After many years without a reliable oven, I have come to regard myself as quite competent at braising. But even though the summer temperatures in northern Europe can sometimes be more conducive to stews than to cold food, my casserole pots don’t tend to get much use until autumn has unquestionably arrived.
It turns out I’ve been missing a trick. For while the youngest and most tender summer vegetables require practically no cooking, many of the most flavourful and memorable dishes I’ve had have been the result of a long, slow simmer. A quick glance around the Mediterranean—where fantastic vegetables are in abundance—shows up scores of summer dishes which are variants on braises: imam bayildi from Turkey, Italian peperonata and caponata and French ratatouille are perhaps the best known.
These are clever dishes in more ways than one. Not only can they be prepared in advance, taking advantage of whenever it is coolest, many taste better after sitting. They also can turn even older, starchier—or just later-season—vegetables into something succulent and sweet. This summer, I’ve been braising lots of beans. Runner beans are too coarse to eat raw, and the kind of quick boil which suits thin French or string beans doesn’t yield much of interest. The same is true of all but the smallest and earliest broad beans. But within thirty minutes, little of it active time, they are slippery soft and richly-flavoured. The colours may not be beautiful, but no apologies are necessary when vegetables taste as good as these.
Haricots plats aux ail, tomates et origan (Runner beans with garlic, tomato and oregano)
This will also work with fat, starchy green beans or what are known in the US as romano beans. I like to serve these alongside roast chicken or as part of a main-meal assortment including things like bruschetta, olives, roasted peppers and cheese.
Active time: 5 minutes; Total time: 25-30 minutes
200-250 grams beans
2 medium-sized tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
several sprigs fresh oregano
Top and tail beans and cut into bite-size pieces. Chop tomatoes roughly. Peel and slice garlic.
Heat a thin film of oil in a heavy, lidded pan placed over moderate heat. Add beans, tomatoes and garlic and stir to combine. Add 1-2 splashes of water (depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes), and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Strip the oregano from its branches. If leaves are large, chop or tear coarsely. Add to the beans and stir to distribute.
Cook the beans for another 15 minutes, or until the beans are completely soft and olive-gray in colour and the tomatoes have formed a thick sauce. (You may need to add a bit more water.)
Adjust seasoning, allow to cool slightly and serve.
Feves braisés a l'aneth (Broad beans braised with dill)
These are delicious warm or at room temperature, either with simply cooked fish (perhaps mackerel) or as part of a mezze assortment. If preparing in advance, add the 2nd half of the dill just before serving.
Active time: 15 minutes; Total time 25-30 minutes
500 grams broad beans (unpodded)
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more to serve
Strip beans from pods, discarding any which are split or discoloured. While podding, bring a pan of water to the boil.
Boil the podded beans for 3 minutes, then drain and cool. When they can be handled, remove outer layer of skin and discard.
Place the double-podded beans back in the pan. Add 2 tbsp of oil and an equal quantity of water. Tear ½ the dill and place on top. Finish with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon, cover and return to a low heat.
Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until liquid has absorbed and beans are quite soft. Adjust seasoning, tear over remainder of dill and serve.