This white bean and zucchini stew is an old standby; over polenta or pasta or with a slice or seven of garlic bread, it is a comfortable balance of familiar flavors that makes me feel calmed and taken care of.
For six summers, starting twenty years ago next month, I went to St. George’s Camp, which is ostensibly run by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, but was effectively run by a batch of insanely smart, funny and musically-talented college students. (If you want a sense of it, page through these pictures and count how many people you see with their arms around each other or holding guitars.)
I should not get started on telling camp stories, as I will never stop, beginning with the counselor I had a crush on (James Brown) and going on to the friend for life I netted. It would be hard to overstate how much influence the place had on me. It would not be going too far to say that it is a real part of why I’m working in produce – though that might seem like a stretch, believe me, I could explain exactly how it links up in less than a thousand words.
Among the activities at St. G’s were camping trips: two cabins went each night through the middle part of the session. One of these trips is the source of one of my favorite outdoor truisms, learned from then-counselor Stuart Gunter, through this exchange:
Camper: (bored) Stu, what time is it?
Stu: (kindly) Dude, you’re in the woods. It’s daytime. It doesn’t matter what time it is.
Dinner on these trips, prepared by the counselors, was what was referred to as salmagundi, with macaroni and cheese. Salmagundi, as interpreted there, was a tomato and vegetable stew, with too many dried herbs applied to it by an overzealous counselor from one of those divided plastic shakers with a different herb in each compartment. It always tasted great out in the woods, though, as everything does – steaming-hot vegetables cooked over a wood fire piled on top of pasta.
This isn’t exactly it, of course. There were no white beans, not to mention no arugula, in what I ate out in the woods when it didn’t matter what time it was, but whatever time it might have been, this reminds me of it, and for a little while when I make it, I imagine we are all singing with our arms around each other while James plays banjo, Kat plays guitar, Stu plays bongos, and everything is right with the world.
Olive oil for the pan
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 c. cooked cannellini beans (from about 2.5 c. dried)
1 28 oz. can Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
2 tsp. paprika
6 smallish zucchini (from K.M.K Farms in Kingsburg)
2 c. (packed) arugula
salt and pepper to taste
In a large, deep soup or stew pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and sauté until it has become translucent and is slightly wilted. Add the garlic and the tomatoes in quick succession, then the herbs. Add pepper (the tomatoes have a lot of salt, remember). Cook until the tomatoes have reduced slightly and had an opportunity to pick up the flavors of the herbs, about 20 minutes. Add the beans and allow to heat through, about ten minutes.
While the beans are heating, in a large sauté pan, heat a little bit of olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the zucchini and give it enough quick turns around the pan that it sautés a bit rather than steaming. When it has begun to color a little, remove it from the heat. When the beans are hot through, add the zucchini to the stew and allow to cook a few more minutes. At the last moment, add arugula and allow to will momentarily, plus a good slug of olive oil for flavor. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.
Makes at least 6 servings.