Romano Beans and Seasonal Eating
The best part of cooking and eating local, seasonal produce is the excitement at the turn of the seasons. At the Rome Sustainable Food Project, all of our produce comes from local farms and our own garden, which have recently started giving us case after case of eggplants and peppers. We’re moving from the greens of spring into the reds, yellows, oranges, and purples of summer, transforming the colors and flavors of the lunch buffet. At this turn of the season, the kitchen gets a lot of compliments on the food. We accept them happily, wondering if we should really be thanking the change of the season for bringing these vibrant, intense new flavors.
The downside of seasonal cooking and eating is vegetable ennui. Right now, having roasted peppers at lunch, peperonata at dinner, and pepper soup the next day is thrilling, but it might not be by the end of the month. Eating seasonally requires an adjustment of expectations. In supermarkets, we see every part of the world and every time of year gathered into the produce section, and we’re used to having this cornucopia of vegetables at our disposal every time we cook. We expect the variety of peas one day, tomatoes the next, and artichokes the day after, and learning to eat differently takes some effort.
Springtime was bean time at the Rome Sustainable Food Project. The kitchen interns, cooks, and even the fellows spent afternoons sitting in the courtyard, popping favas out of pods and skins or taking the tops and bottoms off of green beans. And right now, though the spring is over, we’re still eating the last of the beans. The abundance of beans is cause for boredom, but also reason to try out all imaginable ways to cook a bean.
Take romano beans, a kind of long, flat, wide green bean, for example. Sometimes great romano beans get a brief dip in salted boiling water and a toss in olive oil and salt. But we also need to work creatively in the kitchen to keep things interesting. We dress romanos in aioli and add them to green salads. We stew romanos with tomatoes. We pair romano beans and fresh shelling beans in what always strikes me as a playful combination of colors, flavors, textures, and words as we make bean and bean salads.
Now, as the late-season romano beans lose that fresh, green taste they had at the beginning of the spring, we turn more to what has become one of my favorite ways to cook them. The recipe for long-cooked romano beans comes from the mother of the chefs here, in what he describes as her greatest (and perhaps only) contribution to the world of cooking. It takes some time to make, but it requires very little effort. And the result are beans that have been transformed into meltingly tender olive green ribbons, which are sure to chase away seasonal eating boredom until the tomatoes are ripe.
Slow-cooked Romano Beans
Inspired by Chris Boswell’s mom and the Rome Sustainable Food Project
2 tablespoons olive oil (approximate – depends on the size of your pot)
1 clove garlic, smashed with the flat of a knife
1 ½ lbs romano beans (or substitute green beans – Chris’s mom always used frozen green beans, and even then, he promises it was still delicious)
Cover the bottom of a medium-sized pot with a layer of olive oil, approximately 2 tablespoons (go by the size of the pot, not the measurement). Place the crushed garlic and romano beans in the pot and place the pot over medium-low heat. Place a lid askew on the pot so that it covers most of the pot without sealing it.
After 10 minutes, you should hear the beans starting to sizzle. Add salt to taste. Give the beans a stir and replace the lid (still askew). Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour, or until the beans become very tender and limp. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Amy Radding, Calhoun 2011, is an intern at the Rome Sustainable Food Project. She is excited to continue working with sustainable food production, distribution, and policy in the future. She is also excited to come up with new ways to cook peppers all summer long.