Here’s another vacation-conjuring dish, one we had during our trip to Italy last year.
This salad is an example of one of those simple dishes that, when each element is full of flavor, needs no embellishments to sparkle on the taste buds.
During our stay at La Tavola Marche last year, the farm had just passed its tipping point from summer to fall. The inn was close to the end of its season, the yard-thick stone walls too expensive to heat for guests through the Appenine winter. Jason and Ashley were stripping their gardens of the last of the summery produce, stacking crates of tomatoes to can, drying the stalks of onions and garlic. The days in the valley were warm in late September, but frost was closing in.
Our meals were shoulder-season fare too- warm braised and roasted meats and pastas interspersed with fresh vegetables and salads. Our last evening, Jason pulled the last of the green beans from the vines and made us a delicious warm salad.
As soon as we got settled in our apartment in Siena and found the market, I recreated his lovely combination of crisp, sweet, and piquant so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve made it lots of time since then, and I can say unequivocally that getting the best tomatoes, green beans, and red sweet peppers is the key to its success. Gardeners, you’re way ahead of the game here.
If you’re like me and suffer from garden envy, my tip for finding good tomatoes and peppers elsewhere is to sniff them. Color and texture can be misleading, but a good tomato actually has a fragrance. Green beans are easier, just look for slim, bright pods without discoloration, no lumps from seeds forming inside (these will be too tough for this quickly cooked salad). Although they can be expensive, the little French haricot verts are usually very toothsome and tender.
We had this salad at the end of the season but it is just as, if not more delicious now at the beginning of green bean season.
Warm Summer Green Bean Salad
1 pound slim green beans, stems removed
1 red bell pepper
1 ripe tomato
1/4-1/2 sweet red onion (depending on the size)
red wine vinegar
fresh ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil
Meanwhile, slice the pepper and onion into slivers about the same thickness as the green beans. Cut the tomato into thick wedges. Toss together in a serving bowl.
Once the water has reached a boil, plunge the green beans into the water and return to the boil. Cook the beans briefly, for about 1 minute after the water boils. Remove the pot from the heat and quickly drain the beans in a colander. Allow them to cool enough to handle.
Pour the green beans over the peppers, onion, and tomato and gently toss them all together with your hands. The heat from the beans will slightly warm the other vegetables. Drizzle with a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple of glugs of olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Toss to coat everything in the dressing. Serve at room temperature.