Thursday, September 2, 2010

Warm Salad of Wax Beans with Caramelized Shallots, Blackberry Vinaigrette

This one was inspired by our visits to the Dallas, WI Farmers Market over the last couple of weeks. While you won't find the variety at this small-town market that you will at larger markets, everything we've had from the Dallas market has been excellent. The market is held on Friday evening from 4:00 to 8:00 on main street Dallas in Barron County, in front of the Viking Brewing Company (soon to be former Viking Brewing Company; they've got a big name change coming up...).

A couple of weeks back we bought a beautiful braid of shallots from Morgan and Ben Tartakoff. We hung it on the French porte-clef at Bide-A-Wee, and admired it every time we sat down at the table. Next time wewere at the market, we mentioned how much we'd been enjoying the shallot braid as home decor, and Ben said, "The hell you say, decoration? You should eat the damn things." Actually, he didn't say anything like that. He merely implied, with all due politeness, that they were at least as good to eat as they were to look at.

And I agreed, chastened. Along with leeks, I think shallots are one of the secret ingredients in French cooking. They're both related to onions, of course; the flavor of leek is on the mild end of the onion spectrum, while shallots lie toward the more assertive end. Shallots are frequently chopped fine and added raw to salad dressings, or sliced and sautéed to make the base of pan sauces for steaks and chops. These shallots from Morgan and Ben are some of the best I've seen in a long time--plump, firm, very flavorful. Shallots keep well in a root cellar or cool, dry basement. We plan to stock up before season's end.

For this dish I cooked the shallots slowly in a nice amount of oil and butter to concentrate the sugar. That, along with some blackberry jam, gives a sweet and sour character to the dressing.

I didn't have to look far to find what I'd pair with the shallots, just the next table over, where Rhonda Johnson had a pile of lovely yellow wax beans. Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough, but you don't seem to see wax beans that much anymore. They have really homey connotations for me, the kind of thing my mom used to serve with baked pork chops and acorn squash when I was growing up. I decided to give them the central role in this warm salad. You blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, till they're tender-crisp, and toss them in the pan with the well-cooked shallots (and some garlic), then slick everything down with the blackberry vinaigrette. It's best if it sits for 20 minutes or so, to let all the flavors come together.

The vinaigrette dressing was the Bide-A-Wee element in this salad, flavored with our own blackberry jam and blackberry vinegar. (That and the fact that we first made it out at Bide-A-Wee, on our wood-fired "stove.") You could substitute raspberry jam for the blackberry, and red or white wine vinegar if you don't have berry vinegar. You'll taste the difference using homemade jam instead of store-bought, so do try to find some good local product if you want to try this dish.

We've made this salad twice now, and both times we wound up having it alongside pasta, but I think it would be great with pork chops, grilled chicken, even flavorful fish like salmon or lake trout.

You could also use green beans or flat romano beans in place of the wax beans. I particularly like the colors of the yellow beans, shallots, and blackberry dressing.

Warm Salad of Wax Beans with Caramelized Shallots, Blackberry Vinaigrette
serves two

2 good handfuls of yellow wax beans, 24 to 30, rinsed, stem ends trimmed
2 shallots about the size of small eggs, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 2/3 cup)
2 large cloves garlic, slice thin
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp blackberry jam
1 Tbsp vinegar, preferably blackberry, or, in order of preference: raspberry, red wine, or white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper

fresh thyme leaves, optional

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add 1 tablspoon of olive oil. Add the sliced shallots and a good pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until the shallots start to wilt, then turn the heat down to medium-low and cook gently, stirring often, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the shallots are very soft and are just starting to brown. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes more.

Wipe the shallots are cooking, blanch the beans for three minutes in boiling water. Drain and set aside. Mix the jam, vinegar, olive oil, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. (Note that this vinaigrette is light on the oil compared to a usual dressing; that's because it's going to combine with the butter and oil already in the pan.)

After adding the garlic to the shallots, add the beans and sauté for about a minute. Turn off the heat, pour the vinaigrette over beans and shallots, stir it all together, and transfer to a serving dish. Let sit at least 20 minutes before serving, and stir it up again just before serving, and taste for salt. If you like, strip some fresh thyme leaves from the stem and sprinkle over the salad to taste (if all you have is dried thyme, leave it out).

The whole salad can be prepared a day or two ahead, refrigerated, then brought to room temp before serving.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw

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