We’re close enough to the Fairgrounds to hear music if the wind is right, and Retrogrouch and I had been planning to lite-rock out to the brassy grooves of Chicago, Saturday’s feature act at the Lane County Fair, for several months. My recent trip to San Francisco provided an excellent way to fatten up the festivities: too many pounds of freshly made Polish sausage, in several varieties, from Seakor Polish Deli and Sausage Factory.
Having so much sausage and a musical promise of a trip down memory lane to ye olden days of that summer before high school when you thought that boy camping two cabins down with his parents might very well be YOUR inspiration, we knew we had to invite over some friends to share the love. We very sensibly decided to have a Chicago theme barbecue, with foods inspired by the Midwest. We envisioned it to be very much like this:
Retrogrouch manned the grill, serving up the sausages and buns, and I made an updated version of three-bean salad, that Midwestern picnic classic, and coleslaw. Friends brought a picture-perfect Cook’s Country version of macaroni salad with barbecue sauce (which I won’t reprint or sanction because of their draconian reprint policies — shame on you, Kimball!) and a couple genuine deli salads featuring broccoli, tomato, and feta cheese. I also put out homemade sauerkraut, new dill pickles, and dill relish for anyone in the mood.
The sausage? The mysliwska (hunter’s sausage), double-smoked with allspice and caraway, was more mild than expected, as was the regular kielbasa, but still delicious, and the czosnkowa (garlic sausage) was stunningly good. I was too tipsy on excellent Oregon Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to remember to take pictures at that point.
And if you are wondering where the jello mold was, as were my foodie friends who heard the recap last night, I even (somewhat inadvertently) had that covered. A shimmery, snowy, creamy panna cotta! Because, you know, panna cotta has gelatin in it. Yeah. Served up in big scoops with giant blackberries macerated in pinot gris syrup and allspice, it rounded out the meal, just like a good jello mold does.
Turns out the wind was wrong that night, and we couldn’t hear the blast of a single trumpet from the band, disappointingly enough, but we were treated by an even better spectacle. With our doggedly hot weather the past week, the air was crackly and pregnant, just right for a lightning storm, and that we had: brilliant poofs of light in the clouds, and big, jagged streaks of the good stuff, powerful enough to show Chicago that even we could muster up a summer light show. PNW in the HOUSE! Of course, the sky didn’t break open and fall until last night, but that was ok. One doesn’t expect a tribute to be an exact replica.
The three-bean salad is an adaptation of my sister’s four-bean salad recipe, which was handwritten on a card in the recipe binder she made for me several years ago. My version largely takes the cans out of the equation, and freshens up the vegetables with garden beans, hazelnuts, herbs, and less sugar. What would be even better is to replace the kidney beans with local scarlet runners or another variety that grows well in the Valley, but there was no way I was going to spend more time in the hot kitchen cooking beans this weekend, so I used a local canned kidney. The beans were from my garden and one of the local farms, as were the herbs and onions and garlic. It would have been really cool to have local Riesling vinegar, but alas. The Spanish company Unio has a German Riesling vinegar, sweet and sour and fragrant as only Riesling can be, is delicious enough to drink. I bought mine at Berkeley Bowl. If you can’t find it, use a high quality white wine vinegar and add just a bit more sugar.
Three Bean and a Hazelnut Midwestern Tribute Salad
Serves 6-8 as a side dish
- 8 oz. green beans off the vine
- 8 oz. yellow beans off the vine (use flat Romanos for a pretty contrast)
- one can of kidney beans, or their dried and cooked equivalent
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 T. sugar
- 1 T. whole grain mustard
- 1/3 cup Riesling vinegar (substitute white wine vinegar and a bit more sugar)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 medium red onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- 3-4 scallions, chopped
- handful parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- optional: a bit of grated celeriac or dash of celery salt
Clean and stem the beans. You can cut them in half, but I like how they look long.
Steam the green and yellow beans until tender, then spread out on clean towels to cool quickly. Use a fan, if necessary. (The flavor is better if you don’t shock them in cold water.)
While the beans are cooling, whisk together the garlic, sugar, mustard, vinegar, and olive oil in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the red onion, hazelnuts, scallions and parsley. A dash of celery salt or grated celeriac is good, too, if you have them on hand.
Drain the kidney beans and rinse, then pat dry.
Add the cooled beans and kidney beans, toss gently, then refrigerate. This salad needs to sit for a few hours to blend the flavors, but don’t let it sit overnight, since the beans will lose their color.