While Sundays dinners at Angelina’s house were once-a-week, belly-busting, meaty affairs, she practically lived on vegetables during the week. This was long before vegetarianism or veganism went mainstream and she would not have thought of herself as a ‘weekday vegetarian’ or anything of that sort. It was just the way that she grew up eating in a family of modest means living in small southern Italian village. But frugality had its benefits, and surely diet was one reason Angelina lived to be 98 years old.
In any event, when I was growing up one of my favorite vegetable dishes in Angelina’s repertoire were these Green Beans in Tomato Sauce. It’s a classic side dish—one of the most ubiquitous in the Italian repertoire—that can accompany just about any main dish but is especially wonderful with grilled or roasted meats. But I think it’s tasty enough to serve as a light vegan main course.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
- 500g (1 lb) green beans, trimmed
- 500g (1 lb) best-quality canned tomatoes
- 1 small onion, finely chopped, and/or 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Olive Oil
- A few fresh basil leaves (optional)
You start, as so often, with a soffritto of onion and/or garlic sautéed in olive oil. Then you add best quality canned tomatoes, crushed in your hands, and allow them to simmer.
Meanwhile, blanch your trimmed green beans in abundant, well-salted water until crisp-tender, drain and add them to the tomato sauce along with some of their cooking water and allow them to simmer in the sauce until quite tender.
Green beans in tomato sauce can be served right away, but they are also nice at room temperature or made ahead and reheated.
This recipe is quite forgiving, and even green beans of indifferent quality will turn out nicely. In fact, if anything, I find that regular ‘garden variety’ green beans turn out better cooked this way than the fancier—and more expensive—French green beans. (French green beans, on the other hand, are preferable when making fagiolini all’agro, where their tenderness and delicate flavor can really shine.) If you can find them, the extra long string beans sometimes sold in Asian markets in the US, known in Italy as serpenti, are especially nice.
It is important to cook the green beans to the right degree of doneness. They should fully cooked, not crisp-tender, with no trace of that green bean raw taste, but not overcooked and soggy either. It is impossible to give a standard cooking time, since it varies wildly according to the freshness and thickness of the beans, anywhere between 10 minutes for very tender young green beans to 30 minutes or more for more mature ones.
Angelina would vary her Green Beans in Tomato Sauce from time to time by adding other vegetables to simmer along with the green beans, typically sliced carrots, cubed potatoes or boiled (or fresh) cranberry beans. In the summer, adding a few leaves of basil give the dish a nice fresh taste. Another variable is the ‘sauciness’ of the dish. Angelina’s version of this dish was actually quite brothy, with lots of rather thin tomato sauce to sop up with bread. In modern-day Italy, however, where this dish is a standard contorno, it is customary to reduce the sauce down until the dish is almost dry. And while Angelina’s version was obviously Neapolitan, in Tuscany they also make fagiolini in umido, but with a soffritto of onion, carrot and celery rather than onion and garlic.
Some recipes call for adding the raw green beans directly into the simmering tomato sauce, rather than putting them through an initial blanching. I’ve tried it both ways and, for reasons I cannot really explain, the blanching really does result in finer flavor and texture.
Green Beans in Tomato Sauce is typically a side dish or contorno, but like Angelina I sometimes eat just this, with some crusty bread, as a light supper.
- 500g (1 lb) green beans, trimmed
- 500g (1 lb) tomatoes, fresh or canned
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Olive Oil
- You start, as so often, with a soffritto of onion and/or garlic sautéed in olive oil. Then you add best quality canned tomatoes, crushed in your hands, and allow them to simmer.
- Meanwhile, blanch your trimmed green beans in abundant, well-salted water until crisp-tender, drain and add them to the tomato sauce along with some of their cooking water and allow them to simmer in the sauce until quite tender.
Can I add dittalini to this recipe?
You certainly could, but I’d recommend a large shape that approximates the size and shape of the green beans. Otherwise, you could cut the green beans into short lengths about the size of the ditalini. That would work very nicely, I think. Do try it and let us know!
Just the way my mother made it, including crushing the tomatoes by hand. Now I have to make this as a contorno for my wife’s birthday tomorrow.
Enjoy! And thanks for your comment, Michael.
Just made this as I’ve been dreaming of green beans with a tomato sauce but couldn’t quite figure out how to make it just right – and I’m so impressed how so few and simple ingredients can induce so much flavor!! I just loved it!
And the idea of starting a dish with the soffrito-thingy! We don’t do anything like that in the Danish kitchen but it is such a great starting point!
Looking forward to trying more of your recipes – especially the pasta e patate!
Thanks from Denmark!
So glad you enjoyed it, Christina. Thanks so much for letting me know. And enjoy the pasta e patate… !
Gosh these are delicious!
Thanks, Susie! They’re always a winner in our house.
Can I make a large pot of this and can it?
I see no reason you shouldn’t be able to. I’ve never tried it, though, so can’t provide any tips, I’m afraid…
I make these at least once each summer. Make more like a soup and often add pork ribs. Orlando family favorite!
Sounds delicious, Kathy!
Wonderful! Variations of this dish are made in other Mediterranean countries; I’m thinking of Greece and Lebanon, and if I recall some Balkan countries.
Makes sense, since the ingredients are there and the combination is a keeper.
My husband loves this dish. His family is from Tuscany but use the onion/garlic combination. I cheat and use frozen beans straight from the packet, as they are already blanched. Delicious. We are having this for supper tonight.
Enjoy, Susie! I’m sure frozen beans work just fine in this kind of dish. May copy your “cheat” next time I make this… 😉
My mother came to Florida last year & she made this for my Cuban in-laws. My mother-in-law calls veggies “grass” & seldom eats them. She loved these however & I am making them for the Northeast Italian-American Thanksgiving we’re invited to in Portland. The great irony: I was hoping to do a totally WASPy/American standard Thanksgiving this year without either Latin or Italian influence. Our host however is also from the Northeast & is 1/2 Italian-American.
So, it’s manicotti, a confit of turkey, your wonderful cauliflower au gratin & a walnut cake popularized by a restaurant in Philadelphia, where I am from.
Sounds like a real feast. Enjoy!
i remember that my mother used to make these a lot when I was growing up (in Sorrento)
Thanks, all, once again for the great comments. Happy eating!
Can I please come for Sunday dinner? Your dishes always seem like love and warmth bubbles over.
P.S….If you scroll down my sidebar, you can read about my Italian roots in Italy. Salute', Roz
MMMMMM . . . sounds fabuloso! I have a gift for you on my blog, but I see that someone else beat me to the punch. Please accept it anyway and when a different award comes around, I'll think of you again. Ciao and mangia! Amore, Roz (aka bella)
Lovely simple food at its best. Tomatoey beans and fresh bread. Perfect!
Humid beans, good idea! I shall do that with some of the gallons of salsa we made this year and fagiolini in brine.
This one takes me back to my mother's table. I haven't thought of it in years.
What a wonderful dish and blog…I'm glad I discovered it. I'm currently living in Campania…in Gricignano di Aversa.