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.
Reprinted with permission from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy by Domenica Marchetti. Copyright 2013. Published by Chronicle Books. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Yield:serves 6
- Active time: 20 minutes
- Total time:45 minutes
- 1 pound (455 g) medium-size yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut in half crosswise
- 1 pound (455 g) fresh young green beans, ends trimmed
- 4 ounces (115 g) pancetta, diced
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Put the potatoes and green beans in a large pot and fill with cold water to cover. Set the pot over high heat and salt generously. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-high to maintain a lively (but not violent) simmer. Boil the vegetables until they are very tender, about 25 minutes.
While the potatoes and green beans are cooking, place the pancetta in a medium skillet (I use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet) and set over medium heat. Sauté the pancetta, turning it frequently, for about 10 minutes, until it has rendered some of its fat and has just begun to crisp and turn brown. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
When the vegetables are tender, drain them in a colander. Return them to the pot and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes and green beans together as you drizzle. What you’re aiming for is a somewhat lumpy, textured mash—no need to purée completely.
With a spatula or wooden spoon, scrape the pancetta and drippings into the pot and stir to combine with the potato-bean mash. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl and drizzle with a little more olive oil if you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.