November has always been my favorite month in the fall. In the mountains, the leaves have changed, there’s a nip in the air, and it’s cool enough to build a fire in the fireplace. When we lived in the islands, in November the humid days seemed to all of a sudden disappeared and the heat of summer was magically gone and replaced with gentle cooling breezes. The same is true on the Gulf coast of south Florida. November also happens to be the month we were married and that alone is reason enough to love November don’t you think?
I find in the fall I crave what I call “transitional” foods, the kind of foods that bridge the gap between hardy cold weather foods such as braises and stews and light summer entrees. This elegant little French green bean salad is an excellent example of a perfect starter for an autumn dinner.
In southwestern France in autumn the walnuts of Périgord grow in the Dordogne and the Lot regions and during September their markets are full of fresh walnuts. In early October the bulk of the crop is gathered when they fall to the ground and are dried and made into walnut oil, one of the most distinctive flavors of the region. This green bean salad is especially delicious paired with another local specialty of the region, foie gras.
If you can’t find French haricot vert as shown above, slender green beans will work. However, I don’t recommend pole beans. This is a French salad with foie gras, so we want it to look elegant, n’est-ce pas? Walnut oil is available in most supermarkets and specialty stores or substitute a good extra-virgin olive oil. Make sure to store any nut oils in the refrigerator after you open them because they turn rancid if left on a shelf in a warm cabinet just as any fresh nuts will do.
Salade de Périgueux or salade d’haricot vert
Adapted from “The Food of France” by Sarah Woodward
1 pound of French green beans (haricot vert), or any slender green beans, topped & tailed
2 tablespoons walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
A small handful of freshly shelled walnuts, broken in half or crumbled in large pieces
2 ounces foie gras
Bring a saucepan of water to boil with plenty of salt and very gently boil the beans for about 6 minutes. They still should be green and fairly crisp. The exact time will depend on the size and freshness of the beans, so taste regularly.*
As soon as the beans are cooked to your satisfaction, drain them and dress immediately with the walnut oil, lemon juice, and freshly ground black pepper even if you are serving them later. When it’s time to assemble the salad, season with a tiny bit more sea salt, scatter the walnuts over the salad, and top with thin slivers of the foie gras.
*Cooks notes: Take care not to overcook the green beans. They should have a good bite with no discernible crunch and taste “cooked” but definitely not mushy. They can go from cooked to over-cooked very quickly, so it's important to stay close and taste, taste, taste as you go during the final few minutes.
I will be sharing this recipe with Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.
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