Pole Bean Recipes

The other day my friend Kip asked me for some green bean recipes. We were praising pole green beans and their rich flavor and texture, so superior to the milder flavored bush green beans. They are steadily abundant now, a meal’s worth or more of Fortex, Gold of Bacau, Nor’easter, and Rattlesnake ripening each day on the vines climbing in my kitchen garden.

Left to right: Fortex, Gold of Bacau, Nor’easter, Rattlesnake

To feature this great flavor, I often simply boil each variety individually until tender, three to five minutes depending on variety, in a large, uncovered kettle of salted, boiling water, drain them, put them in a bowl or on a platter and serve them.  I remember a guest asking me once if I had added sugar.  They are that sweet when they’ve come fresh from the garden, go into the kettle and then right to the table.

But while green beans are wonderful on their own, they also blend well with other flavors.  One combination I look forward each late summer is green beans, tomatoes, garlic and basil.  The first recipe that introduced me this quartet was Marcella Hazan’s “Fagiolini con Pomodoro, Aglio e Basilico” in her Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (1986).  Such fun to repeat in Italian!  As a side dish, warm or at room temperature, it’s a perfect blend of sweet bean and spicy/acid tomato flavors with the deeper undertones of basil and garlic.  And as a sauce over thick pasta like penne, with a handful of freshly grated Parmesan, it makes a meal to celebrate late summer.

The proportions Hazan recommends are one pound of ripe fresh tomatoes, a pound-and-a-half of green beans, a half-cup olive, two teaspoons of chopped garlic, salt, pepper and one cup of fresh basil leaves.  For pasta sauce, increase the tomatoes to a pound-and-a-half and the garlic to three teaspoons.

In a skillet large enough to hold everything, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until it’s golden, add the peeled, roughly chopped tomatoes, and cook at high heat for about five minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium, add salt and pepper to taste and the beans, whole or sliced and cook until the beans are tender.  If, when the beans are done, there’s still some watery tomato juice in the skillet, remove the beans and turn up the heat to reduce the extra liquid.  When the sauce has reduced, return the beans to the skillet, add the basil and serve either as a side dish or on pasta.

Another version of this bean and tomato combination that I’m eager to try is Melissa Clark’s Brown Butter, Tomatoes and Green Beans. http://www.melissaclark.net/blog/2012/09/my-entry.html She’s very persuasive about the flavor benefits of browned butter.  Who knows, it may replace olive oil in this combination!

And finally, one more delicious flavor/texture addition to the green bean/tomato combination is fresh shell beans.  They are plump in the pods and ready to harvest now and pair beautifully with their green bean cousins.

Pole green beans are also great salad vegetables.  Just as this year’s beans started coming in, I was delighted to find David Tanis’s new take on bean salad in his New York Times City Kitchen column.  I’ve made it half a dozen times already. http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/12718/Fresh-Multi-Bean-Salad-with-Charred-Red-Onion.html

The mustard vinaigrette is perfect with the beans, the charred red onions are sweet and crunchy, and the combination of green beans and shell beans is a flavor and texture treat.  A couple of times, when I’ve had a lot of green and yellow beans, I’ve left out the shell beans and the salad is still delicious.  I’ve also used chive blossoms instead of charred red onion for a sharp oniony flavor and the pretty purple of the blossoms.  I haven’t used fava beans yet but I will soon. I have this year’s crop of favas already in the freezer but I’ll thaw some out for this delicious salad.

At the other extreme from green bean salad are “Long-Cooked Romano Beans,” a truly wonderful recipe from Judy Roger’s Zuni Café Cookbook (2002) and the best way I know to use beans that have matured beyond salad size.  As Rogers writes in the introduction to the recipe, “They are hours from bright green and al dente, but, perfectly prepared, they have a velvety texture and long flavor that are very satisfying.”  I’m always happy to find enough mature beans on the vines to make this dish.

For four servings, she recommends two pounds of Romano beans (Fortex and Rattlesnake work well too but not the softer yellow beans like Gold of Bacau), about a quarter cup of olive mild olive oil, salt, a few pinches of chili flakes and two to four crushed garlic cloves.

