Few things are as gratifying to a restaurant-loving vegetarian as seeing a whole table of food obsessives unable to talk about any dish other than the one you ordered. Sure, the seven-hour lamb was great (I heard), and the braised squid was perfectly tender (I was told), but when I sat with the inimitable Patricia Wells and friends at brasserie Lazare in Paris, it was a salad of haricots verts, artichokes and hazelnuts that stole the show.
Of course, Wells wouldn’t take me anywhere she knew couldn’t handle such cooking. As a former vegetarian herself, she is an avowed plant lover. At Lazare, the textures alone of that salad — crisp-tender beans, crunchy hazelnuts and almost-starchy artichokes — made it something we raved about well into the next day.
Wells is more than a writer, of course, even though I was visiting because she has written a long-awaited new edition of her landmark book, “Food Lover’s Guide to Paris.” She is also one of the most popular cooking teachers in all of France, with week-long sessions in the city and in Provence that sell out many months in advance. In other words, she knows her way around a recipe, and she makes a habit of getting them from chefs, so by the time I returned from my trip, instructions for the Lazare salad were waiting in my email inbox.
She adapted it from Lazare’s chef, and I took it a little further, adding even more hazelnuts and crushing half of them so they dispersed into every bite. My favorite part of the recipe: The step that calls for you to immediately immerse the just-blanched artichoke slices in the lemon-hazelnut vinaigrette while they’re still warm, so they soak it up.
The result: pitch-perfect seasoning, and a reminder of one glorious spring day in the City of Light.
Green Bean, Artichoke and Hazelnut Salad
Hazelnut oil by La Tourangelle is available at Whole Foods Markets and other specialty grocers. Adapted from Lazare brasserie in Paris.
1/2 cup skin-on hazelnuts
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon hazelnut oil (may substitute another nut oil or extra-virgin olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste and for blanching
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 small, fresh artichokes
1 pound haricots verts (thin French green beans), ends trimmed
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
Coarsely ground black pepper
Combine hazelnuts with 1 teaspoon of hazelnut oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a small skillet over medium, and toss to coat. Cook, shaking the pan regularly, until the nuts are fragrant, evenly toasted and beginning to crackle and sizzle, 3 to 4 minutes. (Don’t let them burn.) Transfer immediately to a large plate to cool. Transfer half of the cooled nuts to a zip-top bag and use a mallet or rolling pin to crush.
Whisk together 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, the remaining 1/4 cup of hazelnut oil and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if needed.
Fill a mixing bowl with water; add the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
Trim away most of each artichoke’s stem, leaving about 1 inch. Bend back the tough outer green leaves, and snap them off at the base, until only the central cone of yellow leaves with pale green tips remains. (As you pare down the artichokes, keep them in the lemon water to prevent discoloration.) Trim the top cone of leaves to just below the green tips. Trim any dark green areas from the base. Halve the artichokes lengthwise. Use a grapefruit spoon to scrape out/discard the hairy choke. Cut each half lengthwise into quarters.
Set a colander into a large pasta pot, fill the pot with salted water and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the artichoke and blanch, uncovered, until barely tender, about 2 minutes. Lift the colander to drain them; leave the water in the pot. Transfer artichokes to the vinaigrette and toss to coat.
Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
Rinse the colander and return it to the pot of water. Return the water to a rolling boil over high. Add the beans and blanch, uncovered, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. (The cooking time will vary according to the size and tenderness of the beans.)
Immediately remove the colander from the cooking water, then plunge the colander (with beans) into the ice water. (The beans should not stay in the ice water for more than 1 or 2 minutes, or they will become soggy and begin to lose flavor.) Drain well, then wrap in a thick towel.
Add the beans and the crushed hazelnuts to the artichokes and vinaigrette; toss to coat evenly.
Transfer the mixture to a platter or individual plates. Garnish with the shallot and the remaining whole, toasted hazelnuts. Sprinkle/grind pepper lightly over the top, and serve.
Per serving: 290 calories, 5 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar