Recipe: Romano Beans Braised with Tomatoes, Sweet Vermouth, and Marjoram
Long, flat, and fuzzy, that’s how I like my green beans. Romano beans, a happy memory of my dad’s little backyard garden and a vegetable that oddly creeped out a few of my non-Italian girlfriends when I was a kid. Was it the fuzz? Yes, I think it was the fuzz, but these things are really delicious, especially prepared the way my grandmother and mother always made them, slow simmered, a braise really, with garlic, summer tomatoes, sometimes basil, sometimes dried oregano, occasionally a mix of both. The flavor was deep, the texture soft, amazing with pork chops straight off the grill.
I found Romano beans at Migliorelli’s farm stand at the Union Square market this week, so I went right ahead and prepared them in this old mezzogiorno style, very Campanian (my grandparents came from a sad little town on the border of Campania and Puglia, so their cooking had elements from both regions). These string beans were vital to their summer table. Sometimes my family threw in little cubes of potato. That was good too. Sometimes bacon was added (not even pancetta!), but I thought that was too much and kind of ruined the all around vegetableness of the dish. A little pancetta can be nice, but the smoky flavor of American bacon is, sorry Nanny, overwhelming here.
I play around with this dish every summer, and this year I’m including onion, garlic, a splash of sweet vermouth, and the season’s first tomatoes, and then finishing it off with a scattering of fresh marjoram, which is much better, in my opinion, than dried oregano. I know the dried version of this herb is almost ubiquitous in Southern Italian cooking, but it can be harsh, and why be harsh in high produce season? I’d rather be fresh.
Romano Beans Braised with Tomatoes, Sweet Vermouth, and Marjoram
(Serves 4 or 5 as a first course or side dish)
1½ pounds Romano beans, the ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium summer onion, cut into small dice
1 large fresh summer garlic clove, thinly sliced
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup sweet red vermouth
3 medium summer tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and cut into medium dice (don’t drain them; you’ll want their juice for this)
About 6 or 7 large sprigs of marjoram, the leaves very lightly chopped
1 tablespoon grated grana Padano cheese
Set up a medium sized pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the Romano beans, and blanch them for about 3 minutes. Drain them into a colander, and run cold water over them to bring up their green color. Drain well.
In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the onion, and sauté until just starting to soften, about a minute or so. Now add the garlic and the Romano beans, seasoning them with a little salt, the nutmeg, and a few grindings of black pepper. Sauté the beans about a minute, just to infuse them with flavor. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a minute.
Now add the tomatoes, and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are very tender, about 5 or 6 minutes. The tomatoes should stay a bit wet, so if they’re too dry, add a little hot water. You might want to turn the heat down a notch if it starts to move into a high boil.
Turn off the heat, add a generous drizzle of fresh olive oil and a few more grindings of black pepper, and let the pan sit on the stove for a minute or so. This well help the flavors develop. Now taste to see if it needs more salt. Add the marjoram, and give everything a stir. Pour the beans, with all their sauce, into a serving bowl, and scatter on the grana Padano. Serve warm.