I hope you don't think me presumptuous, but I suspect you've got a few dirty tricks up your sleeve. I don't mean pranks, or practical jokes. I'm talking instead about a few tidy phrases, that carry way more weight than their word count suggests. A handful of syllables that pack a fine wollop, simply because of who said them, and how.
When, as a kid, I suffered some miniscule catastrophe, my mom's dirty trick! righted all wrongs. She somehow tied up, in those two little words, a whole world of empathy, outrage and solace. It was one part inflection, one part expression, and one part validation that life sometimes stinks. Righteous indignation loses serious steam when outed and aired and shouldered by two.
My first double-scoop that toppled in the parking lot? The post-playdate bedroom that looked like a Hurricane Ike outtake? The coveted Cloisters internship that I didn't get? Because after flying across the country, I traipsed in an hour late? (Note to self: Do not fly 3,000 miles for an interview, then rely on the MTA for the last 17.) Dir-ty TRICK! punctuated every last one.
I rarely say it out loud, any more, though I still often hear it's familiar refrain, along with its quiet message of moving on, and silvery linings for those who look. Two basement stints within the week? A little long, yes, and a lot unexpected, but both tornadoes kindly kept their distance. Besides, we found Trivial Pursuit under the stairs, and post-twister skies are especially fine.
A friend’s planned visit, cut short by a cold? Plus an ER visit? Plus an eye patch? (Blimey!) Dirty trick, definitely, for both parties involved. Though we did net a care package out of the ordeal.
(Which reminds me to post the following Public Service Announcement: If you've a five-year-old boy you're looking to amuse, I can't recommend any one ace-in-the-hole. I can, however, confirm for the record that gummy boogers and invisible ink might tie for first place.)
The cold that continues to run over us roughshod? A hassle, for sure, but standard September. Not to mention a much-needed excuse for lemon bars. I might've heard mid-batch that Vitamin C isn't heat stable but ***TRA LA LA LA LA*** couldn't quite make out the facts.
Fading light and blooms are kind of a bummer, but I'll take them as part and parcel of fall. I know in two months I'll be singing a different song, but right now I'm awfully keen on twilight's blue blur. And honestly, don't you spy charm in old petals, all curled in the toes and crisp at the tips?
I'll admit last week's weather had me muttering out loud. Ninety one and humid. On the first day of fall. But it meant one last batch of bare toes in the sand, and still more Sweet 100's for the table, and two more Swallowtails-to-be, spotted on our fennel, a neat sequel to the pair we released just last week. I can say this calmly, now. It is 68° and dreamy.
(I'll admit, also, the silver sometimes eludes me. Four days spent battling a paralyzed laptop connection? Thou shalt not use Shift+Number Keys. My oh-so-sweet customized paper doll, complete with articulated head and legs ... and forehead wrinkles and baggy eyes? Adios, elasticity may be the dirtiest of tricks. Though side-splitting hysterics did rather soften the blow.)
All of which is really just me beating around the bush, afraid you may call dirty trick on these beans. They look like plain string beans, of the overgrown sort, or as Rachel so aptly put it, “galumphing”. In fact, they're Romanos, one of those prolific peasant beans, which in modern America equals Farmer's Market fare. Or backyard abundance. In either case, in my experience anyway, not a supermarket staple, doggonit. A touch hard to find: strike one.
What's worse, in Seattle, I remember Romanos as a spring crop. Possibly, then, out of season: strike two. But here in Ohio, they're just coming on, and I'm hoping I've forgotten their Northwest fall encore, and whatever the case, I hope you'll remember that the last thing I want is to tease you terribly. My goal, instead, is to plant this seed in your mind: the next time you trip over big honkin' beans? Scoop up a few pounds and cook them forever.
Now, like most modern eaters, I helicopter-parent my beans, hovering to catch that brief crisp-tender moment. I advised it last month, and also last year, but these are no ordinary green beans. Romanos are sort of a thug of a bean, five or six inches long and thick as your pinky. They are also meant to be eaten whole, though the way from here to there can seem murky at best. Which is why I checked Judy Rodgers for guidance, and why I am now so very big on neglect.
Rodgers, of Zuni fame, is probably best known for her roast chicken, but I secretly believe these beans are her magnus opus. These beans are not crisp-tender. These beans, by the time they are through, are not even green. These beans, done right, go from firm and sprightly and shades of high summer to limp and drab and old faded fatigues. Oh, and also, ridiculously addictive.
These beans cook for hours—hours, people—in the best sort of company, garlic, chili, olive oil and salt. During this time, on the lowest of flames, the beans gradually give up their moisture (also, their backbone, color and pride). Their juices co-mingle with the basic, bold flavors, then—here's the magic bit—return from whence they came. Every atom of every bean ends up drunk on its own bad self, garlic-breathed and twinkling with chili. They flop and fold and droop and sag and are meaty and silky, somehow all at once.
Braised Romano Beans with Garlic, Chili and Lemon
adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers
yield: 4 side servings, or 1 greedy platter
According to Rodgers, mature Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder Beans “that are just beginning to bulge with seeds but are still tender” can be substituted. I imagine these are rampant right now, but haven't personally crossed paths with any. I would love to know if you give these a go.
My only modification to Rodgers' impeccable original was to add a serious drizzle of lemon at the end, which to my taste brings everything to life. As to the chili, I put two pinches in the pot, and scattered another at the end for a lovely warmth and the merest whiff of heat. Chili-lovers will want to up the ante.
Please note these beans require two hours’ cooking time (only minimally attended).
2 pounds romano beans
¼ cup olive oil
aleppo pepper or red chili flakes, a few pinches, plus more to taste
3 plump cloves of garlic, peeled and gently crushed
½ lemon, to finish
Top and tail beans, then pile into a large, heavy sauce pan (4-quart) or small Dutch oven (6-quart), with a lid. Drizzle oil over beans, add ½ teaspoon of salt and two pinches of chili, and toss with fingers to coat. Drop garlic cloves on top, cover pan, and place over the lowest heat your stove can manage. I used the smaller of my elements, to minimize the heat.
Give a few stirs during the first 45 minutes to prevent scorching, covering quickly after each stir, during which time beans will begin to release their juices and become more self-sufficient. Have a nibble for seasoning (not texture—they’re nowhere close), and adjust salt to taste. Continue to cook, covered, another 75 minutes or so, stirring another 2-3 times, very gently. When your beans have gone completely limp, and appear drab and gray-green and perfectly awful, mottled with splotches of brown here and there, they are perfection and will taste sublime. Total cooking time should be roughly 2 hours.
Pile onto a plate, taste for seasoning once more, adjust salt and chili to taste, and give several squeezes of lemon over all. Eat immediately.