When good friends Patti and Jim came for dinner and to watch the movie “Chocolat” a couple of weeks ago, it was easy to choose a quintessential French do-ahead cold weather meal like Bœuf Bourguignon (aka Beef Burgundy or BB). The movie, a forever fave starring Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Judy Dench, and Johnny Depp, is set in France and why not follow a great location theme for our menu? I had been wanting to make the fun Salmon Rillettes out of Dorie Greenspan’s AROUND MY FRENCH TABLE and so that was tidily in the bag (with Kir to drink), as was dessert. Patti, a much-in-demand local caterer and baker extraordinaire, decided to make Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba Cake ( Reine de Saba–a famous chocolate and almond confection) and who wouldn’t take her up on that… My stumbling block was a first course salad. I wanted green, green, green because “BB” is a hefty-heavy meal and there was chocolate cake, too, wasn’t there? I liked the idea of totally simple and fairly quick but stunning– a show stopper sitting on the table when they arrived sort of deal. (I don’t like to be too busy when friends come and I want them to see what’s ahead food wise.) Of course I didn’t want just a green salad. Tooling through the produce aisle trying to figure it out, what looked the very best to me were some skinny green beans also known as haricots verts, which while lovely on their own tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon zest, and crushed red pepper needed a boost or larger venue for this special meal. I brought them home, cooked them until just past “crisp” and settled on lightly slathering them all in a two-vinegar, very very Dijony vinaigrette. Which was great. Fine. Totally.
Except, we couldn’t just eat green beans. Well, we could… but. So I dolled the whole shebang up with crisp mixed greens, bright white crunchy fennel, juicy cherry tomatoes, tender roasted red peppers, and creamy goat’s cheese. In other words, not so much that you couldn’t see what was there but just enough to show it all off. Thinking hard about balance — comes right after color– there was nothing to do but finish it off with yellow-yellow lemon zest for acid and capers for salinity. Right after I chose the best big round platter in the cupboard, you see. (24″ in diameter and made in Provence) And that’s how I got “Lemony Green Bean and Goat Cheese Salad.”
above: Dorie’s perfect Salmon Rillettes served in a Bonne Maman jar in a gratin dish with crackers and potato chips
above: My own streamlined and veggie-laden version of Boeuf Bourguignon before I refrigerated it overnight and removed the solid fat prior to reheating. It takes quite a bit of fat to brown all that beef.
I somehow missed taking a photo of Patti’s gorgeous chocolate cake. She’ll just have to bake it again. (Hello, Patti! Are you reading?)
MUST I MAKE FRESH GREEN BEANS? Yes. While a can of green beans is great for camp-outs, for last minute dinners, or occasionally lunch stirred together with a can of tuna, some red onion, kalamata olives, olive oil, and a juiced lemon, there's nothing like fresh green beans. They're summer fare, I grant you, but in these days of Fed Ex vegetables, we get pretty tasty ones all year long. A bag of haricots verts, the French skinny kind, is often 2 pounds and more than enough for 2 people; it'll feed 8 for dinner. I never hesitate making it all for just the two of us, though, because they keep well for several days and are lovely, healthy snacks, dinner sides, or salad fillers. Making them (directions below) is as easy as seasoning a big pot of boiling water and cooking them for a few minutes.
lazy easy! way to rinse the beans. (Make sure you cut holes in the bottom corners of the bag.)
Now that you’ve got all that under control, try this as a side or first course for a dinner party, for a Mother’s or Father’s Day cook-out, for a vegetarian main course (add seasoned orzo or rice), or as a beautiful platter to carefully! carry to the Fourth of July picnic:
Lemony Green Bean and Goat Cheese Salad
- 8 cups mixed spinach and baby kale leaves
- Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and crushed red pepper
- Two Vinegar Mustard Vinaigrette-see notes
- 1 pound (16-ounces) green beans, cooked to tender-crisp and well-drained
- 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and sliced thinly
- ½ cup thinly sliced roasted red peppers
- 1 tablespoon capers-or more to taste
- 2 -ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
- 12 ripe cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil chiffonade
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest-or more to taste
- On a very large platter, scatter the spinach and kale leaves mostly around the edges but also lightly at the center. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few flakes of crushed red pepper. In a large bowl, toss the cooked and drained green beans with 2-3 tablespoons vinaigrette. The beans should be well-covered with the dressing, but not goopy or drippy. Taste and add more vinaigrette as needed and adjust seasonings. Spoon the dressed green beans evenly into the center of the spinach and kale. Place fennel and roasted red pepper slices around the edges, alternating for a striking balance of color. Sprinkle the capers and goat cheese over all and place cherry tomatoes at center. Garnish with fresh basil and lemon zest. Sprinkle with just a little more salt and a few grinds of pepper. Serve at room temperature. Leftovers will keep a day in the fridge well-covered.Make ahead: You can make the green beans in the vinaigrette a few hours or a day ahead and refrigerate, taking out an hour or so before making the salad.
VEGAN? This is a vegan dish if you omit the cheese. You might add some sautéed croutons for crunch and seasoned rice or orzo to make it more of a complete meal as I’ve noted above for a vegetarian version.
NEED A GREAT PLATTER? Visit thrift stores or antique shops. Check out amazon, your local grocery store, or eBay for good buys. Sometimes really large plastic platters or trays are available in the summer months. Try catering suppliers or even the dollar store. No joy? Bring out your turkey platter; no one will know. Not as pretty, but you can line a sheet pan or tray with foil–perhaps covering it all as best as you can with your gorgeous salad. Two small platters will work, too. Always keep an eye out for lovely serving pieces at yard or estate sales.
If you liked this, you might also like my…
above: Christmas Green Bean Salad
Interested in upping your salad game? Read through my 3-part salad class and see what you chop up!
Favorite salads I make over and over again from two wonderful cook-writers: Lemon-Garlic Kale Salad by Julia Moskin (COOK’S NOTE: I use maybe half that amount of almonds, olive oil, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.) Beet and Orange Salad (shown at left) by Ellie Krieger (COOK’S NOTE: I add a pinch of crushed red pepper to the dressing and use crushed pistachios in place of the poppy seeds along with arugula or other greens instead of watercress, which is seldom available in CO.)
LIFE GOES ON:
We had a lovely time away in sunny and windy and rainy Florida (mostly gorgeous) with our extended family celebrating my sister Helen’s 80th birthday. Elvis even showed up. SO GOOD!!
There is simply never enough time with your family. Granddaughter Piper and I, however, made good use of one afternoon and took a painting class along with 20 other friends and family members. I can cook but can’t draw a circle; Piper’s quite talented.
Below– my kitchen for the week and while I did some clean-up from caterers and made coffee, I didn’t actually cook one meal there. My son, a wonderful cook, made me breakfast a time or two. Yes, that’s the ocean outside!! Don’t you like the wooden ceilings? I’m smitten.
Still, as Dorothy always said, “There’s no place like home,” and we’re happy to be back in view of the mountains. We awoke this morning to snow–my favorite weather.
Happy April! Thanks for stopping in. I’m thinking ahead to the late spring and summer holidays upcoming. Are you dreaming of get-togethers, too? Yes, the grill will get turned on yet.
I’m so glad you’re here and keeping me company in the kitchen,