Green Beans Provençal

Serves 4 to 6

My grandparents had a garden each summer and fall. To keep the soil rich and fertile, Dede would alternate between the fields in front of the house and behind it and the property down at the river. He planted by the moon and used time-honored wisdom as his guide. Meme would drive the tractor and Dede would follow behind with the plow. Dede loved green beans and would plant rows and rows. When he passed away, Mama tucked a handful in his suit pocket as he lay in his coffin so he wouldn't miss them.

These green beans are fresh and flavorful-a favorite Southern vegetable made with a classic French technique. This dish is excellent served hot, at room temperature, or chilled. If making it ahead, do not add the vinegar until the last moment or it will cause the beans to look mottled and green like hunter's camouflage.

11/2 pounds haricots verts or other thin green beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
2 tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
30 niçoise or other brine-cured black olives, pitted, or 15 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 to 3 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, tarragon, and basil)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well in a colander, then set the colander with beans in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the beans are submerged.

In the same pot, heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic and heat until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Drain the beans, shaking off the excess water. Return the beans to the pot along with the tomatoes. Add the olives and herbs and toss to combine. Drizzle over the vinegar and toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm, or cold.

Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y'all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

She has worked with Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree, and her articles have appeared in Country Living, Family Fun, and Edible Atlanta. She lives in Atlanta but will be in Chicago this weekend at the Chicago History Museum to discuss the cooking traditions of the Southern cooking revolving around corn, pork and sugar.

Virginia Willis is the author of the acclaimed cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y'all! Three Generations of Southern Cooking (Ten Speed Press, 2008).

A graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne, Virginia produced Turner South's Home Plate and the DVD Shirley Corriher's Kitchen Secrets Revealed! Previously she honed her attention to detail as the Kitchen Director for Martha Stewart Living Television where she supervised the food segments for the Emmy-award winning television show. With MSLTV, Virginia was also responsible for preparing private meals and events for Martha and her guests -- including among others, President Clinton, Aretha Franklin, and Julia Child. As Executive Producer for Epicurious on The Discovery Channel, she traveled the world taping fantastic stories about food - from harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano to making mustard in Dijon.

Virginia's wide and varied food career started in Atlanta as an apprentice to Nathalie Dupree. She worked with Dupree on four PBS series and cookbooks, including the James Beard award-winning Comfortable Entertaining. She also spent several years as an editorial assistant with culinary authority Anne Willan on various projects including Cook It Right, an exhaustive tome that documents the various states of "doneness" (and over- and under-"doneness") of everything from whipped cream to braised pheasant.

She is a featured chef in Atlanta Cooks at Home, tester and editor for The All-New Joy of Cooking, author of Pasta Dinners 1,2,3, co-author of Home Plate Cooking, and weekly writer for The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Her work has also appeared in Country Living, Family Fun and Eating Well.

She has appeared on Real Simple Television, Martha Stewart Living Television, Home Plate, and in TV commercials for Duke's Mayonnaise. As a nationally recognized culinary professional her client list includes The Atlanta Bread Company, Char-Broil, The Coca Cola Company, Disney World, Fresh Express, Logan's Roadhouse, LongHorn Steakhouse, TGI Friday's, Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday, Texas Roadhouse, and Whole Foods Market.

Virginia is a president of the Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier, a member of The Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, Georgia Organics, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Southern Foodways Alliance, and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.

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