Trash to Treasures

What do oxtails, short ribs, lamb neck and fava beans have in common? At some point, all of them were bench warmers, or as they say in baseball: they rode the pine. Sat it out. No one wanted to see them on the field.

I can just see a little fava bean singing, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.”

Oxtail and ravioli

Of course that meant if you could find them, they were cheap. Our local farm butcher here in the Hood River Valley would sell us oxtail for $1 a pound. For the longest time.

Then the tide turned. First, about 18 years ago, with short ribs. Those dedicated steak-and-burger eaters discovered, thanks to restaurants (like mine) that short ribs were dang near angelic: luscious, pleasantly fatty, drool-inducing when braised two to three hours at a low temp, with tomatoes, red wine, mirapoix, fresh thyme. We served them with braised kale and collards, over mashed potatoes. Yeehaw.

And then, you couldn’t find them cheap anymore. Same with lamb neck and oxtails.

Six years ago, I started a supper club, and told folks they were going to pay in advance, and they’d see the menu … after they sat down. (SOP these days, but then, it was kinda different.) So, the first dinner in April 2017, I made oxtail and winter onion stew with Wildwood Farm leeks and shallots and L’Amuse goat gouda croutons. Wish I’d been out at the tables when the guests – most of whom had never eaten oxtail, assumed it was offal and awful – saw it on the menu. Probably shudders all around.

But after the five-course dinner, many diners said the oxtail was a revelation … incredible! … and their favorite dish of the night. I may have personally driven the cost of oxtail out into the stratosphere along with short ribs.

I’m saving a discussion of lamb neck for another time, when I will go on a rant about some farmer/butchers calling it “lamb neck chop.” Grrrr.

Fava beans: Planted for years (and still today) as a nice winter cover crop, and promptly plowed under. Heresy. Yes, I do know it’s a bean in a chastity belt. You have to take them out of their big winter jackets, drop them in boiling water for a minute, and then slip them out of their skivvies. Two steps. Who cares? It’s nice conversation food: spend some time with your loved ones, shelling them on the back porch. How it’s supposed to be.

With basil in abundance and fresh brown eggs in my fridge, they became a very quick and easy supper last night. The Giants – Dodgers came couldn’t even drown out Stu’s moans of pleasure.

Here ya go:

Fava Bean Bowl with Polenta, Pesto and Egg

1 cup shelled and skinned fava beans (this will probably require 15-20 fava beans)

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup dried Italian corn polenta (Bob’s Red Mill also grinds a nice one.)

2 cups water, or chicken or veg stock

½ cup milk

2 teaspoons butter

salt and pepper

4 tablespoons pesto (you’re on your own here … look it up … basil, garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil, yadda, yadda …)

2 eggs

2 teaspoons butter

red pepper flake

Make the polenta:

Bring the milk and water or stock to a boil in a saucepan. Drop in two teaspoons butter, some salt and pepper, and then whisk in the polenta. Let it return to boil, whisking all the while, then move the pot to your simmer burner, the one you cook rice on. Turn it as low as it will go so that bubbles are just now and again bursting to the surface. Whisk or stir every few minutes. Let it go about 15 minutes. The longer it cooks, the creamier it gets.

Saute the fava beans:

In a saute pan large enough to fry two eggs, add the olive oil, the prepped fava beans, and a little salt. Saute on medium high for about two minutes, and remove to a small bowl.

Fry the eggs:

Add the butter to the same pan, crack in the eggs, and fry them until they are brown around the edges, the whites are cooked, but the yolks are still runny. (You may have heartier eaters in your family. If so, cook four eggs.)


Spoon the polenta into two nice pasta bowls. Divide the pesto between the two bowls, spooning it over the polenta. Spoon the sauteed fava beans on top, and add a fried egg to each. Sprinkle with red pepper flake. Serve with good bread.

The Wise Guy in the Back Yard

Paulie Walnuts died this week, along with Tony Sirico, who played him. Paulie was one of Tony Soprano’s wise guys: a psycho, a dedicated, kind uncle who also happened to kill more people – nine – than any other character during The Soprano’s six-year run. Charming, vain, not too bright. Vicious, in an endearing sort of way.

Kind of like my vegetable garden. I go out there every morning expecting leafy lettuce, succulent peas, budding tomato plants. And some days, that’s what I get. Other days, it’s bolting arugula or petrified radishes. What the hell happened to the radishes? They were tender and sweet last week. There’s baby carrots, and then there’s minuscule carrots. I have the latter. Overnight – seriously – the spinach has gone to seed. The green beans are too afraid to climb their nice bean poles. Maybe, like Paulie and Tony Soprano, they need a therapist.

Unfortunately, the garden and I are co-dependent. I water him, and he feeds me, or something approximately like that. I go out there with the colander and bring back what I can find, because dammit, you gotta eat something.

So tonight, that bolting arugula has lost its head. I cut off all the flowers, hoping to encourage lusher, lower growth. The flowers came back with me in the colander.

They will become arugula flower pesto, with pistachios, olive oil, fresh garlic I was smart enough to buy at the farmer’s market, and some Pecorino Romano. Big sloppy spoons of the pesto is going on some Bristol Bay sockeye salmon. And to cook it, I’ll steam some fat lacinato kale leaves … a garden success story … and wrap each pesto-napped fillet in a leaf, brush with more of that olive oil, and bake for just a few minutes. Alongside, we’ll have some red and purple roasted potatoes.

As our therapist might ask us, “How does that make you feel, Bolted Arugula?”