Recently, I told my friend Taylor that re-imagining weeknight cooking in terms of formats and formulas, rather than exact recipes, would simplify his daily dinners. Meaning, if you know you love pasta, you should always have pasta and potential sauce ingredients around, the same way if you like to wear pencil skirts and silk blouses, you’ll stock good skirts, tops, and pumps, not go in search of one perfect outfit at the department store.
Once you get the hang of the method, it really is a more fun, more delicious, and less wasteful way to shop, cook, and eat than going nuts with planning Monday breakfast and Tuesday dinner and Wednesday leftovers and then penning perfect shopping lists. (You can read all my advice for Taylor here.)
One of my favorite formats is “the Franny’s vegetable format,” named after Franny’s, the greatest restaurant on Flatbush Avenue. Years before I moved to Brooklyn, the restaurant opened as a neighborhood pizzeria, albeit with a cheffy following. Now that there’s a cookbook and a spin-off, it’s more of a destination, but I live in the neighborhood and so for me, it retains the neighborhood vibe. Anyway, when I go there, I don’t always order pizza. I’d rather veg out on the vegetable appetizers, which are always rich and original because Franny’s unleashes the wood-burning oven on beets, sunchokes, and green beans to exquisite effect, then dresses them with vinaigrette, shredded cheese, and nuts.
And that’s the format, the Franny’s format: roast, dress, cheese, nut.
To bring the format to the Thanksgiving table, I rescued green beans from the casserole dish and threw them on the roasting pan instead. Of course, I don’t have a wood-burning oven, but the home oven does a solid job of blackening and shrinking the green beans until their flavor is condensed and their texture snackable (I can’t totally credit Franny’s for the green bean roasting thing–my immediate family is also obsessed). Cider vinegar anchors the dressing, bringing needed tang, which is balanced yet again with richness–in the form of Parmesan cheese and sunflower seeds.
You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to make this tangle of green beans, but if you’re a guest looking for a signature contribution to someone else’s dinner, this is a good option–not least because it scales well and tastes great at room temperature. And if you want to vary the vegetable, the vinegar, the cheese or the nut, do so: it’s all just a format.