Fagiolini all’agro (Green Beans with Lemon and Oil)

Frankcontorno9 Comments

Fagiolini all'agro

This dish of green beans dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil, to my mind, typifies the simple elegance of Italian cuisine. Fagiolini all’agro, also known as fagiolini all’insalata, is austere in its simplicity but yet, when made with the freshest and best quality ingredients, is truly delectable.

Trim both ends of your green beans, and then cook them in abundant, rapidly boiling and lightly salted water. When they are just done, drain them and plunge them into cold water until they are perfectly cool. Then drain them in a colander and let them sit until dry. Arrange them on a serving platter, sprinkle them with lemon juice and salt, and pour a generous amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with a bit more salt on top and serve.


As with so many Italian dishes, the quality of the ingredients is crucial to the success of the dish. Use the freshest, youngest green beans that you can find, preferably of the slender variety sometimes called ‘French beans’. The olive oil should be fruity and of the best quality you can afford. The lemons should also be fresh—the juice of older lemons can become unpleasantly acid—and preferably organic. And, in a dish as spare as this one, even the quality of the salt will make a difference. Tonight, I used some wonderful fiore di sale, sea salt from the province of Trapani in Sicily—a kind gift of friends who were staying for the weekend. (The island of Pantelleria off the coast of the province of Trapani is well known for its wonderful capers. Trapani is also home to the famous Marsala wine. )

Equally important is the attention given to preparation. The green beans should be cooked until just tender—not really crisp-tender, mind you, as in much Asian cooking or in nouvelle cuisine, but not soft, either. The bean should still offer some resistance to the bite, but should have lost any rawness in either flavor or texture. Once it is at this perfect point, they must be drained and immersed in cold water as quickly as possible to preserve its texture and color. The beans should be allowed to dry completely and dressed according to the usual Italian rules for salads—with just a few drops of lemon, enough to enliven the beans but to be just barely noticeable, with just the ‘right’ amount of salt, enough to provide savoriness without being cloying, and abundant olive oil.

Some recipes are a bit more elaborate, calling for some chopped parsley or basil. Mint would also go very nicely. And there is also what is basically a different dish going by the same name of fagiolini all’agro, green beans sautéd in butter, lemon juice, parsley and—of all things—paprika.

This dish is typically a contorno, or side dish. It can accompany all sorts of meats but is perhaps at its best with roasted or grilled lamb. Eaten with some crusty bread, it can also serve, either on its own or with other blanched vegetables, as a light lunch or supper.

9 Comments on “Fagiolini all’agro (Green Beans with Lemon and Oil)”

  1. Cynthia,

    Yes, indeed, the oil to use is definitely extra virgin olive, oil, the best you can find and afford. I suppose that I should specify, but in Italy olive oil or even just oil, always means EVOO unless otherwise indicated. So my lack of specificity is just force of habit, I guess.

  2. I tried your Fagiolini all'agro recipe and it is fantastic. Thank you for sharing it. Although my family gave me rave reviews, I told them it was all due to you and your fantastic recipe and blog. I did use fresh lemons because only fresh lemons have the live enzymes that are so healthy for us.

    One other thing. I noticed you use olive oil instead of extra virgin olive oil. Does it matter which one you use? I came across this quote by Nicholas Perricone at http://www.buy-extra-virgin-olive-oil.com

    “Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory foods in existence. Though I cannot promise you an equally long life span [as the olive tree's life span], I can assure you that you will look younger, think more clearly, be more active and, yes, extend your life if you incorporate extra virgin olive oil into your diet on a daily basis.”

    Do you happen to know if extra virgin olive oil is any healthier than just regular olive oil? Any recommendations of one over the other? Is buying extra virgin olive oil worth the extra money?

    Magic pixie dust to you,
    Cynthia Busher
    Camariloo, CA

We'd love to hear your questions and thoughts! And if you tried the recipe, we'd love to hear how it went!

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