But since then, I’ve cooked it for several friends from Sephardic Jewish backgrounds. “Oh, nice fasolia!” they said. It turns out that fasolia, or fasoulia (or I’m sure countless other spellings/pronunciations) is a traditional Sephardic dish as well, with roots in Syrian and Lebanese communities. A little browsing online reveals that the dish is claimed in other countries as well: Italy, Turkey, Greece, and all over the Middle East. There are versions with meat as well.
There’s a reason everyone wants to claim it for their own.
This dish is incredible. It’s simple and relies on the flavor of very good ingredients. The tomatoes stew to a perfect sweetness, embracing the garlic, swimming in olive oil, and then wrapping around flat, thin string beans (romano are best) until the beans yield and soften and soak in the tomato flavor. I neither confirm nor deny the rumor that if nobody else is home, I might lick out the pan.
But usually someone else is home, because this is a dish that’s meant to be shared with people, too delicious to keep for oneself. It’s probably my favorite thing to cook in summer. Actually, you shouldn’t believe me when I say that; I’ll probably say (and believe!) that about whatever delicious thing I’ve cooked most recently, but of savory dishes I like to make in the warm months, this one appears on the table probably more than any other. It’s easy and satisfying, and it relies on ingredients that are best at their peak of ripeness.
Although maybe this year I’ll freeze some tomatoes (you can freeze them whole and raw if you’re going to cook with them) and some romano beans and make it one day in winter for a treat.
The dish is very easy to make. Give it the time it needs; the tomatoes really should taste sweet before you add the beans, and the beans really should get soft before you serve it. And don’t skimp on the olive oil. Serve it with just about anything: salmon, meat, poached eggs, salad, crusty bread, barbecued chicken…
Invite someone over to impress. And if they look at the dish and say, “Oh, nice __________” with a name you’ve never heard of from their culture, just nod sagely as if you knew, as if you wouldn’t claim the dish for any culture but theirs, and offer them seconds.
Fasolia: Stewed romano beans with tomatoes and garlic
- Flat string beans like romano, about one pound. It does work with regular ones, especially if they’re thin like haricots verts, but avoid thick string beans or thicker flat beans like scarlet runners — they take longer to cook and don’t work as well.
- Garlic – about one head, peeled and chopped finely
- Extremely ripe, deep red tomatoes – about two pounds
- Olive oil – lots
- Salt – to taste
1. Chop tomatoes coarsely. Quarters or eights depending on the size. Leave skins on.
2. Put tomatoes into a wide-bottomed pot or deep pan that has a cover. I like to use a stainless steel one for this. Turn on the heat and let them steam a minut or so.
3. Add a few generous dollops of olive oil, stir, and cover. Set heat to medium.
4. While the tomatoes are cooking, peel your garlic and chop very finely. (Note: if you’re very slow at peeling and chopping garlic, do this in advance.)
5. Add garlic to tomatoes and olive oil. Stir. Sprinkle in salt until you can smell the tomatoes or it tastes right. Stir, add a bit more olive oil, and cover.
6. Prep the romano beans — cut off the pointy ends, and cut any super-long beans in half.
7. Let the tomatoes cook until they taste sweet and have liquid bubbling all around them. It’s important to wait for the sweet taste, or the dish doesn’t taste as good.
8. Add the beans to the tomatoes, and cover them with liquid and tomato bits. Replace the cover.
9. Cook until the beans are soft, stirring occasionally. Seriously, do this even if you’re a al dente vegetable person usually, as I am. The softened beans absorb the tomato flavor and meld into the dish. As you stir, your tomatoes should be losing some of their water and occasionally sticking to the bottom. Don’t let them burn, but this sticking is actually a good thing — scrape it with your wooden spatula, and it actually adds to the sweetness of the dish, mixing with olive oil beautifully.
10. When the beans are soft, turn off the heat, add more salt if needed (don’t over salt) and add more olive oil generously, at least a few dollops/tablespoons or more. Stir in the olive oil and serve.