There are two good reasons to pick green beans often. First, when you pick the green beans, the plant produces more, extending the growing season into the fall; it’s best to pick every day or two. Second, freshly picked green beans are the most tasty and tender.
This year I’m growing snap beans and fillet beans, the tiny French haricots verts. I really enjoy the fillet beans because they go nicely raw in salads and are great munching. The snap beans can be eaten raw too but I prefer them steamed to perfection.
One quick note about growing green beans. Green beans are legumes as are peas and other dried beans. They grow nodules on their roots that collect a lot of nitrogen-producing bacteria. So growing beans and peas help enrich your soil by returning nitrogen needed for healthy soil. When the beans are done producing, I snip the plant off at ground level and leave the roots. The plant, of course, dies but the nodules with the nitrogen-producing bacteria stay in the ground and keep enriching your soil even after the beans expire. And where your beans and peas flourished is an important consideration in crop rotation next growing season. I usually plant tomatoes and eggplant where the beans and peas have left nitrogen-enriched soil and I always plant beans and peas where the cabbage family (cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, rapini, Asian greens) crops were the previous year because the cabbage family is notorious for depleting nitrogen from the soil.
Cooking green beans requires some mindfulness lest they become overcooked, mushy and flavorless. Always pick green beans that do not bent but snap in two. This indicates they are fresh. Green beans will store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days without damage and this is the best way to accumulate a pound or more for cooking.
Wash thoroughly and snap off the top stem. You need not remove the tail end unless the bean is stringy or the end damaged. Snap your beans into bite-sized pieces or leave whole, esp. if fillet beans. As I said, I steam my beans. I cooked them to al dente, removing them from the heat when they are at the most bright, intense green. If using in a salad, I shock in cold water to stop the cooking.
I modify an Alice Waters’ recipe for green beans with toasted almonds and lemon. I melt 3-4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy pan and add 1/4 cup of sliced almonds, stirring often and cooking until light brown. Remove from the heat and add lemon juice and salt. To the toasted almonds, I add steamed green beans, about a pound, broken into pieces. For variations, mix yellow wax beans to the green beans, or substitute hazelnuts or pecans for the almonds. You can also add a minced clove of garlic to the almonds and butter.
Here’s a pasta salad that incorporates the best of the season — tomatoes, green beans, parsley and basil adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (1989).
new wave pasta salad
2 cups fresh basil leaves (from the garden of course)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces fettuccine (I use colored pasta)
1 1/2 cups red wine vinaigrette (see below)
1 pound tender green beans (from the garden) snapped into 1-2 inch pieces
6 ripe tomatoes (from the garden) chopped into chunks
2 cups Kalamata or other black olives, pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (also from the garden)
4 ounces parmesan cheese
1. Arrange the basil leaves in small stacks and roll them lengthwise. Slice the stacks diagonally into slivers. Reserve 1/2 cup for the vinaigrette.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the oil and fettuccine. Cook until tender. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again. Place in a mixing bowl and toss well. Set aside.
3. Steam the beans until tender. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain again. Set aside.
4. Place the pasta in a glass serving bowl. Top with tomatoes and then green beans. Cover the beans with the olives and remaining slivered basil. Sprinkle with parsley. Pour 1 cup of vinaigrette over the salad.
5. Shave parmesan in thin shavings on top of the parsley. Serve salad layered in glass bowl for nice visual effect. Toss well to serve.
red wine vinaigrette
2 garlic cloves, crushed (from the garden preferably)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup slivered basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Combine the garlic, mustard, vinegar and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly until thickens slightly. Fold in basil and parsley. Makes about a cup and a half.
Several years ago, I won first place in a neighborhood cooking contest with this pasta salad. It’s a great late summer-early fall dish.