As summer turns toward fall, the kitchen garden is providing an abundance of beautiful beans and tomatoes.
The simplest preparation of these two stars of the season relies on olive oil and salt. Beans cook quickly in boiling water, emerging tender but still slightly firm after no more than five minutes. Drained, drizzled with olive oil then sprinkled with salt, they are pretty in a shallow dish, their shapes round or flat and their colors green or yellow, their rich bean sweetness delicious hot or at room temperature. Tomatoes need no cooking, just slicing, halving or quartering. Arranged in a bowl, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and maybe a little basil, their shades of red, orange or yellow hint at their variations in tomato flavor, sweet and rich to bright and acid, each as good as the next.
Beans and tomatoes star on their own but lately I’ve been pairing them with starches, specifically potatoes with beans and tomatoes with bread, to make a main course salads. One of my favorite bean and potato dishes is David Tanis’s variation on the classic nicoise salad from his June 22, 2012 New York Times City Kitchen column. I modify his vinaigrette recipe depending on whether or not there are anchovy eaters in the crowd but even without this flavor, the mustardy, herby vinaigrette is robustly flavorful, just what the potatoes need as the base for earthy beans and rich hard-boiled eggs. This summer I’m using either Daisy Finn (right) or German Butterball (left) potatoes, the varieties I’m growing this year.
As with many recipes for summer potato salads, this recipe invites additions and substitutions, but while I make some slight variations, adding cherry tomatoes or fresh peppers, I but don’t stray too far from this great recipe.
There are as many variations on the Italian tomato bread salad panzanella, as there are variations on the French salade nicoise. The recipe I use as my starting point comes from Orcas Island chef Christina Orchid who published it in the Islands Weekly years ago. Here’s the recipe from her website http://redrabbitfarm.com/classes/:
Panzanella: Italian style bread salad.
1 loaf hearty artisanal style French or Italian bread cut into 1 inch cubes.
1/2 cup grated Reggiano parmesan cheese or grana panda
2 pints garden ripe cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 cup basil, chopped
1 small red onion cut in thin slices and quartered
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup superior quality red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
On a large sheet pan toss the bread cubes with enough olive oil to thoroughly moisten all, then toss with the grated cheese, and toast bread cubes in a 440 degree oven for 5 minutes or until crispy and golden. Reserve. Cut the tomatoes in half from the stem end and toss with the onions and red wine vinegar. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Just before service toss the bread cubes together with the tomato mixture and the chopped basil. Drizzle with Olive Oil and toss until all is moistened. Garnish with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar. Serves 8.
If you follow her recipe exactly, this panzanella provides a transporting mix of textures and flavors. Over the years, though, variations have crept into the panzanella I make. The biggest change currently is that instead of white flour French or Italian bread, I use either seeded whole wheat bread or whole wheat walnut levain, breads I make from the Della Fattoria Bread cookbook http://dellafattoria.com. I love the way the wheat, seed and walnut flavors meld with the sweetly acid tomato flavors.
The recipe technique of thoroughly moistening the bread cubes with olive oil then tossing them with grated Parmesan and toasting at high heat works wonderfully with this more hearty bread. For tomatoes, I often use juicy full-sized tomatoes like Cherokee Carbon or Cherokee Purple in addition to cherry tomatoes. The extra juice in these larger tomatoes soaks into the toasted bread cubes, softening them but not making them mushy. Sometimes I omit the red onion and use chives or instead of onion use a little chopped garlic but I always use basil. And because high summer tomato flavors are so complex and wonderful on their own, I often omit the red wine vinegar and the balsamic and rely instead on tomato juices for the acid. Despite these many variations that have evolved over the years, I still think of this panzanella as Christina’s and am grateful to her for sharing it. It’s a perfect way to celebrate the peak tomatoes of summer.
French Potato and Green Bean Salad David Tanis, City Kitchen, New York Times
- 2 pounds medium potatoes, like Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn
- Salt and pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large thyme sprig
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped anchovy
- 1 tablespoon chopped capers
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound small French beans, or small romano or wax beans
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped basil
- 6 to 8 anchovy fillets, optional, for garnish
- 8 ounces arugula, optional
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, bay leaf and thyme branch. Cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes are firm but easily pierced with a skewer, about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
- While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, anchovy, capers, mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk again before using if the dressing separates.
- When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins with a paring knife and carefully cut into pieces 1/4-inch thick, or slightly thicker. Put the slices in a low bowl, season lightly with salt and pepper and add half the vinaigrette. Using your hands, gently coat the potatoes with the vinaigrette, taking care not to break them. Cover and set aside at room temperature.
- Top and tail the beans. Simmer in salted water until firm-tender, about 3 to 4 minutes, then cool under running water and pat dry.
- To cook the eggs, bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes for a somewhat soft-centered yolk or 9 minutes for a firmer yolk. Cool the eggs immediately in ice water, then crack and peel. Cut each egg in half and season lightly with salt and pepper.
- When ready to serve, season the beans with salt and pepper, then dress with the remaining vinaigrette. (Reserve 2 tablespoons vinaigrette for the arugula, if using.)
- Combine the dressed beans and potatoes, using hands to toss, and pile onto a platter. Sprinkle with chives, parsley and basil and arrange the eggs over the top. Garnish with anchovy fillets, if desired. Dress the arugula and send it to the table separately.