Leslie Karst is the author of the culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste, the first of the Sally Solari Mystery series. A former research and appellate attorney with a degree in culinary arts, Leslie now spends her days cooking, gardening, reading, cycling, singing alto in the local community chorus, and of course writing. Learn more about Leslie at her website.
Italian String Bean Salad with Feta and Tomatoes
My protagonist, Sally Solari, is a fourth-generation Italian, and her family owns an old-style Italian restaurant out on the wharf in Santa Cruz, California. So this recipe—which features Italian string beans and has the same colors as the Italian flag—seemed appropriate to share with you today.
The dish is quick and easy, can be prepared in advance, and is attractive and truly scrumptious. As a result, it makes for a terrific first course for a dinner party. (If you can’t find Italian beans—also known as Romano or flat beans—any kind of green beans, or even asparagus, can be substituted.)
8 oz. feta cheese
1 pint (1 lb.) cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper
1 lb. Italian string beans
Make the topping first, so it can sit for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Cut the feta cheese into small cubes. Then slice the tomatoes into wedges. (You can use any variety, but cherry or grape tomatoes are nice and sweet, and their tiny wedges make for a lovely presentation. If using a larger variety, chop the tomatoes into small chunks rather than wedges.)
Mix the feta cheese and tomatoes together in a bowl with the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt, as feta cheese is already quite salty). Set this mixture aside on the counter, and stir it every half hour or so. After a couple hours it will be well incorporated, and you can refrigerate it (but be sure to take it out again a half hour before serving, as the oil can congeal in the fridge).
Next, blanch the beans. If they have strings, de-string them. Keep them whole. Get a large pot of salted water boiling, and drop in the beans. Let them cook for just a few minutes (2-5, depending on how many beans there are). You want them to still have a bit of bite to them.
While they’re blanching, get ready a colander and a pan of ice. Pour the pot of cooked beans into the colander, and then dump the drained beans into the pan of ice, and add cold water. Stir the beans around with your hands to cool them off as quickly as possible (but be gentle, so you don’t break them). By stopping the cooking right away like this, the beans will retain their bright green color.
Once cool, put the beans back in the colander to drain (or you could lay them on a dish towel, instead). When the beans are dry, toss them with olive oil and salt and pepper, and put them in the fridge until time to serve.
To plate up the salad, lay out the beans lined up together. Then, after giving it one last stir, top the beans with the feta/tomato dressing.
Una insalata deliziosa!
Dying for a Taste
After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery in Santa Cruz, California, but soon finds that managing the front of the house is far from her dream job of running her own kitchen.
Then her Aunt Letta is found stabbed to death at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place afloat. When the Gauguin sous chef is accused of the crime, however, Sally must delve into the unfamiliar world of organic food, sustainable farming, and animal rights activists—not to mention a few family secrets—to help clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out.