It’s the season of Lent and, for those of you who don’t know, that means no meat in our house. For a total of 40 days and 40 nights. It wasn’t easy when my husband and son decided to abstain but over the years we’ve kind of gotten into the rhythm of it to the point we now feel perfectly comfortable kidding around about the dish we truly miss. It goes something like, “Oh, my gosh. You know what I really craved today? A burger. A great big, juicy burger with lettuce and tomato and pickles and mustard, ketchup and mayo. With a big pile of crispy fries.” Then the other person replies, “I know. I’d totally kill for a chicken wing. Super hot and covered with sauce. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.” Every year it’s the same song and dance. This salad, however, alleviates some of the pain. I won’t lie and say it’ll take the place of meat but it does fill the hole. It’s wonderful topped with a warm fillet of fish just off the grill. I scoop it onto bruschetta followed by a slow drizzle of olive oil for a tempting and pretty hors d’oeuvre. White beans will never take the place of crispy, spicy sopressata on a pizza, comforting spaghetti and meat balls or a savory, homemade chicken salad sandwich but for right now, they’ll do. They’ll do just fine.
One of the finer points of this salad is that it requires no marination time. Once it’s prepared it can be served. That said, it can also be put together a few hours prior to serving and it’s still fantastic. The recipe is easily halved or doubled with perfect results. The salad travels well to parties and picnics, feeds a crowd and is pretty inexpensive to make. Meyer lemons are much sweeter and not as sour as regular lemons but if Meyers are not available in your area, no worries. Regular lemons are just fine and no one will know the difference. This bean salad can be served as a main dish or as a side.
I’m preparing one of my father’s favorite meals for Father’s Day. Swiss Chard with Cannellini Beans. I picked the chard with great care; only the crispest and brightest leaves made it into MY basket. My mind wandered to Dad as I chopped, peeled and washed. At 90 years old he still is pretty great! And growing up…well, he was a true sport! He liked me and I liked him. I remember when Cynthia and I were little, really little, Cynthia wasn’t even in kindergarten yet, how Dad would play with us when he got home from work. He had just opened The Tack Room, a women’s clothing store on Las Olas, and would come home dead-dog tired and worried about whether or not the store would make it. He’d get out of his car and Cynthia and I would come running! “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Can we play the chasing game?”, we’d scream. And all of a sudden he would zig…then zag…then make a mad dash to the same palm tree where we would follow with sheer delight and chase him around the trunk of the tree. We never, ever caught that lean, lanky man. Years later he would laugh at us and say, “Yeah, you girls weren’t very bright. All you had to do was turn around when you were chasing me and you’d have caught me! But you didn’t…did you?” No, Dad, we didn’t. I thought about the time he came to my kindergarten class at Happyland. Yes, that was the name of my school. And, btw, it’s still there. That was in the very early 60’s when men didn’t do certain things and kindergarten was one of them. Anyway, I remember we were in the middle of snack-time, (i.e. cookies and juice, the juice being Hawaiian Punch), and my teacher, I think it was Mrs. Hooker, who positively TERRIFIED me because I JUST KNEW she was related to Captain Hook, I swear, called me to the doorway of the snack room and informed me my father was there and needed to tell me something. My heart soared! Daddy was here????? To see me??? I whipped around the corner and there he was. I remember this as if it was yesterday. He had on a white Lacoste shirt with blue seersucker pants, a woven hemp-like belt and white, canvas boat shoes, no socks. He was sunburned from the previous weekend we had spent at the beach. He squatted down in from of me and with a sparkle in his eye and his special secretive smile he whispered to me, “Manima”, one of my many, MANY nicknames. Pronounced Mah-nee-muh, accent on the second syllable. “You have a brand, new baby brother!” I could not have cared less. All I knew was that my handsome, darling father had come to see ME during THE DAY AND in school!!! Our father was not a demonstrative man. He showed his affection by giving us nicknames. He was highly uncomfortable dealing with our emotions. I came down with a nasty case of chicken pox when I was a young, young girl. It happened to be the season when Lassie, google “heroic collie that ALWAYS saves that pain-in-the-ass Timmy who was stupid enough to be sniffing around that old, abandoned mine”. The program came on every Sunday night and at that time was a five or six episode story. Apparently Lassie and her family had traveled from their home in Pleasantville or some other extremely boring, white bread place, to California for their vacation. Somehow, Lassie had been separated from Timmy and his family. In the season finale they were returning to Pleasantville WITHOUT Lassie. I couldn’t bear it. I just couldn’t bear it. I remember sitting on Mama’s lap on my bed, burning up with fever just sobbing because Lassie was lost. Poor Daddy. He couldn’t stand to see us cry. The next day he came home with a gift for me. He NEVER did that! He presented me with a large trunk. It had shiny brass buckles on it. I opened it and found the most exquisite doll. She was meant for little girls who were either sick or bed ridden. The trunk showcased drawer after drawer of items essential to a doll’s infirmary! She had doll sized band aids, casts for arms and legs, crutches and slings. She even had little pink stickers for chicken pox! I loved her! In fact, she’s the only doll I didn’t play beauty parlor with so she still has all her hair and it’s not in a matted, shampooed mess!
He loved both peanut butter or liverwurst and Mom would mash around a huge lump of one of the two in the middle of two pieces of bread, tearing them in the process. I didn’t. I carefully covered an entire piece of bread with a thick but even layer of the wurst then blanket that with a crisp sheet of lettuce followed by a savory slice of onion or tomato. His peanut butter sandwiches always had a light drizzle of honey or a sliced banana. But I didn’t particularly care about making his lunches. I’d forget to make them or put it off or just disappear to get out of it. I should have known how grim Mama’s lunches were. And I feel a bit shameful for being so self-centered. Now I cook for him often and look forward to hearing the satisfied pleasure in his voice. I know he’ll be surprised but happy when he sees this, his favorite dish. Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Tschüss!!
Swiss Chard with Cannellini Beans
yield: one quart more or less
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3-4 medium red skin potatoes, peeled and diced into 1″ cubes
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 32-ounce box chicken broth, I like Pacific
2 15.5-ounce cans cannellini beans, well rinsed and drained
2 large bunches unbruised, untorn Swiss Chard, washed and dried
salt and pepper to taste, go easy on the salt if the broth you use is loaded with it.
Heat a large frying pan to medium high heat and add olive oil.
Add chopped onion and cook until translucent. If the onion starts browning drop the temperature down a bit. You want it clear not burned.
Add the potatoes, thyme and broth and stir well. Taste the broth for any salt or pepper needed. Remember to season now so the potatoes will absorb the flavors.
Add beans, bring to boil, drop back down to simmer and cover.
While the potatoes and beans are cooking cut the dried ends of the stems off then cut the stems in 1/4″ pieces and add to the pan. Cover.
Take 3-4 of the chard leaves and roll them up tightly like a cigar.
Holding the “cigar” tightly, cut all the way through in 1/4″ intervals. Cut all the leaves. You’ll end up with a beautiful pile of thin Swiss Chard ribbons.
Add to the pan, mix well and cover. Cook until the greens are tender. It’ll only take a few minutes. Dinner’s ready!!!