(Photo snapped in the doorway of my office’s kitchen.)
Back when we lived near D.C., we used to throw this great party called the Gyroscope. Chimp threw it annually for a motley bunch of graduate students before we were together, and when I came on the scene, the guest list expanded to include a bunch of food professionals and there was more and better food to go with the copious booze.
It’s not necessarily easy to mix academics and foodies – you have to find sneaky ways to get them to connect, or else you’ll end up with a party where the two groups will eye each other warily across the room all night, like a middle-school dance.
So two things that we did were this:
First, we made everyone put on name tags when they arrived – it didn’t have to be the wearer’s actual name; if they preferred to go incognito, they were free to party under an assumed name. In addition to the name, they were asked to put on the tag an interesting fact about themselves (or their adopted persona).
Second, we put an electric skillet on the coffee table and put someone in charge of getting the halloumi started, because we knew the Cardinal Rule of Fried Cheese: most people are perfectly willing to talk to total strangers if it will result in getting fried cheese.
The food at the Gyroscope was loosely Greek, though as in that region, influences from neighboring countries tended to sneak in, so it was a bit of a liberal interpretation. I made homemade spanikopitakia, a whole mess of falafel, hummus, and these green beans, which have long been a summertime favorite, among other things, the last year we threw the party.
My good friend Syn-D’s son Ben, who was about two at the time (and now a Weblos…yikes), ate a bunch of these off of a plate his mom gave him, then stood next to the table where the bowl was, and delicately took one after another after another out throughout the course of the party. Nobody minded. It’s pretty hard to mind a two-year-old voluntarily gorging himself on green beans.
So when presented with the sheet for our office 4th of July potluck, I thought to myself, Okay, whatever it is, it needs to be easy, cooling, and vegetable, and this immediately came to mind. It was a hit – at least one person took some home that night – and the potluck as a whole was roundly recognized as our best in recent memory. (A good deal of that might have had something to do with the sugar buzz caused by my co-worker bringing in Whoopie Pies, made from a recipe in the latest issue of Cook’s Country – phenomenal – but I’ll take a little of the credit too.)
This is a flexible dish; the version I made for the office party had about equal amounts of mint, basil and parsley in it, and no pine nuts. If you’re not in the mood to grate the tomatoes, the world will not end – throw all the dressing ingredients into the food processor and blitz away instead.
1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed.
2 large tomatoes, washed, wiped dry and cored
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 T. pine nuts, lightly toasted (watch them, they burn almost instantly!)
1 small bunch fresh mint, leaves only, shredded
3-4 T olive oil
2 T. red wine vinegar
salt, pepper, hot pepper flakes to taste
Steam the beans for 10-12 minutes, until tender but firm. While the beans are cooking, prepare the tomatoes. Using a flat cheese grater, hold a tomato with the core facing your hand and grate into a bowl. Strain the tomatoes so that only the pulp and none of the juice remains.
When the beans are cooked, drain them and rinse quickly under cold water to arrest cooking. Toss the beans, tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts and mint together. Drizzle in olive oil and vinegar and season with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes. Toss to combine and let the beans marinate, covered and refrigerated, for one hour before serving.
Makes about four servings; multiplies well.