Bean there, do­ing that

Rachel Roddy’s sum­mer braise

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy Rachel Roddy is an award­win­ning food writer based in Rome and the au­thor of Five Quar­ters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Salt­yard) @rache­leats

This dish has be­come as much a part of sum­mer for us as san­dals and sun­cream with sand in its lid ...

My par­ents have a clever ket­tle. It has a slid­ing switch at the base that al­lows you to choose the best tem­per­a­ture for your drink, or task. Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, white teas are best made with wa­ter at 70C, black tea 85C, herbal in­fu­sions 100C (ex­cept chamomile which prefers 90C ) and the op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture for cof­fee is be­tween 91C and 96C. Now, I gen­uinely want my cof­fee and tea tast­ing as good as they can. I would hap­pily push a slid­ing switch if it brought out the loveli­est, soft­est taste, if it deep­ened the flavour. If only I could re­mem­ber!

The ket­tle may be clever, but it makes me feel like I am not. I will per­sist though, be­cause tem­per­a­ture mat­ters – in Rome, too, where we don’t even have a ket­tle, just a metal jug for boil­ing wa­ter on the hob. Boil­ing hot and freez­ing cold both have their places, but it’s hard to see any­thing clearly at such ex­tremes.

It is the same with food. My friend and teacher Carla To­masi has an inim­itable in­stinct when it comes to tem­per­a­ture. When we cook to­gether, she is as loyal to the tem­per­a­ture of in­gre­di­ents as she is to their flavour and qual­ity. Many come from her gar­den: frost­bit­ten fen­nel and lemons from her tree are brought in to take the chill off; once the sun starts shin­ing, salad, onions and fresh herbs might need a cold plunge to crisp them up. Sum­mer toma­toes picked on a cool morn­ing ben­e­fit from a rest on a sunny win­dow ledge; those picked on a hot day, a cool cor­ner. In­gre­di­ents are put in and taken out of the fridge in good time. Win­dow ledge rest­ing is strate­gic.

It is even more the case with cooked food. Carla re­minds me of the pas­sion­ate and par­tic­u­lar Ber­tie Bastal­izzo, of whom MFK Fisher writes

in her es­say The Se­cret In­gre­di­ent: “We knew her in­struc­tions about how long to let the food ‘rest’, be­fore serv­ing it, what tem­per­a­ture to let it rest in, even what to do with it when it was at its peak of rest­ed­ness.” Carla is ab­so­lutely clear about which dishes ben­e­fit from a night’s sleep; how herbs and finely chopped onion should sit in olive oil be­fore be­ing mixed with the still-warm (and peeled) pota­toes; that but­ter and sage should sit be­fore be­ing warmed to a siz­zle; that bean soups and oil­rich braised veg­eta­bles rest for so many min­utes on a cold day, more on a hot day. This en­cour­ages flavours to emerge and deepen, so things taste as good as they can.

The first time I ate to­day’s recipe was in Volpetti, a rather smart gro­cery shop in Tes­tac­cio, when it still had a func­tional can­teen-like charm and a long counter with a rail you slid your tray along. I was with my friend Alice and we ate roast chicken and a plate of these fa­gi­oli corallo al po­modoro

– braised beans in rich tomato sauce – around which was a golden halo of olive oil. “What made it so down­right de­li­cious?” we asked each other. “Plenty of good olive oil and salt,” Alice pointed out. It was also that the dish was at the right tem­per­a­ture, as warm and pleas­ing as the sum­mer day it­self. I have been mak­ing my own ver­sion ever since and it has be­come as much a part of sum­mer for us as san­dals and a tube of sun­cream with sand in its lid.

In Rome, they called flat green beans coralli. Like the flat beans my mum grows in her gar­den, un­less they are small, they can be tough with an al­most den­talfloss-like string that needs tug­ging off like a way­ward thread. Of­ten the an­swer to tougher beans is boil­ing or steam­ing them to ten­der­ness, which means they lose their flavours to the wa­ter. Brais­ing or smoth­er­ing means the beans and toma­toes cook in their own juices and the es­sen­tial flavours seep into the sauce, which in turn should con­cen­trate, get­ting thick and rich.

This is not the time for par­si­mony: use plenty of good qual­ity olive oil and go slow to start. The steamy braise is im­por­tant – lid off, then on, then off – and the beans need cook­ing un­til the squeak has gone and they are ten­der be­tween your teeth. Cooked this way, beans are a good match for lamb, chicken or fish.

Best of all though is a fat slice of salty cheese, such as feta, which breaks into big crumbs that you squash with the back of your fork into the sauce. Just re­mem­ber to al­low the beans to sit un­til the right point of “rest­ed­ness” – taste and you will know.

Braised green beans with toma­toes and onions Serves 4

1 large or 2 small white onions

6 tbsp olive oil

Salt

750g green beans, ide­ally flat 750g ripe toma­toes, peeled if you wish, chopped coarsely

A hand­ful of torn basil leaves

Feta, or other salty cheese, sliced, to serve

1 Peel and slice the onion finely. Warm the oil in a heavy-based fry­ing pan (with a lid) over a medium-low flame. Gen­tly fry the onion with a pinch of salt un­til it is soft and translu­cent.

2 Cut or break the green beans into 5cm-long pieces. Add them to the pan and stir well un­til each piece is glis­ten­ing with oil. Con­tinue cook­ing and stir­ring for a few min­utes.

3 Add the toma­toes and an­other small pinch of salt, stir, then cover the fry­ing pan. Af­ter a cou­ple of min­utes un­cover the pan and stir – the toma­toes should be re­lin­quish­ing their juices. Cover the pan for an­other 5 min­utes or so.

4 Once the toma­toes have given up their juice, un­cover the pan and al­low it to sim­mer, un­cov­ered – stir­ring ev­ery now and then for around 40–50 min­utes, or un­til the beans have be­come very ten­der and the toma­toes have re­duced into a thick, rich sauce. Dur­ing the fi­nal few min­utes of cook­ing time, stir in the ripped basil leaves. Taste and sea­son with more salt, if nec­es­sary

5 Al­low to sit for a cou­ple of hours be­fore serv­ing with slices of feta. Even bet­ter made a day in ad­vance, kept in the fridge overnight and then brought to room tem­per­a­ture or re­heated gen­tly be­fore serv­ing.

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