Harvest dinner: Fasolakia
Harvest season is in full swing, and the only thing better than having my own garden right now is knowing other gardeners who planted things I didn’t get around to planting this year. Because it seems like all of us overestimated something, and food-swapping is happening all over the place. Last week I offloaded a bunch of cherry tomatoes and a half-dozen lemon cucumbers on some friends at work, and picked up a nice zucchini someone had left in the break room.
I love green beans, but my garden isn’t laid out well for growing them. The border along the backyard fence which once made a nice spot for pole beans is now fully occupied by raspberries (poor me). So it was great to hear that my friends Debra and Gary had too many green beans. I swung by their place on the way to run errands this morning, and they weren’t home to thank, but they’d left a nice big bag of them on the porch for me.
And I have tomatoes, finally. Quite a few tomatoes, in fact, having got through an early scare with blossom-end rot by side-dressing the plants with lime and keeping to a regular watering schedule.
In my kitchen, the coincidence of fresh green beans and ripe tomatoes means one thing: Fasolakia.
This Greek dish is so easy – and so flavorful – that I can’t let a harvest season go by without making big pots of it. I always mean it as a side dish; I always eat the first big bowl all by itself.
Here’s my recipe, such as it is. It’s endlessly adaptable and forgiving, and you can adjust it to your tastes – or your harvest. Diced potatoes are traditional, some people like to add summer squash, and I change up the herbs depending on what’s thriving in my garden at the time. Heck, you can make it in the middle of winter with frozen green beans and canned tomatoes if you like. But try it with fresh, while the season is high. Trust me on this.
- Olive oil
- One medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 pound of fresh green beans (or more, or less), stringed if they need it, cut into bite-sized lengths
- Minced garlic (you know how much you like. I use at least 3-4 big cloves)
- 1 pound of ripe tomatoes, cut in chunks. If you want it to look prettier, I suppose you could peel them (dip the fruit briefly in boiling water and the skins will come right off), but the skins add a lot of flavor and good nutrients.
- A big handful of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- A generous amount of oregano and thyme. Dried is OK. Fresh – at least a tablespoon of each, minced – is better. If you prefer other herbs – basil, for instance – go for it.
- Generous grinding of black pepper
Pour some olive oil into a large, heavy-bottomed skillet – enough to coat the bottom; more if you like (the traditional Greek recipe often calls for up to a cup of oil!). Heat to medium and toss in the onions, cooking until they begin to soften.
Add the green beans and garlic; stir to coat with oil and cook for 10 minutes to give them a head start.
Add remaining ingredients, bring it all to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer away, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes total cooking time, check beans for tenderness; continue cooking until they’re quite soft but not mushy. (Note that the traditional Greek dish, which uses much more olive oil and often substitutes canned tomatoes or tomato puree for fresh, turns out quite soupy; this doesn’t, but the flavors are startlingly good).
Serve hot or lukewarm – or even chilled (that’s how I usually eat the leftovers). Great with grilled lamb, pork or sausages or all by itself. Got vegans to feed? Feed them this!
How many does it serve? That depends on whether you’re serving it as a side dish or main course, but this amount could satisfy 3-4 people – or 2 really hungry ones – eaten all by itself.