Eat your greens: Fagiolini sfiziosi
Classic Tuscan dishes are rather meaty, hearty, starchy dishes, with few vegetables playing the heroes. Yes, tomatoes make a big appearance, especially in the summer when bright, fresh tomatoes are used in the wonderful bread salad, panzanella, and bruschetta. Spinach or its other green leafy relatives, silverbeet and kale, are found in bread soups or mixed with ricotta in pasta fillings. But do you see what I mean by starchy?
When you want a contorno, a side dish, to go with your huge hunk of rare bistecca fiorentina, the usual suspects are either roast potatoes, sautéed spinach or cannellini beans – simple and perfect accompaniments with perhaps only the addition of some garlic or rosemary.
What I do love, though, are the seasonal dishes that only make an appearance for short times of the year – raw artichokes, sliced and dressed in lemon and olive oil with some shaved Parmesan or pecorino cheese as an antipasto, Caesar mushrooms, prepared the same way or tossed through a pasta at the last moment. But these are fleeting moments that you have to wait many months of the year before you can eat them again.
So when I visited Puglia, Italy’s heel, for the first time, I was amazed and thrilled at the sight of their vegetables – this is Italy’s vegetable patch. Literally. Fields and fields of olive trees interspersed with fields of tomato or melon or eggplants. The markets were full of local, plentiful, sun-ripened and dirt cheap fruit and vegetables, some that I had never even seen before. The menus, and especially the traditional ones, were filled with delectable dishes that showcased the classic and staple ingredients of this southern region: beans, especially broad or fava beans, chickpeas, broccoli, wild greens, eggplants, peppers, artichokes and olives. The lack of meat, of course, is a sign that this region has always struggled with poverty. But vegetarians visiting Italy, take note – this is the place for you.
Now that we’re coming into spring over here in Australia, I’ve been craving something fresh, crisp and green. This traditional Pugliese dish of green beans is the perfect thing. Fagiolini sfiziosi, or fagiulini spilusieddi in dialect, meaning ‘appetising beans’ is a wonderfully simple dish with bursting, fresh flavours – lemon, mint, parsley and golden breadcrumbs tossed through ‘al dente’ green beans.
Fagiolini sfiziosi or Fagiulini spilusieddi
Serves 4 as a side dish.
- 400 gr green beans (French, string or round beans)
- 4 spring onions
- A handful of parsley leaves, chopped
- A handful of mint leaves, chopped or torn
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 20 gr of breadcrumbs
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Top and tail the beans and blanch or lightly boil them so that they are still bright green and ‘al dente’ or with a slight, crispy bite to them. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, gently sauté the chopped spring onions in a few generous glugs of olive oil. Add the breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper, sauté until the crumbs are golden. Add the beans to the pan and toss with the herbs and lemon juice and serve.