Wednesday, June 14, 2006

born again green beans

Trader Joe's has revolutionized the way I eat. You see, I have a very delicate produce situation. It hasn't always been this way. Back in college, I lived in an apartment with 3 other girls, all of whom put great importance on cooking and eating well. So there was ample produce in the fridge at all times. Back at home, my mom cooked every night, and there was salad pretty much every night, so there, too, the fridge was always filled with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.

But now, while I live with a roommate, she doesn't eat very much (not to mention, lately she's in love, so she's rarely even home!). So, on an average weeknight, I cook for one. Actually even that's not true -- since I've moved to the city, my job has taken away from my time at home -- both because of longer work hours, and because the many great people I've met there have filled up my social life. It's not a bad problem to have. But it means that on that average weeknight, it's just as likely I'll be out for dinner as that I'll be in.

Say I've got fish in the fridge, along with cucumbers and tomatoes bought over the weekend. I was supposed to eat them last night, but then suddenly at 5:59 pm, oy, queued streamdumps started failing for no reason, and by the time I got home, I had no interest in cooking anything. So, I'm on my way home from work, planning in my head what I'm going to do with the lot -- maybe sauteed in a cast iron pan with some lemon and saffron, with the vegetables in a chopped salad. Yum, downtime and a chance to cook. Maybe I'll even clean my room -- oh boy! (it's the little things, don't make fun). But then the phone rings. Q&A with Dangermouse in the Hammer Museum courtyard, starts at 7. Free. Crap. The Hammer Museum courtyard oozes of BSE. And this Dangermouse character has piqued my interest over the past year. I can't not go.

So, I go, meet my friends, watch the thing, and enjoy it immensely. And then we go out to dinner. I could hear the fish and vegetables nagging me. This is my produce problem. So, I learned pretty quickly that I should buy produce and fresh meat the day I'm going to eat it. Otherwise, in spite of my best intentions, it goes bad and I chuck it. It's a little inconvenient, but it's the only way.

This system works very well. But enter Trader Joe. He sells produce in packages. You can't just buy one tomato, or 2 apples, you have to buy 4 or 5. This ruins everything! Or...

It allows you to become a specialist. Ingredient of the week. So, today, I am in the middle of a green bean immersion program. I used to hate green beans. Even though my mother is the best cook I know, she did bad things to green beans. They were overcooked to limp puniness, they sometimes came stewed in a tomato sauce (this actually sounds good now that I'm telling it, but was repulsive at the time), and they squeaked against my teeth when I ate them. So, I've never really been a fan. But at a dinner party this weekend, Rachel made green beans and they were actually good -- crisp and just lightly heated through with sweet red onions. I felt it deemed more exploration.

So yesterday, I went to Trader Joe's and bought a single package of something like 50 pounds of green beans. Last night for dinner, I made a panzanella. Bread salad -- leftover baguette, leftover roncal cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, rosemary, green beans, oil and vinegar. I didn't cook the green beans at all. They were crunchy, super fresh, and delicious. This is a green bean renaissance!

So that took care of one handful of green beans. But there were so many more! So, tonight, more green beans. I considered a green bean casserole -- the ultimate starring role for green beans, and one of those exotic American dishes I've never eaten -- but I certainly didn't feel like baking, and besides, we're focusing on not overcooking them. So the goal here was simple fresh tastes. Dill, lemon, garlic.

And I still have leftover green beans!

Penne with Green Beans, Dill, and Preserved Lemon

If you're using preserved lemons, use salt sparingly as they are very very salty.

1 C dry penne pasta
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 C 1-inch diced green beans
2 Tbs dried dill
1/4 preserved lemon peel, flesh and pith scraped away, finely chopped
(can be replaced with 1 tbs lemon juice + zest of 1/2-1 lemon)
small chunk goat cheese, 1/4-inch dice

Cook pasta according to package directions (or until just al dente).

3 minutes before the pasta is cooked, heat the olive oil and garlic in a saucepan over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add green beans, toss to coat. When pasta is done cooking, drain it and add to saucepan, lower heat, and add dill, lemon, goat cheese, salt and pepper. Toss to coat with olive oil and soften cheese; add more olive oil if necessary.


  1. YUM! I really NEED to move in with you since your roomie is MIA. =) Make room on the couch!

  2. Yum! It's sad but true about Violet's ineptitude in ever making green beans taste good. It was a hard thing to overcome. Cooking Light has a great recipe for a green bean salad with lots of parsley and cherry tomatoes. Definitely a BSE recipe and great with grilled meat.

  3. Fabulous! Green beans rock and you really gave me a great recipe to try out on the family, thanks!!

  4. crazygirl - by all means, come on by! so long as there is buttery baby bok choy in it for me!

    tsp - now that you mention it, this recipe is totally coming back to me -- it had parmesan cheese, too. yum!

    tracie - oh good! maybe your kids won't suffer the years-long green bean trauma that torreh and i did!