Her full instructions are:

Break or snip the stem ends off the beans.  Unless they are badly shriveled, I leave the tail ends intact.  Place in a 6-quart Dutch oven or crowd into a 4-quart saucepan.  Drizzle and fold with olive oil to coat all the beans generously, sprinkling with salt and chili flakes as you go.  I use my hands to do this.  Drop the garlic cloves on top, cover, and place over very low heat.  You should barely hear a faint sizzle.  Stir a few times during the first 30 minutes, to make sure the beans on the bottom don’t scorch, covering the pot again quickly each time so the little steam the beans produce doesn’t evaporate (don’t add water—the flavor and texture will suffer if you do).

Once the beans begin to soften, usually after about 45 minutes, stir again. Taste for salt.  Once they have started to soften, you should notice the oil pooling shallowly on the bottom of the pot. Now check on the beans every 30 minutes or so, but stir only once more, and gently, to avoid crushing the beans. Cook until the beans are utterly tender and limp and have a rich, concentrated flavor, usually about 2 hours total cooking time (smaller beans may take less time than fleshy romanos).  Waiting for this degree of doneness will require a leap of faith for anyone trained to favor al dente vegetables.  The beans at the bottom of the pot may color a little during the last 30 minutes before the whole pot is ready, but they will still be delicious.

Preparing these beans does take patience and a leap of faith, but everyone who’s tasted them agrees that they are amazingly delicious.  One friend calls them bean pasta because they have the texture and softness of pappardelle.  I cook them in a terra cotta casserole from the Spanish Table.  It can go on a gas flame and works really well for this technique.

When we get to the end of the beans each summer, I’m always sorry I didn’t plant more.  They are not as flashy as those other summer vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, but they are the seasonal vegetable I miss the most when they are gone.

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Potato Harvest

Digging potatoes always reminds me of the time years ago when a friend’s young son was visiting and helped me dig. I’d lift a potato from the dirt and ask: “what’s this?” and he’d say, “food!”  I’d dig some more and ask again and he’d repeat delightedly “food.” Perhaps he would have said “food” in response to any vegetable I held out, but his happy identification of potatoes as food charmed me.  Potatoes are food, not always glamorous or exotic but definitely reliable and comforting.

I grow potatoes every year, not with the slightly anxious excitement that accompanies starting peas or tomatoes, but more with the sense of assurance that comes with planting something I know will grow and be ready when I need it, either directly from the dirt in summer and fall or later through the winter from the storage bin.  And while I rarely do anything really fancy with them in the kitchen, I cook with them often and their earthy sweetness, whether alone or combined with other flavors, is always satisfying.

Harvesting Banana (right) and Carola (left)

For the past few years, I’ve grown two fingerlings, Banana and Rose Finn Apple and two yellow potatoes, Carola and Yellow Finn, planting them at the end April.  By mid-June the plants were blossoming and in early July I started digging Carola and Banana.  The Yellow Finn and Rose Finn Apple come later and I’ll harvest the entire crop at the end of September, putting each variety in labeled paper bags in a closet at the end of our garden shed.  It’s dark and cool and there is an electric outlet where I can plug in a light bulb if I’m worried that the temperature inside the closet will drop below freezing.  Next spring I’ll write more about the steps that lead up to the potato harvest.

While they are not as exotic looking, or as photogenic, as the first asparagus, peas or fava beans, the first thin-skinned potatoes of the season are always a treat.  I usually steam them and we eat them warm with butter and salt or marinate them in mustardy vinaigrette and eat them as a salad, easy and satisfying, alone or mixed with other spring vegetables.

While steaming is a great way to cook new potatoes, better than boiling because it keeps them from disintegrating before they are cooked through, roasting is my favorite way to cook potatoes partly because it’s so fast and easy but even more because the outsides become crispy with oil and salt and the insides stay soft, two treats for the tongue.  I’ve learned that it’s important that the potatoes be really dry before coating them lightly with oil, so after washing and cutting them into equal-sized pieces I wrap them in a towel and rub them dry.  Then I toss them with a little olive oil, spread them in a single layer on a pan, sprinkle on salt and put them in a 425 or 450-degree oven until they are done, usually in 20-30 minutes.  Halfway through the cooking time, I loosen them and turn them over so both sides can crisp.

