In Praise of Mushy Vegetables – Braised Green Beans
Having spent the majority of my culinary years eating and cooking in the era of crisp-tender vegetables, my only experiences with mushy vegetables were my own kitchen accidents and those awful cafeteria vegetables, neither of which offered any redeeming gustatory value.
The past few years though, I’ve come across vegetable dishes that are intentionally overcooked with great results. Green beans are particularly suited to this type of cooking as they contain a substance that is commonly found in wood and hemp, and thus require long slow cooking to make them digestible. Green beans reveal an entirely new character when braised long and slowly.
Most of the long-cooked green bean dishes I’ve encountered are basic braises of only a few simple ingredients. They all seem to have ethnic roots, like Syrian Lamb Stew with Green Beans or the locally popular Pennsylvania Dutch Ham and Green Beans. And then there is the Italian green been side dish I share here.
These green beans are cooked for 3 hours (yes, 3 hours) and, amazingly, they don’t disintegrate. They maintain their structure while becoming tender to the point of actually melting in your mouth. During their long braise they absorb the essence of the onions, tomatoes, and fennel seeds, while returning some of their own flavor to the broth, which begs your bread to sop it up. Another surprise is that the beans don’t turn that unappetizing brownish green color typical of overcooked green beans. Maybe it is the long slow cooking or perhaps the acid in the tomatoes helps them retain their greenness.
A note about preparing the fennel seeds: If you have one, use a mortar and pestle to coarsely grind the fennel seeds. Alternatively, you may chop them with a heavy chef’s knife, but first dampen both the seeds and the cutting board with water to prevent bits of seeds from flying all around the kitchen.
Braised Green Beans with Tomato and Fennel Seeds
Adapted from a recipe by Ed Bruskein The Washington Post
2 tablespoons olive oil1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into thin slices1 pound green beans, trimmed and washed14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice1 teaspoon freshly ground or chopped fennel seed 1/2 teaspoon saltFreshly ground black pepper to taste
In a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat, heat the oil until warm. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the beans, tomatoes with juice, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently until tender, about 3 hours, stirring and tasting the beans occasionally.
Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Serve warm.Tags: braised green beans