Roasted red pepper and black bean sauce
Each day on our way to school, Isaac and I pass a house that half-burned down a few years ago at Christmastime. Apparently it will be torn down before too long, but now it’s oddly beautiful with its charred, inside-out appearance. Many of its lovely architectural details remain intact, but now it feels as though you can catch a glimpse of its pretty bones. The last few times we’ve passed, a giant black vulture has peered down at us from the roof. I happen to think black vultures are remarkable birds–beautiful in their black-upon-black scruffiness. We have a lot in our area, and we’ll see them lined up with gothic gravity on abandoned barns and silos, or perching with unlikely balance on slim branches their weight should snap. They seem social, as they all stand together, long wings stretched in a wide arc to catch the sun. When we passed our local vulture today, my little modern-day Ben Franklin said that he likes turkey vultures better than eagles because eagles kill their prey, whereas vultures just take what’s already dead. They just clean up. So between Franklin and Isaac, we’ve established that bald eagles are thieves and murderers, whereas turkeys are brave, and turkey vultures mild and helpful. It’s funny that we saw the vulture just now, because my boys have spent the week scavenging. Not for carcasses of course (we’re vegetarian!) but for junk. It’s sparkle week in our town, which means that people put out their still-sometimes-useful garbage, and other people pick it up and take it home. It’s a nice idea, really, and many people I know have furnished their house this way, and in quite a stylie style, too. However, if you have two small pack rats, it can become dreadful. Isaac is sparkle-obsessed. He wants everyone else’s half-broken toys. He flies from garbage pile to garbage pile shouting “sparkle! sparkle!” Like some mad trash fairy. He roots through broken glass and dog crap, convinced that a treasure awaits if he only looks hard enough. Malcolm is an admirably efficient sparkler. He found a working door knob, a working watch, a perfect darth vader mask, and any number of small, intriguing objects. I suppose this bodes well for his chances of surviving in a post-apocalyptic landscape. He’ll build us a home of packaging foam and old dressers, and we’ll cook our food on abandoned grills and dismantled ovens. Personally, I’ve always been a little wary of used goods and thrift-store clothes. I can’t shake the idea that they take on the personality of the people that owned them. That they’re imbued with the sadness or happiness of the lives they were part of, and that they become spirits of their own as they pass from person to person. It’s silly, I know! I should saunter down the street, like Malcolm, hand in pocket, flannel shirt catching the breeze, coolly appraising each pile of reusables, happy to be part of the cycle of renewal that takes place each spring in our small town.
Soba noodles with roasted red pepper sauce, black beans, spinach and tomatoes.
I seem to still be making warm and earthy meals, despite the fact that on paper it’s springtime. We’ve had a damp and chilly spring, and I haven’t found mounds of sweet peas, fiddleheads and ramps. Even the asparagus looks thick and woody, and costs a bundle for a bundle. So I’m still in the warm and saucy world of food. I think this would make a nice summer meal, though. It has the appealing color of a sun-drenched brick wall in summertime. It involves red pepper, which is summery, which I roasted under the broiler, but which would be even better grilled. Malcolm loves soba noodles. They’re made of buckwheat, and they have a nice nutty flavor. They go nicely with earthy potatoes and black beans, and I mixed them, in this instance with smoky peppers, smoked paprika and spicy red pepper flakes and jalapenos. You could eat this over rice with tortillas, or even on it’s own as a sort of chili.
Here’s Decemberists’ Sweet Clementine, because I borrowed a phrase for my essay today!
2 red, 1 yellow pepper
2 T olive oil
1 t oregano
1 t sage
1 t hot pepper flakes (or to taste)
3 medium-sized potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 t smoked paprika
2 cups baby spinach, washed and chopped
1 T butter
1 t balsamic
small handful of cilantro, washed and chopped
Sliced, seeded pickled jalapenos
grated sharp cheddar
Put the peppers, whole, in a roasting pan. Place under the broiler, and broil until blackened on all sides, turning every few minutes. Place in a large bowl and cover with a plate. Leave for about half an hour. Peel and seed the peppers, and then puree with any of the liquid that has collected in the bowl.
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the herbs and the potatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the potatoes start to brown. Add the garlic and shallots, and cook until the garlic starts to brown. Add the black beans, stir and cook for a minute or two. Add the pureed pepper and the smoked paprika, and enough water to make everything thin and saucy. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are soft- 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove the lid and add the spinach and a bit of water if the pan has dried out too much. Stir and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the butter and balsamic. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro.
Serve over cooked soba noodles (or rice or any other kind of pasta you like), topped with grated cheese and sliced jalapenos, if you like them.