food fest 3: a hill of better beans

beansHAVING GROWN UP ON THE CANNED VERSION, all olive-drab and not-so-crispy, it’s a wonder I like green beans at all. But they’re a highlight of every gardening season, and now is their time. That’s why Deb at Everyday Food’s Dinner Tonight blog and I made beans the subject of Week 3 of our series of Thursday Food Fests.

I want to introduce some oddball varieties I like to grow (like ‘Chinese Red Noodle’ and ‘Scarlet Runner,’ both shown above), and tell you what I’m planning to do with that Hefty-bagful of the more typical green bean types that I just harvested. (No, not 10 Pyrex baking dishes full of Grandma’s Green Bean Casserole with cream of mushroom soup, sour cream and butter-soaked Saltine crumbs and melted cheddar, though I am definitely tempted.)

Do you grow beans like ‘Royalty Purple Pod’ that are easy to spot on the vine when harvesting, but cook up green? Or slender filet beans, the haricot verts of French cookery (and high priced in the grocery, if they’re even available)? Or yellow “wax” beans (pretty, but not my favorite for flavor, frankly)?

This year I’m growing one classic: ‘Blue Lake,’ the vintage-1960s bean of all those supermarket cans (the ones Grandma used in her casserole). I’ve found it prolific and tender, as the catalog promised, but nothing matches the tastiness of Italian-style flat-podded beans of the ‘Romano’ type. Victory Seed had the pole version, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed ‘Roma II Bush,’ which produces earlier.

long-beansThe ‘Chinese Red Noodle’ (above), one of various yardlong beans that fascinate me, are great tossed briefly on the grill after a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. ‘Scarlet Runner’ (those are its hot-colored fresh seeds showing in the top photo, and its red blossoms below) is yummy if you string and saute or steam the pods at around 6 inches in length.

runner-bloomsI eat beans most every summer day either lightly steamed, or sautéed in garlic and oil, into which I might toss a little tomato sauce. Better yet, I boil up some pasta, heat the sauce, and drop the beans in for the last two minutes of the pasta’s boiling…then toss them all together into an impromptu pasta with green beans. Penne, rotelli or something of that approximate size seems to match up best with the beans.

Though I sow short, maybe 4-foot rows and trying not to overdo it, there are always too many beans. I’ve never done well with freezing; perhaps I blanch them too long (3 minutes is called for in recipes), I don’t know. I suspect the quality of the bag, how much air you can expel from it, and the temperature of your freezer all impacts quality.

Lately I’ve read that we don’t really have the same kind of “deep freeze” that Grandma did, with all these frost-free modern freezers (read: warmer). They just don’t stay cold enough to do the trick, I fear, nor freeze things fast enough or consistently. But maybe I’ll try again this year—any suggestions would be most welcome. Do you turn your freezer to the lowest possible temperature when freezing fresh things, for instance, at least for awhile?

I’ll definitely use some of the harvest in a big batch or two of vegetable soup to freeze, and pickle the rest, as Dilly Beans (the recipe for which follows):

Dilly Beans
(thanks to Rodale’s ‘Stocking Up’ food-preservation guide)
4 pounds green beans
8 dried 2-inch chili peppers
4 teaspoons mustard seed
4 teaspoons dill seed
8 gloves garlic
5 cups vinegar
5 cups water

Prepare a brine of vinegar and water in a non-reactive pan (stainless or enamel, not aluminum), heating it to boiling.

While brine is heating, prep beans by cutting to lengths to fit in pint jars, cutting off any stem ends as well. Pack into hot, scalded jars. To each jar of beans add 1 pepper, 1⁄2 tsp. mustard seed, 1⁄2 tsp. dill seed, 1 clove garlic.

Pour boiling liquid into jars, leaving 1⁄4 inch of headroom only. Put on 2-part canning lids, then process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

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HOW THIS CROSS-BLOG FOOD FEST WORKS:

Now go visit Deb and the Everyday Food folks to get yourself a proper side dish or something, but not before you leave a tip or recipe behind here (or a link to your best food-gardening tip or recipe, if you’re a blogger). Thanks for attending our third weekly Food Fest…see you next Thursday for Tomatoes (and Aug. 21 for Corn…and…).

50 comments
August 7, 2008

comments

  1. says

    Yeah, the comment link finally worked for me!
    Those Chinese Red Noodle beans look great! I will definitely have to try them next year. I always liked the green yard longs.

    And I agree with you – Dilly beans are the way to go when preserving (forget the freezer!) I still have a jar or two of Dilly’s that I’ve been hoarding.

    Here is my contribution, a couple of marinated bean salads. Enjoy!

  2. says

    Great beans, Margaret,

    I’m jealous! possibly of Jack’s efforts rather than yours. Our cats are in Maine and the Chinese red noodles (along with a lot of other beans) are – or were – in NY. Long vines just starting into flower have been pre-harvested, probably by rabbits, though we can find no breach in the fence. “Bunnies” have been sighted by neighbors who have a regrettable disinterest in hasenpfeffer.

