“Side” kicks that Kick Butt….Spotlight Side Dishes and give ‘em the love they deserve.
Whenever I read a book or watch a movie that features a “supporting character”, i.e. Laura San Giacomo’s Kit De Luca to Julia Robert’s Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman or Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s Rod Tidwell to Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire….y’know, the one who plays best friend or foil to the main or lead, I really feel for them. In fact, sometimes I feel even more in sync with them than I do about the frequently whiny, insipid, boring “star” of the show. Very often, it’s the supporting roles that are the most complex—the spunkiest, the sexiest and just downright more interesting, and not the supposed hottie on whom we are supposed focus all of our attention. (C’mon, Han Solo is a gajillion times studlier than Luke Skywalker). So, in honor of these unsung heroes and heroines, this week’s blog is devoted to all of those underappreciated “sides”—the dishes that don’t get all the love or publicity, but are very often the ones to thank for transforming a mundane meal into a superlative one.
Here are two of my favorite go-to sides that appear regularly on my menu rotation. These will complement chicken, steak, pork or whatever….
BRAISED STRING BEANS AND TOMATOES
This dish is based on the Greek-style preparation of string beans, “fassoulakia”, but they are so flavorful and simple to make, they can go with almost any type of cuisine—Italian, French, Southern. It’s also a great way to add interest to a simple meal of plain breaded chicken cutlets or pork chops, grilled meat or fish.
1 lb string beans, stems removed (you can leave the pretty “tail” end, if you prefer, as I do)
1 pint of fresh tomatoes (whatever variety is on sale that week), diced
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced fine
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
In a large pot, boil enough water to just cover string beans, then add them and cook for two or three minutes. They should still be very crisp, since they will cook more with other ingredients. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions, sauté until softened, about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add in minced garlic, cook for an additional two minutes, and then add all of your chopped tomatoes with their juice into the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until tomatoes have broken down and created a “sauce”. Add in string beans and mix to coat. Lower heat to simmer, cover pan and cook for an additional ten minutes. String beans will be almost stewed, but should still maintain some texture and crispness. Stir in oregano and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and serve up with your main course and enjoy.
PAN-CRISPED BABY POTATOES (with optional Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette)
This next recipe is easy and delicious, and both my kids actually love when I cook potatoes this way—my daughter dips them in ketchup and my son likes ‘em plain (surprise, surprise). Feel free to keep it simple, but I like them glammed up for grown-ups a bit by making a little lemon-herb vinaigrette to sprinkle over them.
2 lbs of new baby potatoes—I usually use red, but any variety will do.
1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and Pepper
For the Lemon Herb Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest, finely grated
1 tbsp each of finely chopped fresh herbs—parsley, thyme and chives
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper
Par-boil the potatoes by putting them in a large pot with enough water to cover, then bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium and simmer potatoes until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain the potatoes well—make sure they are dry or else they will spatter when placed in the oil. Take each potato, when a bit cooled and dry, and “squash” down gently to flatten with the back of a spatula or the bottom of a flat pan, making sure to keep the potato mostly intact. You don’t want a bunch of random little potato chunks. Heat a ¼ cup of the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan, then gently place the flattened potatoes in the hot oil. Cook in batches until golden brown on one side (about 10 minutes), then flip and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels, season with salt and pepper and serve hot.
For the vinaigrette, whisk together all ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over hot fried potatoes—it does NOT get any better than this!!!