Every year it seems as though Portland teases us through most of the summer with its cold, misty mornings, overcast days, and utter lack of regard for those of us who try time and time again to coax our vegetable gardens into producing even the smallest amount of fresh rewards. And then, come the end of August, everything seems to explode with abundance. All at once, tomatoes are ripening, cucumbers are growing fat, and long-awaited peppers of all types are finally starting to showcase a veritable rainbow of colors.
Somewhat miraculously, the one vegetable that seems undaunted by the chill of Portland summers is green beans. When your garden’s tomatoes are rock hard and still hiding from the cold behind their pale skins, green beans of all sorts will be waiting for you, their crispness like a friendly welcome to the growing season. I’ve been known to snap beans right off of the vine and immediately start munching, but, when feeling a bit more refined, it’s never a chore to find ways to dress the beans up a bit.
Unfortunately, having now introduced myself to fancied up green beans with a layer of lemony-bright caramelized onions, topped with a blanket of sweet-tart cherry tomatoes, I now feel as though there will never be another way for me to eat fresh garden beans. While I will never disparage the simple steamed green bean, it’s been a long time since I have found myself so enamored with a green bean dish that I want to make it—and eat it in its entirely—every single day. This combination of richly caramelized onions and crisp beans has become my most beloved summer side dish, the dish I want to bring to potlucks, make for a family dinner, or just eat straight from the platter while standing in the kitchen. It’s summery and satisfying, and it makes me think that next year, when the sun is still hibernating and the garden sitting in waiting, I might have to set aside a large plot of yard space for beans to help me make it through the chilly beginnings of another Pacific Northwest summer.
Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes and Caramelized Lemon-Balsamic Onions
1 ½ pounds green beans, both ends trimmed and any tough strings removed
1 pound onions (I used 1 very large sweet onion)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 generous tablespoon lemon zest
8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Boil beans until bright green and crisp-tender, anywhere from 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of your beans (larger beans will need to cook longer, and smaller, skinnier beans will need less time). Drain the beans and immediately plunge into an ice water bath (this will stop the beans from cooking any further, and also help them retain their bright green color). When the beans have cooled, drain and set aside.
Cut onions in half from end to end, then slice into thin ribs. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions to the pan, throw on a pinch of salt, and slowly cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they turn golden, about 20 minutes. Turn heat down to low, add balsamic vinegar, stir to combine, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir to combine.
Slice each cherry or grape tomato in half. Arrange cooked beans on a large platter, and top with caramelized onions. Sprinkle tomato halves over the onions and beans.