Beans ’n’ Greens

It was an eastern seaboard summer holiday. We headed east first to New York City, where we walked through the hilltop Cloisters, sat near the stage at the Irish Repertory Theatre and dined on duck at Union Square. We crossed the George Washington Bridge and drove north, stopping near the shore to walk along rocky beaches and to wade in soft surf. We crept through quaint towns in snail-paced traffic and finally cracked lobsters on paper-topped tables. Dipping back from L.L. Bean country, we motored along the Finger Lakes bordered by gardens of blackberries and sugar peas alongside trellised vineyards. After the luxury of city tables and north Atlantic shellfish, I found my most memorable taste at a clapboard roadhouse just outside Geneva on the upper tip of Lake Seneca.

It was our last chance to gather road food before we hit the Interstate; I clamored against highway fast food. It was a lucky stop. The old-time Italian place smelled so inviting I wished it was time for lunch. A menu board listed the usual calzones and sandwiches; then I saw my dish: beans ’n’ greens. I ordered and breathed in the garlic aroma as I watched escarole bits dance in an oiled skillet. Sprinkled with Parmesan and tipped into a foil container, the dish tempted me for two hours in the car behind my seat. When we finally pulled up to a rest stop and dove in with plastic forks, it was, for me, the best dish of the whole trip.

Italian style beans ’n’ greens makes a side dish, a first course or a light lunch. It’s best with your own home-cooked beans, but rinsed canned beans will do. Choose the coarser, slightly bitter lettuce for the best flavor. Since I’m currently on a roll with garden greens, I used perennial arugula, young kale and some dark leaves of romaine. Here’s an example of memorable peasant food you can create at home for pennies.

Beans ’n’ Greens

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

½ tablespoon chopped garlic (2 cloves)

pinch crushed red chili (optional)

4 loose cups chopped strong salad greens such as escarole, arugula, endive, romaine

1 cup cooked great northern or other white beans

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, or to taste

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cracked black pepper

Heat a medium skillet or wok. Swirl in olive oil and add garlic and crushed red chili pepper.

As soon as the garlic is fragrant, toss in the chopped greens, stirring lightly with a wooden spoon. As the greens wilt, add the beans and heat through, including a little water or bean broth if needed. Season with vinegar and salt.

Spill the contents of the skillet onto a small platter; sprinkle with grated Parm and dust with cracked pepper. Serves 2 – 4.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


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