Look away now if you don’t approve of buying those packs of fine green beans imported from Kenya and Zambia because of the air miles involved in getting them here. We like them in this house so I do buy them. In the last few weeks Waitrose has been stocking homegrown ones which seem a little fatter but are full of flavour.
One of my favourite ways of serving them in the summer is as a salad in a classic vinaigrette. I cook the beans, drain them, plunge them in cold water so they retain their colour and drain them again. And then I toss them in the vinaigrette which I make as follows:
- Put a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in your salad bowl
- Add a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 tsp of sugar
- Add 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
- Using a small whisk mix this a little and then slowly pour on extra virgin olive oil, continuing to whisk all the time. I cannot tell you how much oil I use. It emulsifies gradually and somehow I just know when it’s enough. I taste it too of course: if it’s still very tart I might add a little more oil
You may prefer to make your dressing in a jug or small bowl, or in a jam jar by placing all the ingredients in it, putting on the lid and giving it a shake. I find it easier to make it in the salad bowl and have got used to knowing how much dressing I need for the amount of salad I’m making. Sometimes I vary it; for example, I might omit the mustard and add red wine vinegar instead of white, a little crushed garlic and some chopped flat leaf parsley; or, to avoid a too strong taste of raw garlic, I’ll peel and flatten a clove slightly and leave this in the dressing but remove it when it’s time to serve the salad. This provides a mere hint of garlic flavour.
Making the dressing in the salad bowl takes me back to one of my first stays in France as a teenager. I was 15 and went to stay with the family of Sophie, whom we had hosted the previous year. Sophie lived in the heart of Burgundy country in a stunningly beautiful house which seemed to me like half a chateau. She must have found our house in England very small. It was a very hot summer and all meals were taken outside with rarely fewer than about ten people at each sitting. Sophie’s father ran his own business and always came home for lunch, sometimes bringing a couple of colleagues with him. We girls occasionally helped their maid, Lily, in the kitchen and that is where I learnt to make vinaigrette. Another memory is Sophie’s father taking his lunchtime red wine (Burgundy, obviously) with ice cubes. My father was astonished when I told him this. I returned from that holiday with much improved French, new friends and feeling very worldly wise.