Sunday, July 1, 2012

What's on the Menu: Permaculture Weekend III

The summer solstice has quickly come and gone--the greens are growing faster, and all the other veggies are eager to catch up to our growing appetites. There's so much delicious food out there. For this particluar weekend, I wanted to enhance the freshness of herbs, the tender new chards leaves, and the early harvest of peas and garlic scapes. It all begins with a time-consuming, but well worth it Saturday lunch. Simple Saturday Lunch: Fresh Salad Hummus Bread Sprouted Lentil Salad Handmade Lasagna with Great Northern Bean Sauce and Swiss Chard Ever since my winter trip to Italy, I have been dreaming of making pasta again. I needed just the right ingredients to compliment the pasta, and the colorful Bright Lights Swiss Chard seemed the best fit. I pre-made the pasta dough on Friday and let it sit overnight in the refridgerator. I would normally prepare it just before making, but I needed all the prepe time the day of the meal in case things were running late. And I'm glad I prepared. Homemade pasta is nothing to be afraid of. It is realy quite simple: For every 2 cups of flour add about 3 eggs, a dash of salt, and water only if needed. It is important for the dough to be stiff. If the dough is too sticky, elastic, or soft, it will not move through the pasta machine at all. I found that preparing the dough ahead and letting is sit in the cool refrigerator allowed everything to settle together. Kneeding the next day, I had to add minimal flour, and it worked through the machine smoothly. Lasagna is the most simple of all pastas--no need for fancy shapes or perfect rectangles. Be cautious about putting it through the finest setting, for lasagna I would not go further than setting #5, for once the lasagna is cooked it becomes difficult to handle. But any less than #5 is too thick. Having a second person for this process is ideal (thank you George!). The pasta can be layed out, and let to dry--so don't worry about boiling it straight away. But there is no need to let is dry completely. For the white bean sauce, I thoroughly cooked the beans, until they were more than tender. After soaking for the the day on Friday, I cooked then that night at the boil for about 20 minutes, then placed them in our "Hay Box." This is an insulated box that allows anything to maintain a warm temperature, slow-cooking it overnight. No more simmering beans for hours over a hot stove! Once the beans could easily be squished between my fingers, they were ready. I like to add whole cloves of garlic to the beans while cooking. They are slowly cooked to super softness, blending nicley along with the beans into a smoth paste, as well as adding a mild garlic flavor (not as potent as sauteed in oil or butter). Adding freshly chopped parsley to the bean/garlic puree brings a freshness and light color to cream-like sauce. I like using the white beans because they are like cream without acutally using cream. To prepare the chard, I cut the stems away, reserving for the lentil salad, and cut the greens into about 1-inch strips. Lightly sauteeing the chard, allows for easier layering in the lasagna, and ensures that the greens can more easily be chewed through. To make the lasagna, boil the pasta for a short couple of minutes, not long. Drain and either run under cool water to cease cooking, and/or drizzle with oil to prevent sticking. Layer a baking pan (preferably glass) with the pasta, sauce and chard, then with the pasta again. You can make as many layers as you have ingredients, but I think three or four layers is plenty. Once this is complete, place in the oven to bake for 15-20 mintes at 350 degrees F. Be sure to cover the top layer with either a decent drizzle of oil or enough sauce, otherwise the pasta will be too dry and bake too crispy. Let the dish cool slightly before serving. Lasagna is versatile and can be made with any ingredients. Adding cheese, especially ricotta, to the layers would make this dish even more filling. For the Sprouted Lentil Salad, I started soaking lentils on Wednesday to ensure that I had sprouts by Saturday. Sprouts are also easy, and very nutritious. Lentils are especially delicious, maintaining a nutty flavor and a great crunchiness. To sprout simply let the beans soak in a jar overnight. In the morning, drain the water, then rinse the beans at least twice a day. What you want to avoid is the beans drying out. If you can shake the jar, and the beans clink against the jar like beads, then you need to thoroughly rinse them. While this meal required some preparation, in its ingredients it was simple and light. Great for an early summer day. It was served with a fresh salad, frsh sourdough bread, and hummus. The weekend continues, so check back for more great meals. Enjoy and happy cooking, Regina

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