Carmen, my second mom who lives in a town west of Barcelona, has a few rules about cooking. #1: Spanish ingredients are best; Catalán ingredients are even better. #2: There is no such thing as too much olive oil -- so long as it's Spanish (see #1). #3: Cook with love (always). As someone on the receiving end of her simple, homey cooking, I can fully attest to the effectiveness of these rules. Here is a version of her recipe for green beans and tomatoes, one of the dishes I always hope she'll have on the table when I'm there for lunch. One of the secrets to this dish is generous amounts of olive oil, so when you think there is a "reasonable" amount, add a little more. The other secret, which is counter-intuitive to me, is to cook the beans very well. You don't want bright green, al dente beans; they should be dulled in color and fork-tender, and if they wander into the soft category, even better. In Spain, I find ground laurel easily in the markets. It's very finely ground bay leaf, and contrary to all the rules about not buying ground herbs, this stuff adds an amazing flavor to this dish. In California, I've found it in Mexican and Latin American markets in the spice section where it's called "laurel molido," but if you can't find it, a big bay leaf will do. In either case, what you'll get is a flavorful sauce that you'll want to sop up every bit of. As they say in Catalonia, Bon Profit! —vvvanessa
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe fed one of my favorite guilty pleasures: fully cooked vegetables. No toothsome green beans here, they were perfectly al dente after their half hour tomato bath. I did add a couple splashes of water as it simmered since the bread seemed to invite the sauce to stick to the bottom of the pan.The bread played a wonderful part in the recipe though -- it married the flavors of the garlic, tomatoes and olive oil to perfectly complement the green beans. The beans performed as the main attraction with a meal of wine-and-garlic sautéed chicken and white rice. Olé! —Avalon Fiesta
Olive oil, preferably Spanish
1/2-inch slices day-old baguette (Carmen would say sweet, but I won't tell her if you use sour.)
shredded or finely chopped day-old baguette
green beans such as Blue Lake or Romano, trimmed
medium clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
ground laurel or 1 large bay leaf
(or 1 28-ounce can) diced tomatoes with juice and seeds
In a large skillet, pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan (probably about 2-3 tablespoons). Brown the slices of baguette well on both sides over medium heat, taking care not to let oil burn. Remove the bread to a plate and set aside.
Add in another glug of olive oil and sauté the breadcrumbs until golden (they can go from golden to overdone quite quickly). Remove them to a dish and set aside.
Add in a little more olive oil. Add in the beans and garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the garlic begins to toast a bit, taking care not to let it burn. Remove the green beans to a plate.
Carefully pour the tomatoes into the pan, stirring in the laurel or bay leaf. Nestle the slices of toasted bread in the tomatoes. Bring the mix to a boil, then immediately to a simmer. Cook the bread for 5-8 minutes, flipping it over a few times, until it is completely saturated and begins to fall apart. Break up the bread with a wooden spoon until there are no more discernible pieces left. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add the green beans back in. Cover the pan and let the beans simmer until quite tender, verging on soft, about 20-30 minutes. Check the beans occasionally to make sure they aren't sticking to the pan, and add a little water in as necessary if the tomatoes are drying up.
If there is a bay leaf, remove and discard it.
Serve the beans wtih and drizzle of olive oil and the toasted breadcrumbs on top.