A green bean goes by many names. Sometimes it’s called a snap bean, because it can be broken or snapped to length. And sometimes it’s called a string bean, since it used to have strings running down both sides. But happily, most green beans these days are stringless, and they aren’t even necessarily green. Purple and yellow bean pods liven up the mix and the garden as well—although, sadly, purple beans change to green during cooking. These fresh edible pods come in different shapes, too: the standard round pods, the extra-thin French filet beans, and flat-pod Italian beans (also called Romano beans).
No matter what you call them, snap beans are delicious cooked many ways
They’re terrific simply steamed or boiled (see the recipe for Simply Delicious Green Beans), but they’re also good braised, sautéed, roasted—even grilled. The elegantly thin filet bean is the classic type for steaming or boiling and serving whole. Broad Italian beans have great beany flavor and can also be cooked quickly when young, but the larger ones are ideal for braising, stewing, and roasting. Good flavor matches for all beans include cured pork (think bacon and pancetta); onion, shallots, and garlic; anchovies; lemon zest; dill, tarragon, mint, summer savory, or chervil.
Green bean inspiration
At my house, green beans are the summer garden’s alternative to lettuce. When the garden is pumping out beans, some version of an easy and versatile bean salad appears at dinner several times a week. But there are many other tempting ways to use a mess of beans.
Add green beans to a warm potato salad made with small red-skinned potatoes. Toss with chopped shallots and a creamy mustard vinaigrette.
Stir up a flavorful sauté of snap beans, slivered onion, sliced mushrooms, chopped garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar at the end.
Mix a colorful bean salad of cooked green and yellow snap beans with chickpeas and diced raw onion, celery, and bell pepper. Marinate in a sweet-sour vinaigrette. Just before serving, toss with chopped fresh chervil or mint.
Simmer up some Southern-style beans. Cut green or flat-pod beans into 2-inch lengths and slowly simmer with diced onion, diced bacon (or a ham hock or a bit of salt pork), and freshly ground black pepper. Toward the end of cooking, taste and add a splash of cider or malt vinegar, and a bit of salt if necessary.
Drizzle tender, cooked whole beans with a tangy yogurt sauce flavored with mint, dill, or cardamom and spiked with a dash of cayenne.
Compose a beautiful salade niçoise. Steam or boil whole filet or small green beans just until tender. Cover a platter with a bed of tender butter lettuce leaves and top with the cooked beans, tomato wedges, quartered hard-cooked eggs, and chunked cooked or canned tuna. Garnish with a scattering of whole black olives and anchovy fillets. Serve with a well-seasoned lemon-chive vinaigrette.
Braise fully grown beans in savory stock. Brown the beans lightly in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and then simmer, covered, in a little chicken stock until the beans are fully tender and the stock is reduced to a syrupy glaze.
If you have just a handful of beans…
Cook them until al dente and add to a crudité platter. They’re delicious dunked into hummus, herbed yogurt dip, garlicky aïoli, or a pungent anchovy sauce.
Add whole or cut cooked beans to a salad. My favorite combination is slivered endive leaves, green beans, and sliced red radishes in a mustardy vinaigrette.
Or simply tuck the cooked beans among slices of tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil.
Add short pieces of uncooked beans to soup or risotto, or sauté them and add to a frittata.
Make a succotash by cutting green beans into tiny pieces and blanching; sauté briefly with corn kernels in butter and add chives and a touch of cream.