Green Beans, Pearl Onions and Bacon

Fresh green beans with caramelized pearl onions tossed together with a little seasoning and some bacon are a perfect side dish for so many occasions and Thanksgiving is no exception. This recipe is a simple way to dress up your table with a tasty vegetable side dish. Pearl or cipollini onions make the dish pretty, especially if you use red onions. And the bacon... well the bacon speaks for itself!

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Green beans with onions and bacon in a white bowl with serving utensils and a purple napkin.

Thanksgiving Side Dish

Green beans are one of the most popular side dishes at Thanksgiving – they are easy to prepare and pretty universally liked (as opposed to Brussels sprouts!). But why just put a bowl of green beans on the table when you could dress them up and put out a dish of green beans, pearl onions and bacon instead. (not a question)

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Hands cutting the tip off a red cipollini onion.

How to Peel Pearl or Cipollini Onions

You could use pearl onions or cipollini onions for this recipe. Both are smaller and milder than regular onions, but they differ in size and shape from each other: pearl onions are smaller and round, where cipollini onions are a little larger and flat in shape. I find cipollini onions easier to peel than pearl onions, but the skins of both types of onion are much easier to remove if you blanch the onions in boiling water first. Trim off part of the stem end and then submerge the onions in boiling water for 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the onions from the water and when cool enough to handle, peel away their skins. With round pearl onions, you can pinch the onion at the root end and it should pop out of its skin. Cipollini onions will require a little more handling, but because they are a little larger, the work is not as finicky and you’ll have fewer onions to peel. If your cipollini onions are larger than a polite mouthful, cut them into halves or quarters. Both types of onions come in different colors – white, yellow and purple. I think the purple is a beautiful contrast to the green beans, but any color will do.

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Hands cutting the ends off green beans with a bowl of onions and a bowl of chopped bacon near by.

How to Trim Green Beans

Some people trim off both ends of green beans, but I only trim the stem end where it gets a little tougher than the rest of the bean. You can snap this end of the green bean off with your fingers, or line up a few green beans at a time and trim that stem end away with a knife. 

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Green beans in an ice bath with a red kitchen towel behind it on a marble counter.

How to Blanch Green Beans

Blanching the green beans in boiling water makes sautéing them a breeze. It allows the bean to plump up a little and partially cooks the bean so that your sautéing time is significantly reduced. Bring about 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil and plunge the green beans into the pot. Let the beans cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, depending on how thick the beans are, and then immediately transfer the beans to a bowl of ice water. This will shock the beans and stop the cooking process. It helps to keep the beans a nice bright green color and ensures they don’t over-cook. 

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Green beans with onions and bacon in a straight-sided saute pan with tongs and a red kitchen towel.

Sautéed Green Beans

You’ll start this recipe by crisping up and rendering the fat from the bacon. Then, sauté the peeled onions until they soften and start to brown just a little. This will take roughly 20 minutes or so and covering the pan with a lid for the second half of cooking really helps the onions soften. Then, when you’re ready to finish the dish, add the green beans and sauté along with the onions. Just five minutes or so should be enough to let all the flavors blend and to finish cooking the green beans through. Add the crispy bacon back to the mix, drizzle on a little white balsamic vinegar and you’re done. You’ve dressed those green beans up nicely!

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Hands serving green beans with onions and bacon out of a white bowl with serving utensils and a purple napkin.

Make Ahead Suggestions

If you are serving this dish for Thanksgiving or another occasion, it’s nice to make it ahead of time as much as possible. To do that, cook the bacon and onions and then turn take them off the heat. Blanch an shock the green beans and set them aside. Five or ten minutes before you are ready to serve, turn the heat back on the onions for a minute or two, add the green beans and sauté until heated through and fully cooked. Drizzle the white balsamic vinegar at the end and you’re ready for the table.

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Green Beans with Pearl Onions & Bacon

  • Prep Time: 20 m
  • Cook Time: 25 m
  • Total Time: 45 m
  • Servings:
    4

Ingredients

  • 7 ounces pearl or cipollini onions
  • 1 pound fresh green beans
  • 4 ounces thick-cut bacon diced
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or rice wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Prepare the onions by bringing 3 quarts of water to a boil. Trim off the stem end tips of the onions (opposite of the root). Drop the onions into the boiling water. Boil the onions for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on their size, and remove with a slotted spoon. Cool for a few minutes and then peel. (If you squeeze the root end of a pearl onion it should pop out of its skin easily.)
  2. Bring the water back to a boil, add the green beans and blanch for 3 to 4 minutes. While the beans are blanching, fill a large bowl with ice water. Drain the green beans and transfer the beans to the ice bath to cool. Set the beans aside.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and sauté until cooked through and crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  4. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan. Add the pearl onions to the pan and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes and then cover the pan and cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned and starting to soften. Stir or shake the pan several times during the cooking process.
  5. Add the green beans and butter to the pan. Sauté for a few minutes and then add the bacon back to the pan. Continue to sauté for about 5 minutes, until the beans are crisp tender. Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle the vinegar over the top. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve warm.
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