Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Phases: Roasted Fingerling and Tomato Salad with Green Beans and Arugula

It’s probably no secret by now that I have lots of kids. Lots of young kids. My oldest is five and starts Kindergarten in the Fall, the youngest is twenty months. In between we have a set of three year old twins. Thus it is that I spend most of my time unwrapping cheese sticks, making peanut butter sandwiches, and putting the valves back into sippy cups (the day my youngest gives up sippy cups we are going to have a huge bonfire and I’m going to throw every sippy cup in the house on it and dance a merry jig while they melt to a molten oozing charred oblivion; they’re a great invention, but for about four years now I’ve felt like I spend my days doing nothing but putting valves back into sippy cups).

However, this is not a rant about the evils of sippy cups, but more a discussion of the challenges of cooking with so many children so young. It’s very hard to get a large block of uninterrupted time to do anything. I was eyeing a chocolate cream pie with caramel whipped cream last week, and after reading the recipe through about three times, I realized I was either stupid or crazy (possibly both, of course). Did I really think I was going to have time to make a boiled custard, to say nothing of a chocolate pate sucree? Madness.

So what I need are recipes that can be done in stages, in which the components can be prepped, then left to sit before anything is done with them. Or they can sit around for a little while after something is done with them, and they won’t deteriorate. I found just such a recipe this weekend, and it’s elegant and yummy too.

The June issue of Martha Stewart Living had an article on potato salads with oomph. These were more than just your basic potatoes + mayonnaise + aromatics. These were actual meals. I had noticed a bag of Russian banana fingerlings in my grocery store two weeks ago, and when this salad, which uses them, caught my eye, it seemed like fate. Fate brings me to a lot of recipes (such as this one, and this one). Usually they’ve been pretty good in the past, so I trust this Fate fellow these days.

I was not disappointed this time either. The potatoes and tomatoes are roasted with some olive oil, garlic and thyme, and then tossed with arugula and blanched green beans in a red wine-Dijon vinaigrette. I cut the potatoes and tossed them and the tomatoes with the garlic and olive oil puree, scattered them with thyme (I didn’t even have to pull it off the stem! Talk about easy!) and popped them in the oven. This is about the only piece of this recipe that really couldn’t be left to languish; once the potatoes are cut up, they need to head for the oven promptly lest they turn that sad grayish color that potatoes do turn. But since the prep for this step is mostly done with a sharp knife and the blender, it can be completed in the time it takes one three year old to eat a banana and a bowl of animal crackers.

Next I topped and tailed the green beans, which could sit out with no ill effects. I made the dressing. Again, a patient component that will wait until you’re ready. When the potatoes and tomatoes were done roasting, I pulled them out and let them cool their heels on the stove for a little while, during which time I read “Hungry Pig” and explained that, yes indeed, the sun was going down. I think I may have had a glass of wine in there too.

I blanched the green beans, shocked them, and let them drain while I rounded up the last kid from a water balloon fight and saw him headed for a bath. He was allowed to watch George of the Jungle and then off to bed.

Finally, dinner time! I tossed the arugula and green beans with the potatoes and tomatoes (and I confess, I used more like three to four cups of arugula for four people versus the two in the original recipe, and 6 ounces of green beans, rather than the 3 ounces called for), and served the dressing on the side.

I won’t lie and say we ate before 9 p.m. but I will say that this salad held up to a phased preparation incredibly well. Nothing suffered because of the wait, and it all came together into an elegant and delicious meal. I heated up some rosemary ciabatta to go with it, and it was an excellent dinner for a summer evening.

Roasted Fingerling and Tomato Salad with Green Beans and Arugula
from Martha Stewart Living, June 2008
serves 4-6

For the Salad
5 garlic cloves
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds Russian banana fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 stems fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 ounces green beans, trimmed
3-4 cups baby arugula

For the Dressing
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme
½ shallot, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Make the salad: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Puree garlic and olive oil in a blender until smooth. Toss with potatoes, tomatoes, and thyme on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Bake until potatoes are golden and tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool slightly. Or quite a bit.

Prepare an ice-water bath. Cook green beans in a large pot of boiling water until bright green and just tender. Transfer to ice-water bath. When cool, drain beans in a colander and let them sit as long as necessary. They won’t mind.

Make the dressing: Combine vinegar, mustard, thyme, and shallot in a small bowl. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified. Set aside until needed.

When all children are in bed, and you’ve had ten minutes to relax, toss potato mixture, beans and arugula with dressing (or you can do as I did and toss the vegetables together and serve the dressing on the side). Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or at room temperature. If there’s going to be a gap of an hour or two between the preparation of all the components, and the actual serving, I recommend keeping everything separate and tossing it all at the last minute. Arugula gets so pathetic looking when it sits too long in dressing.

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