Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes, and butter-fried croquettes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

“He wouldn’t listen to her, and he clasped her desperately, his heart drowning in an immense sadness. A need for peace and an uncontrollable need for happiness invaded him; and he pictured himself married, in a nice clean little house, with no other ambition than for the two of them to live and die together inside it. They would only need a little bread to eat; and even if there was only enough for one of them, he would give her the whole piece. What was the point of wanting anything else? Was there anything in life worth more than that?” Indeed! Well, I haven’t finished the book yet, but I know how things turn out. I always read ahead, I read a few pages here and there in the middle, and I read the end. I always have, somehow knowing how it will end makes the story more compelling for me, even if it ends sadly, as this one does, I’m sorry to say. They are, of course, Etienne and Catherine from Germinal. They’re sitting on the edge of the bed in icy darkness, preparing to go back down the pit. After a winter of sickness and strife, starvation and deprivation, after months of physical and emotional abuse from her cruel lover, after ages of liking and loving and longing for each other, all unspoken, they’re at a crossroads. “Don’t do it!” You want to yell at them. “Don’t go down the mine. Run away!!” When I was little I used to imagine an island people could go to when things weren’t going well for them in plays or books or movies. An island for star-crossed lovers where everything aligned a little more benevolently, and all of the outside forces that kept them apart were nowhere to be found. It would be a place you could go despite your obstacles–money troubles couldn’t keep you away, and neither could overbearing relatives or jealous lovers or fickle fortune. And once you got there you’d be free to live out your days with your lover, just as you choose. You would grow old together. And maybe this would be hard for some of the couples that wind up on the island, because they hadn’t known each other very long in the old world, but I think they’d be glad to have the chance. After all, we each have to grow old, and it’s nice to have somebody to do it with. Romeo and Juliet were so young when they died. Juliet is thirteen. So maybe on this island they would grow up together, they would become adults together and be good friends. Catherine and Heathcliff–well, I just don’t know. They started as friends, they did grow up together, but weren’t they disappointingly cruel to each other and themselves and everyone around them. I don’t think even a magical island could provide them with a cheery future. Catherine and Etienne, though, I think they’d be okay. They’ve both suffered so much and worked so hard that they’d be glad of the peace and freedom to be kind to one another, to really love each other. They’d delight in any small warmth that they could find, and they’d kindle such a bonfire of pent-up affection they’d be able to light up a whole wintery mining village. And they wouldn’t be ignorant but happy, either. I think about Catherine a lot, about how bright and interested she is, and about how her only hope in life is to earn enough money to survive, and that her cruel man won’t be too cruel to her. I like to think about her writing stories in her head, down in the pit. But Etienne has taken such pleasure in learning, and in educating himself, and you know he’d love to teach her, too, and that he’d take pleasure in doing it, and be proud of all she learned. I like to think about what she might do, if she had some knowledge. I like to imagine them happy. They don’t expect much, and they deserve the world.

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Here we have another meal that started as a bean and vegetable stew and ended up as croquettes. THe first night we had a bright, sweet, tart stew made of navy beans, fennel, and roasted sweet potatoes. It also had lemon thyme, lemon, caper, and a handful of raisins. Very delicious! And we ate it with bulgur. The next night I smashed all the leftovers together with bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, and smoked paprika, and baked it in a loaf pan. Then I sliced it (or tried to, it fell apart a bit) and fried it all in butter. The boys said it was like hotdogs, and it kinda was! Very good, though!

Here’s Louis Armstrong with Song of the Islands

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch dice
olive oil to coat

2 T butter or olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and diced quite fine
2 t fresh lemon thyme
1 t fresh rosemary
1/2 cup white wine
3 T raisins, chopped
1 can navy beans, rinsed and drained
3 or 4 chard leaves, trimmed, cleaned and roughly chopped
3 or 4 artichoke hearts, quartered
1 or 2 t capers
juice of one lemon
1 T butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 425. Coat the sweet potatoes with olive oil, spread in a single layer on the tray, and roast for 20 to 25 minutes until soft inside and crispy and brown outside. Turn the oven off but leave them in to crisp up. (Don’t burn them!)

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil or butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot, stir and cook for a minute, add the garlic and herbs, stir and cook. Add the fennel, stir and cook for a few minutes until the fennel is translucent and starts to brown. Add the wine, and cook until the wine is reduced and syrupy.

Add the raisins, beans, chard, artichoke hearts and capers. Stir and cook for a minute or two, and then add about a cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the chard is tender and the fennel is just as soft as you like it. Stir in the sweet potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and stir in the butter and lemon juice. Serve with bulgur, cooked like this.


1 cup bulgur
2 T olive oil
1 t oregano
1 t thyme
salt and plenty of black pepper
1 1/2 cups broth
1 T butter (optional)

Warm the olive oil in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the herbs, and cook till they’re a little sizzly. Add the bulgur, and cook till it starts to smell toasty.

Add the water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes (make sure you don’t burn it, if it should dry out too fast!). Then take it off the heat and leave it covered while you prepare everything else. Fluff with a fork and stir in the butter, salt and pepper.


2 cups leftover sweet potatoes and navy beans
1 cup leftover bulgur
1 large slice whole wheat bread
1 cup walnuts
2 eggs
1 cup mixed smoked gouda and mozzarella
1 t smoked paprika
salt and pepper
olive oil for the pan and butter for frying.

Preheat the oven to 400. In a food processor, combine the walnuts and bread and process until broken down but not completely ground. Add the leftovers, process for a minute until mashed but not puréed. Add the eggs, cheese and paprika. Process briefly to combine.

Oil a loaf pan. Spread the mixture in the loaf pan and bake for about 20 minutes, till browned and firm.

Let cool, then turn out and slice. If it falls apart, don’t worry about it, all the little crumbly bits are good fried in butter as well.

Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium heat, and fry the slices on both sides until browned. Serve with simple tomato sauce.


3 thoughts on “Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes, and butter-fried croquettes

  1. I love the idea of an island for literary characters! I had to give up reading Thomas Hardy’s novels, because I always ended up shouting at the characters: “No! Don’t do it, you idiots!” But they always did, every time. An island would be perfect for them.

    Luckily I still like his poetry though.

    [You won’t have seen the Great British Bake Off, I suppose, though I dare say you’ve heard of it. There was a documentary on finals night about last year’s contestants, and one of them said she often watches the programmes she was in, and always hopes that this time she won’t cry. “But I always do,”]

    • I can’t even read Hardy any more, because they’re just too frustratingly sad.

      And I haven’t seen TGBBO, but I’ve enjoyed reading RRers comments about it. Sounds like a very emotional show!!

  2. I had a refuge like your island, though i can’t remember if it was for real or fictional characters. It was a treehouse by a mountain stream in the northeast woods. Perhaps, Catherine and Etienne can summer there and winter on your island.

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