Thursday, September 1, 2011

Yes, I’m a Bean Freak

I am currently benefitting from our late July rain storm by harvesting an abundance of green beans. Otherwise, aside from being relatively bug free, this has been my worst harvest ever of green beans.

When I was but a wee gardener, my father used to compel me and my siblings to harvest a long row of beans on hot summer evenings while being attacked by horse flies and mosquitoes at my grandmother's. (We were not allowed to plant or weed, but we could harvest beans. I now realize this is because he realized that we could not damage the garden by harvesting beans; any fool can do itJ). It's a miracle I do not hate beans. . . . . Anyway, as an adult, I now value my bean harvest time as a way to tone up my buttocks and back thighs. The constant bending is great exercise. . . .

These days, I usually harvest a few quarts for myself and a few quarts for the food pantry, but this year, most of my plants wilted in the rainless July heat. This is unfortunate because I generally do not water my bean crop (which always takes 25% of my plot so that I can rotate my other crops through it eventually). Dr. Mitch used to give me a hard time about giving so much space to a food that is relatively cheap to buy at the grocery. However, beans improve the soil and I think it's important to devote at least 25% of your garden space to a legume each season.

Moreover, dried (or shelling) beans are a working girl's best friend because there is no guesswork involved in determining when to harvest them. You simply plant them and wait for the beans and plants to turn tan brown. It accomplishes its life's mission to produce seeds and then dies. You simply need to harvest them before the pods burst and the plant re-seeds itself.

This year, my dried bean crop (turtle, kidney, red peas, pinto, and Taylor) was only half of what it was the last two years (which will impact my soup making this Fall) and ripened three weeks earlier than usual. However, the pole beans I'm growing at home surprise me every day with a couple of handfuls. (The plant has been an explosion of leaves, has grown up my climbing rose bush and has almost reached the power lines 20 feet off the ground. I have to use my tree trimmer to pull the vines down and harvest beans). I've grown an assortment of Contender, Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, Asparagus and Romano. My contender beans usually produce all summer long (albeit some of the beans in June and July get eaten by a few bugs). This year, the bugs have mostly avoided what few beans I've been able to harvest. I'm thankful for small favors. I planted a second crop of beans at the end of July and they look very promising. Last year, I also grew edamame, lima and garbanzo beans as well.

Asparagus beans (also called Chinese beans) are drought tolerant, will produce all summer long, will grow up a fence, and can grow to be several feet long. I use them in stir fries, but they are lovely by themselves (with soy sauce and grated ginger) or chopped up like regular beans. My friend, Gretchen the Chef, says she used to serve them collectively tied into a giant knot. I'd find something like that on my plate to be a bit intimidating . . . .

What green beans I don't eat myself during the week, I steam for about five minutes (which makes them turn an unnaturally bright green), plunge into ice water and then run through my salad spinner (to dry them off as much as possible) before putting them in freezer bags and sucking all of the air out of the bag (with a mere straw) and then labeling and throwing the bag into the freezer. I used to also can beans, but they lose a lot of color and flavor during the pressure canning process.

With all of these beans, I've had to come up with new ways to prepare them and will share three recipes with you. I assume you already know how to make green bean casserole (which is how I use my canned beans).

Genovese Green Beans

This is modified from a recipe in Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, which I obtained from the Bexley Library.


  • 1 pound green beans with the tips removed

  • 1 tbsp EVOO

  • 1 tbsp butter

  • 1 chopped garlic clove

  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

  • 3 small chopped anchovy fillets


  1. Steam green beans for five minutes and then drop into a bowl of ice water. Strain them when they are cool and set aside.

  2. Heat EVOO, butter, garlic, lemon juice and anchovies over medium heat in a cast iron or other heavy skillet. Let it sizzle until the anchovies melt into the oil.

  3. Toss in the beans, toss them around a bit until they are all coated and hot (for about 2-3 minutes).

  4. Serve immediately.

    You can "fancy" up the beans up a bit by splitting the beans into two and trimming the ends after they come out of their ice water bath.

This sauce is also tasty for zucchini which is sautéed and sliced into inch-long strips.

Bacon & Beans with Shallots

I found this on the and served it for Christmas. It was fast and popular.


  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed

  • 2 bacon slices, thinly sliced crosswise

  • 4 tsp butter

  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots


  1. Steam beans for about 5 minutes. Drop in ice water and then drain. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead, wrapped in paper towels and refrigerated in a plastic bag).

  2. Cook bacon in cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Don't forget to use a splatter guard. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain.

  3. Add butter to the skillet and melt. Add shallots and sauté about 3 minutes.

  4. Add beans and sauté until heated through – about 5 minutes.

  5. Add bacon back to the skillet and toss to blend.

  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  7. Serve warm.

Roasted Green Beans

This is the best recipe if your beans are near the end of their edible life and only a few days from joining the Great Compost Bin. I also make this regularly on the grill during the summer and with frozen beans and a broiler during the colder months. This recipe was modified from an old Cook's magazine which my friend Vicki gave me a few years ago. The first time I made it was great and I inhaled a quart in one sitting. The second time – which I made for Vicki – I burned them. That didn't stop us from eating them.


  • 1 pound green beans (fresh or frozen)

  • 4 tbsp olive oil

  • ½ tsp salt

  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  • 2 chopped garlic cloves

  • 1 tsp honey

  • 1 tsp thyme

1. Heat oven to 450 degree oven. Have rack placed in the middle.

2. Toss beans in ½ tsp salt and 2 tbsp olive oil.

3. Spread aluminum foil on cookie or baking sheet. Spread beans evenly over sheet.

4. Sprinkle with salt. Put in oven for 10 minutes.

5. Make Sauce in a medium bowl. Take beans out of oven and scoop up beans with tongs and shake in the bowl with the sauce. Return beans to cookie/baking sheet and return to oven for another 10 minutes. (If using frozen beans, turn on broiler).

Beans should have black spots on them and shrivel up.

Plan on 1 quart per person per serving. I inhaled a quart in just two servings and wanted more.

I do not recommend using canned beans because the color is not consistent. With fresh beans or barely blanched frozen beans the difference in color will not be noticeable.

Be careful not to overcook them. They should still be green when you remove them with black spots where it is beginning to carmelize. However, do not panic if you over-cook them because they will still be tasty. I once left them in for five minutes too long and they all came out black (and some even crunchy). They were still edible (although they were not inhaled in one sitting like correctly roasted beans) and the blackness disguised the color differences between the frozen and canned beans.

In the summer, I use romano beans and put them in the grill on foil and cook them on the upper grate (while a steak is grilled below it on the lower grate). You just toss them once and put them on foil and on the grill. Even better if you add melted butter to the marinade. Just turn them a bit when you turn the steak.

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