Rachel Roddy’s recipe for green beans in cream with roast chicken


His hands on his hips, Andrea walked down the middle of the room, counting. It was the day before restaurants and trattorie could, if they adhered to a series of conditions, reopen in Rome. I happened to be walking by and noticed the metal shutters half rolled up, like sleepy eyes after two months of induced coma, so put my head round the door and shouted hello into the cavernous dimness. “That’s 72, 76, 82, plus the tables outside … 108 covers”, Andrea summed, before sitting at a table and signalling for me to join. No doubt he knows the number of covers as well as he knows the arches and velveteen seats of his father’s restaurant, the place he grew up in. He was counting in order to divide the number in two: removing half the tables and carving up the room with space is one of the regional conditions for reopening.

Like his father negotiating with the fishmonger, the vein in Andrea’s neck bulged as he told me of the failure of the furlough system and read me the rest of the conditions. Clean cloths for every table, hand sanitiser at the door and for wiping down plasticised menus, masks and gloves for staff, just masks for customers until the point of eating (at no point are they to be placed on the table), no coats on hooks, no shared condiments or jars of toothpicks, no unnecessary movements or proximity, or wandering children, or lingering near the door. The list, with the exception of the cloths, reads like a roll call against the nature of a Roman family restaurant; the antithesis of everything that makes them what they are. This, he summed, coupled with fear and the fact so many have so little money, meant no one would come.

But they did, the next night. An older couple with their daughter and her tiny dog, three couples and two groups of four, us three, all seated on the well-spaced tables outside, the warm breeze flapping the cloths. Now it was the turn of the father’s vein to throb as he passed from table to table, each welcome filled with worry, for his staff that can’t come to work yet, that we minded the masks and the conditions. It was our turn to reassure him that we are so used to masks, we don’t even notice them and, if we do, it is because they are leopardprint; that we were simply glad to be back with our legs under the thick cloths, holding heavy glasses filled with house wine and eating foil packets of salted crackers while we waited for fried anchovies, spaghetti tangled round clams and – the sign that summer is here – plates of green beans. It was the beans I enjoyed most, for their almost waxy, buttery bite, but also because they were tailed, boiled and put on a white plate with half a lemon and a slick of olive oil, then landed on the table by Augusto with a worried judder – and because they are what I always have.

Now it is their season, and they are plentiful and a good price, we cook greens beans at home, too, boiling them in well-salted water until they don’t squeak, then tossing them in salt, olive oil and lemon while they are still warm – all’agro. Other times I braise them with tomato, toss them with toasted hazelnuts and batons of bacon, or follow a recipe from the summer section in Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book and bake them with soured cream and breadcrumbs.

Sitting at a spaced-out table, it is an insistent thought for me that Roman family restaurants and trattoria remind me of my Granny’s pub in Oldham. The same direct intimacy and fulfilment of a need, a familiarly and sociability (even if you are in a solitary mood) and immutability, even in the face of 12 regulations and plough lines of space and, for so many, reassurance in the face of so much uncertainty.

Green beans in soured cream and roast chicken
These beans go with many things, but especially well with roast chicken, cooked the way you like best – which for me is Simon Hopkinson’s way: the chicken is ripped, rather than carved, and tossed in its own buttery juices.

1.6-1.8kg chicken
Butter and olive oil
450g green beans
250ml soured cream
Salt and black pepper
1 pinch caraway or dill seeds
40g soft white breadcrumbs
40g butter, melted, plus more for dish

Heat the oven to 230C (210 fan)/gas 8. Rub the chicken all over with butter or olive oil and put on a baking tray or in a cast-iron pan. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, then stuff the empty halves inside the chicken.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes, baste, then reduce the heat to 190C (170C fan)/gas 5. Roast for a further 50 minutes, basting twice more.

While the chicken is roasting, tail the beans, cook them in boiling salted water for six minutes, then drain.

Put the cream in bowl, season with salt, black pepper, nutmeg and caraway or dill seeds, then add the beans and toss until coated. Tip the beans into an ovenproof dish and use a spatula to scrape in the cream.

Melt the butter, pull from the heat, add the breadcrumbs, stir, then tip over the beans.

For the last 15 minutes of roasting, put the beans in the oven alongside the chicken, and bake until the crumbs are golden and the edges bubbling. By this stage, the bird should be golden brown all over with a crisp skin and nut-brown juices should ahve gathered in the bottom of the tin.

Remove the beans from the oven and keep warm. Turn off the oven, leaving the door ajar, and leave the chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes before pulling apart and serving.