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If you ask me, people don't overcook their vegetables often enough. The truth is, vegetables are sometimes absolutely delicious when cooked to the utterly smash-able stage, without a trace of crispness left. In fact, some vegetables practically require long cooking. Take long beans. The name refers to their actual length, but it could just as easily refer to the fact that they are really well suited to being left in the pan longer than you'd think is wise.
They hail from Asia, and while you can find them during the summer at some farmers markets, you can also get them at Asian produce shops most of the rest of the year. They're common in preparations like Chinese dry-fried beans, but I've found that they also lend themselves to a more Italian approach—braised with tomatoes, garlic, and plenty of olive oil. It's another recipe to file away in our Easiest Summer Ever series, featuring simple seasonal dishes with just four main ingredients (not including pantry staples, like garlic and olive oil).
The lengthy cooking time, about 30 minutes, allows the beans to soften until they practically melt, totally infusing with the other flavors in the pan. Because long beans start out tougher than your typical string bean, they can withstand the prolonged heat without completely turning to mush. That said, you could also make this recipe with string beans—just avoid adding any extra liquid, as I do with the long beans, and cut the cooking time at least in half.
To start, I trim the beans and cut them down into more manageable lengths. Then I heat olive oil in a large pan with sliced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes until the garlic is sizzling and lightly golden.
I add the long beans, raise the heat, and sauté them briefly; they won't exactly blister, but I want a little bit of that skin-searing action before I add the wet ingredients.
Then I add canned tomatoes that I've crushed by hand, in order to leave some chunks behind.
I also add a splash of water, which I usually first pour into the empty tomato can, allowing me to pick up any leftover tomato juices and get them into the mix.
I simmer the whole thing until the excess water has cooked off and the tomatoes have thickened into a clingy sauce. The beans should be really nice and soft at this point.
For a finishing touch, I add a bit of minced fresh mint, just to wake the whole thing back up with that refreshing kick.
These beans are great served right away, but I like them best chilled in the refrigerator and eaten the next day while still cold. Either way, overcooking these beans is the best thing you can do for them.