Few things are as gratifying to a restaurant-loving vegetarian as seeing a whole table of food obsessives unable to talk about any dish other than the one you ordered. Sure, the seven-hour lamb was great (I heard), and the braised squid was perfectly tender (I was told), but when I sat with the inimitable Patricia Wells and friends at brasserie Lazare in Paris, it was a salad of haricots verts, artichokes and hazelnuts that stole the show.
Of course, Wells wouldn’t take me anywhere she knew couldn't handle such cooking. As a former vegetarian herself, she is an avowed plant lover. At Lazare, the textures alone of that salad — crisp-tender beans, crunchy hazelnuts and almost-starchy artichokes — made it something we raved about well into our next meal, and even the next day.
Wells is more than a writer, of course, even though I was visiting because she has written a long-awaited new edition of her landmark book, “Food Lover’s Guide to Paris.” She is also one of the most popular cooking teachers in all of France, with week-long sessions in the city and in Provence that sell out many months in advance. In other words, she knows her way around a recipe, and she makes a habit of getting them from chefs, so by the time I returned to the District from my trip, instructions for the Lazare salad were waiting in my e-mail inbox.
She adapted it from Lazare’s chef, and I took it a little further, adding even more hazelnuts and crushing half of them so they dispersed into every bite. My favorite part of the recipe: The step that calls for you to immediately immerse the just-blanched artichoke slices in the lemon-hazelnut vinaigrette while they’re still warm, so they soak it up.
The result: pitch-perfect seasoning in every bite, and a reminder of one glorious spring day in the City of Light.