My first very remarkable food memory is with the humble green bean. My maternal grandmother and grandfather were salt of the earth farmers in Idaho that grew their living with spuds. Every summer our family would travel what seemed like 10,000 miles (I think it was more like 120) to spend a week with them on their farm doing farmy things like gathering eggs, helping with the chores and picking vegetables from my grandfather’s mighty garden.
My grandmother loved to cook as much as my grandfather liked to garden and she would spend hours in the kitchen preparing all our meals. In fact I hardly have a memory of my grandmother outside her sunny, yellow kitchen. As we would come into the house to wash up for dinner, we would get hit with the impact of delicious fragrances that wafted from her kitchen. The most memorable scent was of fresh green beans fried in bacon. All other smells, like fresh baked rolls, pot roast and mashed potatoes, overpowered by that scent. It was the definitive dish of my grandma’s cooking and was at every single meal that she made.
Needless to say, it was delicious and to this day every single person in our family still loves their green beans (mostly in bacon) even my brother who is not vegetable tolerant. I have a lovely soft spot in my heart for these hearty and nutrient dense veggie and when green bean season hits this time of year, I cannot.get.enough. However, unlike my brother, I have branched out and love making green beans anyway conceivable.
The one drawback to green beans is that that are a bit of a pain to prepare since we don’t have the whole family to gather around a giant bowl of beans and snap them. I have found a solution however. After washing them, line up a bunch of them on the cutting board with the twiggy tips all on one side and whack them off with a knife. Leave them whole or while you have them all lined up, chop them into bite size pieces. Easy peasy. (Or maybe I should say, easy beansy.)
My favorite way to eat green beans is to make Nicoise salad, particularly since tuna and baby new potatoes are in season at the same time as green beans. Nicoise salad was birthed in the heart of Provence France and is one of their signature dishes that they are very proud of. It is a composed salad, meaning each ingredient is artfully arranged in separate little piles on the plate. I like this. It is fun to arrange the salad and almost all the elements can be made in advance. When it is time to eat, cook the tuna, play with the food and voilà, you have an easy show piece!
Nicoise salad is classical served on a big platter right in the middle of the table, and everyone eats off it. It is a very social salad. It is made up of all the wonderful things you can get locally from our farmers and fishermen. The albacore tuna is being caught in our waters right now and is so excellent. Don’t miss it. You can buy the fresh tuna from Manzanita Fresh Foods, the Deli and seafood stores in Garibaldi like CSA Fisheries. Get to the farmer’s market and get some of the nummies and cook up some summer.
Grilled Tuna Nicoise Salad
For the tuna
1 pound of fresh albacore tuna loin(s)
3 – 6 cloves of garlic pressed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Smoked paprika or regular paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat up your grill and get it good and hot. While it is heating, roll the tuna loin(s) around in the garlic and olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika and let rest for a few minutes. Sear the tuna 5 to 7 minutes on each side, depending on the size of the loin, till it is just barely cooked through. Set on a plate, sprinkle with salt and pepper and let it cool to room temp while you prepare the salad.
Enough mixed salad greens for 4
1 pound of tiny new potatoes
1 pound of green and yellow beans
A pint of cherry tomatoes
4 hard boiled farm fresh eggs
½ cup of nicoise olives
In a mediumish saucepan, boil the eggs and potatoes at the same time. After ten minutes, remove the eggs and plunge into cold water. Drop your beans in the water and blanch them for a few minutes, not too long! Drain the beans and the potatoes and leave in the colander to cool. Peel your eggs. Cut the eggs and potatoes into quarters. This part can all be done the day before, if you need.
3 tablespoons of really good cider vinegar
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon of Dijon-style mustard
½ cup of olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup of fresh parsley leaves
½ cup of fresh tarragon leaves
Little salt and pepper to taste
In a blender, add the vinegar, lemon juice and mustard and blend for a few moments. With the blender low, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream so it will emulsify. Toss in the chopped shallot, garlic and herbs and blend some more. Add the salt and pepper to taste. This can also be done the day before.
To assemble the masterpiece;
(This is the fun part!) Get out a beautiful platter and scatter some greens as the bottom layer on the platter. Place slices of the grilled tuna in the middle. Then, with all the artistic flair you can muster, arrange the beans, tomatoes, potatoes, eggs, and olives around the tuna. Drizzle the vinaigrette all over the mix and serve with the extra dressing and greens on the side. You can also arrange four separate dishes with all the ingredients if you don’t want to fuss with a large platter. Bon Appétit!