Sautéed Green Beans with Garlic and Pancetta

I love sautéing vegetables. Too often we fall back on old habits just because they’re familiar: cut open frozen bag of vegetables, pour into microwave-proof dish, read label and heat accordingly. Drain off excess water, ignore freezer and microwave burn, then consume as quickly as possible. No wonder kids (or adults, for that matter) won’t eat their vegetables!

The shame is that vegetables can easily play a starring role at dinner with just a little extra effort. Simply sautéing vegetables rather than steaming or boiling enhances their flavors so much you might not even recognize them. Boiling and steaming allows much of the nutrients to wash out of your veg. After ten minutes of steaming broccoli, it’s basically tasteless fiber with much of the original vitamins and minerals swirling around in the water beneath it. You’d do better to drink the water.

Mmmm, vegetable water. Just what everyone craves.

Cooking vegetables without water allows their flavors to intensify because the heat causes some of their water content to evaporate — water that would normally dilute their flavors when raw.

This recipe is not original, but really, what recipe is? I’m sure I’ve had it before in restaurants in France or Italy, but sadly, I can’t remember exactly. I might have read it in a book by the culinary British genius, Elizabeth David or America’s own Julia Child, but again, I’m not entirely certain.

In any case, this is my favorite way to cook green beans, and I hope you’ll agree once you try it yourself.

Ingredients

1 lb (500 g) raw green beens, stems removed
4 oz (115 g) pancetta
4 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
1/4 c red or white wine
salt
pepper

I say red or white wine because I’ve used both, depending on what I have available/open, and I like it both ways. You might balk at the idea of using red in a vegetable dish, but really, it’s delicious.

Toss your pancetta into a large frying pan over a high heat. Stir to evenly distribute, then lower the heat slightly to medium high. Cook the pancetta until crisp and golden, then add the green beans and stir to coat with the pancetta fat. Lightly salt (1/8 teaspoon or so) and stir every couple minutes until the beans begin to color a lovely golden brown.

I like my green beans on the soft side, which is where the wine comes in. If you enjoy your beans al dente, skip the wine bit.

Scatter the sliced garlic over the top of the now lightly-browned beans and pour in the wine. I’ve estimated 1/4 c, but slightly less might be better. Ground in some black pepper and cover, allowing the beans to soften a little in the wine. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir occasionally to prevent further browning.

The softer you want the beans, the longer you should leave them covered, but 5-10 minutes is really all it takes. If after 10 minutes the wine hasn’t fully evaporated, take the lid off and stir frequently until it has.

Keep in mind that garlic burns very easily, which is why I’ve added it after browning the beans. However it can still burn if the wine evaporates while you’re not watching, so be forewarned (I speak from experience).

Voilà, Your beans are done! Season with a bit more salt and pepper if you like, and enjoy your hearty dish of flavorful green beans, perfect for a cozy autumn evening.

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