Two things have provoked me into breaking my blogging silence:
- my attendance of a booksigning for Clotilde’s new book ‘Chocolate and Zucchini’
- the appearance of my first French beans from my very first vegetable garden
Clotilde gave a wonderful performance at the booksigning – a few words over the signing of the book and a lovely speech about the genesis of the book and her food-writing career (she has what Americans might describe as ‘the cutest little accent – French-Californian). There was also food, cooked from recipes in the book by her British publisher, Catheryn.
Having nibbled on Tomato, Pistachio and Chorizo loaf and Very Chocolate Cookies at the book event, I didn’t feel in need of a vast meal when I got home, but I definitely had french food on the brain. This, combined with my green beans waiting in the garden led me to a warm salad.
My schooling at Tante Marie’s taught me some useful rules of thumb regarding salads:
- choose 2 or 3 ingredients (apart from the leaves) – more than that and it gets too complicated
- for a warm salad, dress everything over the heat, and toss in the leaves at the last minute
- pick ingredients that have a balance of flavours – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savoury
I feel pretty good about this combination – the pancetta (supplied in neat little pre-cut cubes) gives salt and savoury, and also provides the warm dressing with some of the fat, plus some vinegar. The tomatoes give the sweetness and the beans a nice crunch and that clean, vegetal flavour. I suspect I will return to this format with beans again, looking at the number of them on the plants, and they will definitely lend themselves to a nut oil and toasted nut combination as well (walnuts? sesame seeds?). Batavia is useful for this (apart from being what I had in the fridge) – it is crisp but also bitter and robust enough to stand up to a warm salad. Curly endive is a good alternative. Quantities are for one, ‘cos it was just me, but can easily be scaled up.
Warm Salad of Green Beans, Oven-dried tomatoes and Pancetta
- small handful green beans (haricots verts)
- 1/2 packet cubetti di pancetta (from Waitrose or Sainsburys)
- 5-6 cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 head Batavia lettuce
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
- salt and pepper
Optional: oven dry the tomatoes. I did this because I had two tubs that needed using up, but it’s fine to use them fresh. Half the tomatoes, and spread on a baking tray, cut side up. Drizzle with oilive oil, sprinkle with thinly sliced garlic, salt and pepper, and bake for 2-3 hours at 160C (140C fan). This can also be done fors a shorter time at a higher temperature, or a longer time (even overnight) at a low one. It changes the texture, but the concentration of sugars and flavour is pretty similar.
Fry the pancetta gently in the olive oil, untill slightly browned. Meanwhile, trim the beans and steam for 4-5 minutes. Once the bacon is done, remove it to a metal bowl with a slotted spoon, along with some of the bacon fat. Toss in the beans and tomatoes until coated, then add the vinegar and season and taste a bean. Adjust the fat, vinegar and seasoning until it tastes good, then toss in the lettuce leaves, and taste again. Places the leaves on the plate first, and top with the other ingredients (which is the way it works anyway – the leaves will work to the top and the rest to the bottom while you’re doing the dressing).