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A Top Contender

Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We’ll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They’re one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn’t be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing. 

There are a million (a gillion?) green bean recipes out there and you’ve likely got your holiday favorite. I used to be a green bean casserole gal, and then I fled from the cream and hydrogenated little cans of crispy onions. But these green beans are special. They’re slow-roasted for about an hour at a pretty high temperature so a lot of the moisture is sucked out and they’re no longer snappy and crisp. Instead, they have a  slightly chewy, tender sweetness, softening along with the garlic, scallions and seasoning. Really, they’re a top contender.

Every year for Thanksgiving there seems to be this need to reinvent the wheel, to choose recipes that are somehow different and truly inspired. You see it in the food magazines, you hear chatter over it at the post office or coffee shop. It all starts to feel really tiring. I love my mom’s cranberry relish and three-onion casserole. She’s made them every year since I can remember. Turkey, classic mashed potatoes, a big green salad of some sort, and a few special pies. While the line-up changes a bit each year, these are the standards. So suffice it to say, I really wasn’t on the hunt for these green beans, but they happened to find me this week. And I think we may just invite them into the mix this year.

If you read Bon Appetit, maybe you stumbled across Michael Chabon’s beautiful piece on Thanksgiving this month. He writes about the year his family spent the holiday at Manka’s Lodge in West  Marin, a pretty magical place I’ve had the great fortune of visiting before it burned to the ground a few years ago. I related to Chabon’s descriptions of the place itself, but the essay really struck me because it’s a beautiful piece of writing. I don’t often get the time to read things these days for the pure joy and admiration of the craft and construction of the words themselves. That’s the case here. In very general terms, Chabon describes the place and the meal and his thoughts on Thanksgiving. He and his family like to change it up each year, not getting too tied down to any one location, habit or tradition. Of that practice, he says:

 Nothing lasts; everything changes. People die, and marriages dissolve, and friendships fade, and families fall apart, whether or not we appreciate them; whether or not we give thanks every waking moment or one night a year. For the act of returning to the same table, to the same people and the same dishes–to the same traditions–can blind you to life’s transience. It can lull you into believing that some things, at least, stay the same. And if that’s what you believe, then what have you got to be grateful for? None of our Thanksgivings are ever coming back; we’ve lost them. They’re gone. And so this year, let’s go somewhere with strange customs and unfamiliar recipes and the latest collection of ill-assorted chairs, and give thanks–not for everything we have, but for everything, instead, that we have lost.

When I showed the piece to Sam and told him how much I enjoyed it, he agreed that it was wonderful but was ultimately confused why I was recommending it: Really? But it’s everything your family is against. You love tradition. This is true. We’re not big fans of changing up the routine in the Gordon household. I look forward to coming home to California and seeing the inevitable fall wreath on the door; my mom’s l-o-n-g grocery list on a big sheet of yellow legal paper taped to one of the kitchen cupboards; the annual call to my aunt Cathy to chat turkey times even though she and my mom have been doing the turkey for a million (a gillion?) years and know full-well how long it takes; the cocktails; the long evening walk. It wouldn’t feel right without all of that. I wouldn’t want to give that up just for the sake of not getting mired down in doing the same thing year after year after year. There’s a very real comfort in the repetition of those things — it’s what makes it feel like not just any other day, right?

So why was I so drawn to the piece? I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a few days. Sure the writing is beautiful and it’s about a landscape I know and love. But there was something else. The only answer I could muster was that maybe it’s because I read it more like an exotic postcard, like a hello from a family who does things differently than we do. In that sense, I had to read it a few times, thinking through what it would be like if we traveled from house to house, some years eating take-out, other years making lasagna. Just for the heck of it. Just so we didn’t get stuck in any one way. It felt like a peek into somewhere new, a no-less passionate take on Thanksgiving, but a Thanksgiving that couldn’t be more remote from where we pull up a seat each year.

Slow-Roasted Green Beans and Garlic
Adapted from: Bon Appetit 

Serves: 4

1.5 pounds green beans, trimmed
1 bunch scallions, trimmed with about 1-inch of the green tops still attached, halved lengthwise
4 large garlic cloves, each cut into 4 slices
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more if beans begin sticking to the pan
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 3/4 teaspoon regular table salt)
freshly-ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl and season with pepper. Toss everything until well combined and turn out onto a large rimmed baking sheet.

Roast the beans, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent sticking, until wilted, shrunken and browned around the edges, about  45 minutes – 55 minutes*. Towards the end of the cooking time, you may need to stir a bit more frequently to avoid sticking.

