Sunday, July 10, 2005

Recipe: George’s Greek Green Beans

There once was a little hole in the wall restaurant in the western suburbs of Boston where a Greek named George (Constanopolous, I think) served the best (and, for all I know, in the mid 1970s, the only) Gyros in the area. George also served the most amazing green beans I’ve ever tasted. After frequenting his establishment several times a week for almost a year, and (during the LightCraft Photo/Graphics epoch) designing his new menu and tablemats (he declined our offer to do the mural for his walls), George finally let out his secret. I don’t understand the magic involved, but the process is repeatable, and the beans are divine.

The secret is time; these beans require at least 4, and preferably 8 hours to prepare. Not that you have to do anything after you get them started, but they must cook for a long time.

here's what you'll need . . .

fresh green beans (preferably just picked)
fresh tomatoes (preferably just picked)
olive oil (the best you can afford)
salt and freshly ground black pepper (Tellicherry, of course!)

That’s it! Like I said, magic happens, but it doesn’t reside in any secret ingredients. The first time I cooked George’s beans, I didn’t believe in magic, so I tried a very small batch. The second time I cooked them and every time since, I do a week’s worth. The cooked product does not freeze well (believe me I’ve tried!), but they will last a week (or so) in the refrigerator, so plan your menus in advance to go well with these beans. That way, you can do a huge batch!

Here's how you do it.
All you need to do is wash all the veggies. Drain them and let them sit on a towel (paper if you must) till they are dry. Then, trim the stem ends off and ‘kitchen cut’ the green beans.

kitchen cut green beans

Now find a pot, for which you still have the cover, and pour some olive oil in the bottom. You want the olive oil to be about ¼ inch deep in the bottom of the pot. Toss in the beans.

beans in oil

Next, core and wedge the tomatoes and toss them in on top of the beans. Finally, grind about twice as much pepper as you think is appropriate over the top of the veggies and add a pinch or 3 of kosher salt.

green beans ready to cook

Cover and cook over very low heat for at least 4 hours (6 is better, 8 is about perfect. George used to start them at about 8am to serve with his 6pm dinners.)

green beans low

Now, a word or 3 about quantities. We find that about a pound of green beans and 4 smallish tomatoes fit comfortably in a 2 Qt saucepan, and will create 2 - 4 servings. This size needs about ¼ cup (3+ Tbsp) of olive oil, about 1/3 tsp. salt, and enough pepper to darken the surface of the pile of ingredients in the pot.

To create a week’s worth, triple all quantities (except the salt - use about ½ tsp.) and cook in a 3 Qt saucepan. If you want to make enough for the block party or the football team, get out your 18 Qt stock pot, pour about ½ inch of olive oil into it, then pour most of it it back out into a cup (now that you’ve measured it); then layer the beans and tomatoes in ‘week’s worth’ quantities into the pot. Salt and pepper each layer (you’re on your own regarding the quantities - but be careful with the salt; the acidity of the tomatoes multiplies the saltiness dramatically). Then pour the rest of the olive oil back in on top of everything; cover and cook as usual.

Very low heat means just that. If you can see steam escaping from under the cover of the pot or hear any serious bubbling with your ear close to the pot, it’s too hot; turn it down a notch. (Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, once made a comment about cooking fish - he said instead of cooking it, you should “threaten” it. The same is true of these beans. Unlike fish, the beans cook for a very long time, such that anything slightly over room temperature will work!)

On your first attempt (and any try thereafter where you have an anxiety attack), you can lift the lid of the pot after an hour to see what’s happening. Very little. Your tomatoes should be looking slightly warmish.

green beans after 1 hour

After 2 hours, steam should rise gently from the barely bubbling beans.

green beans after 2 hours

And after 3 hours, well, cookin' is goin' on . . .

green beans after 3 hours

After that, leave 'em alone (and leave the cover on the pot) until the beans are done! But when they are, be prepared to dine on Mt. Olympus.

No comments:

Post a Comment