Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reinventing String Beans and Ham

It all started with the ham steak that my brother-in-law Dave bought from Tim Rocha at Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, NH last Friday. Usually we only have ham twice a year. Once in the fall, using a recipe based on my mother's Pennsylvania Dutch braised string beans and ham. And again at our Christmas party when I bake a whole ham with an orange marmalade glaze. Never mind tradition--Dave had a hankering for ham steak, cooked on the grill. I kiddingly said, "Well, maybe we should make string beans and potatoes to go with it." "Why not?" Dave joked back.

Why not indeed? After all, right now, string beans at their peak of flavor  -- as opposed to the tough, old ones I look for when I'm going to braise them toward season's end. And tiny new potatoes are just coming in -- and at their most delicate. Just for fun, I started looking through a few cookbooks. It wasn't long before I found something I was dying to try in the Fields of Greens cookbook.

Greens is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. In fact, I think they were one of the first restaurants to elevate vegetarian cooking to the level of fine cuisine. In this particular recipe, the green beans are blanched and the potatoes are first roasted, then grilled, which gives them a deep, earthy taste. (If you don't have a grill, you can just use the roasted potatoes.) You mix the beans and potatoes together with cherry tomatoes and a blender salad dressing that combines champagne wine vinegar, chopped garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil. The salad looks beautiful and tastes even better.

Dave grilled his ham steak with some mustard and balsamic vinegar, and grilled some fresh peaches that we'd bought that day from Susan McGeough at White Gate Farm in Epping, NH, to put on the side. And there it was: ham and string bean perfection on a warm, mid-summer evening. I'm sure we'll be having it again. And I think I'm going to be looking through this and my other Greens cookbooks for more summer vegetable recipe ideas.

Grilled New Potato Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Beans, and Basil
from Fields of Greens, New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant

2 pounds new potatoes
Light olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 pound fresh summer beans: green, yellow wax, green or yellow Romano
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sweet 100s or pears
1 handful frisée or salad greens (optional)
Basil-Garlic Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Champagne vinegar
12 Niçoise or Gaeta olives (I didn't use these -- my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage rebelled at the though of olives wth ham and strong beans -- but I'm sure it would be a delicious addition)

1. Prepare the grill, if using.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the potatoes in a baking dish with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Cover and roast until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. (Keep checking if you're using tiny new potatoes like we did.) Set aside to cool. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters if large, then slide them onto skewers for grilling. If the grill grates are close together, skewers won't be necessary. (We left the tiny potatoes whole and used a grill basket.)
3. While the potatoes are roasting, remove the stem ends from the beans and cut in half diagonally or leave whole if they are small. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Drop beans in the water and cook until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes, depending on their size. Rinse under cold water and set aside to drain. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half or leave whole if small. Wash the salad greens if using, and dry them in a spinner. Make the vinaigrette.
4. Place the potatoes on the grill, cut side down and grill until they're golden, crisp, and grill marks appear. Slide the grilled potatoes from the skewers and toss with the beans, cherry tomatoes, and vinaigrette. Adjust the seasoning, if needed, with a splash of Champagne vinegar and salt and pepper. Loosely arrange the greens on a platter, spoon the vegetables over, and garnish with the olives (if using).

Serves four

Basil-Garlic Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped

Combine everything in a blender and blend until smooth.
Makes about 1/2 cup


  1. This looks wonderful! I just made the Roasted Potatoes with Garlic and Fresh Herbs - also a treat!

  2. Thanks! Now's the time to try this with new potatoes, string beans, and cherry tomatoes still in the markets!