Weeknight dinners at our house much of the time revolve around pasta and vegetables. They quick and easy, and the combinations are almost endless. For some reason, however, the combination of pasta and green beans is not a particularly common one in Italian cooking, with the notable exception of trennette al pesto, which often includes green beans and potatoes. Perhaps it has something to do with the elongated shape of green beans, which can make them a bit awkward to pair with most pasta shapes
Nevertheless, green beans and pasta can actually get along famously. There is a type of pasta (see photo left) variously called caserecce, gemelli or strozzapreti, which have something of a similar shape to green beans, so they pair nicely. And green beans get along famously with tomatoes, as in the classic fagiolini in umido, so it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to put the three elements—pasta, green beans and tomatoes—together for a tasty treat.
Make a tomato sauce beginning with a soffritto of chopped onion sweated in olive oil along with a bit of garlic. When the onion is translucent and soft, add some crushed canned tomatoes (or chopped fresh tomatoes in season) along with a good handful of fresh mint leaves (or basil) and, if you like, some red pepper flakes—not too many, just enough to add a hint of spiciness. Allow the tomatoes to simmer until reduced to a saucy consistency, about 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, parboil your green beans, trimmed and cut into sections about the same length as the pasta, in salted water until cooked just crisp-tender, and add to the tomato sauce to simmer and insaporire until the beans are quite tender. In the same water in which the beans cooked, cook your pasta al dente and add to the green bean and tomato sauce. Mix well, let it simmer for a minute or two for the flavors to meld and the pasta to absorb a bit of the sauce, then serve. If you like, fold in some pecorino cheese that you will have grated with the large holes of a four-sided grater, so they emerge as long strips, about the same length as the pasta and green beans.
NOTES: Caserecce are really the perfect pasta shape to go with green beans, and are fairly easy to find, but you can use other ‘semi-long’ pasta shapes such as trofie, sedani or stringozzi. Also note that, confusingly, the term strozzapreti is used to describe a number of different types of pasta, so check the shape before you buy.
If you are pressed for time, you can also cook your green beans together with the pasta rather than separately, then add both to the tomato sauce. The result will be slightly less ‘beany’ (since the green beans will not have time to lend their flavor to both the cooking water and the sauce) but still quite good.
Measurements for such a homely dish don’t matter too much, but the general rule of thumb: a 1:1 ratio by weight between dry pasta and the condimento (ie, the green beans) applies very well to this dish. As for the tomato sauce, it is pretty much up to you. I don’t use too much tomato—perhaps half a small can for 200g (1/2 lb.) of pasta, so as not to overwhelm the taste of the green beans.