What to do with: Your First Essentials Box

What to do with: Your First Essentials Box

Ben @ Ben to Table

I'm so excited that folks are about to start receiving the first of our Essentials Boxes! This is a special box of ingredients I'm particularly excited about, and I'm hoping to use this post to give you a grounding in what you might do with them.

To begin with, here are the box contents:

  • Alubia Blanca beans from Rancho Gordo
  • Scarlet Runner beans from Rancho Gordo
  • Jimmy Red Grits from Geechie Boy Mill
  • Farro Piccolo from Geechie Boy Mill
  • Toasted Fregola Sarda from La Specialita di Maja
  • Harissa paste from Entube

General instructions.

Both the Scarlet Runner and Alubia Blanca beans in this box can be dealt with according to the instructions in my "How to Cook: Beans" post.  

The Jimmy Red Grits can be cooked according to the instructions in my "How to Cook: Grits" post.

The farro piccolo can be cooked according to the instructions in my "How to Cook: Grains" post.

 Jimmy Red Grits

Jimmy Red Grits

The Jimmy Red provides an incredible flavor and beautiful color to go along with any of the grits preparations described in my "How to Cook: Grits" post. I find some of the brilliant appearance is muted when they're fried, but you still get the coloring inside the cakes.

Scarlet Runner Beans

Scarlet Runner Beans

The Scarlet Runner is an especially meaty bean, so it's excellent where you really want some substance -- think a bean chili, or tossed on top of some pasta (see above with the torchiette). It's also great as an untraditional place to begin for refried beans. Here's a few options:

1) Refried beans: After cooking the beans (in the moment or ahead of time), sauté diced onions, carrot, and garlic in oil or lard along with seasonings you prefer -- I'd go with cumin, oregano, coriander, and chili, though how much and what kind would depend on who will be eating. Plus salt and pepper. Once the vegetables are softened, add the beans back in, along with either the bean liquor or some water or broth. You don't want to cover everything, but maybe halfway or so. Let that cook away for 5-10 minutes on medium heat, and then you mash everything together, either by hand with a mashing tool or in a food processor. Then use however you'd like -- on a taco, in a burrito, enchiladas, so many ways. And all delicious!

2) Bean chili: You can take the basic idea of "bean chili" in an infinite number of directions, once you get past the heretical (to some) idea of chili without meat. Basic idea is to start with a base along the lines of most soups -- something like sauteed onions, carrot, garlic, and then bring in some cumin, chili powder, toasted chilies if you have them, oregano, salt and pepper, broth, and your beans. You can go in a tomato-y direction with tomato paste and crushed tomatoes. You can add corn, zucchini, or other veggies. I always like to add a few glugs of soy sauce with my first liquids, to provide a hit of umami. And then you can top with herbs (scallions, cilantro), sour cream or creme fraiche, and cheddar or jack cheese. And, of course, googling for "Bean Chili" will bring you a ton of great ideas -- as long as you're starting from great beans and great chilies, you'll be in excellent shape no matter what. 

3) Tossed onto pasta: These can be a great add-on protein to round out a main dish.

Farro Piccolo

Farro Piccolo

Farro is an incredibly versatile -- and diverse -- grain, and this farro piccolo is a particularly flavorful version. Here's three things I like to do with it:

1) Grain bowl: After cooking as described in my "How to Cook: Grains," post, simply toss with chopped salad veggies (some combination of bell peppers, cucumber, fennel, cherry tomatoes, olives, etc.), some feta if you have it, some alubia blanca beans (or scarlet runners would work, too), and a vinaigrette. Garnish with minced parsley, or do it all on top of a sturdier salad green like kale, spinach, or cabbage. This can be made well ahead.

For the vinaigrette, if you got the Spain-ish delicacies box, an incredibly easy dressing is to juice a lemon or two, add a dollop each of the Villa Jerada harissa and the ali i oli, salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of good olive oil. Shake/mix well, and you're all set. You can make a bit nicer with some diced shallots and minced parsley.

Farro grain bowl

2) Farro Risotto: Say what now? It might sound odd, but farro works great when given the risotto treatment. It has a great starch content, like arborio rice, but has much earthier, nuttier taste to it that stands up well to just about anything you'd want to throw at it. Here's how you do it: Start by sauteeing onions or shallots in oil on low-med heat, along with salt and pepper, then, once softened, add some minced garlic and your farro in, stirring well. You'll probably want a cup of dried farro (if it's just two people), and go up from there. 

