Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fancy That! Putting Verve into Your Veggies
What's cooking? Haricots Verts

The Kitchen Goddess wanted badly to include in this post three veggie side dishes – all beautifully presented. But then she got a little wordy here, and the post was going to be so long that only the most die-hard fans would have read to the end. Therefore, as a special pre-Thanksgiving treat, Spoon & Ink will be presenting a different vegetable dish – appropriately gussied up – every day this week through Friday. So come on back again tomorrow, and happy cooking, y'all!

It’s pretty widely known that the sense of smell is critical to the sense of taste. In fact, taste is mainly smell, and what we think of as “taste” is more properly called “flavor” – a combination of taste, smell, texture (also known as “mouthfeel”) and other factors such as temperature.  But according to Nestlé scientist Dr. Julie Hudry, “The individual’s evaluation of food, before it is eaten, is a crucial stage, not only for making nutritional choices, but for impacting the entire eating experience.”

Get that? The way food looks helps us decide – before we take a bite – whether we’ll enjoy it. So if we want our families and friends to make more healthful choices, we need to make the broccoli look as yummy as the sausage dressing.

The Kitchen Goddess has long been an advocate of great presentation. Before now, though, I’ve figured that was just because I like anything to look good. Strong colors, nice shapes, thoughtful arrangement on a plate. But now I can be even more zealous, knowing it will encourage my family and friends to eat the turnips and cauliflower.

So, away with those limp green beans, those carrot coins reminiscent of school cafeteria lunches, and that olive-toned spinach. Let the Kitchen Goddess show you how to add zest to your zucchini, panache to your peas, and flair to your fava beans. (I’m not actually addressing those particular veggies, but it was fun thinking up the alliterations.)

Today – and for the rest of this week – the Kitchen Goddess brings you a little bit of presentation magic. Together, we will get some sparkle and vitamins into your meal.

Haricots Verts – Little Green Bundles of Joy

Our first makeover candidate is green beans – specifically haricots verts, those long, thin French beans that at least in my grocery store come packed in 1- or 2-pound bags. Soooo easy. (Of course, you can do this with American green beans, but the French beans are tenderer, crisper, and have a slightly sweeter taste.) Here’s how we make them lovely as well.

Beans don’t take long to cook, so get ready:

■ A large pot of heavily salted boiling water – as in one cup of salt per gallon of water. This amount of salt accomplishes two important objectives: it keeps the color of the vegetables from leaching out into the water, and it seasons the food in a nice, all-around way. And use lots of water in the boiling because you want the water not to lose its boil when you drop the cold vegetables into it. Any time the temperature drops below the boiling point, the vegetables release enzymes that dull the color, and we want bright, vibrant color. (You’ll be truly amazed at the color you get.)

■ An ice-water bath for the cooked beans.

■ A drying rack set over a baking sheet and covered with paper towels.

Trim just the stem end of the beans and let them soak in a bowl of water until you’re ready to cook. Don’t try to cook too many pieces at a time. (In a gallon of water, I’ll cook the beans in batches of 15-20.)

Drop the beans into the boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes. Test one at the 2-minute mark, and see how you like it. When they’re done to your liking, remove them quickly and put them into the ice bath just until they’re cold (30-45 seconds). Drain the cooled beans on the paper towel-lined rack.

For the presentation, I took long chive leaves and tied them around bundles of 15 beans each. Fast and easy. You can store them on a covered tray in the fridge this way for a day.

Also on the day before serving, sauté 1 cup of Panko crumbs in 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high for 3-3½ minutes. Add a little salt and store overnight in an airtight container.

Let the beans come to room temperature for at least an hour before serving. When you’re ready to serve, drizzle either a teaspoon of melted butter or a teaspoon of vinaigrette on each bundle, and sprinkle them with toasted Panko crumbs. Serve them individually on small plates, as I did here, or set up a platter with all the bundles arranged on it. You can also add sliced almonds if you like.


  1. How to prepare haricots verts? Let me count the ways that I have prepared this tender veggie.
    I am going to try this method soon...it looks and sounds so good!
    Eileen in Atlanta

    1. The great thing about this cooking method is that it works also for broccoli, asparagus, peas, etc. Gorgeous colors. Have a happy Thanksgiving, Eileen!

  2. My mother had a go-to recipe that involved green beans wrapped in bacon and covered with bottled Wishbone Italian dressing. Not my favorite.
    This looks quite delightful. Love the idea of toasting the panko. I have an entire box of the stuff sitting in my cupboard waiting for a recipe.

    1. For years, I thought green beans were supposed to taste like the ones my grandmother made -- in the pressure cooker with onion and bacon. Great flavor, but so overdone they were like mush. So we are moving beyond our roots!