Thirty-three-year-old Melia Marden is the executive chef at The Smile, a Noho hotspot with a devoted downtown following of the beautifully dressed in the art, fashion, and music worlds. It looks like a cafe, but her menu is Mediterranean-inspired with dishes that feature just a few fantastically simple ingredients.
Growing up in the West Village with her power couple parents (her father is the famed artist Brice Harden), she didn’t envision herself becoming a chef. “I had a post-college career crisis,” Marden says (the college being Harvard). “I ended up going to cooking school at the French Culinary Institute in Soho.”
After stints at Maya’s To Go on St. Barths, running her own catering company, and assisting a food writer at Domino Magazine during its heyday, Marden came into her culinary own at The Smile.
Here she truly developed her light-and-fresh cooking style, influenced by the summers she and her family spent in Greece during her childhood. And in her first book, Modern Mediterranean, Marden has adapted the dishes she serves at her restaurant for a home (or apartment) cook.
As you’ll see from this delicious spring recipe that she shares for your dining pleasure, Marden’s post-college crisis worked in her favor. And yours. —Jamie McKillop
Melia Marden’s String Beans with Fried Shallots, Pecorino and Basil from Modern Mediterranean
For the shallots:
2 medium shallots, halved and very thinly sliced
½ cup vegetable oil
2 ½ tsp kosher salt, divided
1 ½ lbs string beans, ends trimmed
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup (25 gr) finely chopped fresh basil
2 oz. Pecorino cheese, crumbled
Place the shallot slices in a single layer on a paper towel and press with another paper towel to remove moisture.
In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until very hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Drop in the shallots and fry until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Let cool completely.
In a wide heavy-bottomed sauté pan, bring 2 inches of water and 2 teaspoons of the salt to a boil.
Add the beans and cook until they are just tender but still bright green, about 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with very cold water to stop them from overcooking.
Dry the sauté pan and return it to very high heat. Add the oil and heat until very hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the green beans, the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and a generous amount of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the beans are slightly charred all over, about 3 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Let the string beans cool completely before mixing them with the other ingredients, so that the flavors remain distinct. Combine with the fried shallots, basil, and cheese and serve at room temperature.