Basil and Green Bean Gratinate- A Beautiful Summer Romance

green bean casserole

No matter what your personal religious beliefs are don’t you think that basil and green beans just belong together.

It’s not quite the same as Mr. and Mrs. peanut butter and jelly– but it’s still a match made in heaven.

So for this next recipe honoring basil I am going to tear open that closet door and let this romance shine! I am going to marry the bright gree”n king-bean” of summer with the high and mighty bright green “king-herb” of summer. Because, prop 8 does not apply to vegetables. Besides, if they are going to be together anyway, we may as well encourage a little sanctity!

But, honeymoon or no, I still need a twist. Maybe even some (more) irony!

Summer brings to mind bright crisp salads. I could have easily made a salad of crisp, cold green beans with slivers of crunchy red onions. I could have tossed these with a bold and vibrant basil red wine vinaigrette and finished it all off with and a creamy bite of goat cheese.

But I didn’t do that! Too mainstream…

basil green bean gratinate ingredientsInstead I chose to make a baked dish. In Italy they would call this a gratinate. The French prefer gratin. Americans say Green Bean Casserole. You will call it a match made in heaven.

By any name, the gratinate is a food experience that typically brings up images of fireside dining and snuggly nights fortifying yourself against the chill of winter.

But why can’t I make a summer version, with my newly-wed co-kings? I can easily lighten this dish for the season by eliminating the cream. That’s a good first step. Also, choosing the ingredients goes along way towards defining this dish as a warm weather friend.

So besides the aforementioned basil and green beans, I am going to introduce the other summer season heavyweight. The might tom!

But in order to let the happy couple reign supreme, I am going to choose diminutive cherry tomatoes. I think those little cherry bombs of flavor will bring a wonderful and surprising texture. Just imagine when you bite into one. There will be a sweet explosion of jammy tomato goodness. Just the right foil for the crunch and crackle of my Parmesan crust. Not to mention, the perfect backdrop for the oozy yumminess of melted mozzarella and the bold burst from super flavorful basil and his adorable new husband.

Cue the orchestra because if that is not deserving of a grand wedding-march nothing is!

basil green bean casserole preppedBasil and Green Bean Gratinate Serves 8

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans
  • 1/2-teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for boiling water
  • 1-pound cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2-pound fresh mozzarella
  • 1-cup fresh whole basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Set the rack in the center. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.

Fill a large pot with about 3 quarts of water. Let it come to a boil and then add a good amount of kosher salt. Dump all the fresh green beans into the boiling water, cover the pot until the water boils again, then cook uncovered, for 4-6 minutes or so, until they are barely cooked; tender but still firm enough to snap. Drain the beans briefly in a colander, and then plunge them in the prepared iced bath. When cool transfer them to another bowl and sprinkle them with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Beans can really take a lot of salt. So let them sit a few minutes to absorb some of the seasoning.

Meanwhile, rinse and dry the tomatoes. If they’re larger than an inch, slice them in half otherwise leave them whole. Cut the mozzarella into 1/2-inch cubes. Slice the basil leaves into thin shreds which is called a chiffonade. It is easier to achieve this if you bindle quite a few on top of each other, then roll them cigar style. Cut the cross wise and you will be left with perfect chiffonades.

basil and green bean casseroleToss the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and breadcrumbs together in a small bowl. Lightly grease the insides of a shallow, 2 or 3 quart baking dish with a teaspoon or more of the butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese and breadcrumb mixture all over the bottom and up the sides of the baking dish. Add the tomatoes, cubes of mozzarella and basil shreds into the bowl containing the cooled and salted green beans. Drizzle the olive oil over all, sprinkle on the remaining 1/4-teaspoon salt and toss together a few times. Sprinkle about half of the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs on top and toss well, until everything is well coated.

Scrape the vegetables and breadcrumbs into the baking dish and spread them around in an even well mixed and even layer. Sprinkle over the remaining breadcrumbs and cut the remaining butter into dice and scatter them all over the top.

Place the dish in the oven. Bake the gratinate for 12 minutes, then rotate it and bake another 12 minutes. 24 minutes should be perfect to achieve a brown bubbly crust. However, if it is not browned to your satisfaction place it under a broiler for a moment or two rather than cook it longer, which will only succeed in overcooking the beans. Bring the hot gratinate to the table in the baking dish.

SERIOUS FUN FOOD

Greg Henry

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