- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

It has become routine for me to respond to casual dinner invitations from good friends by offering to bring a homemade dish to the meal. I am not the only one.

Lately, I’ve noticed that more and more guests seem to arrive at informal gatherings with a contribution. It seems to be a trend — one with a logical explanation. Most of our friends lead hectic lives trying to balance demanding jobs, children’s schedules and community commitments with entertaining.

Finding time to plan and cook an entire meal can seem like a herculean task, but when others volunteer to bring part of the night’s fare — a salad, a side dish or a dessert, for example — then the stress factor is reduced, and hosting a supper or dinner seems much more manageable.

I’ve transported countless appetizers, soups and desserts to such parties, but lately, when I have posed the question, “What can I bring?” people have requested side dishes. Often, they have a main course in mind but welcome suggestions for accompaniments.

Recently, I prepared a saute of green beans, fennel and shallots for such a potluck-style get-together.

Saute of green beans, fennel and shallots

2 fennel bulbs (about 13/4 pound total with stalks)

3/4 pound medium shallots

5 tablespoons olive oil for roasting vegetables, divided

4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more, if needed, divided

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound haricots verts (French-style small green beans) or young tender green beans

Fleur de sel (French salt, optional)

Line a large, heavy baking sheet with foil. Cut off and discard lacy stems from fennel bulbs. Halve fennel bulbs lengthwise, then cut out and discard tough inner cores. Cut each fennel half lengthwise into ½-inch-wide wedges. Spread fennel wedges on baking sheet.

Peel shallots, and halve lengthwise. (If some of the shallots are exceptionally large, quarter them.) Spread shallots on baking sheet with fennel. Drizzle fennel and shallots with 3 tablespoons olive oil, and then toss vegetables until coated well with oil. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

Place on center rack of 450-degree oven, and roast, stirring with a wooden spoon every 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender and browned, about 30 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Vegetables can be roasted a day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate.)

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add beans and 3 teaspoons salt. Cook until just tender, 5 minutes for haricots verts or 6 to 7 minutes for larger young green beans. Drain beans in a colander and place under cold running water until cool. Pat beans dry. (Beans can be prepared 1 day ahead. Wrap in a clean kitchen towel, then in a plastic bag; refrigerate.)

When ready to serve, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is very hot, add all the vegetables and cook, stirring constantly until heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Taste, then season to taste with fleur de sel or additional kosher salt. Serve mounded in a shallow serving bowl. Makes 6 servings.


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