Symphony in Green: The way Beans were meant to be

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Image: Peter Miller

By mid-summer there are many green beans. And cherry tomatoes. And basil. This is a fine way to get them all fully involved.

These green beans would easily bump the French fries and quesadillas at your local 12-screen sports bar but it will never be a fair fight. I make them as a side dish, a jumble as you would fries, to go with a piece of fish or meat. But more often, I serve them when we are watching some sporting contest. If you make them well and nimbly, they will sit brilliantly at your own table and disappear, just as fries might.

Ingredients

To serve 2-4 people, you will need:

  • 3 dozen green beans (can be yellow or green or purple, no matter, and haricot vert may be the best)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced with a little salt and a tsp of olive oil
  • 1 dried hot pepper
  • 1 Yukon gold potato, baseball size (any thin-skinned variety is fine)
  • 12 – 16 basil leaves, Genoa or Thai basil, chopped slightly and carefully (if you can find no basil, you could use a tablespoon of pesto, thinned with a little hot water)
  • 12-16 fresh cherry tomatoes, rinsed in cold water
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cold butter
  • flake sea salt and black peppercorns

Directions

Fill a large saucepan with cold water, add a tbsp of salt and the potato and bring it to a rolling boil. The potato should cook for about 15 minutes, until it is still firm but beginning to soften. 

The beans need to be trimmed. Not hacked, but trimmed. One end has a tiny nob, where the bean attached itself to the bush and the other end has the tendril. Snip off the knob end, with sharp scissors or sharp paring knife but do it as close as possible to knob. The bean must not look as if one end was an amputee — that is how beans got such a bad reputation in the first place.

Once trimmed, soak them in cold water for five minutes then drain them in a colander. When the potato is slightly softened, pull it out to drain and dry and put the beans right in the boiling water. You are blanching the beans, not cooking them through, so they will need only 2-3 minutes of cooking at a full boil. Pull them out and let them rest back in the colander.

When it has cooled a little, cut the potato in half, lay each cut side down and peel back the skin. Then slice the halves no more than 1/4 inch thick. You are about to get busy so choose a nice round large plate or serving dish and put it somewhere that it will get warm – on top of the saucepan with the blanching water would work.

Heat a 12-inch saute pan on medium high for ten seconds and then add 1 tbsp of the olive oil and the 1 tbsp of butter and all of the sliced potato and shake the pan to coat the slices. They should cover the bottom of the pan.  Add a good pinch of salt and let the potatoes brown on one side. You can shake the pan to keep them from sticking but do not turn the potatoes until the one side is browned.

Then turn the potatoes and shake the pan again. The stovetop should not be so hot that it is trying to scorch them but it needs to be hot enough to not slump when the beans hit the pan. Give the potatoes a minute or so, they will be nearly done, and throw in the green beans and some salt and pepper and toss it all together on the heat. Use tongs and spatula and spoons or your wrist, whatever it takes to get the beans part of the heat and the oil and butter. There should be some commotion and noise from the pan.

It all moves quickly at this point. Add the cherry tomatoes, crumble a little of the hot pepper behind them and then add the garlic in the olive oil and shake, shake, shake the pan so it is all a jumble in the heat. The whole process from the moment you added the green beans should take no more than 3 minutes – it must be hot and rapido or the greens will simply sag in the oil.

With the back of a wooden spoon, squish a couple of the tomatoes to help make a sauce, shake and stir and suddenly you are done. Turn the contents of the pan out onto the warmed platter. Add the last bit of olive oil, some salt and extra black pepper and finally the chopped basil leaves.

The green beans should be very hot to the touch but still slightly firm and definitely not limp. The cherry tomatoes should be whole but have slight tears on their skin from the heat and the potatoes should be crispy. You will slightly taste the garlic and the hot pepper and the basil will stand out, proud as can be. It is a wonderful chorus for the green beans – even the big muscular ones of summer’s end. But do try to make this dish with the thin and elegant haricot vert – they are a little easier to toss about and jumble.

Green beans have many variations, some more moist than others. If, when you add the cherry tomatoes, the pan seems dry, add 1/4 cup of hot water as well, to create some steam and to help make a small sauce from the deglazing.

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Peter Miller is an architect and the proprietor of Peter Miller Books in Pioneer Square. His book "How to Wash the Dishes" written with wife Colleen has just been published.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Once again Peter Miller comes through with a perfect recipe. I had given up on cooking green beans because they were either raw, or limp and soggy and kind of gray. Thank you so much!

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