Monday, June 28, 2010

Green Beans of Summer

When I was just a little girl, I would often help with planting and caring for our large backyard garden. One summer I remember asking my dad if I could please help with planting. He obliged and said that I could help with planting seeds for bean plants. He prepared the rows for me, and then instructed me on how the seeds should be planted. He explained that each seed had a little black dot in the middle of one side and this dot had to be facing up when the seed was planted, otherwise, the bean plant would grow upside down into the ground. Now, I was a kid with a big imagination and the thought of those poor bean plants growing upside down bothered me terribly. I was too young and naïve to grasp that he was just playing a little joke on me. I remember him watching me, smiling, as I very carefully planted the rows, making sure that every seed was planted with the black dot facing up. When the bean plants grew successfully that summer I remember how happy I was that I had done so well.

Now I have a small, two tiered garden at the side of my house, where I grow rhubarb, chives, flat leaf Italian parsley, tarragon, basil, thyme, tomatoes and a lovely assortment of daisies and lilies. I don’t plant beans because of an overabundance of neighbourhood rabbits, which seem to enjoy eating fresh beans right out of the garden as much as I do. Fortunately at this time of year, lovely, freshly picked green beans are now readily available at my local farmers’ market.

I’m always surprised whenever someone insists on snipping off the tiny, curly ends of green beans, presumably finding them offensive for some unexplainable reason. It seems that the French insist on snipping off those little ends, too. In his humourous, thoroughly enjoyable book entitled; “The Sweet Life in Paris”, pastry chef extraordinaire, David Lebovitz, writes that the French sometimes say things unexplainably illogical, for example; “…that snipping off the ends of green beans is a simple way to remove radioactive matter – that there’s just no comeback possible.” Personally, I like those curly little ends and leave them attached when slicing my green beans.

The following is a quick, delicious alternative to simply steaming your greens and serving with a dollop of butter. I really like the taste combination of green beans and peas together. This side dish will serve 4 – 6.

Green Bean and Peas with Sliced Almonds – by Catherine Negus


2 slices of bacon
12 oz. fresh green beans
1 ½ cups fresh peas
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup sliced almonds


In a frying pan, cook the bacon, and then remove the slices to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. When the slices are cool, cut or break them into small pieces. Shell the peas. (Sorry, no mushy canned peas allowed.) Remove the vine end of the beans and french slice them into pieces about 1 ½” long. (Leave on the curly little ends if desired.) Blanche the green beans and peas together by cooking them in a generous pot of salted, boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and plunge them immediately into a bowl of ice water. This process of blanching retains the bright colour and crispness of the vegetables. When the beans and peas have cooled, remove them from the ice water. In a large skillet, heat the extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the beans, peas and bacon and toss with the olive oil, just until reheated. Add the balsamic vinegar and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the sliced almonds over top and serve immediately.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

To Market, To Market

 Ontario grown hothouse tomatoes - photo by Andrew Negus

There’s a lot of talk these days about buying and using local ingredients and there are lots of excellent reasons to do so. By supporting independent Ontario growers and producers, we are supporting our own economy. The benefit to us, as individuals, is much more than a healthy economy; in supporting independent farmers and producers we are keeping alive the choices that are available to us. Take for example, honey. There are so many excellent honey producers right here in Ontario, who make high quality honeys in a variety of delectable flavours such as sweet clover, wild blueberry, lavender and many, many more. Once you try one of these delicious, Ontario produced honeys, you will never go back to the mass produced, bland honey available in grocery stores.

Photo by Andrew Negus

 How can we support Ontario farmers and producers? One easy way is to shop at farmers markets and open air markets. For decades now, I have been a regular shopper at my local farmers market, the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market and Flea Market. It’s exciting to see how the choices change from one season to the next. Spring brings with it asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, new potatoes, sweet spring onions and more. There is no comparison in taste between local seasonal produce and the same items that are brought into the country.

In photo - Gorgeous strawberries - photo by Andrew Negus

 Looking for something to do on the weekend? How about a little road trip? Another way you can support Ontario growers and giving yourself unbelievable, fantastic choices is by going to the source. Find local farmers that allow you to purchase products right at their farms. One amazing region is the Niagara area, where small, unique winemakers and fruit growers abound. Road side stands are great places to stop for fruits and veggies, locally made jams and other food products. Drop in to some of the many wineries and for a modest charge, you can do your own wine tasting before you buy. Some wineries will include the cost of your tasting with your purchase. One of my absolute favourite Ontario wines is East Dell Winery’s Late Harvest Vidal, an excellent, inexpensive alternative to ice wine.

Ready to become jam & other delights - Photo by Andrew Negus

By doing a little research, you can find farmers markets and open air markets selling fresh, Ontario produce throughout Ontario, in big cities and small villages and towns alike. Make shopping at markets and fruit stands a regular habit and reap the benefits now, and for many years to come.

Fresh Spring Onions - Photo by Andrew Negus

Friday, June 4, 2010


Each spring, I await the return of chives in my garden with great anticipation. To the cook in me, the emergence of the delicate stalks through the still cool earth is a sure sign that spring has finally arrived. The beauty of this herb is that it will continue to produce its slender, hollow, straw-like leaves throughout the growing season and is one of the last ones to disappear before the cold winter months arrive. Of course, in warmer climates, chives can be grown throughout the year and they are readily available in grocery stores yearlong. Chives are one of the most common herbs used, but the fresh, delicate onion flavour makes it a perennial favourite.

Chives are another herb that have benefits in addition to the flavour and colour that it adds to countless dishes including fish, potatoes, egg dishes and many more. In the garden, chives repel unwanted pests in flower beds and bees are attracted to their lavender coloured flowers, which aids in pollination. Although chives are consumed in small quantities as a garnish, they are rich in iron and calcium and in vitamins A and C.

In traditional French cooking, chives are included in the classification of “fines herbes” along with tarragon, chervil and parsley. This grouping of herbs is the backbone of the more delicate herbs found in French cuisine. The French philosophy towards herbs is that they should compliment and enhance the main flavours of a dish and never overpower the main elements. That is precisely what I love about chives. A few chives, chopped finely and added to scrambled eggs or an omelette for Sunday brunch, or added to “smashed” red potatoes or in butter to drizzle on steaming hot fingerling potatoes, add a delicate flavour element to simple dishes that makes them memorable. Chives are lovely in salads and are a perfect accompaniment to fish. Sour cream and chives are an unbeatable combination and can be used together in innumerable ways. Whole chive leaves and chive blossoms can add drama to even the simplest dish. Make chives a staple in your kitchen and they will repay you, dish after dish and season after season.

Crostini with Cold Smoked Salmon, Sour Cream & Chives

This is an easy to prepare appetizer or starter that is always enjoyable. Specific amounts of ingredients have not been given, as you can prepare as little or as much as you need, depending on the number of people you are serving.

Extra virgin olive oil
Cold smoked salmon, thinly sliced
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
Sour cream
Chives, finely chopped
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the baguette in ¼ inch slices on the diagonal. Brush the top of each slice with extra virgin olive oil. Add a very light dusting of sea salt. Bake the slices on the middle rack in the preheated oven, either directly on the oven rack or on a baking sheet, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until partially crisp. While they are baking, remove the peel from a clove or two of garlic and slice the cloves in half, lengthwise. When the crostini has been removed from the oven, rub each piece with the sliced side of a piece of garlic, while the crostini is still hot. Top each piece of crostini with a thin slice of cold smoked salmon, about a teaspoon of sour cream and a sprinkling of the chopped chives. Serve immediately.