This week we welcome the first green beans of the season. I’ve written about my soft spot for beans before, so I won’t bore with the details except to say that when you’re raising a vegetarian child who refuses to eat all vegetables except for one, you tend to feel a bit misty-eyed grateful toward that one. In our case, the only thing that saved said kid from a nutritionally-rocky world of white food was our hero, the green bean. Read about it if you like, otherwise try a few of the one-time vegetable hater’s favorite bean dishes. Now nearly seventeen, our girl remains a devoted vegetarian who has learned to appreciate vegetables. Even adore a few. So, parents of vegetable-avoiders, never give up. There’s hope for adventuresome eating AND vegetables—brussel sprouts included.
If you’ve got a few stray ends of stale baguette or other crusty bread, don’t toss them. Instead grind into crumbs and toast with butter and olive oil, garlic, orange zest and herbs. You’ll have a quick and delicious topping, known in Italy as pangrattato, that dresses up roasted vegetables, like cauliflower, with crunchy flavor. For an easy main dish, toss the entire lot with your favorite cooked pasta such as fusilli or farfalle. This version of pangrattato is inspired by Nigel Slater.
This Italian-inspired bean dish makes a light vegetarian entrée, or flavorful side dish. You’ll find it particularly appealing during summer months when tomatoes are in season. Feel free to add another, if you like.
Two salads might share a common basis, but the secret to what makes each distinct lies in the choice of sauce—and the mood it inspires. Could be scooped from a jar in haste or whirred in the food processor on a leisurely afternoon. Either way, we start with Israeli couscous, then let the stock pile of vegetables, and the dressing, steer the direction. If there’s time and herbs, we grind fresh pesto, then dollop the extras into freezer-ready containers, poised for future duty, when life is less leisurely. On a hectic night, we’re prone to yank a jar from the pantry—pepper-laced harissa perhaps, its kick of spice reflects the energy already bouncing around the room. Or perhaps the leftover pesto is a wiser choice, a dose of cooling cilantro might calm things down a notch or two. Either direction works—our destinations equally tasty, if entirely different.
This salad was inspired by my friend Jane and her sneaky tub of pepper-spiked harissa that made the journey all the way from DC to California without too much leakage.
Harissa is a paste made of chili peppers ground with spices, oil and garlic, that’s a wildly popular condiment in North Africa. Here it adds flavor plus a touch of heat to an easy dinner salad. In summer we’ll turn to sweet, juicy raw tomatoes, but in early spring roasted cherry or grape tomatoes are the way to go.
You’ll find harissa and Israeli couscous at Whole Foods or other specialty markets. Harissa varies in strength from one version to another, so be sure to taste and add as much as you dare.