Friday, September 16, 2011

A kind of magic

A few weeks ago I stopped by Berkeley Bowl and bought some Lillet (it rhymes with dill, eh?) for one of Heidi's milkshake recipes, and since then I have discovered that a Lillet goes a long way (that pun would work better if it rhymed with skillet). Soaked into fresh peaches; sprinkled around some ice cream; accenting a melon sorbet; on the rocks with sparkling water and Meyer lemon; mixed with a little ginger ale--the possibilities for enjoying Lillet are as numerous as the possibilities for pronouncing its name.

Sometimes I wonder what motivated me to become a grad student rather than a copywriter for an upscale grocery store circular.

Last night the last few drops of a bottle of Lillet found their way into some green beans I was making, for no other reasons than (1) I was tired of the refrigerator never closing properly because of one tablespoon of wine; and (2) the bottle containing that tablespoon was closer than the rice wine vinegar I was seeking when I opened the fridge. Well, thank goodness Lillet comes in an oversized bottle that kept jamming in my refrigerator door, because this turned out to be one of the best off-the-cuff substitutions I've ever made, the floral sweetness of the wine playing perfectly off the beans and some earthy pumpkin seeds. From this day forward, I will be less suspicious of recipes that claim to have been conceived in similar bouts of inspiration. Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow really was compelled to throw an impromptu garden party with only $40 worth of tuna steaks and a pack of hot dog buns in her pantry.

The beans turned out so well that I thought today might be a good opportunity to highlight a typical weeknight dinner for Jeff and me. A hill of beans, a handful of dark greens tossed in magic sauce, and a baked potato, which in this picture awaits a final drizzle of creme fraiche. Granted, this is a superb specimen, the dinner to which we always aspire. We have to make do with whatever happens in the kitchen. Sometimes the zucchini gets a little soggy, sometimes the sauce doesn't quite stick to the noodles, sometimes you make too many ravioli and not enough Brussels sprouts, and sometimes you're too tired to make anything other than magic sauce drizzled on bread. Well, I think that's still a valid dinner.

Jeff says: "What's that? You haven't tried Heidi's magic sauce yet?" Let me link to it again. It looks like it's just your everyday infused oil, but like so many of her recipes, it ends up bringing so much more to the table. The sharp rosemary plays off the red pepper, the lemony tang of oregano complements the even-more-lemony tang of, um, lemon zest, and sweet paprika and thyme give a firm backbone to the olive oil. With this happy clashing of herbs and spices, it tastes like it comes from some far-off European country that you just can't place, like maybe the same one Johnny Bluejeans is from. It enhances anything it comes in contact with, edible or not. Even storing it in your kitchen automatically improves all other meals that you cook there. It has brought down the mighty from their thrones, exalted the humble, and filled the hungry with good things.

Actually, Jeff was saying: "Are you really going to take pictures of dinner until I've finished eating my entire baked potato?"


Recipe roundup...

I think the potato and the greens are pretty self-explanatory, and the magic sauce I have linked three times now.

Here's how I made the green beans.

Haricots verts avec Lillet et pepitas

2 cups green beans (fancy thin ones preferred)
half a cup of pepitas
2 tbsp Lillet
2 tbsp Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
olive oil, salt, rice wine vinegar

Twist the stems off the green beans and cut them in half if they're pretty long (mine were). Toast the pepitas in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking pretty frequently. Depending on your stove, it might take 5-7 minutes. Pour the pepitas into a bowl and set aside. If you're good, you can do these two steps simultaneously, but don't blame me if your house burns down, clumsypants.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan over medium-high heat until it's very fluid but not smoking. Add the green beans to the pan and start frying them, shaking or stirring constantly so they don't brown. Add a big pinch of salt. If the beans aren't all shiny with oil after you've shaken them a few times, you can add a little more oil to the pan. After frying them for about a minute, turn the heat down to low and let them cool for a minute.

Add the Lillet and cover the pan. Cook over low heat just for two minutes or so, until the beans are cooked through but still pleasantly crunchy. Keep testing them--this isn't an exact science, and you don't want them to lose their brilliant green color. This is a good time to chop the parsley leaves if you haven't already. Once the beans are cooked, add the toasted pepitas and the parsley. Shake the pan to mix everything together, taste a bean, and adjust the seasoning with salt and rice wine vinegar.

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