*Bon Appetit recommends roasting these beans for 1 hour, but they’re also working with 2 1/2 pounds of beans whereas I used 1 1/2 pounds to account for the fact it is just the two of us here. I did roast mine for almost an hour but I’ve been hearing from a few folks that they’re finding them rather crisp so use your intuition and check them after 45 and then every 5 minutes thereafter until they’re about where you’d like them. I like them crisp, but maybe not everyone does… Happy Thanksgiving!

  1. Posted November 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    oh my goodness, these look AWESOME. this recipe is right up my alley. also, love the article by michael chabon and your perspective on it. thanks for sharing!

  2. Posted November 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Yum! I’ve never been a big green bean fan at the holidays… heavy casseroles with undercooked beans just don’t hit the spot. This looks like it could be a winner, and I’ll definitely try it out soon!

  3. Posted November 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I read the same article. It brought back fond memories of the Bay and a sorrow that that place burned down and I won’t get to experience it.

    We have been vagabonds for the the past 6 years but a few family always seems to find us or we find them and that is what Thanksgiving is about and what I am always thankful for.

  4. dominique
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    i love roasted green beans. i get funny looks from my friends when i say i am making them for dinner. i love darn near any roasted vegetable actually :)

  5. heidi
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I’ve been wanting a way to cook green beans and this looks alot like dry sauteed green beans in Chinese recipes, my favorite way to eat green beans. I will make these for thanksgiving.For me, the most important part of the holiday is being with people I love. My family likes the basics to be the same and then we have a couple of things that are different depending on who has been inspired to make something new.As the kids have gotten older, we are able to be a bit more adventurous especially since some of them now like to cook as well. Thank you for this recipe, I am very anxious to try it out.

  6. Posted November 10, 2012 at 6:53 am

    I read that article as well and had the same thoughts. It was beautiful, yet says everything about tradition and having tradition in different places. Really, does it matter where you are if the ideas and values are the same? I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  7. Posted November 10, 2012 at 8:13 am

    The piece in Bon Appetit was gorgeous, but I somehow neglected to notice this recipe.

  8. megang
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Dana-It was certainly the simplest so it’d be easy to miss. But I was so intrigued about the slow-roasting of them … happy weekend to you!

  9. megang
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Hi, Abby!
    Nope, I don’t think it matters one bit. I think the people are so much more important than the place itself, no? Have a wonderful weekend + enjoy the recipe! ~m

  10. megang
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Heidi! YES, these green beans are similar to the dry sauteed green beans I used to get at a Chinese restaurant in the Bay Area. You’re right on about that … I look forward to hearing what you think about it. Have a wonderful weekend, ~m

  11. megang
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Lisa-Well apparently, Manka’s just bought the little inn you see coming right into town (Inverness Inn or ???) so it may live again. Who knows? It is so very beautiful out there; I miss it, too! I agree: it is about the people you’re sharing the time with, not so much about where you’re actually seated. And you’re such a wonderful cook I bet they find you! Hi to the girls and John. Miss you guys, m

  12. Posted November 10, 2012 at 9:57 am

    I’m always torn between tradition and wanting to add a bit of change to the menu. Luckily we have multiple Thanksgiving meals so while one stays frighteningly similar to my childhood (boxed stuffing, frozen corn, vegetable platter from the store) the other has freedom to bend tradition (Turkey roulade, brussels sprout salad, roasted green beans with sage). I love them both.
    I don’t know how I missed that article. Looking forward to spending some time with you.
    Thanks for last night!

  13. Posted November 10, 2012 at 10:01 am

    I too loved that article. My family is like yours, very traditional same dishes every year for every holiday. So when I moved 4,000 miles away from them and couldn’t go back to visit every holiday I started making my own meals and decided that I would really like to break free of those traditional dishes. About five years ago I decided to make turkey mole, sweet potatoes sprinkled with chili powder, jalapeno cranberry sauce, and tamales instead of stuffing, etc… I have now made that same meal every year since! I guess it’s hard to let go of traditions, even if they are new ones.

  14. Aunt Kathy
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    We are all looking forward to this new and exciting green bean recipe at Thanksgiving. Of course your mom and I will have our annual discussion about the turkey as the liver and giblets simmer on the stove … after which they get discarded. (That’s a tradition from our parents!) Looking forward to seeing you, Ray, Z and Mr. Sam soon. Love you.

  15. Posted November 10, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    I adore roasted green beans, though I’ve never, I think, roasted them this long. Intrigued.

    And yes, I caught that Chabon piece, also, and read it, again, and again, and again. Have you read this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye? (http://undertowmagazine.com/the-art-of-disappearing-naomi-shihab-nye/) I just stumbled upon it recently, and something about it reminded me of Chabon’s piece–the fleeting nature of things, the transcience. And then you reminded me of Chabon. And so I’m passing it along to you :)

    Happy November, Megan.

