Tony writes: “They’re going to complain about the vegetables being overcooked!” Giuliano Bugialli would fret each time he welcomed a new set of American students to his cooking school in Tuscany (where I was lucky enough to apprentice and study). In truth, Tuscans do like their vegetables cooked to soft submission. And most American chefs, schooled in French technique, cook vegetables (especially green ones) just crisp-tender (and no further!): the French approach keeps the vegetables’ color and vitamins intact. But it can be hard to feel a lot of love for all that crunch. Sometimes, you just want a plate of tender, beautifuly seasoned vegetables. I was reminded of this (and the great Bugialli) recently as I stared at a bin of last-of-the-season green beans at the farmers market. There was a late-afternoon chill coming on and I decided to ditch my habitual quick saute in favor of straight comfort: a slow braise of green beans with toasted garlic, tiny pieces of prosciutto, and a light tomato broth. Give it a try!
– The prosciutto: Prosciutto appears most often in its thin (sliced) form in sandwiches and the like. But in Italy (and in Europe in general), cured ham is often diced into chunks and used as a flavoring for vegetable braises and stews. Think of it as a leaner version of pancetta or bacon. There’s function to the process. Generally, the butcher (or deli person) will set aside the stump of the ham (which is harder to slice) for just this purpose. Ask the butcher for a a couple of thick slices of prosciutto (or a hunk like the one above) and then dice, gently render, and braise with the green beans.
– The method: Because the method and the time of year lend themselves to it, make a large batch of these beans. Start by sauteing the prosciutto and smashed garlic cloves with olive oil until both brown. Then add the beans. Snap off their ends first (I like to use my fingers) and then saute so the beans brown in places and turn bright green. Add some diced tomato (canned or fresh), a splash of chicken broth, cover and cook until the beans become completely tender (and I mean completely). Serve sprinkled with Parmigiano and with something warm and starchy (I went with polenta).
RECIPE (Serves 8 to 10 as a sidedish) 1. Prep: Using your fingers, snap off the ends of 2 lb. green beans. Cut a 4-oz. wedge prosciutto into 1/2-inch cubes (leave any fat on). 2. Sear: Cook the diced prosciutto with 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the prosciutto browns and crisps, about 6 min. Add 3 garlic cloves (smashed) and 3 dried chiles (broken into pieces; or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes) and cook, stirring, until the garlic browns lightly, about 2 more min. Add the green beans, sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and cook, stirring, until the beans turn bright green and brown in places, about 4 min. 3. Braise (and serve): Add a 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes and their juices (or 3 diced plum tomatoes) and 1/2 cup chicken broth (or water). Bring to a boil. Then reduce to a gentle simmer (about medium-low), cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans become completely tender and the flavors of the braise meld, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve sprinkled with curls of Parmigiano.