Today feels like spring might be . . . almost . . . willing to show its face around here. That doesn’t mean we won’t get snow in March or even April or May. But it does mean it’s time to start working on Saturday mornings with our bartering crew again. Tomorrow we’ll make soil and seed brassicas and transplant lettuces into the newly renovated bluehouse and rake the sticks that have blown all over the farm this windy winter. Stonebridge Season 21 will be underway!
The advent of spring brings thoughts of fresh vegetables but we won’t have veggies in the garden for a while yet. We do have some wintered-over spinach in the fields that we can harvest from time to time, but mainly we’re still eating the food we preserved from last year’s gardens by freezing, dehydrating, canning, or just storing in various ways.
We still have lots of “sundried”—dehydrated—tomatoes for pasta, quiches, and omelettes. In the insulated cool room of our barn, we have garlic and onions. In the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, we have a few carrots that haven’t gone soft yet (hint: leave just a stub of green stem on them and they’ll store longest). In the freezer, we have broccoli, peas, mushrooms, and some chopped peppers, along with frozen tubs of marinara sauce, salsa, and cooked squash. In the closet of the unheated bedroom, we have a butternut and a carnival squash that still look great (an insulated cooler in a garage works well too). The shelves of the root cellar are lined with canned chutneys and jams. And in buckets in the barn, we have dried beans.
This winter we pledged to start using a pressure cooker. Our friends who use them kept encouraging us to give it a try, but we’d both been scarred by childhood fears of kitchen explosions in the old days when pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they have now. I also associate pressure cookers with what my grandmother called “pressed chicken,” which she’d make for sandwiches on our long drive home from North Dakota to Colorado every summer. My grandmother was a great cook and I miss her fresh bread, but I always found that chicken a little strange with its gooey texture and suspicious gel when refrigerated. Just another childhood memory to make me a vegetarian today.
But we figured we could get over those scars enough to use a pressure cooker for beans at the very least. We grow several varieties of dried beans at Stonebridge, including the Oregon state bean, Peregion, a beautiful black and white bean that has a distinctive flavor. I like beans but never felt like we were cooking them to their optimal texture. One trick that helps is to put 1 tsp of baking soda in the soaking water overnight and then rinse well before cooking. This helps make the beans less gassy. Another trick is to never, ever salt them until they’re done cooking because salt makes them tougher.
These tricks helped my bean consumption but I still didn’t like having to leave them on the stove or in the crockpot for hours and I still didn’t love the texture. I wanted more from my beans, especially after we’d spent so much time growing, threshing, cleaning, and soaking them.
So we bought a 6-qt pressure cooker, held our breaths, and got it rocking with our soaked beans, water, a couple veggie broth cubes, some Cuban-inspired cumin and oregano, and a couple cloves of garlic. After about 20 minutes, the cooker come to pressure and the top regulator weight started dancing over low heat. We simmered for 15 minutes and then shut off the burner and let the cooker slowly release the pressure, another 25 minutes. Now we’re brave enough to put the whole thing under running water, which makes the steam release in a few minutes, but that first time, we thought we’d wait.
The beans were wonderful—tender, creamy even, with delicious flavor. We’ve been making beans once a week all winter in a large enough batch to freeze extra for lunch burritos, nachos, or enchiladas.
We’ve graduated to another dish as well, one that uses a winter-stored squash from our closet. If you’ve got a pressure cooker, try the Risotto with Squash and Sage recipe below. I don’t have fresh sage this time of year so used dried and it was just fine. I also had enough uncooked squash left to use in a soup, so I got two dishes out of one butternut squash.
If you’ve still got pumpkin in your freezer (many people roast, puree, and freeze them for bread or pie), try the Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake recipe too. We host digital storytelling workshops here in the summer so I was looking for something that I could make ahead and freeze for a morning treat later. This cake is delicious and gets even a little moister with freezing. I left out the poppy seeds & orange peel and added mini-chocolate chips because I love pumpkin and dark chocolate together. I don’t see why winter squash wouldn’t work here as well—they’re pretty interchangeable with pumpkins.
We’ll keep eating beans and finish off what’s left in our freezer and storage. By then, the spinach will be thriving and the lettuces will be big enough in the bluehouse for harvest. Next year, we’ll have greens and carrots growing all winter in the bluehouse and that will be a delight. But we’ve done okay this winter with what we’ve put by from our own fields–and we’re glad we got over our fear of exploding pressure cookers!
Pressure Cooker Risotto with Winter Squash and Sage
Adapted from County Home, Feb 2008
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 Tbl. Olive oil
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
3 ½ – 4 cups veggie broth
1 ½ Lb. butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1-inch chunks
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp fresh sage or 1 heaping Tbl dried sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese for topping
In a 4- or 6-qt pressure cooker, sauté onion in hot oil over medium-high heat until golden. Stir in rice and coat with oil. Carefully add wine; cook and stir until rice has absorbed the wine (about 30 seconds). Add 3 ½ cups broth and cubed squash.
Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring cooker to pressure. Reduce heat just enough to retain pressure and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.
Quick-release the pressure by placing cooker under cold running water. When the pressure indicator has popped down, carefully remove lid, tilting away from you to allow steam to escape.
Set the cooker over medium-high heat again and stir vigorously. It will look fairly soupy at this point.
Cook, uncovered, until mixture thickens and rice is tender but still chewy, about 3-5 minutes, stirring every minute or so. If it becomes dry before the rice is done, add ½ cup broth. The finished risotto should be slightly runny because it will continue to thicken on the plate.
Turn off heat. Stir in ½ cup Parmesan, sage, and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with additional cheese on top if desired. Makes 4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings.
Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake
Adapted from Krista Frank’s recipe in Country Woman
2 cups cooked pumpkin
1 ¼ cugs sugar (turbinado is fine)
1 ¼ cups fat-free milk
½ cup orange juice
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cup unbleached flour
1 ½ cup whole wheat or WW pastry flour
2 Tbl grated orange peel (optional)
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 Tbl cornstarch
1 Tbl poppy seeds (optional)
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom
½ each allspice, nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 cup mini dark chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.
In large bowl, beat pumpkin, sugar, milk, eggs, juice, oil, and vanilla until well blended.
In separate bowl, combine flours, orange peel, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, poppy sees, spices, and salt.
Beat dry mixture and chocolate chips into pumpkin mixture until blended. Pour into prepared bundt pan.
Bake at 350 for 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes clean.
Cool for 10 minutes. Place a rack on top of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack.
This freezes well when wrapped in foil and thawed before serving.