Things are starting to look a little too Autumnal for my liking here in Seattle. The last few days have been cold(er). Rain has set in a bit. A stroll around the neighborhood yields people talking about having to sweep up leaves. I am still at a loss as to what has happened. It was 80degrees not too long ago, days were spent in sunblock and shorts. Now you just look rather odd sporting either.
So here is a dish to welcome in some slightly colder weather. Nothing as full winter or fall as say a cassoulet, but something substantial enough for a cool summer evening.
I have been thinking about beans quite a bit lately. The romano beans that we have been growing in the garden have been a great success, and certainly next year we shall be growing a few varieties – certainly some fava (broad beans to us Brits). Of course, there is always the fantastic selection of dried beans one can find these days. My personal favorite of all of these has to be the just darling flageolet.
It cooks pretty quickly. It holds its shape incredibly well, even in slow cooked dishes (one of the reasons it is great in soups and cassoulet). It also absorbs flavors exceedingly well – which is why it is one of my personal favorites. The beans can be a little hard to find – Bobs Red Mill do a flageolet, which seems the easiest to find these days.
This dish was really just born out of the fridge. I just happened to have a very slow cooked sofrito and some garlic confit in there. Kale is growing in the back yard right now. It all started to seem like a no brainer.
Lets talk sofrito for a minute. Spanish in origin, but variations can be found throughout the Mediterranean. It is a simple combination of finely diced onion and tomato, slowly cooked until deeply colored and flavorful in ample oil. The amount of time taken to cook one really varies on how much time you have. 1 hour can yield something acceptable as a base, 4 to 5 hours will yield the most intensely flavored, rich mix that you can honestly just eat it by itself with a very, very large spoon. An act I have to say that I completely approve of.
I first made one a little while ago for a piperade I was making. Ever since then it has become a weekly ritual to dice up some onion, slow cook it for two hours, grate in some de-seeded tomato, and cook for a further two hours. Really, there is nothing to it. Having a lazy weekend day around the house, or working from home? It takes 10 minutes to get going, and requires almost no attention. A little stir every now and then, and life is good.
Thankfully the sofrito will last for at least a week in the fridge, as long as the solids are completely covered with the sofrito oil. Want to store it for longer? I have heard of people pouring the mixture into ice cube trays and freezing it. Not a bad idea at all! This would make prep for a paella (or even a risotto) ridiculously fast – just pop out a sofrito cube into pan, and melt.
The garlic confit is another fantastic building block to have sitting in your fridge. Simply peel as many garlic cloves as you see fit, and slowly cook in submerged in olive oil for about 40 minutes, until extremely tender. Allow to cool in the oil, store in the fridge (making sure the garlic is completely covered in oil). Garlic confit has a much more mellow, rich, complex flavor than its raw counterpart. Another great thing is that because it is so soft it blends into sauces extremely well.
For the kale, I have some green and purple Russian kale growing in the yard. Lactino kale would work just as well – I am sure some chard would also be quite lovely too. The kale needs to be wilted before adding to the beans, and my personal preference here is to quickly steam it. This is just me and health really. Steaming leafy greens does help to keep a lot of the nutrients in the leaves – much more so than boiling. If you don’t have a steamer, a large sieve set over a pan of boiling water will do the trick.
The final adition to the dish is a single anchovy fillet. Salt or oil packed is fine. This adds a lovely salty edge to the dish, again increases richness, and also adds a tiny little seafood hint to the base for the halibut.
Seared Halibut recipe with flageolet beans, sofrito, garlic confit, kale and anchovy (serves 2)
Sofrito (adapted from Bouchon Cookbook):
3 large onions – finely diced
3 large tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
Put the oil and onions in a medium sized saute pan. Bring up to a low simmer, and add a pinch of salt. Put the pan over a very low heat – just enough for the oil to very gently fizz around the onions, perhaps even less. Let this cook for a couple of hours. Stir every 20 minutes or so, just to make sure no pieces on onion are sticking to the sides of the pan.
Slice the tomatoes in half, and push out all the seeds. Grate these on the large holes of a box grater – cut side to the grater. This will grate in the tomato pulp, but leave the skins in your hand.
After the onions have cooked for a couple of hours in the oil they should be deeply colored. Add in the tomato to the pan, and another pinch of salt. Let this cook for a further 2 hours. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Store the sofrito, covered in the oil in a fridge.
10 cloves of garlic (or more)
Put the garlic cloves in a small saucepan. Pour in enough oil to completely cover the cloves. Cook over a gentle heat for 40 minutes. If the cloves start to brown, the oil is too hot. Allow to cool, then store the garlic in the fridge, covered with its oil.
1 cup flageolet beans
1 onion (cut in half)
5 sprigs of thyme
green ends of 1 leek
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs of parsley
4 tablespoons of sofrito, and some of the sofrito oil
4 cloves garlic confit, crushed
1 anchovy fillet
1 handful of kale leaves
3/4lb halibut fillet – cut into two portions
The night before making the dish, soak the flageolet beans in a bowl of water. In a rush? you can use the quick soak method: Put the beans in a saucepan of water. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Let them sit for 1 hour before using.
Preheat oven to 400F
Tie the leek, thyme and parsley together with some kitchen twine. In a large saucepan put the onion, beans, tied up leek/thyme/parsley, bay leaf and carrot. Cover completely with water – make sure the water is a couple of inches about all the beans and veg. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 40 minutes, until the beans are tender. Skim off any scum that might rise to the surface. Beans can be cooked the day before, and stored in the fridge for use the next day.
Setup a steamer. Personally I like the traditional bamboo steamer – they are large, steam fast, and, er, look rather nice. Steam the kale leaves until just tender. Cool in an ice bath, drain, dry and roughly chop. In a large saute pan add in the sofrito, garlic confit, and a couple of tablespoons of the sofrito oil. Heat gently over a medium flame until hot. Add in the anchovy fillet, and mix until amalgamated with the sofrito. Add in the beans. Cover the pan, and let this cook for about 15 minutes, until the beans are hot, and have taken on the flavor from the sofrito mixture.
Whilst the beans are cooking here, heat up a non-stick pan over a high heat, and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Put the halibut in flesh side down, and sear until nicely golden brown – about 6 minutes. Transfer to a roasting pan, and finish cooking in the oven – another 5 minutes or so. The fish is done when it is flaky, and just opaque all the way the through.
To finish the dish add the kale into the bean mixture. Gently mix to heat through the kale. Spoon this mixture onto two plates. Drissle with any of the oil left in the pan, or a teaspoon or so of the sofrito oil. Top with the pan roasted halibut.