Slow to start, our beans became prolific during a cooler than expected February. Blue Lakes and Purple Kings were pushed, without much thought, into earthy, revamped beds of soil, straw and manure late in October, trussed (slightly clumsily) a month later and subsequently burnt to a crisp in our January holidaying absence. Some water, some love, a chat about pulling up their socks – keep calm and carry on - and back they came. Pods dangled heavily and seemingly grew overnight; picking beans each morning, barefoot in long grass, became late summer ritual.
Most days, we’ve had them dressed with oil and lemon - a simple side dish for a zucchini and tomato gratin or bowls of pasta or braised baby carrots or Peter’s stellar omelettes. The recipe that follows, earmarked last winter, was the single most useful recipe of summer, its minimal method belying its moreishness.
There’s a school of thought that suggests that green beans, being fresh and snappy creatures, should remain so with only the very quickest of cooking times. Having never actually liked crisp beans, when Anna Del Conte pointed out that all beans need to be thoroughly cooked in order to be properly digested, I found myself nodding in agreement. Sensible advice. A green bean is simply the young, still-podded version of the dried ones that, as winter creeps in, you’ll soak and slowly coax to softness in soups and stews. A certain limpness is desirable.
A recipe for the harvest months.
Elizabeth David’s French Bean Salad
One of those occasions when a rewrite - the re-wording of a recipe to comply with copyright rules - would betray the precision, elegance and simplicity that makes David’s recipe so perfect. Frankly, I cannot say it any better and won't even try. Besides, "Is There a Nutmeg in the House" is worth owning. Seek a copy out - Elizabeth David is as good as food writing gets.
Top and tail (and string if need be) your beans and, if yours are a not "bootlace thin", cut each in half through its middle, to make two shorter lengths.
“Allow 125g (4oz) beans per person. Cook them for not more than 7 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain them, and while still warm, mix them in a bowl with olive oil, lemon juice and more salt if necessary. Do not be tempted to add anything else. It is the simplicity of the seasoning and the fresh flavour of the beans which make the dish.”