If the fortified towers of Parador de Jarandilla de la Vera didn’t give it away, the 15th-century castle’s wrought-iron chandeliers and carved wooden ceiling certainly telegraphed an elaborate feast to come. As I sat down to a massive roasted duck leg with plump cherries, it was easy to imagine the medieval splendor that once surrounded Spanish emperor Carlos V, who spent several of his final months strolling among the chestnut trees outside.
But for all the historical and culi-nary pomp, it was a seemingly basic bowl of green beans that drew me in with an explosion of contrasting textures and flavors, not to mention a surprisingly short ingredient list. Crisp-tender beans mixed with crunchy almonds and salty bits of ham, all of it topped with a poached egg—its yolk creating an unctuous sauce— and a sprinkle of pimentón de la Vera, the smoked paprika produced in the valley a few miles away.
An obliging waiter walked me through the recipe. While the beans were briefly blanched, the ham and almonds were sautéed in olive oil with minced garlic. The drained beans then were added to the skillet to finish cooking, taking on the flavors of the garlic and ham. All was combined and dusted with the paprika—a simple formula that I suspected could be streamlined for a one-pan meal back at Milk Street.
First, the almonds. We begin by toasting them in olive oil to deepen their nutty flavor, then add the garlic and thinly sliced serrano ham, cooking the mixture until the meat crisps and the garlic is fragrant. We remove that mixture from the pan, then add the green beans and char them in the flavorful fond left behind. To gently finish the beans, we return the nut mixture to the skillet and add a bit of water—just enough to steam the beans until perfectly crisp-tender, no troublesome blanching needed.
For the final flourish of smoked paprika, we borrow a lesson from Spanish cooks on how to use it without diminishing its flavor. We first deglaze the pan with another 1⁄4 cup water, scraping up any remaining flavorful bits, then remove the pan from the burner and stir the spice in off heat. This preserves the paprika’s smoky aroma, giving us a pan sauce that is as quick as it is deeply smoky-savory. Though the egg is a nice addition, we find it optional.
The paprika sauce has enough body to coat the tender beans, melding with the garlic, almonds and ham for a fast, one-pan version fit for an emperor.
For perfectly crisp and tender vegetables, we combine cooking techniques. Start by searing them in a hot pan to develop browning and flavor. Then add water and a tight-fitting lid to steam them until tender.