For me, there are two different ways to go food shopping. There are days when I head out with a plan, and I diligently cross each item off a thoughtful, well-rounded list as I drop it into my basket. This is what I call responsible shopping. Far more fun are the days when I go without a list, without guidance from a sensible version of myself, and indulge my impulses. (You may be wondering just how buck-wild one can go in a market; the answer is totally.)
Last week I went to the farmer’s market, a la shopping mode #2. Especially at the farmer’s market, I find it’s better to go with an open mind. For example, I’ve had Brussels sprouts on my shopping list for weeks, but they’ve looked scrawny and pathetic. Only this past weekend did they appear in all their glory on sturdy green stalks. Rather than going in with a plan, it’s easier and tastier to let the season and that day’s harvest guide you. And this time of year, that’s a pretty effortless task. End of summer tomatoes have evolved into end of October tomatoes, and bell peppers are mixed in with heads of cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage. It is truly autumnal with squashes and colorful dried corn lining the walkways, and hot apple cider steaming out of to-go cups. I saw a bunch of school field trips touring the market, with comments like “That red pumpkin is WEIRD,” and “I love cucumbers!” being squealed by groups of kindergartners.
And so, enamored with the season, I found my shoulders weighed down with loads of produce: petite collard greens, heirloom tomatoes, and slender leeks. My two favorite purchases happened to be the most colorful: purple cauliflower and cranberry beans. I was smitten.
I think cauliflower is at its best when roasted, so I came home and got to Googling. I instantly fell for Roasted Cauliflower With Lemon Brown Butter and Sage Salt. Purple cauliflower is so stunning that I may never eat the white kind again. Raw, it’s a bold shade of fuchsia, and roasted it becomes a deep purple. The recipe below involves creating a “sage salt,” which is deep fried sage leaves crumbled and mixed with coarse salt. I used thyme the first time I made this recipe, and I liked the flavor just as well. The green herbs combined with the yellow lemon zest was a lovely color combination on top of the regal cauliflower. The lemon brown butter was just enough to add a rich, zesty punch of a sauce, but not overpowering. It’s just a little trickier to scoop thyme leaves out of a pan than long, broad sage leaves. But it can be done. Keep in mind that the recipe below was meant to be a Thanksgiving side dish, so it serves a lot of people. For a more normal sized serving, aim for one head of cauliflower and cut everything in thirds or quarters. It will serve 2 people (or one really enthusiastic eater—yes, I ate an entire head of cauliflower myself). I am currently obsessed with this recipe, and I made it the following day as well. And I intend to make it for Thanksgiving. This one is a must.
Cranberry beans are equally lovely to look at as purple cauliflower. The shells are speckled pink over green, and the beans themselves are white, with swirls or spots of cranberry pink. Regrettably, the color doesn’t last after they’re cooked, but they are delicious. I improvised cooking the beans based on a sample I tasted at the market. Fresh beans only need to be boiled for 10 or 15 minutes to become tender, so you can chop up your seasonings while they boil. Pan-frying the beans gets them nice and browned, and a little crispy on the outside. Thyme is an earthy herb, and accents the slightly-nutty cranberry beans really nicely. You could also try rosemary here.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to enjoy the harvest colors of the season, get to a farmer’s market quick! Soon enough we’ll be seeing not much more than a whole lot of potatoes and squashes, but there’s plenty to enjoy these days. Now if only the leaves would change color around here…
Roasted Cauliflower With Lemon Brown Butter and Sage Salt
Recipe from Julia Moskin, nytimes.com
Time: About 1 hour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sage leaves (or thyme), loosely packed
1 tablespoon coarse salt, more for tossing
3 heads cauliflower, cut into florets
About 1 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lemon, zest finely grated.
1. Heat oil in a small pan until rippling. Add sage and cook, stirring, just until crisped, about 2 minutes. Lift out sage and drain on paper towels; transfer oil to a large bowl. Let sage cool and crumble with fingers into a small bowl. Stir in coarse salt and set aside.
2. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place roasting pan with an inch of water in oven bottom. Add cauliflower to bowl with oil, add about 1 teaspoon table salt, and toss gently until coated. Spread out on two large baking sheets. Bake until browned, 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Melt butter in a small pan over medium heat. When foam subsides, watch closely and stir often. When white solids are brown and butter smells toasty, turn off heat, squeeze in juice of lemon and stir well.
4. Transfer cauliflower to a bowl, pour butter over, and add lemon zest. Add half the sage salt and toss. Taste and season with remaining salt as needed.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings.
Pan-fried Cranberry Beans With Garlic and Thyme
Time: About 30 minutes
1 1/2 pounds of cranberry beans (before shucking), shucked and rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt and black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Once boiling, add the beans and cook 10-15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Drain the beans.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until softened. Add the beans and the thyme and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir so that the beans are well coated with oil and herbs.
3. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The beans should start to brown and crisp a bit. If the pan looks dry, add a bit more oil. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Yield: 2 servings
Freya Bellin writes weekly for Mark Bittman’s web site and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Totally Worth the Garlic Breath, Make Your Grandma Proud, You Say ToMAYto, I Say ToMAHto.