I got a request for what I thought was a throw-away bean dish from my daughter Thursday night. “You really need to make that shell bean toast thing again,” she said.
Can I just call this the Lazy Gardener’s Redemption Dish? I take Deborah Madison as a cue here: there’s a similar dish in one of her books that is quite divine. But considering how I do know that not all of us can keep up with picking our green beans, this is a dinner that takes advantage of your distraction. It takes a while to make, and, unlike most of my meals, comes fully plated (a la a restaurant, completely unlike the normal family-style serve-your-own dinners that I make, which is probably why my daughter liked it: it is special somehow).
This is what you will need:
Shell beans. Onions, garlic, dried herbs of choice; chives, fresh herbs of choice, especially parsley. Vinegar or wine. Bacon, or not. Big thick cuts of bread, old (good) bread works well. I assume you have olive oil in your house, as well as salt and pepper. Butter. And an hour to an hour and a half of your time, depending on both how dried-out the beans are and whatever else you’ve got going on.
Take about 3/4 of a cup of shelled green beans per person. What are shell beans? They’re the beans that are too overgrown to be green (mange-tout) beans but not dry enough to be dried beans. You typically can see the beans telegraphing through their shells at this stage but the shells aren’t so dry they rattle like bones…hopefully that gives you a picture. And because they’re in this in-between stage, the time it takes to cook them falls somewhere between dried beans and fresh ones: your time will vary accordingly! While you’re shelling them (which does take a while), make up your mind if you’re doing a vegetarian dinner or a meaty one.
Hopefully you are chatting with someone while cooking, and enjoying a post-work glass of wine.
If meaty, then dice some bacon (“some” being relative: I use ends, which are something I can pick up for free from the boutique local butcher: they don’t fit in the cutter and are therefore worthless; otherwise, it’s about 2 pieces per person. Dice with a pair of kitchen shears, it’s fastest, easiest to clean) and brown, reserving the grease. If veg, sweat a diced onion with some dried herbs in a good glug of olive oil. If you’re doing veg, then spend some time slicing and dicing up a good slice or two of that lovely bread you are going to use: you will need to make some GOOD bread crumbs for this dish to toss on top. Saute the crumbs in hot olive oil and throw two diced cloves in at the very last minute; remove, salt to taste.
Remove and dry the bacon and cook the onion in that lovely grease OR progress to the next step if veg: you’re going to put the beans in the oil/onion, and add a whole bunch of minced garlic. My family LIKES garlic so for us that means half a head or more. Saute for a couple of minutes then put the same 3/4 cup of broth or water in per serving of beans, or to barely cover. Cover, simmer, and taste: add salt and pepper and more herbs as you think it needs it. Add a good glug of vinegar to the beans after they’ve cooked for about 10 minutes. For me, that means a shy tablespoon per serving if I am using my own cider vinegar; it means a half teaspoon per serving if I am using Balsamic or white wine vinegar. Taste again after the vinegar’s foamed up and cooked down. Tasty broth? Good. Keep cooking the beans until they’re al dente, not too mushy. You want to serve them sloppy: they should be standing half-deep or more in their broth, so add more liquid as required. If you’re doing veg, add a good pat of butter in at the last minute.
Toast or cut up and then butter that bread. Set two slices per person (one if it is a monster loaf) and scoop out a plentiful helping per slice, topping with minced chives and parsley, maybe some hot pepper flakes or a twist or two of the grinder, then either crumbled bacon or those garlicky toasted bread crumbs.
This is a humble meal, but a tasty one. I usually serve it with a big salad, and finish with some simple sliced fresh fruit, some tea or an apertif. It’s good to gesticulate a lot while telling stories over this meal. I sure do. Discussing or, better, solving world problems also helps. Or, you can do chicken jokes: this works for our six-year-old.