Have you ever set off the smoke detectors in your house while cooking? I do it on occasion and it doesn't necessarily mean something bad is happening on the stove or in the oven.
I managed to set the alarms off while making this dish. Despite all the racket (including a howling dog and a toddler shouting what happening on top of the mechanical shrieking), it was worth it. And yes, I'd do it again.
Let me tell you why.
Drop some romano beans - a flat type of pole bean - into a red-hot cast iron pan and the outside of the humble green veg develops a blackish char that belies an alluring smokiness within.
The extremely hot pan offers up real vividness to the romano. This is a green bean that needs more cooking time than the regular, thinner sort to become tender. The dark char does much more than just cook the bean through. It pushes the romano to the very edge of its full potential, caramelizing the sugars and adding layers of dimension and flavor.
To me, this transformation is alchemy, pure magic. One of those simple wonders that can happen in the kitchen, even for a humble home cook. It makes me want to char every vegetable in sight.
Let me go back slightly, though. I'm a bit of an armchair traveler these days, mostly through cookbooks and such. This time, it was (yet again) Ottolenghi's Jerusalem. It's the kind of book I return to again and again not because of its beautiful images or enticing recipes, but because it is so rooted in all that is deeply personal, in memory and place. For me, that is the only location in which the most soulful and satisfying sort of cooking can exist.
This is an adaptation of one of the recipes. It utilizes okra. I didn't know where to get fresh okra up here near the Canadian border, so I used what I had, romano beans straight from the farm. Why not?
I also had a half-pint of the last of the season's cherry tomatoes which the farmer had included in our weekly box. I remembered the jar of preserved lemons I'd made in July that would be more than ready for this purpose.
Crunchy and smokey, tart and lemony bright, this is a perfect dish for transitioning toward the more fall- and winter-like dishes so soon to come. Make this before you start on those long braises and the heavier stews and casseroles, which do, I must concede, offer our hearts and bellies the sustenance we need during the colder months.
Up here in Western Washington, we've been hurtling toward the daily end-of-day darkness with alarming speed. And, this week's local forecast calls for thundershowers through to the weekend.
I might make this again tomorrow so I can savor a few more mouthfuls of sunshine while I can. Won't you?
Charred Romano Beans with Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic and Preserved Lemon
1 pound romano (or other type of tender green) beans
Half-pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2/3 oz. of preserved lemon, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 teaspoons chopped cilantro
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Trim off stem edge of beans then cut on the diagonal into 1 1/4-inch pieces. Divide into two batches.
Place a large, heavy-bottomed cast iron pan over high heat and leave for a few minutes. When the pan is very hot, throw one batch of the beans in and allow to cook for about 6 minutes, shaking occasionally. The beans should have dark blisters. Remove from pan and cook the remaining batch in the same way.
Return the charred romano beans to the pan and add the olive oil, garlic and preserved lemon. Stir fry for 2 more minutes on high. Reduce heat to medium-high and add tomatoes, 2 tablespoons water, chopped cilantro, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Stir ingredients together in the pan and allow to cook another 2 to 3 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to soften and give up some of their juices.
Drizzle with additional olive oil and adjust for salt before serving.