Roasted potatoes are delicious on their own but adding other vegetables to the roasting pan enhances both the potatoes and the other vegetables.  This time of year, I often roast chunks of potatoes with newly harvested onions and sweet peppers.  They melt together into a mix of pungent, spicy/sweet and earthy flavors.  In winter, potatoes join a mix of squash and turnips, rutabaga, parsnips and onion in the roasting pan.  Not as dominant as the other more deeply sweet roots, the potatoes remain there in the background, familiar and comforting.

And for one more special treat with roasted potatoes, there is my friend Kathy’s amazing potato salad made with roasted potatoes.  The recipe is from the Dean and DeLuca: http://www.deandeluca.com/recipes/recipe_garlic-roasted_new_potato_salad.aspx.  Kathy makes it in the summer with new potatoes but we agree that it’s good any time of year with any potatoes.  It’s potato food as its best.

GARLIC-ROASTED NEW POTATO SALAD

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 pounds small new potatoes, quartered

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

8 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons parsley, minced

1 lemon, halved

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a large gratin dish, toss the potatoes, olive oil, rosemary, two thirds of the garlic, and the salt and pepper until the garlic and oil are well distributed. Spread the potatoes in a single layer with the skin sides facing down. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place gratin dish in the oven and cook for about 45 minutes, or until potatoes begin to brown; shake pan after the first 20 minutes and again after 15 more minutes. Take potatoes out of from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove potatoes from the pan with a metal spatula to avoid breaking the potatoes and place them in a large bowl.

2. In a small bowl mix the mayonnaise with the remaining garlic and the parsley. Squeeze the juice of the lemon halves, making sure to remove seeds, into the mayonnaise. Stir until it is smooth.

3. Combine mayonnaise with the potatoes and serve.

Sweet Pepper Salad

The red, orange and yellow peppers—Revolution, Gourmet, and Flavorburst—in my kitchen garden are ripening finally, their dark green giving way to bright colors, and with these colors come their sweet and spicy flavors.  They are delicious raw, sliced length-wise for snacks or lunch, as scoops for dips or piled into a bowl as a quick side dish for a casual dinner.  The other night, though, I wanted a more interesting presentation than the simple slices so I turned to a source that never fails me: Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996).

I’ve used this cookbook for years but it still surprises me with new recipes that I’d overlooked.  This time, the discovery was pepper salad.  It’s one of those recipes that Waters in her introduction classifies as a snapshot: “narrative descriptions that leave much to the imagination and intuition of the cook.” In this “album of possibilities for vegetables,” these snapshots are scattered among more formal portraits that list specific quantities of “ingredients and step-by-step instructions.” (p. xx)

Under the title “Pepper and Onion Salad” she writes: “Seed and slice thin some peppers of different colors and varieties.  Slice a small to medium sweet red onion very thin and toss together with the pepper slices, some pitted nicoise olives, and a spoonful of capers rinsed of brine.  Make a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar and good olive oil, and season with chopped garlic and jalapeno pepper and red pepper flakes.   Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Cut basil leaves into a chiffonade and sprinkle over the salad.  This salad should be spicy and robust.”

My dining companions and pantry shaped my first version of this salad. I left out the raw onion because some people dislike it and used capers but not nicoise olives because I didn’t have any.  I added lots of red pepper flakes and garlic but no jalapenos because, again, I didn’t have any.  And I added lots of basil.  I used my food processor to slice the peppers.  The 2 mm blade made thin but still crunchy slices, and the pepper juices released by the slicing blended wonderfully with the vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and olive oil. I took the salad to a potluck where the featured dish was crab rolls, an end-of-crab-season treat. This beautiful and delicious pepper salad was a perfect substitute for coleslaw.

Next time I make this salad, I’ll try adding red onion, perhaps pickling it first before mixing it with the peppers and I’ll add some kalamata olives if I don’t have nicoise.  I might also toss it with some green beans, boiled three to five minutes until tender and cooled.  The colors and flavors would pair perfectly.

As the pepper harvest continues, I’m going to look more carefully at Waters’ other pepper recipes.  The Stuffed Roasted Red Peppers with breadcrumbs, herbs and sheep’s milk cheese tempts me.  It’s a formal portrait recipe but I’m anticipating that there will still be plenty of room for the cook’s imagination.