    Meanwhile, the Maine beans are fine, but the extras will NOT be frozen because frozen snap beans aren’t worth the trouble, no matter how exquisitely perfectly the freezing has been accomplished.

    Modern freezers don’t help, but the primary problem is that no matter what you do you end up with frozen beans, a profoundly uninteresting food.

    no doubt this will elicit a torrent of rebuttal, but there’s only so much room in the freezer, time for food processing, and amount one can eat in a timely manner. Only thing worse than frozen snap beans is frozen snap beans that are 8 months old.

  3. says

    My grandma never made that green bean casserole, but my MIL did, but no sour cream or cheddar, and canned onion rings, not Saltines. I’ve come across two that are better than that.

    As far as freezers go, your refrigerator freezer, by virtue of going through defrost cycles, is not good for longterm freezing, where it should be 0F (not 32F). We have two dedicated freezers, one is a chest freezer and one an upright. The chest freezer keeps things colder (judging by the consistency of the ice cream kept in each). And both need to be defrosted by the owner.

  4. SandDuneDigger says

    This one is fabulous and I take it to every potluck dinner … year-round. From Madhur Jaffrey’s “Indian Cooking”:

    Gujerati-Style Green Beans

    -1 lb. fresh green beans, topped and tailed to ~ 1″ lengths

    -4 Tbsp. vegetable oil

    -1 Tbsp. whole black mustard seeds (available in Asian groceries)

    -4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

    -1/2 – 1 hot, dried chili, coarsely crushed

    -1 tsp. salt

    -1/2 tsp. sugar

    -freshly-ground black pepper.

    Blanch the beans by dropping into a pot of boiling water and boiling rapidly for 3-4 mins. or until they are just tender. Drain immediately and rinse under cold running water. Set aside.

    Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok over a medium flame. When hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as they begin to pop, stir in garlic until it turns light brown. Put in crushed chili and stir for a few seconds. Put in green beans, salt, and sugar; stir to mix. Turn heat to medium-low; stir beans for 7-8 minutes or until they have absorbed spices. Add black pepper, stir and serve.

    Enjoy!

  5. says

    @Cindy: Thanks so much for persevering through my technical difficulties. Upgraded yesterday to newest version of WordPress and we had, shall we say, a few hiccups! Great salad recipes.

    @Leslie: I have assigned Jack to the bunny patrol but he is recalcitrant as usual, more interested in chippies at the moment. So some bush beans got ‘et by rabbits here, too. I will let you know how my freezing attempt goes this year.

    @Kathy: Well, no big surprise since we seem to be “separated at birth” types that you, too, had Green Bean Casseroles in mind. Thank you so much for the “better” ones you posted. I do indulge in Grandma’s at T’giving, and it always makes my sister and me nostalgic (and elevates our cholesterol). Thanks again for your technical help this morning and just for being such a great new friend.

    @Sand Dune Digger: Welcome to A Way to Garden. The recipe sounds delicious (and Madhur J. lives right up the road from me 5 minutes or so, coincidentally). I am so glad for such an unusual suggestion, which I now must try pronto. Come again soon.

  6. SandDuneDigger says

    P.S. I forgot to mention that this is great w/frozen beans … no need to thaw, just add to the hot oil, etc.

  7. says

    well, we can’t keep up with you for cukes and zukes, and we likely won’t hit the tomato deadline either, but we have no problem bean counting!

    we just composted our last little baggie of frozen green beans from last year. (saving the bag, of course.) we’re happy with them through christmas, but after that we usually dump them in whatever soup we’re making. a friend of ours, during the height of harvest season, simply freezes skinned tomatoes, green beans, and corn together in baggies and uses them as soup base year round. we think we’ll try that this year.

    we’ve blogged about a few of our favorite bean varieties this week, and included our most shamefully unhealthy bean recipe.

    we’re most proud of our yankee ingenuity regarding trellising solution, however. here’s the post and recipe.

    thanks for hosting the party, margaret! this is such a fun midweek diversion.

  8. says

    @The goat farmers: Great trellising, recipe, photos…and also the tips about just bagging garden stuff as soup fodder, yes. I will cover that in later weeks of the Food Fest, promise. Good reminder. By the way, do goats eat your lemon aioli?

  9. says

    Glad your tech problems are fixed!

    Personally we just steam and enjoy, but then again the last few years I’ve only had a bit more than we consume at the table and fresh-not really enough to bother with fancy recipes or canning. I’m looking forward to planting many more next year-then I’ll have to try the dilly beans for sure. . .

  10. says

    margaret: your computer meltdown left me worried there’d be no leftovers :. can you do one batch of dilly beans w/o garlic for an old, old friend with a delicate stomach? if not, vegatable soup would be fine. pick up or delivered? also, a sociological observation, surely politically incorrect, about green bean caserole with canned soup and canned onion rings . . . . while my (jewish) mother used essentially the same recipe for tuna-noodle casserole (substituting crumbled potato chips for the onion rings) she always insisted that only non-jews were partial to the string bean variety . . . or to creamed onions. could thisbe true? —-jane

  11. says

    @Jenn and Jane: Thanks for your empathy for my digital difficulties this week. Phew!

