Years ago, when I was regularly cooking family meals and hosting dinner parties, Marcella Hazan’s Fagiolini verdi con peperoni e pomodoro – French beans with peppers and tomatoes – from her iconic The Classic Italian Cookbook, was a favourite side dish to make. It’s a great dish to accompany simply cooked meat – like grilled or roasted chicken, lamb or veal – or even fish.
I’ve been adding some organic French beans fairly regularly to my weekly Waitrose delivery as I do like them a lot. I’ve made the Trofie with Pesto, Green Beans & Potato a couple of times, or just boiled the beans and dressed them with olive oil and lemon juice as a side dish.
Today, it being Sunday and far too cold and miserable outdoors to want to wander out for long, I thought I’d make an extra effort for supper and make this bean dish to go with some chicken breast I planned to griddle. Taking Hazan’s book from my bookshelves, I saw that her recipe was for a serving of 4-6 and used tinned tomatoes. Despite dire warnings of tomato shortages here in UK, I’ve managed to buy them easily and had a dish of large tomatoes that are excellent for making fresh tomato sauces (which I often do for pasta). I therefore decided to adjust Hazan’s recipe to use my fresh tomatoes, substitute a shallot for the medium onion and cook a much smaller amount of French beans. I also used the yellow pepper I had in my fridge rather than a green one as she suggests. As Hazan says the beans can be prepared ahead of time and warmed up, I thought making a couple of portions would feed me tonight and I’d have an extra left over for tomorrow to use either as a side dish again or, served cold, part of a salad at lunchtime.
It’s interesting going back to a once favourite book after a long period of time. The Classic Italian Cookbook, first published in 1973, was once my Italian cookery bible. From Hazan, I learnt to add milk to a Bolognese ragù to make the meat sweeter; to always serve the ragù with tagliatelle and never spaghetti – I even carefully followed her recipe precisely in this post from 2013 (click here). I also used Hazan’s recipe to make Bucatini all’Amatriciana (click here) and many other pasta dishes. Reading the bean recipe again, I was a little surprised to see her talk of finding green pepper peel ‘disagreeable’ and suggesting removing it with a potato peeler. I can’t imagine doing that; I don’t have a problem with the peel, but if I ever remove pepper peel (perhaps for serving griddled vegetables), I prefer to blacken the pepper in a hot oven, remove it briefly into a freezer bag, and then when it’s cooled a bit, peel away the skin that should come off easily. Anyway, for the beans tonight, the peel would stay …
French Beans with a Sweet Pepper & Tomato Sauce – Serves 2
- 150g French beans
- 2 large tomatoes
- ½ yellow or green pepper
- 1 shallot
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 dessertspoon tomato purée
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the beans and chop off the stem end.
Cut two crosses into the base of the tomatoes with a sharp knife; not too deep. Put them in a small saucepan and cover with boiling water. Remove after just a minute or two. Leave to cool slightly before handling and then peel away the skin – easiest started from the cuts on the base.
Cut the tomatoes in half and cut away the woody stem. Then chop roughly into smallish pieces.
Cut away the seeds and stem from the half pepper. Then cut it into two lengthwise and slice the pieces thinly.
Peel the shallot, cut in half and thinly slice. [If you don’t have a shallot, use ¼ to ½ an onion, depending on size. Shallots have become rather fashionable; some people aren’t keen but I love them as they’re perfect for me as I cook mainly just for myself. I find it better than try to store half or quarter of leftover onion. They’re also milder in flavour which suits much of my cooking.]
I prepared everything before I started cooking, which seemed a good idea when one ingredient was going to follow on fairly quickly from the last.
Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan (which has a lid). My old Le Creuset was perfect. Add the shallot to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes until it starts to soften. Then add the pepper slices. Cook for another couple of minutes or so until this also starts to soften.
I decided to add a little tomato purée as I was using fresh tomatoes to bring a deeper flavour to the sauce. Add the chopped tomatoes and purée to the pan. I also added just a dash of water.
Stir it all well together then simmer on a very low heat for about 15 minutes – with the lid on – until the sauce has cooked down and thickened.
Now add the prepared green beans with 4 tablespoons of water. Season with about a teaspoon of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Stir well together and then leave to simmer – with lid on – for about 20 minutes. Check from time to time that it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pan, give a stir and add a little more water if necessary.
Cook until the beans are tender – though I like to leave an al dente bite to them. They’re cooked much longer than I’d normally cook green beans and of course lose their colour a bit, but all their lovely flavour goes into the sauce. If the sauce is still a little wet, then take off the lid, turn up the heat and boil away for another minute or so to thicken the sauce more. You should end up with a gorgeous thick tomatoey sauce covering the beans.
I made the bean dish mid afternoon, confident that it would warm well later as Marcella Hazan said you could do that. I also prepared a chicken breast, beating it into an escalope and marinating it in some olive oil and lemon juice; new potatoes were cut in half and coated lightly with olive oil ready to roast later. I was looking forward to a nice long FaceTime chat with my lovely friend Linda, who lives in Spain, late afternoon, but everything would be ready to go with supper once we’d finished talking.
The potatoes went into a hot oven for about 45 minutes. When they were nearly done, I heated the griddle and cooked the chicken – it’s a great way to cook chicken breast, it’s always so tender and you get a nice bit of caramelisation, like from a barbecue. The beans could be gently warmed through.
The beans were fantastic. The flavour was absolutely gorgeous and it transformed a fairly simple supper into something special.