Courgettes, cucumbers and cauliflowers are all being twisted into new shapes and sizes by the health-conscious to replace carbs, but it’s not a new fashion – this runner bean recipe is based on a classic old Pugliese dish.Vegetables have come a long way, baby. No longer a lowly side dish, they have leaped, raw and roasted, into the salad bowl and are now firmly centre-stage on the dinner plate. This year it’s all about vegetable architecture, as they’re twisted into different shapes and sizes (partly due to the popularity of low-carb diets and 5:2, and the must-have gadget, the spiraliser). For the health-conscious, vegetables are fast replacing pasta and rice, as “spaghetti” is coiled out of courgettes (courgetti), cucumber and carrots, and cauliflower is blitzed into “rice” or “cous cous”. Celeriac and other roots can be cut into thin sheets, roasted and used to great effect in place of lasagne sheets or cannelloni tubes.
Like most fashions, this has all been done before: great vegetable eaters such as the Pugliese have been cooking their produce like this for years. I was eating at a great little masseria called Il Frantoio, near Ostuni in Puglia, when I spotted what I assumed was a beautiful pasta dish going out to an adjoining table. In fact it was mezzo metro or half-metre beans, used instead of pasta and coated in a tomato sauce, topped with shaved cacioricotta cheese.
That lunch influenced my recipe below, but mine uses the wonderful and under-used runner bean – they’re cheap, tasty and plentiful during the summer months. Once you cut them into long, thin lengths they only need a few minutes in boiling water and they’re ready to toss in a sauce. As well as this simple carbonara, you could dress them with a tomato sauce or a cream reduced and flavoured with smoked salmon, rosemary, garlic and red pepper.
Runner bean carbonara
(serves 4 as a starter or 2 as main)
500g runner beans
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
200g pancetta, sliced or lardons
2 eggs plus 1 yolk
75g parmesan or pecorino, finely grated
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped chives
Salt and pepper
Top and tail the beans, then pass them through a runner bean slicer to remove the outer strings and cut them into long, fine lengths – if you don’t have one, just cut the beans lengthways into long, fine strips.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently cook the garlic for five minutes over a medium heat until it starts to brown. Remove from the pan and tip in the pancetta. Cook for about five minutes until golden.
Whisk together the eggs with most of the parmesan, reserving a tablespoon for serving.
Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil. Drop in your runner beans and cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Drain, and reserve a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water.
Add a tablespoon of the cooking water to the eggs and whisk together. Return the runners to the pan while still hot. Tip in the pancetta and fat. Stir well and add the egg mix. Make sure the pan is off the heat and fold through till the bean strips are coated. If it seems too dry, add the extra cooking water. Season well with black pepper and serve topped with extra parmesan and herbs.Top Photo: Runner beans are cheap, tasty and plentiful during the summer months … runner bean carbonara. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Guardian