A batch of green beans, four ideas

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - by Claire Thom­son

Ire­call be­ing quite small, tan­gled in the bean trel­lis, enor­mous beanstalks tow­er­ing above my head, greed­ily snap­ping and eat­ing bean af­ter bean. It is likely I was meant to be pick­ing beans in time for my mother to cook for supper that evening. Steamed and served in but­ter, I don’t sup­pose there is a bet­ter veg­etable. El­iz­a­beth David re­marks in her book French Pro­vin­cial Cook­ing: “I would as well eat a dish of tiny green beans in early sum­mer as to go to the money and trou­ble that as­para­gus en­tails.”

As both a french and a run­ner bean en­thu­si­ast, I am re­luc­tant to al­lo­cate a cer­tain bean to a spe­cific recipe. With sum­mer un­der way and beans com­ing thick, fast and plen­ti­ful, my guess is that with enough recipes up your sleeve, you can cook your way right through the glut. And, of course, when an in­gre­di­ent is in abun­dant sup­ply, it is of­ten at its most in­ex­pen­sive.

Al­most sweet and al­ways ver­dant, beans are as de­li­cious as they are ver­sa­tile. And although I am now big­ger than the bean trel­lis, I like it very much that my three daugh­ters, when vis­it­ing my mother’s house, can lose them­selves at the bot­tom of the gar­den, dwarfed by those very same beanstalks.

How to cook your batch of beans

You’ll need 1.7kg to make the four recipes (1kg for the chut­ney alone). Cook your beans as soon as pos­si­ble on pick­ing or pur­chas­ing. To cook, boil in plenty of salted wa­ter for 4-6 min­utes un­til soft, but with a lit­tle squeak. When ready, plunge the beans into icecold wa­ter to keep their colour. Store in a sealed con­tainer in the fridge.

1 The sum­mer soup

Soupe au pis­tou (on the cover) Or Provençal mine­strone, if you pre­fer; an ode to the sea­son’s veg­eta­bles.

Serves 4

½ large white onion or 1 whole leek, white part only, finely diced 2 fat gar­lic cloves, chopped finely 2 car­rots, cut into 1cm dice 1 cour­gette, cut into 1cm dice 3 or 4 new pota­toes, peeled and cut into 1cm dice 80g orzo pasta (or sim­i­lar small pasta) 2 tbsp olive oil 75g pod­ded peas, or use frozen 500ml boiling wa­ter, chicken stock or veg­etable stock 3 large ripe toma­toes, blanched and peeled, cut into 1cm dice 100g cooked run­ner or french beans, cut into 1cm dice ¼ le­mon 1 tea­spoon salt (less if you like)

For the pis­tou

75g parme­san, grated 50g basil leaves ½ gar­lic clove, minced finely 80ml olive oil

1

In a large heavy-based pan, sweat the onion or leek over a gen­tle heat for 5 min­utes un­til soft and translu­cent.

Add the gar­lic and car­rot and cook for 5 min­utes. You want this mix melt­ing and translu­cent; in no way scorched.

2 Add the diced cour­gette and pota­toes and con­tinue cook­ing over a low heat un­til the pota­toes are cooked through.

3 In a sec­ond pan of boiling wa­ter, cook the orzo ac­cord­ing to packet in­struc­tions. Drain and add a splash of olive oil.

4 Add the raw peas and cooked orzo to the veg­etable mix. Add the hot wa­ter or stock, and fi­nally the diced tomato and cooked beans.

5 Bring the soup to the boil, squeeze the le­mon in and check for sea­son­ing.

6 Make the pis­tou: put the cheese, basil and the gar­lic into a food pro­ces­sor and blitz briefly. Com­bine the oil in a steady stream with the pro­ces­sor run­ning. Serve the soup with the pis­tou on the ta­ble, ready to dol­lop.

2 The light lunch

Beans cooked with toma­toes and black olives De­li­cious served warm solo or as an ac­com­pa­ni­ment to just about any­thing.

Serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil 1 red onion, finely diced 3 fat gar­lic cloves, finely chopped 1 tin of whole plum toma­toes 400g cooked run­ner or french beans 10-15 black olives, stoned and cut in half A small bunch of oregano, pars­ley, basil or dill, roughly chopped Chilli flakes (op­tional), to taste Salt and black pep­per, to taste

1 First make the tomato sauce. Heat 2 ta­ble­spoons of the olive oil in a saucepan on a medium heat and add the onion. Cook un­til soft and translu­cent, 5-8 min­utes. Add the gar­lic and con­tinue cook­ing for 2-3 min­utes. Don’t let the gar­lic colour.

2 Add the tin of toma­toes, break­ing them up with a wooden spoon, and sea­son with salt and pep­per.

3 Bring to a sim­mer, then turn down to a low heat and cook for about 25 min­utes, stir­ring from time to time.

4 Add the beans to the pan and heat through in the tomato sauce. Re­move from the heat and add the olives, herbs, re­main­ing olive oil and chilli flakes if us­ing. Check for sea­son­ing.

3 The quick condi­ment

Bean chut­ney This recipe comes from my mum, who makes the very best chut­neys.

Makes ap­prox­i­mately 6 x 450g jars

800ml malt vine­gar 1kg cooked run­ner or french beans, cut into 1cm pieces 5 medium white onions, finely diced 800g de­mer­ara sugar 1½ tbsp corn­flour 1½ tbsp turmeric 1 tbsp dried mus­tard pow­der 1 tbsp salt

1 Put the vine­gar, the cooked beans, the onions and the sugar into a large saucepan and cook for 15 min­utes over a medium heat.

2 In a sep­a­rate bowl, mix the corn­flour, turmeric, salt and mus­tard to a paste with a ta­ble­spoon of wa­ter.

3 Add the paste to the beans and con­tinue to cook for a fur­ther 10 min­utes un­til the chut­ney has thick­ened to a de­sir­able con­sis­tency.

4 Bot­tle the chut­ney in clean ster­ilised jars and keep for at least a week be­fore us­ing to give the flavours time to ma­ture and meld.

4 The sim­ple supper

Bean, turmeric and gram flour pan­cakes Mixed with wa­ter, gram (or chick­pea) flour makes a great bat­ter to fry with the green beans into these thin, crisp pan­cakes. Along with their whole­some rep­u­ta­tion, the chick­peas give the bat­ter a crisp tex­ture and a lovely earthy flavour. This is a ver­sa­tile recipe that I urge you to experiment with.

Makes 6

450ml cold wa­ter 250g gram flour, sifted 1 tsp salt, more to taste if needed 1 tsp turmeric 1 tsp garam masala 3 tbsp veg­etable oil, to fry 200g french or run­ner beans, cooked 3 green chillies, de­seeded and sliced finely (op­tional) 1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and sliced on the oblique 2 gar­lic cloves, peeled and finely chopped 2 tsp onion seeds 2 tsp mus­tard seeds

To serve

Le­mon or lime wedges Sea­soned gar­lic yo­ghurt In­dian pick­les

1 Whisk the cold wa­ter into the gram flour and beat un­til smooth, then al­low to rest for at least 30 min­utes while you pre­pare the rest of the in­gre­di­ents.

2 Add 1 tea­spoon of salt, turmeric and garam masala to the bat­ter.

3 Heat ½ ta­ble­spoon of the oil in a non­stick pan over a high heat and add a sixth of the beans, chilli, spring onion, gar­lic, onion and mus­tard seeds. Fry the in­gre­di­ents in the pan quickly, then give the pan a good shake to spread the in­gre­di­ents out and evenly pour over a sixth of the bat­ter.

4 Al­low to cook and colour nicely for about 2 min­utes. Us­ing a spat­ula, gen­tly flip the pan­cake over and cook on the other side for a fur­ther 2 min­utes over a mod­er­ate heat. Keep the pan­cakes warm in a low oven.

5 Re­peat with the re­main­ing bat­ter and in­gre­di­ents and serve im­me­di­ately with wedges of lime or le­mon, sea­soned gar­lic yo­ghurt and In­dian pick­les.

Although I am now big­ger than the bean trel­lis, I like it that my three daugh­ters can lose them­selves at the bot­tom of the gar­den

2

3

Cook’s tip Beans share a great affin­ity with al­monds. Cooked and dressed with a lit­tle le­mon, olive oil, salt and pep­per and a hand­ful of toasted al­monds, they are ad­dic­tive. 4

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