Side dish as meal's center


When planning menus for company, most of us choose the meat, poultry or fish for the main course first and then decide on the side dishes. But, at this time of year when the markets are flush with beautiful spring and early summer produce, I often pick the vegetables before even thinking of the entree.

That is what I did recently. We had houseguests visiting us in France, where we are living this spring, and for one of our evening meals, I bought a bunch of tender little green beans called haricots verts, some fresh peas, some turnips and several bouquets of fresh herbs at a nearby market. I would blanch the vegetables, drizzle them with a light vinaigrette and garnish them with herbs. That part of the dinner was clear in my mind, but the rest was not.

The idea for this vegetable melange came from a meal I enjoyed in a small Parisian restaurant called Le Maxence. As a first course, the creative chef prepared a plate of green beans, peas, turnips, asparagus and carrots, all tossed in a light dressing and showered with fresh herbs.

My version was simpler and included only three vegetables, and I offered mine as a vegetable accompaniment rather than as a starter. These spring vegetables were the piece de resistance of the night. Everyone asked for seconds.

Although these vegetables were delicious as a side dish, you could also use them as an opener for a meal. And, if you prefer, this preparation could be served at room temperature rather than warm, with equally good results.

Green Beans, Peas and Turnips Tossed in Vinaigrette Dressing and Herbs

Serves 4-5

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar


4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound green beans, preferably tender young beans, ends trimmed

12 ounces green peas, shelled, to make 1 cup (see note)

1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wedges

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Place vinegar in large nonreactive bowl and add : teaspoon salt. Whisk in olive oil and set aside until needed. (Dressing can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature. Whisk again before using.)

Prepare beans, peas and turnips and set aside. (Vegetables can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.)

When ready to cook vegetables, bring 3 quarts water to boil in large pot and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add green beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes for tender young beans, about 8 for larger beans. Remove with slotted spoon to colander and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Add peas and turnips to same pot of water and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes or longer. Drain in colander with beans.

Transfer vegetables to bowl with vinaigrette and toss to coat lightly. Taste and add more salt as needed. Arrange vegetables on warm serving plate and sprinkle with dill, parsley and mint.

Note: If you can't find fresh peas, substitute 1 cup frozen, thawed peas, but fresh ones are far better.

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