19 June 2007

The Positive Side of Traffic Jams

Last Sunday threatened to be bad. We awoke early after a night of celebrating and champagne, slightly bleary eyed but relatively cheery, if that word can ever be applied to me and morning hours. I suggested we walk down to the Dupont Circle farmers market, remembering my Sunday summer routine when I had lived in Washington. However, it turned out to be further from the apartment where we were staying then I thought, as we trudged the many blocks in coffee-less silence I tried optimistically to point out that at least it was easy to take the subway back. Only a few steps from the market we stopped for that much needed caffeine only to wait for what had to be the longest to-go cup ever. The morning threatened to devolve as the coffee-devoid minutes ticked by, we exchanged terse words over breakfast pastries. Luckily, the coffees finally arrived (Italian espresso + french press!) and were delicious enough to revive us.

The selection at the market was beautiful, there was the same man with the gorgeous lettuces, the beautiful French tarts, the baskets of glorious strawberries. We gathered up what we could carry, and then rain threatened and we dashed to the subway. After a trip to the Corcoran, it was time to head home. Comfortably in the car, we dodged a protest and thought we’d escaped the worst traffic when, at the edge of the beltway, we came to a stand still. We inched along, realizing it would be a long trip home.

When the traffic threatened our sanity, we pulled into a strip mall for a cup of coffee, and I wandered into the neighboring shoe store and emerged with a pair of rock-bottom priced green sneakers. Back in the car, I decided to pass the time shelling the fava beans I’d purchased, pulling them from their soft green pods. I adore favas but they are a major pain, you have to shell them not once but twice, first out of their pods, then blanching them and slipping each bean out of it’s individual casing.

A few shortcuts later, we made it home, spirits and lettuce intact. As I unloaded our purchases, I realized we’d been a little overzealous in our grocery shopping as the refrigerator threatened to burst at the seams. While many people may welcome a full fridge, I see it as one big burden: all those things to be prepared, cooked, eaten! I immediately began culling through recipes, looking for a way to combine a lot of our produce into one dish. That was when I found scaffata.

When it comes to recipes for spring produce, simple asparagus or that old Roman recipe vignarola always steal the show, but I’ll admit I’m always terribly underwhelmed by vignarola. But scaffata, where have you been all my life, because I’m infatuated. I even like saying it, scaffata, your slow-cooked tangle of peas, beans, and onions with slivers of greens and zucchini. Like many vegetable dishes, there was a good bit of prep work involved, though nothing more complex than chopping, and I had already done most of my shelling in the car. Scaffata has already been deemed ‘a keeper’ in our house, and I can foresee a shortcut version using frozen peas and edamame in our future. With all those threats of Sunday dissipated, the potential negatives evolved to positives (good coffee, a refreshing walk, new shoes!), and we sat down to a pleasant evening and a new favorite dish.

Scaffata (Braised Spring Vegetables)
The name of this Ligurian dish comes from the Italian verb scaffare, to shell.The outermost, less tender leaves of a head of greens, which you may not want to use in a salad, are perfect for this dish. If fresh favas are unavailable, substitute frozen baby lima beans or edamame. Adapted from Lidia Bastianich

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped scallions (white and tender parts; about 6 scallions)
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 1/2 pounds fresh peas in the pod, shelled (about 2 cups)
1 1/4 pounds fresh fava beans in pod, shelled, blanched, and peeled (about 1 cup fava beans)
1 1/2 cups finely diced zucchini
2 cups thinly shredded escarole or romaine leaves
1 tablespoon finely shredded fresh mint leaves

1. In a large, heavy casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the scallions and onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the peas, fava beans, zucchini, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir well, reduce the heat to very low, and cover the casserole tightly with a lid or aluminum foil. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.
2. Add the romaine and mint, cover the casserole tightly and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 25 minutes more. (The vegetables should give off enough moisture during cooking to prevent sticking or burning. If you find they are sticking, you can add a few tablespoons of water. Make sure the heat is very low and the pot is tightly covered before continuing to cook. It is fine, however, if the vegetables do brown a little.) Season to taste with salt and serve hot.


Wendy said...

A stunning looking dish. Really can't wait to try this out.

Anonymous said...

What a funny story, and I am not laughing at your misadventure. Lovely dish!

Erin S. said...

Yum! I thought I'd made my one fava dish for the year (I HATE shucking them, but love the taste), but this may inspire me to cook a second.

Helene said...

I'll stay an extra 30 minutes in traffic if you come make this for me! Sounds great!

Anonymous said...

This looks delicious! My parents never took the beans out of the casings... more fiber they said. lol. More likely they didn't want to peel them again. :D

Anonymous said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Wow! That seems like a wonderful discovery! And included finding shoes!
Lovely dish. A must try.

Anonymous said...

I'm a new food blogger, but just wanted to say that I've been reading your blog for a long time (almost since its inception) and love the way you tell stories and the lovely recipes that you introduce us to.

Mercedes said...

Thank you for the comments, Hilda- that means a lot, it's nice to know I have a few loyal readers out there, I wish they would comment more often!

Nabeel said...

hmm @ positive side of traffic jams .. well I was in a traffic jam today :( .. but wasn't that bad. I think a lot I guess during jams and driving .. think about various stuff that's on my mind.

Anonymous said...

yummy....aww you make the food look so good i could eat the screen!!

Anonymous said...

Looks very good.

Anonymous said...

This dish is stunning and I have tried it, Theses dishes are lovely!!!

Orit said...

I made this dish tonight for my husband who says he hates zucchini and onions. He ate 2 large soup bowls of it and deemed it "a keeper" in our house too. It's just wonderful!

Mercedes said...

Orit- Oh, that makes me so happy, I love convincing people that something they might not normally like can be good! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!