Let it be any given day of the week and I would have no umbrage with polishing off a meal consisting of nothing but meat and the juices it expressed in the pan while it cooked. Maybe a few chunks of good bread, for dippage.
However, the meat-n-two-veg ideology that I was raised on in the Welsh valleys can sometimes see that a meal does need to be rounded out. Not just for couth sake, but for the pure enjoyment of it all.
When it comes to meal components, I do take issue with some side dishes. Ranking the plate elements always seems like a counter-intuitive approach to cooking, because the lesser the importance of the side dish on the plate, the less TLC they get in the process. Like peas. Great though they are, they always get the arse-end of the deal and usually just boiled, buttered and brandished to the site of the plate. Poor bastards.
But I get it – I do get it, trust me – when you’re trying to wrangle all of the other bits going on the plate, the side dishes aren’t even Kelly and Michelle, they’re just inconveniences. But Kelly and Michelle are phenomenal… and it’s not Destiny’s Child without them, so, how about just having a handful of great side dishes in your back pocket that take literally no time or effort that you can just wheel out so that way everything feels like a synergy. And even if there is a Beyoncé on the plate, the side dishes still get to riff with it to create the most wonderful harmony.
I’d start with this glorious pan of potatoes and green beans.
I need texture with all foods, particularly side dishes. True, they are not there to steal the show but you still need them to hold their own. I don’t like to introduce huge, shouty flavours with something like this because it will distract from as opposed to dance with the rest of the dish, so I like to make their presence felt with a broad range of texture – sturdy yet soft, tender potatoes against waxy, crunchy green beans.
You could swap out the green beans for another crunchy green vegetable, long-legged tender stem broccoli would be wonderful or maybe even some asparagus. At a pinch you could throw in some frozen peas, but you get a much sweeter and nubblier dish.
With the potatoes, I prefer not to cut them before they go in the water because this way, their insides get waterlogged and mushy, whereas if you keep the potatoes intact while they boil and cut them afterwards, their skins keep the insides soft and fluffy but you still retain that waxy, sturdy bite. It does mean you may have to handle the hot potatoes with your fingers but I have asbestos hands and don’t find this too difficult. Use tongs if you think they’re too hot though. Don’t burn yourself for the sake of a potato for Christ’s sake.
Even though I love these alongside my Skillet Chicken they are also extremely versatile. You can swap the basil for some fresh mint and serve alongside a handsome leg of lamb (for which I’ve written a recipe for Blasus magazine which you can read here). There’s also nothing stopping you from bulking this out with more veg – green beans, broccoli, asparagus AND peas all together – and eat without any accompaniments as a bolstered salad.
Wheel this out whenever you need it, I know I do.
Serves 3 – 4
18 – 20 whole new potatoes
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
A generous handful of basil leaves – chopped finely
1 clove garlic
300 – 400g green beans – ends snipped off
- Bring a large, deep pan (one that comes with a lid) of water to the boil. Quick tip – the easiest and quickest way to do this is to boil a kettle and while it boils, put a tiny amount of cold water from the tap in the pan and put it on the hob on a high heat. That way, when you fill the pot up with the boiled water from the kettle, you won’t need to wait forever for it to come back to the boil because the the pan and water inside it are already already hot. Anyway… salt the water generously.
- Add the potatoes to the pan and pop the lid on, turn the heat down to medium and let them simmer for 15 minutes.
- During this time make your basil dressing. Grab a tray in which you want to serve your potatoes – I usually just go for a smallish roasting tray with high edges as used in the picture above – and pour in the olive oil.
- Toss in the chopped basil leaves and then with a fine grater, grate in the garlic clove. Use a spoon to mix these together.
- After the potatoes have had their 15 minutes, drop in the green beans, pop the lid back on and cook for a further 5 – 6 minutes until the potatoes are soft and tender and the beans have also softened but still have a certain amount of stability to them.
- Thoroughly drain the potatoes and green beans and then tip onto a wooden chopping board. Carefully cut the potatoes in half – they will be hot to touch so be careful – before transferring the beans and potatoes to your serving tray of basil oil. Use two spoons to gently toss the potatoes and beans through the basil oil, making sure they are evenly coated.
- Sprinkle over a little more fresh basil and some salt and pepper and serve.