If Ben's not around to keep me to the protein, starch and veg division of the dinner plate, I often fall back into the kind of eating I did when I lived alone in France. With no roommates or parents or boyfriends around, a plate of vegetables and a hunk of crusty bread was all I needed to keep me going. If I tried to make that for dinner now, Ben would look at me and laugh and then ask quizzically why I hated him. I must say that I'm grateful to him for helping me eat more protein before I shriveled up into an amino-acid deficient sissy and dropped dead.
Ben's been in Los Angeles all week, spending time with a few action-sports enthusiasts, and probably eating a lot of very good Mexican food. I, on the other hand, have been having a love affair with string beans. It all started when I bought a pound and a half of them to use in a recipe that originally called for Romano beans, which were nowhere to be found. (It's probably for the best: my father has been preparing Romano beans in the same way for as long as the world has turned - with a chopped onion and canned tomatoes - and if I had to prepare them any differently, he might disown me.) Seeing as the wee French beans that I bought were, in some cases, a third or fourth of the size of a Romano bean, a pound and a half of them was A Lot Of Beans.
At home, I snapped off the ends and boiled them until tender before sauteeing them for a few minutes in a hot pan with a few spoons of olive oil and diced pancetta. Then I sprinkled some smoked Spanish paprika over the beans and added a spoonful of sherry vinegar to meld all the flavors together before turning off the heat, piling a bunch of beans on my plate and settling down for dinner. The beans were good - snappy and fresh - but the combination of smoked paprika and diced pancetta seemed strange: why didn't I just dice up some smoked ham instead? It seemed like the recipe was fussier than it needed to be.
I ate one plateful, and then put the rest of the hulking amount of beans away to return to them the next day at lunch. And WOW, what a difference a night makes. The beans had softened somewhat and allowed the oils and flavors to penetrate them more. The pancetta had mellowed considerably, and the vinegar had transformed itself into an easy background note. I couldn't stop eating them. I must have eaten 3/4 of a pound of green beans for lunch yesterday. I don't feel like a total glutton, because besides a heel of bread that's all I ate, but still. Three quarters of a pound! Of anything! I'm pretty impressed with myself.
And the recipe. It's really quite easy and I love using my Spanish paprika - it makes me feel vaguely exotic and enterprising. If Ben were around to hold me to a more balanced diet, I'd make these alongside a simple roast chicken and a gratin of potatoes - or served with a nice broiled pork chop. And I'd be sure to prepare them the night before eating them (try not to refrigerate them, or at least let them really return to room temperature before eating them. The cold of the fridge lessens the taste otherwise). Today, I'll be having the remaining ones for lunch, ending my illicit affair just in time. Come home already, Ben! My muscle tissues miss you.
Sauteed Green Beans, Caceres style
Makes 4 servings
Kosher sea salt
1 1/2 pounds Romano green beans, or French beans, stem ends snapped off
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika, preferably Spanish smoked
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans and return to a boil, then cook at a high simmer for 7 to 10 minutes until done to taste. Drain and pat dry.
2. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the pancetta and saute 2 minutes, then add the beans and saute another 2 minutes. Lower the heat, stir in the paprika and the vinegar and cook 1 more minute before serving.