September 2, 2009

Italian green beans

As much as I love vegetables and enjoy eating seasonally and learning what grows where and when, I don't remember ever thinking this way when I was young. I didn't grow up on or even near a farm and come to think of it, neither did my parents. We just didn't have that context to draw from when thinking about food. But my mother was Italian and her family did preserve many traditions surrounding food that informed her cooking in an interesting way.

For example, these green beans that were one of my favorites. Whether we ate them in winter or summer, they were readily available like most produce. But now that I know they are a staple of late summer, I look forward to preparing them in my own kitchen as soon as I see them in the market. They almost have a Fall-ish taste to me now too. Maybe that is because they combine the produce of late summer--tomatoes and green beans-- and for me, somehow mark the transition from one season to the next.

There are many different varieties of green beans --some of them not even green, but yellow and purple, though they taste exactly the same. I prefer the ones sometimes called 'Italian green beans' or Romano beans --the long, skinny green ones--for this recipe. But I did find out recently that the purple ones turn green when you cook them anyway, so if you have these now in your CSA basket like we do, go ahead and use them for this recipe.

They need to be cooked only briefly so they retain their snap. My mom may have been guilty of cooking some vegetables overly long, as was the style in her day. But these green beans she cooked just perfectly and used just the right amount of chunky tomatoes and onions. She sometimes served them along with Italian sausage and that is what I was trying to emulate in this dinner. I love the way our taste memory can take us back to some earlier time when we enjoyed something in exactly the same way. When I took the first bite of this dish, all of those flavors combined in a way that transported me back to when I was young and first discovered how good a fresh green bean can taste.

Italian green beans

1 lb fresh green beans, washed
3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped, or 1 can whole-peeled
1 yellow onion
green or yellow peppers, chopped (optional)
1 lb sweet or spicy cooked Italian sausage (optional)
1-2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper

Start by sauteeing garlic and onion in olive oil. If adding peppers, add them now and let cook another 5 min. When softened, add the chopped tomatoes and cook for about 5 min.
Add the green beans to the tomatoes and onions and cover skillet with a lid. Let them cook until still al dente and mixed well with the other ingredients, about 7 min.
In another pan or on the grill, heat sausage and brown for a few minutes.

Season green beans with salt and pepper to taste. For a perfect meal, serve with sausage and some good crusty Tuscan bread on the side.

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