This is a great time of the year. Our grandchildren are out of school, and their parents are looking for a little relaxing time. That means we get to have them in Santa Fe for a few days. Our youngest, Sarah, is here now with her two toddlers. That is exciting for Grandma and Grandpa, but it also is a reminder why young people are parents and old people are grandparents.
Sarah and her husband, Evan, are chefs. They have fallen into the occupational hazard of those who cook for a living: they taste – and taste – and taste. Over the years they have added a few pounds along with – for Sarah – the weight gain of motherhood. As a result, they have gone on a very strict diet and exercise regimen prescribed by a no-nonsense personal trainer.
Before her arrival, Sarah announce that there would not be the usual eating out that seems to be part of the visiting tradition. I was disappointed about that, because there are several new restaurants in town worthy of a visit. The other restriction was that home meals should be high protein/low carbohydrate. How to deal with that? No pasta; no red and green chile enchiladas; no pies or cakes. I decided that a simple resolution, at least for the meal the evening of their arrival, was salade Niçoise. I know – what about the potato salad? No problem. That becomes a personal option.
Sarah signed off on the suggestion, and so that’s what we had. I bought some beautiful raw ahi tuna at the store which I seared to keep the lovely pink inside. There were haricots verts at the farmers market and Kalamata olives from the Cheesemongers of Santa Fe. Everything else I found in the pantry or refrigerator, so it was just a matter of cooking and blanching the beans, hard boiling the eggs, and assembling everything right before we ate. That gave us time to enjoy the beautiful sunset. A good ending to a tiring day for Sarah shepherding two toddlers on a flight that wound up sitting on the tarmac for thirty minutes after arrival, waiting for a gate to open.
- butter lettuce, washed and spun dry
- potato salad – your favorite recipe
- ahi tuna, sautéed and sliced thinly across the grain
- anchovies packed in oil, drained
- haricots verts, boiled and blanched
- hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
- tomatoes, quartered
- kalamata olives
- Arrange the lettuce leaves around the edge of a large serving bowl
- Heap the potato salad in the middle
- Arrange the other ingredients on top of the potato salad
- Dress with vinaigrette and serve.
Just as with everything else, there are trends and fashions at the farmers market. Year before last it was cardoons. Last year it was kohlrabis. Now those are old hat. This year one of the new items is black haricots verts. Actually they’re not black but a very deep shade of purple that looks black. The beans are very distinctive, heaped up in baskets next to the regular green pole beans. It’s very hard to resist buying some if you are looking for something a little different to try out.
Many of you experienced cooks probably already know this, but I was surprised and more than a little disappointed when I dropped the beans into boiling water to blanch them, and the purple/black color disappeared. Suddenly my haricots verts were, indeed, green.
Curious to know why that happened, I turned to the most reliable expert on kitchen science that I know, Harold McGee, author of a regular column in the New York Times and numerous books including On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Second edition, Scribner, New York, 2004). Sure enough, there he had a short scholarly discussion of anthocyanins (pp. 267-268, 281-281) It turns out that the red and purple colors of most flowers and vegetables are due to a group of about 300 related chemicals known as anthocyanins. They are very sensitive to alkalinity and acidity as well as some metals, which help to determine the color that the chemical gives to a flower or vegetable. They are also highly water-soluble, so when the spaces where they are stored break open during the cooking process, the coloration is rapidly diluted and dissipates. Hence, the beautiful black beans turn a beautiful chlorophyll-green. And that’s ok, too, because the blanched haricots verts can be used for whatever might be one of your favorite dishes.
I decided to use them in a chilled salad with scallions and dill, topped with a balsamic vinaigrette. The bright green chlorophyll color was terrific.
Haricots Verts Vinaigrette with Scallions and Dill
- 1 pound fresh haricots verts, washed and trimmed
- 4 scallions cut in ½ inch slices, whites and greens included
- ¼ cup fresh dill fronds, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (not the expensive stuff)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- salt and pepper
- pinch of sugar
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff)
- In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil
- Add the green beans in a single batch and return the water to the boil
- Boil the beans for no more than 4 minutes so that they remain crisp. Drain and immediately plunge into a prepared large bowl of ice and chilled water.
- When the beans have cooled, drain and transfer them to the refrigerator until they are ready to use. (Remove any remaining pieces of ice)
- Prepare the scallions and dill. Set aside.
- Using a whisk and a small bowl, combine the vinegar, minced garlic, mustard, salt, pepper, and sugar.
- Whisking continuously, slowly stir in the olive oil to make a vinaigrette. Correct the seasoning.
- In a large bowl, combine the haricots verts, scallions, and dill. Dress with the vinaigrette to suit your taste. Adjust the seasoning. Chill, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for an hour to let the flavors blend.
- Serve alone or on lettuce leaves.
“Black” haricots verts
Haricots Verts Vinaigrette with Scallions and Dill
Another classic composed salad for summer, this version has its origins in Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and friends.
Instead of pasta, rice, or quinoa serving as the base, French-style potato salad pulls everything together. Haricots verts, hard-boiled eggs, ripe tomatoes, black olives, and canned tuna are essential. If you can find good-quality Spanish anchovies, they should also be included, but beyond that you are limited only by your imagination.
Salade Niçoise can be served chilled or at room temperature, but it goes without saying that it needs a chilled white wine and crusty French bread to be a complete summer meal.
French Potato Salad
- 2 medium russet potatoes
- 3 quarts boiling salted water
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ¾ cup vinaigrette
- 6 scallions, cleaned and cut into ¼ inch slices, including the green tops
- handful parsley leaves, chopped finely
- Add the unpeeled potatoes to the boiling water. Return to the boil and cook until the potatoes are done and can be pierced easily with a sharp fork, about 30 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes and cool until they can be handled. Peel by pulling the potato skin off with a sharp paring knife.
- Slice the potatoes into ¼ inch thick rounds, return to the dry pot, and pour in the wine. Stir gently until the wine is completely absorbed.
- Add the vinaigrette, scallions, and parsley and stir gently until well combined, being careful not to break up the potatoes too much. Chill until ready to compose the salad.
- ¼ pound haricot verts, trimmed and blanched (good green beans if haricot verts unavailable)
- 12 very thin stalks asparagus, trimmed and blanched
- ½ cup vinaigrette
- 1 small head, butter lettuce, washed and the leaves separated
- 1 batch French potato salad (see above)
- 2 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into wedges
- 5 ounce can best quality solid albacore tuna in water, drained
- 14 ounce can black olives, drained
- Spanish anchovies (optional)
- Arrange the lettuce leaves in a large salad bowl
- Heap the potato salad in the middle of the bowl
- Dress the beans and asparagus lightly with vinaigrette and then arrange them across the top of the potato salad
- Sprinkle the olives over the top of the potato salad and arrange the tomatoes and eggs around the edge.
- Arrange the tuna, flaked gently with a fork, in the middle of the salad.
- Serve immediately. This will serve two, perhaps with some leftovers.