Those of you who have read this column in TheBurg for a while likely have heard about my husband’s picky ways when it comes to vegetables.
Corn on the cob, peas, mushy asparagus and zucchini, and, “Broccoli again?” are among the many undesirables on his list. But a special non-favorite is “beany beans,” those shipped green beans in the dead of winter with tough strings and a woody interior (you know the type).
But I am a green bean lover. My mother made big pots of ham, green beans and potatoes in the summer—not very summery maybe, but in those days, that’s when fresh string beans were available. She cooked green beans with her spaghetti sauce and added boiled potatoes. This was almost hearty enough to be a main dish. And, on warm summer nights, we often enjoyed a cold green bean salad with olive oil, vinegar and chopped fresh mint.
During a recent trip to my favorite farmers market, I found beans my mother could only dream of. There were the familiar green string beans, yellow wax beans, haricot verts (very thin beans also known as French beans), purple beans and the often-hard-to-find Roma beans. Roma beans are large, flat beans also grown in green, yellow and purple varieties. All were at their peak of freshness and ready to be taken home for some new recipes. No need for those watery frozen beans with little bits of almond we often find on the buffet circuit and at rubber-chicken dinners.
Our friends who lived in Italy for several years have often spoken of a classic dish called “Trenette al Pesto,” which originates in a beautiful region of Italy called Liguria. Liguria is a crescent-shaped region in northwestern Italy. Its Mediterranean coastline, bordering France, is often referred to as the “Italian Riviera.” “Trenette al Pesto,” as the name implies, is pesto-based pasta made with fresh green beans and “new” potatoes, the epitome of the summer harvest. Pasta with green beans? Who knew?
The recipe that follows includes making the pesto from scratch, which is not difficult. But if you are able to buy a good, ready-made pesto sauce, you can use that as well.
Ingredients for the Pesto
- 1½ cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts (can omit for a “nutless” version)
- 1 clove fresh garlic
- Salt to taste
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- ½ lb. new potatoes peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
- ½ lb. thin green beans
- 1 lb. linguine
To make the pesto in a food processor or blender:
- Combine the basil, pine nuts (if using), garlic and pinch of salt. Process until finely chopped.
- With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until smooth.
- Add the cheese and butter and pulse a few times more.
- Set the pesto aside.
To cook the potatoes, beans and pasta:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Add the green beans and potatoes and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Use a skimmer to remove them when cooked and place them in a warm boil. (Do not overcook as the potatoes will fall apart.)
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente.
- When cooked, drain the pasta but save about 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
Add the pasta and the pesto to the vegetables in the serving bowl and gently toss together. Add a little cooking water as needed to thin the sauce. Add a little extra grated cheese on top, if you prefer.
All you need is a plate of fresh, sliced summer tomatoes with oil, vinegar, sea salt and pepper to complete your dinner.
This is ultimate summer eating for everyone who loves to eat seasonally, including even those who don’t like “beany beans.”