    @Jane: Well, being as you know from the shiksa side of the table, I will say I was never served tuna-noodle casserole but creamed onions AND the green-bean dish were holiday mainstays. I know not what it alknow I could really go for some kind of cheesy, creamy casserole with those crumbled potato chips right about now. And yes, garlic-less dilly beans coming up.

  12. says

    I want to second the comment that goats are picky eaters. When we had goats, we would give them apple cores from which the apple had been cut off, and they would eat them with relish. But throw them an apple core from which you had bitten off the apple, and they turned up their noses. Apparently goats don’t like human saliva, or they are paranoid about germs.

    On the other hand, they will eat a lot of browse that cows and sheep turn their noses up at, including lilacs. Goats *love* lilacs.

  13. says

    A favorite at my house is Pesto Pasta with Green Beans. My kids love it and it is quick.

    Put your pasta of choice into boiling water, about 4 minutes before the pasta is done add the beans. When the pasta is done drain and toss everything with plenty of pesto. If you don’t have a Pesto recipe you like, here is the one I use.

    This was the first year that I did not have trouble with bean beetles. I think it was because I planted my beans with my potatoes. I had read that it would confuse both the bean and potato beetles. You can read more about that here: Growing Potatoes with Beans

  14. says

    i joined the party again..am having a blast with this..and posted 3 recipes to my blog http://www.napafarmhouse1885.blogspot.com

    1. spicy green beans in asian chili sauce

    2. green beans and potato salad with feta

    3. roasted green beans, tomatoes and garlic with balsamic drizzle

    let me know what you think..and i will join you again for “tomato” week..

    btw..the bean photographs are fantastic..

  15. Deborah McDowell says

    This blog has become my happy rainy day diversion and more. The Chinese Red Noodle Beans are going on my list for next year….
    Gorgeous!

    Thanks for all the fun…I’m gobbling
    all the tips up like a good student.

  16. says

    I’m so jealous you all have beans! In my Seattle garden little, velvety beans are just beginning to appear, but they’re not ready yet! I like to grill beans and toss them with lemon zest and olive oil for a quick and tasty side dish. Beans with a little more girth, like ‘Kentucky Wonder’ work best for grilling.

    As soon as I have fresh beans, I’ll post a recipe, but right now I’ve got a tasty recipe for Summer Squash Risotto up on my blog. It’s a simple white risotto studded with squash, slivered garlic, ribbons or basil, and a hint of lemon.
    http://www.digginfood.com/2008/08/summer-squash-risotto/

  17. says

    @Kathy and the goat herders Brent and Josh: Who knew? Do goats like green bean casserole, with or without buttery crumbs or potato chips on top?

    @Napa: I loved my visit to your blog w/its great bean post…and learning that you, too, are recently retired from corporate life. Keep me posted on all the tips and hints: you are a few months ahead of me on the road.

    @Tamra: Great info on companion planting. I always forget to try these tactics, but am glad to hear you had success.

    @Deborah: I think Baker Creek has a great selection of yardlong beans, including this one and Red Mosaic (mottled) and various green ones. Search their catalog for “long bean” and you will see all the varieties. Some get to 2 feet long. Glad to entertain on a rainy day!

    @Willi: We are glad to excuse you because your beans are later and because you shared such a yummy risotto. Thanks. Your blog is a treat, and especially because you also showed how to make homemade applesauce, which is what I do with one entire freezer here.

  18. Terri Clark says

    The flat Italian pole beans are even better, to my way of thinking than the Scarlets which I am forced to grow for my English husband (I like them but they get stringy so fast.I first had the Italians given to us by a local farmer while visiting a sun-baked hillside in Umbria and could not get over how meaty they were without being tough. Now I grow these and the pencil thin french filet bush types – so delicious and in great supply right now in my Vancouver garden.

    My great friend Lolita (also a wonderful gardener)has the best recipe:
    Saute tipped and tailed beans in some olive oil with salt, pepper, garlic and allspice for 5 minutes then add three fresh tomatoes chopped coarsely. Cover with lid and lower flame to a simmer until beans are tender. The allspice gives this a wonderful kick but Lolita says it would be even better if you can get a hold of South African mixed spice.
    You all will love this!

  19. says

    Welcome, Dlyn. It is never too late…there are beans now and more beans coming. I look forward to your return visit and the link. Last week’s fest and the week’s before are still getting visitors, so link at will!

  20. says

    What a wacky day. I will say that sometimes the simplest recipes are the best. For example, I cut my green beans in long diagonals and then sautée with a bit of chopped onion, garlic, olive oil and soy sauce. Add a touch of seseme oil or grated ginger for extra flavor.

    It takes five minutes! It’s as easy as that!

    Robin
    Gardening Examiner

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