By Danielle Crittenden Frum
I’ve never known small children to refuse a bowl of pasta. Most will ask for it with cheese and butter or a simple tomato sauce. Years ago when my own children were young, we’d take them to a charming country restaurant near our summer cottage. The chef, Michael Potters, was an early adoptor of the farm-to-table movement, and kept a vegetable garden outside his kitchen. (Oddly, and despite being surrounded by fields of produce, most restaurants back then relied on imported ingredients — with our local fresh vegetables harvested en masse and destined for supermarket freezers.)
A dish Potters produced one evening, in reaction to the frowns on my children’s faces as I read from the short adult menu, was this simple pasta with green beans. It seemed a strange combination, but Potters promised they would love it. The bowls arrived and were greeted skeptically. Within one bite, they were asking for seconds. My husband and I tasted it — and from then on, we ordered it regularly for ourselves. At the end of the summer, I asked Potters for the recipe — and he kindly obliged. His restaurant is now gone, but this easy pasta dish continues to be a family summer favorite.
The recipe’s magic derives from the freshness of just-picked beans: velvety-skinned, soft, and deeply flavorful. They are not like the toughened, husky kind found in store crates. Beans — especially the bush bean variety — are surprisingly easy to grow, and will produce an abundance of tender green threads throughout the summer. Beans bought at the farmer’s market will work here as well. If none are available, buy flash-frozen French green beans (the skinny kind also known as haricots verts). Most types of long pasta (spaghetti, linguine) can be used but I’ve found a high-quality tagliatelle — which is wide and thin — is a nice complement to the texture and size of the beans, and absorbs the very basic sauce composed of tangy Pecorino Romano cheese and sweet butter.
1 pound green beans, trimmed
13 oz high-quality tagliatelle
11/2 cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus more on the side
1/4 cup unsalted butter
Bring a large pasta pot, fitted with a deep strainer, of salted water to boil. Add the green beans and cook until soft tender, 3-6 minutes depending upon the freshness and thickness of the beans. (You do NOT want them crisp: they should be pliable like the pasta, without being too soft or mushy.)
Lift them from the water in the strainer, rinse with cold water, and set them aside. Add the pasta to the water and cook according to the package, usually about 8 minutes. You want the pasta to be slightly undercooked, a little less than al-dente, as it will cook more when you toss it in the sauce.
Drain pasta, reserving 2 cups of the pasta water. Add the butter to the now empty pot and melt over medium heat. Add the pasta and the beans, tossing to coat, and raise the heat to medium high. Pour in some reserved water, while continuing to stir and toss. When the water boils, add in some more, until the butter sauce is light and silky. You may need less than the 2 cups reserved. Don’t let the pasta stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat and stir in the grated cheese. Season with salt and chili flakes to taste. If you are serving very young palates you can omit the chili flakes, or put them on the side for adults.
Pour into a large bowl and serve immediately, with extra grated cheese on the side.
Photo by the author.