When Tim makes Italian-style green beans, he thinks of his grandma Emily, a beautiful Italian woman with short white hair and smiling blue eyes, who still explains recipes with a flick of her wrist and an “Oh, it’s so simple!” When I make Italian-style green beans, I think of Tim, the man who brought them, along with avocados and perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and raw milk bought straight from the farmer, into my life three years ago.

Italian-style Green Beans | FoodLovesWriting.com

Although we met in person one long January afternoon in 2010 and began visiting each other’s towns every month shortly thereafter, Tim and I grew to know each other over a full year of long-distance conversation, the kind that happens on the phone and over email, alongside Twitter updates and photos posted to Instagram. We’d already been talking a few months when he posted a picture of this particular dinner on social media one night, a plate piled so high with green beans and sauce, you’d think it was the side dish at a dinner party for four, rather than the happy, hearty dinner of one 20-something-year-old man.

Green Beans | FoodLovesWriting.com

“Yeah, I like green beans, too,” I remember telling him on the phone, categorizing vegetables into levels of like and dislike, cabbage being on the low end and green beans being high. “I think they’re probably the vegetable I like best.”

That statement came from a perspective not unlike most people’s in America, I think—or, at least, not too different from the people I knew or watched on TV. I’d grown up in a family that ate green beans, boiled, the way we ate carrots or peas, alongside mashed potatoes and chicken dinners. Sometimes my mom toasted slivered almonds to place on top, and there was a green bean casserole at every Thanksgiving meal. Years later, as an adult, in my early-blogging days, I’d been adventurous enough to roast green beans in high heat and cover them with lemon juice, marveling at the blistered, crunchy results.

But here is the way Tim likes green beans best, the way he grew up eating them in a childhood five hours east of mine: Italian-style, soft and wilty, submerged in chopped tomatoes and infused with garlicky oil, the way his mom made them, the way her mom made them before her.

Green Beans | FoodLovesWriting.com

Tim first made Italian green beans like this for me after I moved to Nashville, in those beginning months where we lived 20 minutes, instead of eight hours, away from each other, and could make dinner together every night. While most nights we worked side-by-side, Tim chopping vegetables while I worked over the stove, the night we had green beans, he did all the work. I remember a large, deep skillet on his stove and the smell of cooking garlic floating strong from the kitchen to the living room. I remember waiting a while. Mostly, I remember eating a full plate of them myself, alongside toast if I remember correctly, thinking this man sitting next to me was full of information and surprises and that he was someone from whom I wanted to learn.

To people who knew me before I knew Tim, the way my life has gone the last three years has sometimes seemed like a whirlwind of new things, and, in fact, some loving friends even wondered, at least in the beginning, if this new man in my life might be changing things too much. It’s a hard thing to explain, to people who aren’t changing with you when you switch something obvious, be it career or location or school or clothing choices, that in some ways we are all, always, changing, and so even though a certain change seems Big, it’s necessary. In life, there are big steps like moving to Nashville, which I took exactly two years ago today, and then there are small steps, like starting a newsletter or choosing a new flour or writing in an everyday journal—but all of these steps are always changing us, always moving us one way or another. We are rarely static.

Italian-style green beans | FoodLovesWriting.com

And today, from the two-years-later, different perspective of having lived in Tennessee two winters and two summers, from a lifestyle that means working at our dining room table and eating meals like these green beans for dinner, from more than a year of marriage to a man who is not only my best friend but also, literally, the smartest man I know, all I feel is thankful.

While we were in Ohio this past weekend, spending time with the people who have known Tim longest and best, I kept thinking how blessed I am to have this person who researches olive oil for fun and experiments with einkorn doughnut recipes on a Friday morning and reminds me to find pleasure in the smallest, silliest daily routines. These last two years in Nashville, while filled with ups and downs, have been two of my best.

