A batch of green beans, four ideas
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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