Memorial Day weekends of my youth were always spent in one of two places. Either my dad dragged us all to the Monongahela River for a weekend of boating (rain or shine), or we stayed home and went to the neighborhood holiday picnic.
Ours was a neighborhood that was defined primarily by a single road that looped back to itself in the shape of a lasso being thrown, pulling us together for Christmas caroling, ice skating, and holiday potluck picnics on grassy lawns on either side of a wide creek. I can’t say with all honesty that my teen years were a favorite decade for me, like many teens it was more a time to just get through, but I have a lot of great memories of those holiday picnics. The parents would organize games for the younger set, and catch up on family news, while the uber-cool teens strolled around in cut-off jeans. And for one day, the school popularity caste system evaporated in the warmth of the sun, and it was just one big friendly community celebrating the freedoms of summer vacation.
My mom was a cook by the book kind of girl, and developed over time a wonderful menu of dependable dishes she became known for. At Thanksgiving it was her Pecan Pies; at the height of summer, Blueberry Pie; and for summer picnics, baked beans. Her baked beans were cooked with bacon strips, mustard, ketchup, and brown sugar; and were the best I’d ever had. I could make a whole meal out of those beans, and would’ve if I could have gotten away with it. My mom is gone now, and I’ve sadly lost track of her recipe, so I decided to create a healthy beans dish for this Memorial Day weekend in honor of her dish and the memories we shared at those picnics by the creek.
Grilled Fennel and Bean Salad with Lemon Sage Dressing
1 large fennel bulb
1 cup white wine
Pinch each salt, pepper, dried thyme and lemon zest
2 cups cooked white beans, or one 17-ounce can
4 slices pancetta, fried whole until crispy
2/3 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
Parmesan cheese shavings
1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 fresh sage leaves, roughly torn
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
- Bring a large pot of water with the wine to a boil, and blanch the fennel for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Slice the bulb in half, and into quarters. Slice the fennel in ¼â€ thin wedges, keeping the core intact to hold each wedge together. Lightly dust the surfaces with salt, pepper, thyme and lemon zest, and grill for 10 minutes each side, or until the fennel softens, but still has a slight crunch. Grill longer if you prefer a softer fennel.
- Make the dressing using ideally a mortar and pestle set. Place the smashed garlic clove in the bowl of the set and sprinkle with salt. Using the pestle, smash the garlic clove until it liquefies. Add the lemon juice and vigorously stir with the pestle. Add the sage leaves and continue stirring and smashing the garlic. Add the olive oil while stirring. Add a little pepper.
- Combine the beans and tomatoes and toss with 1 ½ tablespoons of dressing. Lay on a serving plate and top them with the pancetta rings and grilled fennel. Top with the remaining dressing and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese.