Saturday, December 5, 2015

Since U bean gone

Alright, so it's Thanksgiving, your 36-pound turkey is out of the oven and you've placed it directly into the refrigerator for leftovers, as I suggested.  Still, you're in need of something to cut through the intolerable richness of leek bread pudding, mashed potatoes mounted with garlic butter, and cauliflower gratin.  It needs to be green.  And, honestly, neither endive with hot bacon dressing nor brussels sprouts fried in olive oil are going to hack it.



Somewhere along the line, America developed this idea that you need to stew green beans into silky submission on Thanksgiving, then top them with something deep-fried to restore their crunch.  No!  Crisp, snappy beans are just fine, and contrast perfectly with everything else in your typical spread.  In the past, I've taken blanched beans and glazed them quickly in butter, then added some dill or mint to brighten them up. This year, I decided to go even lighter, and improvised a new, Chinese-inflected take.  In the interest of time (and stove space), I tossed the cooked beans in a caramelized fennel vinaigrette, then scattered some roasted persimmons among them.  To serve, I just warmed the casserole through, then topped it with roasted sichuan peppercorns.  Crunchy, fresh, and packing just enough peppery heat to wake you up in the middle of dinner--these beans will be back next year. 

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Green bean casserole with fennel and persimmons
Serves 8+ as a side

This is truly a casserole for celebrating Thanksgiving in California, perhaps the only time and place where one can credibly serve green beans and persimmons together.  If you're making it elsewhere, or at the height of summer, you could substitute under-ripe peaches for the persimmons.  I've also thought of this dish as playing a great supporting role at to a vegan Thanksgiving--also an institution unique to California.

3 pounds green beans, stemmed
5 medium fuyu persimmons, about 1-1.5 pounds
2 medium shallots, about 4 oz
2 bulbs fennel with stalks, about 1 pound
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp zhenjiang vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp sichuan peppercorn (optional)
Chili powder
Kosher salt
Olive oil

Blanch green beans:  Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and prepare an ice bath while the water is heating.  Blanch the green beans for 2-3 minutes, until they are a vibrant green and just crisp.  Drain the green beans and plunge immediately into the ice bath until cool.  Remove the green beans in the ice bath and set aside to dry.

Caramelize fennel:  Remove the fronds from each fennel bulb and discard.  Separate the stalks from the bulbs and slice the stalks thinly.  Separate the tough outer ribs from each fennel bulb.   Retain the inner part of the bulb for marinated fennel, below.  Slice the outer ribs and stems thinly.  Halve each shallot, remove the skin, and slice thinly.  Add the sliced fennel and shallots to a small saucepan along with 4 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Cook over low heat, covered, until lightly browned and caramelized, about 30-40 minutes.  Add the soy sauce and vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes to concentrate the flavor, then remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, marinate reserved fennel:  Remove the tough inner core from each retained fennel bulb and discard.  Slice the bulbs as thinly as possible, then toss with kosher salt to taste.  Allow to marinate for 20-30 minutes while preparing the rest of the dish.

And roast persimmons:  Slice each persimmon into 8 pieces, then toss the slices with 2 tbsp olive oil, a few pinches of salt, and chili powder to taste.  Roast in an oven preheated to 400 °F until tender but not falling apart, about 15-20 minutes.

Assemble casserole:  Mix together the blanched green beans, caramelized fennel, marinated fennel, and roasted persimmons in a large bowl, then turn the entire contents of the bowl into a casserole dish.  In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the sichuan peppercorns until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes, then grind them in a mortar and pestle and sprinkle over the casserole.  The casserole will keep for 1-2 days covered in the fridge.  To serve, heat just barely through--about 10 minutes in a 350 °F oven.