Monday, August 3, 2009

Dressing up a classic

Green bean salad with tomatoes

Once upon a time*, in a land called California, there lived a young girl who didn't eat her vegetables. Oh, I suppose she ate some vegetables, but at most green things (and yellow, and red, and orange things, or at least vegetables in those colors) she wrinkled her nose and cried, "eww!" She was, to put it mildly, a very picky eater. The only vegetables that she would eat without a fuss were green beans and, most improbably, broccoli.

As you might have guessed, that young girl who didn't eat her vegetables grew up to have a blog called Beyond Ramen. Yes, internets, I was once a terribly picky eater. Surprised? I suppose it's not uncommon for us to have awfully narrow tastes as a child, and then to grow up and out of that narrowness. Still, I feel like my transition from closed-minded food hermit to adventurous, "I'll try anything at least once" foodie is... unlikely.

Sungold cherry tomatoes

And as surprised as readers might be to hear that I was such a picky eater, I imagine that my parents are perhaps even more so to hear and read about the sort of things that I now cook (and write about) without hesitation. Butternut squash soup? Chickpea salad? Pastry cream**? Aromatic baby food?? It would have floored them to see me eating such food, let alone voluntarily whipping them up for myself and then writing to tell the world about how delicious I thought they were.

Zooming in

In a strange way, I think that that unlikely (and ongoing) transformation is part of why I blog about food in the first place. In addition to my love of sharing good food with people, there's a sense that if even I like it, it must be good, so I must share it with the world! Perhaps in the process I'll show some kale hater (or squash hater, or what have you) that you can like these things under the right circumstances, and I've found that that's especially the case when you cook it yourself. I'm certain that the broadening of my tastes owes a great deal to my starting to cook for myself regularly about eight (!) years ago.

But I've digressed a bit--or quite a lot, actually. Anyway, green beans. Because green beans were the one veg that my parents could reliably get me to eat, we ate a ton of them, typically steamed and plain. Given my propensity to turn up my nose at anything unfamiliar or "interesting," I don't know if I would have gone for them any other way, so the ubiquity of the steaming method was likely born of necessity rather than a preference on my parents' part. Fortunately my parents, unlike the antagonists of the vegetable horror stories they told me about vegetables cooked into drab, limp oblivion, ably steamed our green beans--and broccoli--until they were tender, but retained a fresh taste and color, and still held their shape nicely.

Green beansGreen beans, trimmed

I still love them that way, steamed or boiled and plain, but as with anything good, one can reach a point of too much. I needed something different. Of course, because plain was more or less the only way I had ever had them, other than the occasional stir-fry, I was not exactly flush with ideas. Eventually I started putting them in salads, with some tomato and some lemon juice and olive oil. Then I added toasted nuts. Then mustard. Then garlic and herbs.

At this point I had myself a smart little side dish: crisp, tender green beans with tomato, a hint of garlic, a lemony-mustardy vinaigrette, perhaps some salad greens, and some fresh herbs. This alternative was quickly assembled--as quickly as the plain green beans, since the water still had to come to a boil--but it felt like a more grown-up version of the old stand-by. My green beans had grown up.

Green bean salad

There are plenty of ways to make this dish, of course--I've listed only the ingredients that I choose most often. Sometimes I substitute red wine vinegar for the lemon juice, or omit the herbs or garlic, or whatever I feel like. In these pictures, I've left out the greens and the nuts, and it worked beautifully. It's really one of those "make it your own" dishes, and I encourage you to play around with it so that it suits you.

Green Beans and Tomatoes with Mustard Vinaigrette

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 cup diced tomato from larger tomato(es)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed (alternatively: 1 small shallot, minced)
  • juice of 1 lemon, or a tablespoon or two of your preferred vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs: chives, basil, mint, whatever you have.
  • salt for the pot, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the minced garlic in a small bowl with the lemon juice, and let it sit while you prepare everything else.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and, while you wait for it to boil, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
  3. Once the water is boiling, salt it liberally and add the green beans. Cook for 1-2 minutes for very thin green beans and 2-3 minutes for medium to large ones, or until the beans are tender but still firm to bite.
  4. Drain the beans and place them immediately into the ice bath to stop them from cooking further. Once cold, drain and pat dry.
  5. Whisk the mustard into the lemon juice and garlic mixture, then whisk in the olive oil. Season the vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Arrange the green beans on a plate, top with the tomatoes, and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Alternatively: toss the green beans with the vinaigrette in a large bowl, then arrange on the plate and top with the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the herbs and serve.

Notes

  • Toasted nuts--walnuts, pine nuts, sliced almonds, etc.--are a nice addition.
  • This combination works brilliantly tossed with a bowl of salad greens, in which case you'll probably want to cut the beans into 2-3-inch lengths and increase the amount of vinaigrette.
  • Of course, if you like your vinaigrette more or less acidic--or if you prefer a different type of vinegar--adjust the recipe as desired.



* Anyone else out there hear or read those words and immediately, in your mind's ear, hear an orchestra strike up with the music from Into the Woods? "I wish!"
** Yes, there really was a time when I wouldn't eat pastry cream. It was a texture thing: I thought puddingy/custardy things were icky, and only copious amounts of chocolate could convince me otherwise.

4 comments:

Megan said...

I had green beans with dinner tonight -- but just plain with butter. Yours look so much better!

Anne said...

Frankly, plain with butter sounds great, too! Still more interesting than simply plain. I've never had them with butter... I'll give it a try!

Bee said...

Those green beans and tomatoes look incredibly elegant!

I can't remember if we've ever discussed this, but have you read Laurie Colwin's cookbooks Home Cooking and More Home Cooking? (If you haven't, you are in for a TREAT.) She is one of my favorite food writers, and this piece reminded me of her.

Anne said...

Thanks, Bee! I haven't read Laurie Colwin's books, but I think you've mentioned them either here or in your corner of the internets Thanks for the reminder that I should check them out!