20 September 2007

The Great Triad

My all-time favorite Sunday summer at-home supper is what I call the great triad – green beans, corn, and tomatoes.

I have a favorite bean man at Baltimore’s Downtown Farmers Market and his beans can best be described by the lyrics of “Farmer’s Market” by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - “They’re the finest beans, the coolest beans, the best beans that you will find in this or any other market place.” (If you’ve never heard of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, get thee to Amazon.com and treat thyself to “The Hottest New Group in Jazz,” originally released in 1959. These lyrics and more are there for the listening on the Amazon site if you want to try before you buy).

Crazy, but after all these years, I’ve not a clue what the bean man’s name is; he’s just the skinny, nice blond guy on the corner with the best beans (and beautiful cantaloupes starting at fifty cents). Guess I shouldn’t beat myself up about not knowing his name. I know Doug the quince guy and Kathy and Dave, the heirloom tomato and apple folks, and that’s about it. Still, after shopping this market for twenty-five-plus years, it feels a little odd to not know the names of most of the farmers who provide my main source of sustenance.

I prefer my beans straight up, cooked for just a few minutes until they’re worthy of a Technicolor close-up. I immediately toss them into a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking, then usually eat the whole pile before biting into anything else.

But every once in a while, especially at the end of the season or if somehow they’ve escaped notice in the veggie bin, I do cook them. I’ve always considered one of Ikaros restaurant’s chief drawing cards their green beans cooked in tomatoes. I suppose I should have just asked my friend Xenos, one of the owners, for the recipe, but it always seemed rude, so I made one up. Sometimes, with a beer in me, they taste the same.

I sauté a few cloves of garlic and a big onion in olive oil, then add a can of Cento tomatoes with basil leaf (Cento is by far the best brand of canned tomatoes I have ever had. I order them by the case at Eddies Market on St. Paul Street in Charles Village). It makes less mess to chop the tomatoes in a bowl and then add them to the pan, so there’s no plop. After reducing that for a few minutes, I add a two-dollar basket of beans with stem ends trimmed; there’s no need to chop the beans because they will cook down. I also add at least a heaping tablespoon each of cinnamon and dried Italian seasoning, and also a bit of sugar and a little salt and pepper. There’s no right or wrong here – just adjust to your own taste. I let the whole affair cook til I just can’t wait any longer.

Corn is another vegetable that should be cooked only slightly. I was multiple decades tardy learning this. I remember the corn of my youth boiling endlessly in the pot. I don’t know why. Maybe there was a good reason.

Corn certainly tastes sweeter now; the name Silver Queen seems to have lost its cache, as every variety is sweet, and stays sweet longer. Maybe fooling with corn’s DNA to increase the sweetness also changed the cooking requirements. At any rate, just a few years ago, a friend told me she cooks corn by boiling the water, putting the corn in, covering the pot, and then immediately turning off the flame and letting the corn sit for two minutes. That’s it. That’s all it needs.

As much as I love the beans and the corn, I really only have eyes for the tomatoes. I grow heirloom tomatoes of all colours and descriptions, but I rely on Kathy and Dave at the market for the bulk of it. For eating out of hand, my favorites are anything black, especially the small oval black cherries and any other smallish black variety. I’m convinced all those best-tasting tomato contests that Brandywines usually win are rigged – or there are never black tomato entries.

Again, the simplest preparation is the best for these sweet treats. I cut up what I haven’t already pilfered before dinner and add a little salt and pepper. There’s no need for basil, olive oil, or vinegar.

Or dessert.

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