2009 in our garden was the year of the eggplant. We grew a dozen varieties, and always had several pounds of eggplant on hand from June until mid-November when a hard frost killed the plants. Six months later, we are still recovering from eggplant overload, and have dramatically reduced our collection of eggplants in the garden. Instead, we have become obsessed with snap beans.While eggplant provides several nutrients, most significantly important antioxidants, beans are even more impressive. Green beans are an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein, and beta-carotene. They also provide folate, omega-3 fatty acids, and niacin. Just one cup of beans includes 25% of the vitamin K needed per day, an important vitamin for maintaining strong bones. And beans contain beneficial amounts of vitamins A and C. This is not to knock eggplants, which are both beautiful and delicious, but beans are hard to beat from a nutritional standpoint.
Like eggplants, beans are a beautiful vegetable to include in the garden. They come in an amazing array of colors including green, purple, yellow and speckled. They are also as easy to grow as eggplants in our hot, humid climate. We are currently growing ten different types of snap beans including three of our favorites, Royal Burgundy, Burpee's Stringless, and Cosse Violette. We are also trying several beautiful heirloom varieties for the first time: Rattlesnake, Anellino di Trento, Rocquencourt and Merveille de Piemonte. Another bean new for us is Gina, an heirloom Italian flat-podded bean.
As the name suggests, this type of bean, also referred to as a Roma or Romano bean, has a wide, flat shape. Gina in particular is a vigorous producer of delicious, crisp beans that have a distinctly "beany" flavor and dense texture. Each bean matures at five to six inches long, making for a significant harvest weighing in at several pounds per week. The beans should be picked while they are still fairly smooth, firm and a dark green color. Waiting too long allows the seeds to develop, making for a bumpy-looking pale bean that is tough with a less appealing flavor.
The shape and taste of flat-podded beans combine extremely well with pasta, especially a flat noodle like the fettucine we use here. The beans are cooked with the pasta and potatoes. Somewhat miraculously, all three are done at the same time. Afterwards, everything is tossed in a pesto made with Italian dandelion greens from the garden. The resulting dish is deliciously rich, extremely hearty, and plates beautifully. Do try to find flat-podded beans for this recipe, but if they are unavailable, any green beans will work as long as they're fresh and firm.
Pasta with Italian Dandelion Green Pesto, Roma Green Beans and Potatoes
Italian Dandelion Green Pesto
Italian Dandelion Green Pesto
2 cups tightly packed, washed dandelion green leaves
12 large basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup parmesan, grated
1 Tbs creme fraiche
sea salt and black pepper
1/2 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, quartered and cut into 1/2" slices
1/2 lb green beans, preferably flat-pod, cut into 1" pieces
1 lb dry ribbon pasta such as fettucine
- Combine greens, basil, garlic and pine nuts in food processor. Slowly stream in olive oil while motor is running until well combined and smooth. Add cheese and creme fraiche. Season with salt and pepper.
- Boil large pot of water and add 5 or so tsp sea salt. Add potato slices and return to a boil.
- As soon as water is boiling again, add pasta and beans and cook until pasta is done.
- Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid and set aside.
- Combine the pesto with 2 Tbs cooking liquid and heat over medium low in a large saute pan. Add pasta mixture and toss until evenly coated. Add more cooking liquid as needed so pesto won't coat too thickly, and continue to toss until well-combined.
- Serve with more grated parmesan on top.