Published on August 23, 2010 at 04:28 PM by Kate Jonuska
When you have a farm share and when — I’ll admit — you’re someone like me that doesn’t like to run out to the store every other day to pick up one last thing for dinner, you kind of develop the willingness to improvise. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It gets to be more of the former once you learn about common taste combinations, the construction of basic sauces and dressings, and to trust yourself a wee bit. I think it’s that last part that’s the most difficult. Green beans, for instance. I loved them as a kid canned and frozen, but I was intimidated to use fresh beans. The first time I did, it was in a lovely green bean and tomato Greek salad with a balsamic dressing (I’ll get that one on Local Dish one day, promise), wherein the beans are simply parboiled for 3-4 minutes, then doused in ice water and served cooked but crisp with tomatoes, herbs and a few other ingredients. Since then, I’ve made the fresh beans steamed, almondine style, in mushroom casserole, in peanut satay and more. But the other day, here I was with green beans I picked up hours ago from the farm stand but without the ingredients to complete any of those recipes — other than the plain ole steaming, and the hubby is sick of that. So, improvise. I had a few tomatoes from our under-producing tomato plants, but not enough for the salad recipe I’ve done in the past. So instead of 50/50 tomatoes and beans, I instead created a minced-tomato balsamic dressing. But to give it more oomph, I added toasted, chopped almonds inspired by the green beans almondine, but with a little drizzle of olive oil instead of the butter in that rich dish. And what I then had was some sort of hybrid … an untitled and unnameable side dish that was nonetheless quite tasty and satisfying. More importantly, I proved that it’s possible to put some fresh, seasonal and local veggies on the dinner table without fancy recipes, pre-planning or a great deal of time. Nutrition for my family and support of my local food economy with little pain. (As well as a satisfying crunch and some tangy sweetness that really complimented my green beans.) (See my bug pickles? Yummy yummy. Served with some local beef burgers and baked potatoes. I have a weakness for non-fat sour cream.) Well, the real point is that I proved it to myself. As I said, the hardest part of improvisation is trusting yourself enough to try. Maude knows I’ve tried and succeeded as well as tried and failed. (We usually make a batch of popcorn after dinner when I fail to fill our tummies. And yes, we found local popcorn grown in Pueblo!) So don’t be afraid to throw something of your own together today. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be your favoritist food ever, the confidence you gain in the kitchen and in the market is by far worth the brain power. For more (and better) information about how to use basic rules to improvise anything in the kitchen, check out the great cookbook Ratio.