  16. Posted November 11, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Thanks for pointing out the article. It was beautiful! The quote you have is very touching. I love your blog and writing. I made the soft hazelnut chocolate cookies by nigel slater you wrote about and they came out great. Thanks for the recipe ideas!

  17. megang
    Posted November 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    Hi, Molly!
    Thanks so much for sharing the poem. I hadn’t come across it before, but I have read some of Naomi Shihab Nye’s work and like her very much, so this was a treat. We had friends over today and ended up spending a lingering day with them over the paper, breakfast, good conversation and eventual drinks/dinner. We all talked a lot about introverts/extroverts and the ways we all choose to spend our time, so this was a perfect one for today! I was FASCINATED by the recipe, too. I figured if they bake that long, surely it must be at a low temperature. Say, 250F. But nope, it’s a high temperature for a good, long time. They’re seriously delicious. I can’t wait to make them again. Happy November to you, too, Molly! xx, Megan

  18. Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:13 am

    it’s always good when i find a blog that teachs and inpires me so much!
    Thank you!

  19. Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Oh, my. This looks like the sort of thing that should most definitely grace every Thanksgiving table. I haven’t yet had the chance to dive into the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit (though I did briefly browse through the inspiring recipe collections). I’m so glad you pointed out this post! I’m definitely a big fan of the traditions, too, but in my family we try to do a mix of both old and new (my mom’s cranberry sauce- always the same; side dishes – usually different). I hope I get to see you! xoxo

  20. burt kozloff
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Making these tonight for Van and me, without the scallions (!) because Van doesn’t like scallions. You know what I don’t like? I doesn’t like cutting all the damn stems off the beans. It doesn’t take long, but it still bugs me. And that’s your fault.

  21. megang
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Burt: Oh, good! I’m so glad. Let me know what you think of them!

  22. megang
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Kasey: I know, isn’t that BA issue beautiful? It’s been on my bedside table for a few weeks now … not quite ready to graduate it to the pile in my study.

  23. Posted November 12, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I might have shed a small tear while reading this. Our Thanksgiving this year is going to be so different this year. The same people but everything else is different. And if I cook at all, it will be in my mom’s kitchen with food that my dad will have shopped for, and I won’t have to hide when Randy cleans out the turkey. For someone who always wants to eat something different, I want Thanksgiving to always be the same – I make the same dishes every year. I hope you have a happy one Megan.

  24. megang
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Oh, Dana: It will be a familiar place with people you love. And for that it will feel like Thanksgiving, I think. You could always do a second one back at home where you make the dishes you always make, yes? I’m sure Randy wouldn’t quibble. I hope you have a happy one, too. I’ll be waving at you as we pass each other in the friendly skies. xx.

  25. Posted November 13, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    I love when a piece of writing hangs on like that and you find yourself pondering it days later. A beautiful post, today!

  26. Posted November 16, 2012 at 6:34 am

    The woman who owned Manka’s is taking over the Olema Inn! I hear the food is great, though I don’t know if it’s fully open yet …

    Loved the BA piece, not least of all because its about a place to close to my heart ….. But also for the inspiration. As I’m currently trying to figure out my thanksgiving menu, the recipe is especially welcome.

  27. megang
    Posted November 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Nicole: Turkey mole sounds fantastic. I love it! I always wonder what I’d make if I wasn’t able to come home … if it really was just the two of us asking ourselves what we honestly felt like. Yours sounds pretty wonderful. Enjoy! ~m

  28. dana
    Posted November 19, 2012 at 6:22 am

    I also read the Micheal Chabon piece and to say it resonated with me is an understatement. My mother died in August and the first holiday season with her will be challenging. Within the last year many of my friends have lost their mothers. I made 10 copies of this piece and have sent them out to others for their thoughts. I found the article so comforting. Like Dr.Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” As someone who celebrates tradition it’s time to embrace change, incorporate the wonderful memories of the past and make sure the best of what those we loved so much left behind is still ptresent inus.

  29. Mary
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days? –Ranier Maria Rilke

    Thanks for the recipe. Happy Thanksgiving.

  30. sadia
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:36 am

    i want to ask about thanksgiving. what is it?

  31. Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:11 am

    I wish I had seen this before Thanksgiving this year. I have never been one to follow a script *except* for holiday meals, but am now breaking out and with some favorable results [parboiled Brussels sprouts sauteed in duck fat w/ pancetta]. Thanks for liberating me even further!

2 Trackbacks

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