The very best recipes, to my mind, are the easy ones:  easy to remember, easy to prepare, and — most importantly — easy to adapt to the season, the occasion, or the current contents of the fridge.  More guidelines than instructions, these are the dishes that let you put away the cookbooks, forget the grocery list, and buy whatever strikes your fancy.

Julia Child’s magnum opus, The Way to Cook, is full of such “master recipes,” and her all-season bean salad is one of my favorites.  The key to a good bean salad is to dress the beans while they’re warm (the same goes for potato salad).  If you cook the beans in advance, refrigerate them in their cooking liquid.  When you’re ready to make the salad, warm the beans and liquid in a saucepan, then drain and toss with the dressing.

I’ve fiddled with the original recipe a bit — the lemon juice is my addition (I like a little acid in almost everything) — but the spirit of Julia remains.  To her list of additions, I’d add cheese (anything from mozzarella to feta will work) and lots of vegetables (roasted beets and winter squash; fresh tomato and grilled eggplant).   This week I made it with diced salami and fresh mozzarella, served warm over fresh spinach.

Julia Child’s all-season bean salad

Adapted from The Way to Cook

Yield: At least 4 cups, serving 6-8

4 c. cooked, warm beans (from about 1 1/2 c. dried)

1/4 c. very thinly sliced green onions

1 large clove garlic, peeled and mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (from 1 small lemon)

Heaping tbsp. chopped, fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, or sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Additional ingredients, according to taste and season, such as red or green bell pepper strips, sliced red onions, hard boiled eggs, salami, sardines, oil-packed tuna, fresh spinach or lettuce.

In a mixing bowl, combine green onions, garlic, oil, lemon juice, and herbs.  Add warm beans and toss to coat.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Let stand about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally, before serving.

This salad is the perfect foundation for an elegant, composed salad.  Or simply toss the beans with any additions you like and serve over salad greens.

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