This month's Is My Blog Burning theme is beans, hosted by the very thorough Cathy from My Little Kitchen (currently baking her way through an entire American book of cookies, purely for research purposes!). As it's high summer here in Australia I decided to find a light, summery recipe involving beans. It would have been so easy to present a stir fried green bean dish, or string beans with lemon and garlic, but I think the point of IMBB is to get out there and try a new recipe you may not have had the inclination or inspiration to do before. I very rarely cook with legumes (I know I should) so I was very interested in finding something interesting.
So, other than green beans, what summery dish could I find? Not a lot revealed itself initially, but then I found myself leafing through one of my favourite cookbooks: Jill Dupleix's Take Three - Cooking With Three Main Ingredients.
Jill Dupleix is an expat-Australian (a Melbournian, to be exact) now resident in London as cookery editor of The Times newspaper. No doubt she's waking up tastebuds throughout the UK (I've noticed a few British bloggers are fans) I fondly remember her weekly columns in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald and, to be honest, we'd really quite appreciate her back thankyouverymuch! I love her cookbooks and her simple recipes - many of which are not so much recipes, as inspired ideas that strike you with their simplicity and freshness. In fact, her motto is "food is a language best kept simple". The crash hot potatoes I made on this blog are a Jill recipe, and perfectly summarise her simple, ingredient-driven ideas...
All of her books are wonderful, but I have special fondness for Take Three, written when she was less well known and still working in Melbourne. I appreciate its premise; take three ingredients and make yourself a meal. Each recipe in the book is built on three major players, with a small supporting cast to be found in any well-stocked pantry i.e. lamb-hoisin sauce-greens (with soy, sherry and spices) or pork-sage-apple (with wine, pepper, mustard) or basil-mozarella-lemon leaf (with pine nuts-parmesan & olive oil). See? Simple food with balance and beauty. It's also a perfect book for quick weekday dinners, when you're home from work and bereft of ideas. She covers all meals from breakfast to dessert, supper and snacks (and all "s's" in-between...). The photography is spectacular, it has a chapter on cooking tips and a couple of excellent indexes (as a librarian I notice and appreciate these things!) I think it'd be the perfect birthday or Christmas gift for somebody, especially a guy who is interested in cooking but intimidated by wordier, heavier books (I bought it for a male friend, and he loves it). Jeez, can you half tell I'm a big fan of this woman and this particular book? If interested, it's available here (UK) and here (US) on Amazon (the second, alternate title is how it was published in the US) .
So, anyway I found a recipe in this book for Clams-Beans-Mint (with olive oil, white wine and black pepper) with the description: "a warm Italian salad of fresh baby clams, spiked with mint and served with cannellini beans; the perfect summer lunch" and knew that's what I wanted to make. Perfect for the time of year and perfect for the IMBB theme. I popped down to our local seafood wholesaler, where the stock is always really fresh and cheap and picked up 2 kilos of clams, which is more than the recipe specified, but at $6 for 2 kilos - what a great deal! I foolishly decided not to buy fresh mint, as we had just been given a lemon mint plant. Not such a great decision, as lemon mint taste *quite* different to regular mint, and the resulting dish had a slighly offputting scent of fly spray. I've learnt my lesson; lemon mint is good for tea, not clams! Nevertheless, my mother and I enjoyed it with chunks of good, crusty bread to soak up the juices as we enjoyed another golden Melbourne summer sunset.
Summer Clams 'n' Beans
Take Three: cooking with 3 main ingredients - Jill Dupleix. p. 41Main Players:
900 grams (2 lb) baby clams (vongole)
450 grams (1 lb) canned white beans (cannellini beans)
1 small bunch mint
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
115 (4 fl oz) white wine
freshly ground black pepper
Clams can be salty, so soak them in cold water for 30 minutes, then drain, replace water and soak for another 30 minutes. Drain the canned beans and rinse well. Pick the leaves from the mint stalks.
Heat half the olive oil, the white wine and half the mint leaves in a heavy frying pan with a lid. When bubbling, add the drained clams and cover tightly. Cook over a high heat for 2 minutes, then remove the lid. Using tongs, remove all the clams that have opened, then give the pan a big shake, and just keep removing the clams as they open. Place the cooked clams in a bowl and cover to keep warm. Throw away any that don't open, as they're not fresh.
When you have picked out all the clams, drain the pan juices through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Gently warm the remaining olive oil in a frying pan, and add the drained beans, remaining mint and pepper. Add a spoonful or two (or the whole lot!) of the pan juices.
When the beans are heated through, add the clams, toss through once or twice, and divide among bowls or serve on a large serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature. Drizzle with oil before serving.
Serves 2 adults for dinner, or 4 as part of a light lunch.