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One of the first lessons I learned about cooking vegetables was to not, under any circumstances, cook green vegetables past al dente. The only proper ways, it seemed, to cook things like green beans were to either blanch and shock, quickly steam, or stir-fry. Any cook time more than five minutes was suspect.
Since then, I've slowly come around to the idea of soft, tender green beans. But I've only ever eaten them braised alongside many other vegetables and plenty of olive oil. Dumping green beans in a pot with potatoes and boiling them for 25 minutes, as Domenica Marchetti instructs in The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, sounded like a pretty crazy idea. But I tried it anyway. Once the beans and potatoes were totally tender, I drained them and smashed them up, slowly drizzling in olive oil along the way. Towards the end, I added a pan-ful of crispy pancetta. Somewhere between the first smash and the last, the mushy beans and potatoes transformed into a soft green bowl of creamy comfort food.
Why I picked this recipe: The cooking technique was so foreign to me, I had to try it.
What worked: This simple combination of potatoes, green beans, olive oil, and pancetta indeed makes for a surprisingly glorious side dish—easy, colorful, and far more flavorful than the ingredient list implies.
What didn't: No problems here.
Suggested tweaks: I suspect that this dish would be just as good with broccoli in place of the beans. Substituting kale or cabbage would bring it into colcannon territory, but I see nothing wrong with that. If you'd like to make the dish vegetarian, skip the pancetta and increase the amount of olive oil by a couple tablespoons. You'll also want to add some more salt before serving.
About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and Berkeleyside NOSH, and she blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.