I spent the latter half of the week upstate on a staff retreat. I knew the food at Omega Institute would be healthy and restorative after the previous weekend’s barbecue and boozefest. But I had no clue how delicious it would be. Each meal featured a bounty of cooked and raw vegetables, whole grains, legumes and some of the best tofu and seitan dishes I’d had since my hippie childhood amidst the Illinois cornfields. Ordinarily, despite my best intentions, I max out at a single plate of food. At Omega, I found myself going back for a second round of fresh, locally grown pea shoots with an addictive mustard miso dressing. Aside from the fifth of Bulleit Bourbon that I smuggled in for a little late night unwinding back in my cabin, it was three days of clean living.
The trip back to the city was gruesome. It took us about three hours to travel the 20 miles from the Northern Bronx to Downtown Brooklyn. You can spend three days on a staff retreat in the woods, but the true team building comes when you’re stuck in a minivan during summer Friday traffic. The rental wasn’t due back until the next day and I had high hopes of using it for a little adventure dining and perhaps an errand or two. But by the time I dropped everyone at their various subways stops and made it back to my neighborhood, I had resolved to ditch the van back at its garage. My friend Molly, who had flown in from San Francisco for a work conference earlier in the week, was waiting at the bar around the corner from my house. I texted her that I’d be there in five minutes. Being a true friend, her reply was simple: “red or white?” Three glasses of a lovely Sauvignon Blanc and a terrine of chicken liver mousse were a fine reintroduction to urban living.
Yesterday we bummed around Brooklyn, as I showed Molly the radical changes that have transpired since we first met here 17 years ago. We grabbed coffee at one of the ten or so coffee shops that now dot the neighborhood. We hit up the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, where I picked up asparagus, scallions, shiitake mushrooms, eggs, spinach, fresh thyme, bacon ends and some whole wheat sourdough. We walked over to Clinton Hill for a little flea market browsing followed by white sangria and a snack of lamb meatballs and spicy goat cheese croquettes. Later that night we dined on fiddlehead ferns, orecchiette with flowering mustard greens, and pork shoulder infused with rosemary at a place I’m pretty sure used to serve chicken wings and General Tso’s chicken from behind bulletproof glass. Today’s portion of the neighborhood tour focused on gardens of both the botanic and beer varieties.
Two hours ago I loaded Molly and her suitcases into a Town Car with the requisite cracked leather seats and pine tree-shaped air freshener. (Not everything about Brooklyn has changed.) I am now indulging in a little Sunday night melancholia–and this delicious bean salad, which was inspired by a dish that my neighbor and fellow blogger whipped up for a potluck a few months back. Check him out at Brooklyn Roof Garden.
Field Peas & Broccoli Rabe
- 1/2 pound dried field peas
- 2 tablespoons butter (skip this or substitute coconut oil to make this dish vegan)
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely minced
- 1 bunch scallions, white and light green portions thinly sliced (greens reserved for some other purpose–a spinach, scallion and shiitake frittata, say)
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1-2 teaspoons hot paprika
- salt and pepper
- Add the peas to a medium pot and run water until it comes up a couple of inches above the peas. Add the butter, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes or so until they are just tender. Add a teaspoon of salt and simmer another 10-20 minutes until the beans are nice and soft but not yet falling apart. Turn off the heat and let sit.
- Add 1/2 inch of water and a large pinch of salt to a large pot. Bring to a boil and then add the broccoli rabe. Cook with the lid on, stirring occasionally, for 3-8 minutes depending on the thickness of your stalks. You’re going for an ever-so-slightly al dente texture. Pour into a strainer and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Stir the celery, scallions, vinegar, oil, paprika and a good bit of black pepper into the beans. Squeeze any excess water from the broccoli rabe and mix this in as well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, pepper, paprika or vinegar as you see fit.
As you can see, my field peas got a little mushy. They were still quite tasty but, if you have the time, I recommend soaking the dried beans the night before. This will help them to retain their shape and also cut down on cooking time. I used this technique a few weeks ago and the resulting dish was a bit more photogenic, particularly when served alongside marinated and grilled flank steak. Tonight I went for a more humble approach to dinner.