In Earnest

Summer is winding down. You can feel it in the air: the mornings and evenings have a chilly edge; the air is crisp. The heat is no longer stifling; the sun's rays do not scorch.  Days are getting shorter. And firefighters in British Colombia finally seem to be getting a little break. Let's just hope that a good rain comes soon to dampen down the parched land and put out the fires.

Summer is winding down. But the garden is not giving up just yet. In fact, it is giving out in earnest. The garden is gearing up for its swan song, and  it's going to go out with a bang!

Despite a marauding squirrel who has taken a liking to pumpkin seeds. 

Despite the mildew that has taken over the pumpkin patch. (Hurray! I thought I'd ever be able to control that beast!) 

So what is one to do when it feels like there are more tomatoes than one can deal with?

More beans than one can keep up with?

One makes Abi's Roasted Green Bean Salad, or a modified version of it. 

I recently harvested some potatoes. It's nowhere near a bumper crop, but then, I never was one to have much success with the tubers - or any root crop for that matter, I think my garden soil is too rich for them... It is a goodly amount of taties  nonetheless, and they are a welcome addition to the salad.

(If anyone needs proof that climate change is real, I offer you my potatoes. These French rattes potatoes were not planted: they are survivors from last year's failed crop. And it looks like a couple of Peruvian Blues have made it through as well. Winter 2009-10 was so mild that the ground did not freeze, so the forgotten potatoes overwintered, and mice managed to destroy my asparagus. Granted it was an El Niño winter, but that usually translates into ice storms in Montreal -remember 1998?- not warm ground and slush. Climate change: it begins with perennial potato crops; next thing you know we'll be growing figs and citrus in Montreal...)

Green beans and tomatoes are a lovely pairing. I'd even say it's a classic, it appears in Salade Niçoise. A basic, pared-down version consists in a warm mix of sautéed shallots, green beans and tomatoes tossed in at the very end. Since potatoes are also essential to a classic niçoise, it goes without saying that all three together result in a flavour explosion. 

Although I try to avoid expensive ingredients in the recipes I post, for this salad I highly recommend you use the best oil you can afford. Any flavourful oil will do for this recipe. However, in most parts of Canada and the northern US, there are few 'flavourful' oils produced locally. In British Colombia, you can probably get your hands on some local hazelnut oil (it's so tasty!). While Californians are lucky enough to have their own lovely olive oils, other American regions may have local peanut oil. But for the rest of us, imported olive oil will have to do. (Canola oil is a purebred Canadian, but is too bland for this recipe.) The 'best' olive oil need not be the most expensive, but it must be flavourful. Do try to purchase it from a store that will allow you to taste the olive oil before you buy. Taste is subjective, and  the flavour of olive oil will vary from one region to another, so I cannot recommend a particular brand or country, but a good extra-virgin olive oil should not feel oily. I don't know if that makes any sense, but if you try several olive oils, you will understand: fresh olive oil has a touch of acidity that cuts through the greasiness. In Montreal, there are a few shops on the perimeter of Jean-Talon Market that offer olive oil tastings. The fish market La Mer has a relatively big selection of olive oils, some of which are privately imported, and there are always a few selections available for tasting. In any case, if you cannot taste the oil you are buying, check for a 'Best Before' or 'Date of Harvest' stamp somewhere on the bottle. If you cannot find one steer clear of it. (Try to be a year from the best before date, or no more than a year after the harvest date.)

Salade Confite à la Niçoise
Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a starter

500g/ 1lb beans (green, wax, flat, broad, runner....)
500g/ 1lb new potatoes, thoroughly washed, but skin still on
500g/ 1 lb tomatoes
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
500ml/ 2c olive oil
60mL/ ¼c vinegar (red wine, balsamic, raspberry, sherry...)
salt and pepper

Wash, top (and tail -if you want) the beans, and cut to bite-sized lengths. 
Boil or steam for 3 to 5 minutes, or until cooked but still crisp. Cool in ice water, drain and set aside.
Slice onion and garlic cloves into thin slivers. Place in a pan with all the oil over medium heat.
Trim new potatoes, removing any green bits. Cut into 1cm/ ½" thick pieces. Pat dry.
Add the potatoes to the onion and garlic. The oil should be bubbling, but not boiling vigorously. 
Keep an eye on the potatoes and onions: stir occasionally, making sure nothing sticks to the bottom. If the onion or garlic slivers begin to colour, lower heat. 
Cut tomatoes into chunks, about the same size as the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and leave to marinate in the vinegar.
The potatoes are cooked when a knife or fork pierces them easily (about 15 minutes). While some of the potatoes may have crisped up, most will be meltingly soft. Remove pot from heat, and leave to cool slightly.
Using a slotted spoon, remove confit potatoes and onions from oil, and combine with marinated tomatoes.
Add cooked beans, and toss. Add more of the olive oil, if you find the salad too dry.
Serve while still warm. 

This salad is complete as is, and the crisp green beans will add enough texture to foil the softer potatoes and tomatoes. However, if you are using runner or broad beans, you might find the salad lacking in crunch: adding crunchy, garlicky croûtons or fried bread crumbs will add some contrast. The salad keeps really well, and the flavour actually improves over time, but the green beans will not stay green more than one day. If you plan to keep the left-overs for later, you should consider using yellow wax beans, or you can save some cooked beans apart and mix them in later. Save the left-over oil for a future use, it will impart a lovely onion-y aroma to your next dish.

Bon app'!


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