When I was 21 years old I decided to move to Los Angeles with a girlfriend and have an adventure. I found a job and an apartment and moved in. What a culture shock from San Francisco! It was new, exciting, and fascinating to me. I nearly crashed my car on the way to work my first day when I looked up and saw a Rolls Royce casually driving by. It was a different world, and though I was comfortable in San Francisco, this was a whole new kind of city to get used to. Going to movie premieres, enjoying Westwood Village, cruising up Sunset Boulevard, winding through Beverly Hills, and watching the sunset at Malibu, it was a dream come true. All these places I had read about were right there for me to discover.
To say I grew up a lot while I was down there is an understatement. That was my first time living completely on my own. It was during the height of the disco era and I was out dancing almost every night. I learned how to handle myself in a number of different situations and grew confident. I made a lot of mistakes, stumbled along as all young people do, but I survived and became a strong, independent woman.
When my parents came to visit the first time, I wanted to make them something special. While everything turned out great, the vegetable dish I served was the one that got the biggest response. Extremely simple, but far from the mid-western food my parents and I had grown up on. Green beans and bell peppers tossed lightly in butter and topped with herbed breadcrumbs, and then surprisingly, sprinkled with hard-boiled eggs. I never would have thought to put them together, but they were wonderful!
I had found the recipe in a cookbook called America’s Best: A National Community Cookbook. It was a fund-raiser for the U.S. Ski Team and one of my favorites. The original recipe didn’t have the bell peppers, but I knew how my mother liked a plate full of bright colors so I added them. I grew up in the days when you always boiled vegetables until they were dead. These were lightly steamed and still crispy. As my mother took her first bite, I watched a look of amazement come over her face. She smiled, nodded at me, and continued with the table conversation. I knew I had scored a big hit.
When we talked later, she asked me about the dish. She wanted to know how I had cooked the beans to have them stay so crisp. This wasn’t the first time I had made discoveries in the kitchen – at age 12 I had taken over the holiday baking for our family. But this was the first meal I was serving her in my own home. It is an important moment in a daughter’s life. I felt proud of the little home I had created, and happy to share it with her.
In addition to the name of a type of dance, polonaise is a manner of presenting foods, traditionally vegetables, garnished with chopped hard-boiled eggs, breadcrumbs, and parsley. I love thyme so I substituted that for the parsley. This most likely originated in Eastern Europe because “polonaise” comes from the French word for “Polish.”
This is one of the simplest recipes I will probably ever offer you. When you use great ingredients, you don’t need a lot to highlight them. Make sure you use green beans that are really fresh. If all you can find is older, tougher beans, you can roast them in the oven until tender and then finish with the breadcrumbs and eggs. It will still be delicious, just a bit different.
You can use this technique with any vegetables you like and those in season. Cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, bok choy, and squash would all be fun to try. You can boil the eggs a couple of days before, steam the beans a few hours ahead, and make the breadcrumbs about an hour in advance. Then when you are ready to serve, just re-warm the beans and breadcrumbs, separate the eggs and sieve them, and then toss everything together. As unusual as this sounds, try it and you might be as surprised as my mother was with the blending of flavors, textures, and colors.
- 6 tbsp butter, divided
- 1/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp finely minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1 shallot, peeled and finely minced
- 3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
- 3 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed, stringed, and sliced
- 4 large red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
- In a small saucepan melt the butter. Remove from the heat and pour 4 tbsp of the melted butter into a small bowl.
- Add the breadcrumbs to the remaining 2 tbsp butter in the pan and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Remove from the heat. When crumb mixture has cooled, stir in thyme leaves. Transfer to a small bowl.
- Reheat remaining 4 tbsp butter in the saucepan, add the shallots and cook for about 3 minutes just to soften them slightly. Keep warm over a low heat.
- Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks. Finely chop the whites and place in a small bowl, and force the yolks through a sieve and into a separate bowl. Set both bowls aside.
- Steam the green beans and peppers until just barely tender. Drain well and place in a serving dish.
- Drizzle with the reserved melted butter and toss to coat vegetables. Top with the breadcrumb mixture, sprinkle on the egg whites, and then the yolks. Serve immediately.
- Yield: 8 to 10 servings