Long-cooked vegetables fall firmly into the “ugly but good” camp of the Tuscan cucina povera, where flavor far outshines looks. The beans will change from firm and bright to limp and gray. But right around the two-hour mark, they'll transform again, into a dark, tangled mess, soft but defined. They'll taste extraordinarily rich, deliriously sweet and dense with flavor. All it takes is time and courage. Use this technique with almost any vegetable. It works particularly well with the shunned, the fibrous and the forgotten-in-the-fridge.
- Serves: 4 persons
- ⅓cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 8cloves garlic, peeled
- ½teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- 1large shallot, thinly sliced
- 3anchovy fillets, optional
- 2pounds Romano beans, green beans, wax beans or filet beans
- 2tablespoons water
- 20large basil leaves, divided
- Kosher or fine sea salt
- ½of 1 lemon
- Ricotta salata, pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, for serving, optional
- 2 ¾pounds broccoli (about 3 large heads or 6 smaller ones).
- 2pounds summer squash (about 6 medium zucchini), trimmed and cut into 1-inch long pieces on a bias.
- 2pounds cauliflower or broccoli romanesco (about 1 large head or 2 smaller heads). Trim the florets into 1 1/2-inch pieces, and cut any remaining stem into ½-inch thick slices. Use the leaves too.
- 2 ¼pounds fennel (about 5 medium bulbs), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges.
- 2 ½pounds red or orange bell peppers (about 6 peppers), seeded, stemmed and sliced into ½-inch wide pieces. Or, preferably, 2 1/4 pounds red Italian frying peppers, stemmed, seeded and halved lengthwise.
- 2pounds celery (about 2 bunches), trimmed and cut into 4-inch long pieces.
Step 1Set a large Dutch oven or similar pot over low heat. Add oil, garlic, pepper flakes, shallot and anchovies (if using), and stir to combine. Gently cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until the garlic and shallot are just very lightly sizzling, 5 to 7 minutes. Do not brown.
Step 2Add beans and water. Roughly tear 10 of the basil leaves into the pot. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt or ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, and stir to combine. Cover the pot, and reduce heat to as low as possible.
Step 3Cook beans until the steam has caused them to wilt, about 45 minutes. Stir, and continue to cook 1 hour and 15 minutes more, stirring every 20 minutes or so. Treat the shallot as a bellwether — if you hear it starting to sizzle or see it beginning to brown, scrape the bottom of the pan and add a teaspoon of water to deglaze, if necessary. The garlic cloves will completely break down and coat the beans as they cook.
Step 4After 2 hours, remove the lid, and increase the heat to medium-high. Let any remaining water evaporate, and lightly brown the beans, stirring regularly, about 10 minutes. Roughly tear in the remaining basil. Taste, and adjust salt, as needed.
Step 5Transfer the beans to a serving dish, and finish with a squeeze of lemon and a grating of ricotta salata, pecorino Romano or Parmesan, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Step 6(Just to be clear, the weights given here are guides for shopping, before trimming and prepping. The aim is to end up with about 2 pounds of trimmed, prepped vegetables.) When preparing broccoli, squash, cauliflower or fennel, take care when stirring toward the end of the cooking to prevent the vegetables from falling apart.