Romano beans from the garden overgrown to welcome me home. I looked at those gangly 10 inch pods and thought -- braise. Braising will tenderize the pods and intensify the already hearty flavor.
One of my favorite cooks and restaurants is Judy Rodgers and her legendary Zuni Cafe, a San Francisco culinary landmark. Like another well-known bay area cook Alice Waters, Rodgers long ago championed (though not as loudly as Waters) the virtues of exceptional and mostly local ingredients prepared simply for extraordinary fare. In her cookbook, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Rodgers brings new life -- despite the drab color -- to flavorful Romano beans by long cooking in just a bit of olive oil.
Maybe technically this isn't a braise as the only liquid (other than the oil) comes from the beans themselves, but in any case if you have a couple hours to spare the flavor is well worth the effort.
I tossed two pounds of beans with 1.4 cup of olive oil, salt and chili flakes. With the beans in a 6 quart pot I dropped 5 peeled garlic cloves on top then set the pot, covered, over the lowest possible heat. In the first 30 minutes I stirred the pot twice, and once again after the beans started to soften at around 45 minutes of cooking time. But then, as Rodgers advises, I left the beans to slowly cook checking every half an hour or so to make sure the pot wasn't scorching.
After about 2 1/2 hours even my gigantic Romanos were tender and limp. A shocking dish for anyone raised to accept modern cusine's tyranny of al dente vegetables but homey and delightful served over warm stone ground grits (I did just get back from North carolina after all) on a crisp summer night.