minutes, covered. Season as desired. Serve on top of creamy polenta with a dollop of fresh ricotta if desired.

Dinner was almost too easy tonight. And it was so delicious and flavorful and hearty and belly-filling good! It's getting a little warm out now, but this is a perfect late winter meal if you ask me. I mention breakfast earlier because I think if you toned down the spices of the veggies and put a poached egg on top, you'd have an unbelievably beautiful brunch dish. Or you could put it all in a skillet with a few eggs and bake it - gosh that would look so nice on a morning table! After we ate, I checked out Kelli's original recipe and it wasn't much different than my interpretation. She used canned diced tomatoes with the juices and shredded her kale so it looks like it was more along the lines of a sauce than a stew. She also used thyme which I lovelovelove! Maybe next time (because I'll for sure be making this again,) I'll try out the original. And maybe I'll even try making the polenta from scratch (did someone say Sunday?) Another Meatless Monday success! Thanks Kelli and your itty bitty kitchen for the inspiration!

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