Monday, 20 September 2010

Beans, beautiful beans

The kitchen garden is bursting at the borders down at Park Farm. The beds are positively chock full with the spoils of early autumn. As we prepared lunch today for attendees of the excellent Pig in a Day course, the gardeners turned up in the kitchen with arm fulls of elegant, leggy runner beans, in need of a suitable home.

Generally runners wouldn't be my first choice accompaniment to a meal, but by pairing them with sweet, slow cooked baby red onions, the subtle earthiness of the beans really comes into it's own. Even if I say so myself, this dish was a bit of a hit down at River Cottage HQ today... Watch out for it in Hugh's column, or perhaps even the next book!

Runner bean and red onion caponata

There are a few steps involved in this recipe, but the effort certainly pays off. We served this as a side dish alongside roast pork loin, but it's more than worthy of being a dish in it's own right. It would also work as an unctuous, autumnal topping for bruschetta. The trick is getting fresh beans, and young, sweet onions.

Serves six as a side dish, two to four as a main
twelve red onions, peeled and halved
lots of olive oil
three or four bushy twigs of rosemary
three or four whole cloves of garlic, skin on and bashed
a few dozen runner beans, podded (the green pods can be composted)
two more cloves of garlic, chopped
a handful fresh sage leaves, finely sliced
a handful fresh thyme leaves, picked and chopped
a teaspoon dijon mustard
a splash cider vinegar
salt and black pepper

Put the onions and garlic in a roasting dish, and coat with lots of olive oil - be generous, as the excess oil will be used to dress the finished dish. Add the rosemary and salt and pepper, then cover with foil, and roast in a medium oven for at least an hour. This will bring out all the natural sweetness.

Meanwhile, pod the beans, then blanche them in salted boiling water for a few minutes until tender. Drain and refresh under cold water. Heat some oil in a frying pan, add the chopped garlic, and cook for a minute or two. As the garlic begins to colour, add the beans and saute for a few more minutes, before lightly crushing a few beans with the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat.

Remove the onions from the oven, discard the rosemary stalks, and pour off and reserve the excess oil, which will now be richly flavoured. Whisk the mustard and cider vinegar into the oil to create a hot dressing. Add the beans to the onions, then add the dressing, then add the fresh sage and thyme. Add the dressing, and gently toss everything together. Check the seasoning. Cover and leave in a warm place for the flavours to meld for 30 - 45 minutes.

Serve with roast meat, or on it's own with bread and salad leaves.

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