Once the farro and onions are combined, start adding broth or water. Pour some in, stir for a while, and pour more in once absorbed. Keep going for about 30 minutes, after which time it should be blended nicely, and the starch released by the farro makes the whole thing nice and creamy. If you want, mid-way through that flow you could add in some mushrooms, or greens, or fish. You could also fold those ingredients in after.

2.1) Farro Risotto the easier way: There's also a shortcut! Start by just cooking the farro (can be done ahead of time). Separately, get your sauteed onions going as described above -- as caramelized as you have the patience for (true caramelized onions often will take 20-30 minutes, but not strictly necessary here). Then add in whatever you want in the "risotto" like mushrooms or greens, plus 1/2 cup or so of dry wine (white is better for appearance, so it doesn't dye everything red) or stock, turn the heat up a bit while half of it cooks off, then fold in the farro along with some hard cheese (parmesan, percorino, etc.) and let cook for a couple minutes more. Season to taste and you're good to go.

3) Farro soup: Thing something like beef and barley soup, but with farro. You can cook the farro in the soup itself, for a great one-pot meal. Just get your soup base going (sweated onions, carrots, garlic, celery, salt + pepper), plus any protein you might want (chicken would be great here) and the herbs you want to get your desired flavor profile. Then add the farro and plenty of water, stock, or broth, and simmer away, stirring occasionally. You could add more veggies once the farro and your protein are cooked, though you don't need to. Garnish with some parsley, and maybe some lemon juice or vinegar, and there's a complete meal ready for you. This would be a great place to use that harissa paste, too.

Alubia Blanca Beans

Alubia Blanca Beans 

 These lovely, delicious white beans are super-versatile. Here's a few ideas for you:

1) On a grain bowl: After cooking per my "How to Cook: Beans" post, toss them on top of the farro grain bowl described above!

2) In a soup, for instance with sausage and kale: I'll turn this one over to my friends at Rancho Gordo, who have an excellent recipe for white bean, sausage, and kale soup on their website. You could also make this vegan by adding a different, meatier bean in lieu of the sausage (like the Scarlet Runners).

3) In a bean salad: After cooking these beans (and at least one other kind, like the scarlet runners), toss with some chopped salad veggies (especially bell peppers), finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, and maybe some blanched broccoli, feta if you have it, and then dress with a vinaigrette. Here are a couple of vinaigrette options if helpful:

  • Juice a lemon or two, add a dollop each of the Villa Jerada harissa and the ali i oli, salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of good olive oil. Shake/mix well, and you're all set. You can make a bit nicer with some diced shallots and minced parsley.
  • Add minced garlic, shallots, lemon juice, sharp mustard, and olive oil, plus some fish sauce -- sub for soy for vegetarians -- and either tahini, greek yogurt, or a bit of mayo for creaminess. Blend together if you have a small blender, or just combine by shaking well in a jar and making sure everything is chopped very finely. 

4) Smashed on a crostini: This is more of an appetizer, but just mash some of these already-cooked alubia blancas with a fork, after topping with some salt and pepper and olive oil. Then mas a dollop of that mixture onto a piece of baguette, top with some diced peppers, parsley, olive oil, and a spritz of lemon or hot sauce, and you're ready to go.

Alubia Blanca Crostini

Toasted Fregola Sarda

Fregola Sarda

Made from organic durum wheat in Abruzzo, this toasted fregola sarda is almost like a more flavorful version of an Israeli couscous. Here are a few of my favorite uses so far:

  1. Topped with (or even cooked in) something saucy/soupy, like a chunky arabiatta with a protein added, or a creamy, lemon-chicken soup, almost like an avgolemono.
  2. Added in with sautéing vegetables and protein, with a little broth and something creamy (sour cream, cream cheese), for a warm, risotto-like preparation.
  3. Cold, it's great as the base for a pasta salad. Just add chopped veggies and whatever else you want, plus some nice EVOO (like the Neolea in the Greece box), some seasonings, and a hit of citrus or vinegar.

Entube Harissa

Entube harissa

This is a paste inspired by the ubiquitous north African spice mix (and there's more of a condiment/spreadable version that's quite different in our first Delicacies Box, too).

This works the same way a curry paste would -- add it at an early stage when you're sauteing together a base of what will become a soup, sauce, or stew, and it will take over most of your seasoning needs. Even in the tomato sauce above, you could use this instead of the oregano, mint, and fennel, and create a totally different, but still delicious, Morocco-inspired pasta dinner.

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