There's a pretty good chance that if you see a recipe on a blog or a cookbook, the author is not the first person to have invented the recipe. It goes without saying that I may have a terrific pork dumpling recipe, but I didn't actually invent pork dumplings.
There's been a lot of talk of recipe "ownership" lately within the food writing community and all I can say - with crystal clear clarity - is that we own none of it.
I suppose this is patently obvious. We all know the idea for a dish and the finessing of it - so that it works in various times and spaces and locations - was the work of generations of cooks, laboring over their stoves, improvising, changing, making do and making the accidental discoveries that form a recipe; making food rich, complex, full of character. The reason we can mess around with our pork filling or tweak the dough for the dumplings is because someone in line behind us got the fundamentals right.
So, I think all these discussions over ownership are silly, like arguing about who owns the air. We are in this food thing together, people. I like to think we can all share recipes and ideas and techniques and make our kitchens happier places. Freakin' Kumbaya.
This dish for string beans is an example. I wanted to tell you all that I invented it. I did, in fact, test the recipe in various ways and at different times, adding all kinds of herbs and using different cooking methods. And not only that, I couldn't find even a close cousin to this dish on the Internet. People on Twitter had no idea what I was talking about. I was pretty sure I had an invented something.
But the truth is, I ate a variation of this dish as a child. My father always grew yellow beans in his little patch of garden and when he wasn't eating them right off the vine, my mother was cooking them in milk and margarine (It was the 70's) and we ate them in bowls next to our dinner plates. To this day, the first yellow beans of the year at the farmer's market mean I'm making this dish and somehow, I' ll start thinking about my old blue banana seat bicycle and ripping it up down a country road as fast as my legs can go.
I asked my mother about this dish and she says she and my dad both ate beans in milk and margarine growing up. That means generations of people already made this dish. That means this isn't my dish, but their's. It's a dish people ate long before me and all I can do here is gracefully not take credit for it and pass it on.
So, I'm giving it to you to do with it as you will - ignore it, eat it, change it, add things, subtract things, make it your own. And I won't be mad at you for any of it because that's what recipes can do - they can remain one of the only things in life where everyone benefits. And, frankly, that's the way it should stay.
Mrs. Wheelbarrow, who I think might be the finest home cook alive, suggested pairing the beans with Tarragon. I tried it and it was gorgeous. It totally worked...except the Tarragon, even in small amounts, so fragranced the dish, it made it feel like a different dish than I had eaten as a child. I really wanted to update the beans, but keep all that sense-memory hoo-ha in tact.This is why I did mine with thyme and sage. But please try the Tarragon, just use small amounts so as not to over-power the beans.
I know the idea of eating your beans in milk, let alone cream, is bizarre but if you're like me, you won't just eat the beans in over-flowing spoonfuls of cream, you'll find yourself tipping up the bowl and drinking up the last of it. Enjoy.
Yellow Beans in Cream with Thyme & Sage
1 pint, yellow string beans
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons, thyme, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon, sage finely chopped
Salt, to taste
Boil a pan of salted water. While water is coming to a boil, rinse off the beans in cool water. Pat dry. Cut off the ends and cut the beans in half. They need to be small enough to fit on a tablespoon.
When the water is boiling, blanch beans for 4 minutes. Drain the beans right away and submerge them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. When they have cooled a bit, take them out and set aside.
In the same pot, add cream, milk, butter and herbs. Let the cream get warm on low heat. Do not let it come to a full boil or it will get frothy. Add the beans, salt, turn down the heat to low and let the beans steep in the cream. Taste and salt more, if necessary. (Salt is key here. Under-salting makes the dish flag a bit.)
Eat immediately in bowls, ladling lots of cream over the beans. This dish also does very well stored in the fridge and re-heated the next day.