food fest 3: a hill of better beans
HAVING 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.
The ‘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.
I 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):
(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.
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…).