Long-distance runners

August means beans - and stews and jams and chutney pans
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The Independent Culture
All those new-season, early summer vegetables, whose arrival I anticipated so eagerly, have come and shone brightly, and stayed around.

August is the month when there is just so much of everything. This is the time to drag out the chutney pan or get down to making fruit pies and jams, and freezing things, so that none of the gluts go to waste. Time permitting, of course.

For vegetables, it's out with the "primeur" dishes and in with "ragout", which sends me scurrying back into the kitchen, once I remember all those lovely, voluptuous little stews, scented with herbs and crushed cloves of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, that I haven't as yet got around to cooking.

Ratatouille is king of ragouts, and I think I have finally settled on the precise way I like it cooked: that is, not overcooked and mushy. Ratatouille is so often achieved by bunging everything in together and stewing, but I prefer versions where the onions, peppers, aubergines and courgettes are cooked separately and then combined with the tomato sauce - and stewed on the short side.

Peperonata, on the other hand, is at its most delectable when allowed to simmer for a couple of hours until it is so sweet it falls just short of being a relish - a deliciously slippery mass. The presence of olive oil is all-important to the luxurious texture, and it doesn't have to be the best.

All these stews are best served at room temperature, or warm: boiling hot is out. It's the same story with cooked fruit - the full fragrance is only revealed once it starts to cool.

"Do you think you could lend a hand in the kitchen?" means just one thing in our house during August: skinning broad beans - a horrible, fiddly job that leaves your hands puckered and stained. The reason I mention broad beans at all is because the recipe I have given below for Lebanese runner beans makes excellent use of broad beans, pods and all, when both are tender. But, at this time of year, if you are dependent on a supermarket then you need to move on to runners.

Runners are prime glut fare. I highly recommend this way of braising them with lots of coriander, garlic, cinnamon, and lemon juice. With the advantage that no-one has to skin the broad beans.

Peperonata with Parmesan Shortbread, serves 4

I usually make the Parmesan shortbread up in double quantity. A poached or soft-boiled egg on top of the peperonata is another nice addition.

Parmesan Shortbread

4oz/110g unsalted butter

2oz/60g freshly grated Parmesan

312oz/100g plain flour

2oz/50g ground almonds

18 tsp cayenne pepper

sea salt

Peperonata

2lb/900g beefsteak tomatoes

8 (approx. 3lb 4oz/1500g) red and yellow peppers

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

sea salt, black pepper

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

To make the shortbread, blend all the ingredients in a bowl, or a food processor, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 1 hour (or overnight). Heat the oven to 140C (fan oven)/150C (electric oven)/Gas 2/300F. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough 18"-14"/0.25cm-0.5cm thick, cut out with a 212"-6cm cutter: only roll twice. Lay on a baking sheet and cook for 30-35 minutes until a uniform light gold. Allow to cool.

While the shortbread dough is chilling, prepare the peperonata: bring a pan of water to the boil, cut a cone out from the top of each tomato to remove the core, then dip them for 20-30 seconds into the boiling water, remove to a sink of cold water and the skins should slip off with ease; remove the seeds and coarsely chop them. Peel the peppers using a potato peeler - don't worry about getting into the crevices, remove the core and seeds and cut into thin strips.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onion and garlic until translucent and soft. Add the peppers, cover and allow to sweat in their own juices for 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, seasoning and vinegar and simmer uncovered over a low heat until the peppers are coated in a thick, reduced sauce - this will take 112-2 hours, don't rush it, just give it a stir every now and again. Adjust salt at the end. Serve warm or at room temperature with the Parmesan shortbread.

Lebanese Runner Beans, serves 4

This is delicious eaten with feta cheese, also, I am told, with grilled lamb chops. This recipe is adapted from "Broad Beans in Oil" in Nada Saleh's wonderful book on Lebanese cooking, Fragrance of the Earth (Saqui Books, pounds 18.95).

1lb 2oz/500g runner beans

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped

3-4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3oz/75g coriander sprigs, chopped

1 tsp flour

14 tsp cinnamon

a pinch of allspice

1 tsp salt

14 tsp freshly ground black pepper

5fl oz/150ml water

2 tbsp lemon juice

Top and tail the beans, and remove the strings at the side with a potato peeler: cut diagonally into 1"/2.5cm lengths. Heat the oil in a medium- size pan over a moderate heat and cook the onions until pale and translucent, stirring them. Add the beans, reduce the heat, cover the pan and let them sweat in their own juices for 8 minutes.

Add the garlic, coriander and flour to the pan, then add the cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper, and the water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes until tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, and adjust salt as necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Ratatouille, serves 4

1lb/450g aubergines

salt

1 onion

extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste with salt

2lb/900g beefsteak tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

2 tsp tomato puree

bouquet garni: 2 sprigs parsley, sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf

1 tsp balsamic vinegar, or red wine vinegar

sea salt, black pepper

1lb/450g courgettes

2 red peppers

2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

small handful of basil

Slice the aubergines 12"/1cm thick and quarter each slice. Sprinkle with salt and leave them to exude their juices in a colander for 30 minutes.

Peel and slice the onion into rings and separate them. Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a small saucepan. Cook the onion for a couple of minutes, add the garlic and cook a minute longer. Add the tomatoes, the puree and the bouquet garni. Cover the pan and cook the sauce over a low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the herbs and stir in the balsamic vinegar and seasoning.

Rinse the aubergine and pat dry. Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a frying pan, add all the aubergine and cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat. Transfer to a casserole with a lid.

Slice the courgettes 14"/0.5cm thick. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in the frying pan and cook the courgettes for 6 minutes. Add to the aubergine.

Peel the peppers and remove the core and inner membranes and seeds. Cut into strips. Add more oil to the pan if necessary and cook the strips for 8 minutes. Add them to the other vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan oven)/190C (electric oven) 375F/Gas 5. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and mix. Cover the casserole and cook for 15 minutes in the oven. The vegetables should be just done - if not, give them a little longer. Once it has cooled, adjust the seasoning and stir in the parsley. Scatter the torn basil over just before serving

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