Italian-Style Green Beans
Makes enough for two for dinner; or four as a side dish

Tim’s grandma would give you this recipe by saying something like, “Sauté a little garlic in oil with tomatoes and green beans.” And really, while the directions below are more specific, with the measurements and details we jotted down as we cooked, her basic instructions aren’t bad. The thing to remember with recipes like this one is that they’re less about precision and more about a general idea, which, for the record, is exactly what makes recipes like this one easy to like.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) chopped boxed or canned tomatoes or tomato sauce (we like Pomi, which is very liquidy, even though it’s pure tomatoes; you want something that can get saucy with the green beans and cover everything)
24 ounces (1 1/2 pounds) frozen green beans
LOTS of salt, but to taste
Pepper, to taste

Directions:
Set a large, deep sauté pan or pot on the stove, and use it to warm the olive oil and garlic over medium-low heat, cooking until the garlic starts to brown. Add the tomatoes and cook down for five minutes or so, just enough time to let the tomatoes get infused with the garlic oil flavor. Add green beans and stir to coat them with the tomato mixture. Simmer this mixture for 20 to 35 minutes, covered, until the beans are soft and wilty. Then, add salt—a couple hefty dashes—and taste; add more salt and taste; add more salt and taste; until it’s the flavoring you like. While you will need a large amount of salt, and while salt is hard to overdo in tomato-based dishes, still be careful: it’s much easier to add more salt than to wish you hadn’t. Pepper to taste as well. Enjoy!

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 40 Comments

  1. Jacqui

    My experience with green beans growing up was eating them in Filipino dishes. I was a green bean hog — I’d pile them on my plate shamelessly and wouldn’t leave much for anyone else. These green beans sound awesome. I think I’ll make them for dinner tonight. :)

  2. elly

    These are so similar to Greek green beans, though we usually add a fair amount of parsley. Normally I’m not one for softer vegetables, but I could eat green beans like this any day of the week.

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  4. Adrianna

    ‘When I make Italian-style green beans, I think of Tim, the man who brought them, along with avocados and perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and raw milk bought straight from the farmer, into my life three years ago.’ – I love how close people, whether life-partners or friends, always bring us close to some foods and flavors we wouldn’t have tried or wouldn’t have loved so much hadn’t we met them. And yes, I wouldn’t forget the person who brought avocados into my life, either!

  5. Kim

    I didn’t like green beans until I moved to France where they cook them completely differently than we do, leaving a large amount of crunch in them. I realized they were wonderful, smothering in scallions and butter.

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  7. Kim

    I couldn’t pin the pictures from the recipe (my new “to do” list method, sadly), but I am going to leave this tab open in my browser until I make this. Hopefully this week.

    Is there a reason to use frozen instead of fresh green beans?

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Kim, First off, thanks for telling me about the pictures situation. Looks like it’s some kind of Flickr bug because it’s happening all over the Internets. Hopefully will be fixed soon! Second – you could definitely use fresh instead, but we’re big fans of the large, cheap frozen bag of green beans from Trader Joe’s, and that’s what we’ve always used. : )

  8. Heather@Mommypotamus

    Ahhhh, I am so excited to try this recipe! Our local farmers market is year-round, but right now they have little more than turnips so we’re buying more produce from the store. Now that we’ve had a season or two of enjoying fresh-picked goodness I’m finding it a bit more difficult to find things in the fresh section that are appealing. Lately I’ve been wandering into the frozen section for green beans and bringing them home to serve up with a little butter. So far the littles are not impressed, but I know they will love these. They love anything with tomatoes :-D Thank you!

  9. Heather@Mommypotamus

    I meant to make these last night but ended up rushing out the door with hamburger patties, pickles and carrots sticks to eat for “dinner” on my way to meet friends. I’d so been looking forward to this recipe that I made it to go with our breakfast this morning . . . everyone cleaned their plates! Yum!

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  14. Joyce

    I learned of flat cut green beans with tomato sauce from a Lebanese co-worker. I thought it sounded really weird….until I tried it. In an attempt to re-create her dish, I found your recipe, and am making it for dinner tonite. Actually, I’ve already made it, and will just heat up when time to serve…so I can comment.

    These are delicious! Thank you so much for telling your story, and sharing this recipe.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oh, I’m so glad, Joyce! I hope you enjoy them! We actually just made green beans today, using a different method, telling ourselves we always make them the Italian way, and while this other method is good, I have to admit this slow cooked version is still my fav. : )

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  16. matt

    I enjoyed this a lot. i subbed bacon fat for olive oil and fresh for frozen and then tossed in some basil and oregano. In any case, it was a delicious change for us. Thanks for the inspiration!

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