How’s this for a coincidence? My sister dreams of opening a restaurant in which all the food names are derived from celebrity names – one of them being Al Green Beans. And a friend’s husband, Al, likes these beans. Clearly, my green bean stars are aligned, or something? Awesome!
These green beans appeared alongside bouef bourgignon with mash (ah! potatoes *atkins-followers drool in unison*) when it was my turn to do bookclub dinner this year, in midwinter. Of course I forgot to post the recipes and it doesn’t seem right to wax lyrical about stodgy rib-sticking beef stew on such a nice warm spring evening (will someone please remind me next winter?), but this would be great in any weather. Plus, it really is healthy. Not like most of the stuff I post which I try to tell myself is healthy because glucose is “brain food” and so fudge must make you smarter – no seriously, this is healthy:
I’ve never been a green bean fan. Or an Al Green fan, actually (that tremulous drawn-out caterwauling about broken hearts just isn’t for me). My experiences of green beans as a kid were either that they were cooked to a yellow-tinged death and mashed up with something else, which disguised the beans; alternately, they were tough stalks with a fine layer of fuzz, a little stringy bit down one side, and squeaked between your teeth worse than nails on a chalkboard. Someone has even created a whole “factors to success” concept based on a similar childhood green beans experience – the picture of the author alone is worth a quick visit to this hysterically-named site. Then a friend happened to mention that she loves them and I couldn’t understand why – which meant I had to investigate this more thoroughly. I re-discovered green beans and, boy, was it a joyous reunion! I must have tried them a hundred different ways (with roasted baby tomatoes, sesame seeds, toasted almond slivers, garlic chips, fried breadcrumbs, lemon). I was like Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba with the shrimp – until I finally settled on this recipe.
The pecorino adds a creamy note without being too rich, just takes the edge off all the greenery happening on your plate. I stumbled across the Elbows Up market (off Beyers… you have been warned. Between Elbows Up and Westpack you will emerge a poor, poor person). Anyway, the market. Right at the back was a flashing neon light: CHEESE. I was like a moth to a fromage flame.
The guy manning the stall was great, he let me taste a bit of everything (so I felt obliged to buy a bit of everything) including this super mature sheep’s milk pecorino – it came off an enormous barrel-shaped cheese, and the way wedges had been cut off the top half made it look like a divine savoury, smelly wedding cake. It was magnificent. Magnificent. It was so mature that there were little crunchy salt crystals, and it didn’t have that goatsmilk mucky farmyard taste. I have fond memories of that cheese. I miss that cheese.
The mangetout happened because I think it has a very similar flavour profile to green beans, but with a nice crispy crunchy texture element. I found the most gorgeous purple “shiraz” mangetout – tastes just like the green ones, but oh so much prettier.
*my photo’s do this dish absolutely no justice – the mangetout is not very photogenic, it’s far more glamorous in real life.
For about 6 servings of lovely green beans worthy of Al Green’s wailing:
400g green beans, topped but not tailed (the taily bit is pretty) – any slender bright green ones will do, doesn’t have to be those fine french ones – avoid the overgrown furry tough ones *theatrical shudder*
120g Shiraz mangetout
1 small red onion, finely sliced
A tiny dribble of olive oil. A tablespoon, possibly.
About 60ml (a generous splash) of balsamic salad dressing (I use Ina Paarman’s) – or when I’m out of stock I use a splash of balsamic vinegar and a tiny bit of sugar
Pecorino, shaved. You will notice that it’s so mature that chunks fall off as you use a potato peeler to make pretty shavings. Those chunks would just RUIN the appearance of the final dish, and it is your duty to eat them IMMEDIATELY.
Righty-o, Bring a pot of water to a nice rolling boil on the stove. Pop the green beans in, and start the timer – 3 MINUTES. Not a second more. Add the mangetout in and keep boiling for a minute more, then immediately pour the hot water off and fill the pot up with icy-cold water to stop any further cooking.
Drain the beans, while you heat up that dribble of oil in a frying pan to a nice high heat (the blanched beans make a good snacksicle while waiting for the oil) (as an alternative to eating all the cheese, I mean). Pop the drained veggies and the thinly sliced onion in and toss around for about two minutes – the idea is to toast them, not cook them all over again. Splash the balsamic dressing over the contents of the pan – it will sizzle and disappear very quickly, leaving a lovely shiny tangy residue on the veggies. As soon as this has happened, decant all that yumminess into a suitable receptacle. Serve hot or lukewarm (or cold – it is spring, after all) scattered with pecorino shavings.
So after all of that, I feel like I owe green beans a bit of an apology for turning my nose up at them for so long. And so, beans, all I can say is:
I(iiii)’m… I’m so in love with you
Whatever you want to do
Is all right with me-eee-e-ee-e…
‘Cause yoooooo… make me feel so brand noooooo…
And I-iiiii-i… want to spend my life with you…
Leeeeeet’s, let’s stay together…
Loving you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad
Ooooo… Oooo… Yeah…
PS: Or you could just leave out the beans, mangetout, onion and dressing and just have the pecorino.
PPS: Look what I found!!