Sunday, December 12, 2004

Recipe: Green Beans and Tomatoes

Here’s another in the crusade to make canned veggies a delicious and exciting addition to every meal. This is not George’s Greek Green Beans. That’s another story entirely, and one we’ll tell the next time I make a bucket of those incredible beans (so I can take some photos of the process). But for the rest of the time, this simple combination should show up on your table frequently. And with more holiday meals coming up . . .

here's what you'll need . . .
1 can kitchen cut green beans (they used to be 16 oz. cans; now they’re 14; next year 12?)
1 can whole peeled tomatoes (same story, ah well . . .)
6 whole fennel seeds
healthy pinch dried oregano
fresh ground Tellicherry pepper
splash of white wine

Here’s how you do it.

Dump the tomatoes into a saucepan. Use the blade of a spatula (or your favorite implement of destruction) to slice the whole tomatoes into pieces – at least quarters, more if you wish.

Break up tomatoes

Add precisely 6 fennel seeds. (Well, that’s what I told Cathy the first time I did these, and it was probably pretty close. Now that she’s comfortable with the flavor, a little more than 6 is common!) A touch of fennel will enhance the flavor of the tomato; but if your beans taste like licorice, you used way too much.

Add the oregano. As almost always with dried herbs, crush the oregano by rolling and rubbing it between thumb and forefinger before tossing it into the pan. Once again, the idea is to enhance, not to flavor, so be judicious with your pinch. I’d guess I typically use ½ tsp. for a single-can batch like we’re describing here.

Add spices

Now comes the hard part. Decision time. Do you include the packing liquid from the green beans? Or not.

Here’s the secret decoder ring: Are you making gravy?

If you’re serving these beans with anything that uses gravy (roast beef, roast fowl, roast pork, hey, Pizza if you like gravy on your pie!), then be sure to dump the entire can of beans, liquid and all into the pot! Your gravy will thank you when you drain the cooking liquid from your beans and tomatoes into your gravy-making pan!

If no gravy, then drain the liquid from the beans before tossing them in on top of the tomatoes.

But either way, toss in the beans. And grind some Tellicherry all over the top of them. (No, you don’t need to add any salt – there’s plenty in the tomatoes, and even more if you added the bean liquid!) Now spritz a small splash or two of white wine across the top to wash some of the pepper into the tomato layer (the alcohol releases some flavors in the tomatoes that would otherwise remain hidden). Finally, cover your creation and put it over barely-there-heat for at least an hour. Two is fine.

Beans and the pepper

Check on the pot after 30 minutes or so. You should find a good head of steam under the lid, but no serious bubbling on the surface. This is a dish you want to warm into submission. If you’re working with a gas stove where low temperatures are hard to maintain, try a double boiler. I mean, as long as you don’t actually burn (char) the tomatoes, you’ll be fine (so if you have to do a hurry-up-batch, go for it!) But sneaking up on the beans will leave them as ‘crunchy’ as a canned bean can get. Your goal here is to meld the flavors not to ‘cook’ the vegetables.

And there you have it; magic from a couple of cans.

Green beans & tomatoes served

If you need to serve more than two or three, use two cans of beans and one of tomatoes, and maybe 12 fennel seeds . . .

It’s endlessly scalable, so just cook ‘em up and enjoy!

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