I don’t love redemption narratives, at least when it comes to thinking about my own life. There’s always the chance that one’s triumph will sour, plateaus will be reached, or any number of twists and turns that these stories are err to in real life. Yet I’ll make an exception for green beans. Growing up, I mostly encountered frozen green beans and green beans out of a can. And I hated them. Their limp, beige-green color made me ill, as did their potted-water smell; even disguised under cheese sauce and in a vegetable mix with corn and sliced carrots, nothing about them was appealing. (That said, Thanksgiving green bean casserole — you know, the one with the cream of mushroom soup and crispy onions on top? — was and is still incredible. But those aren’t really beans anymore, a fact I note in love (!) rather than disgust.)
As the years have gone by, and I’ve gotten older, wiser, and a kitchen of of my own, I’ve learned to tolerate green beans, especially the overflowing baskets you get at the farmer’s market. They’re fresh and snappy! Delightfully green and healthy! They go with anything! Good, old reliable green beans. I made them amadine, that toasty, sweet-savory dish prepared with butter, almonds, and garlic; I made them bright and bustling with lemon, drawing out their green flavor with olive oil and a healthy smattering of parsley, all pulled together by the rich, nutty undertone of pine nuts. I even grew to like them nearly raw, quick-blanched and served with hummus, green goddess, or red-pepper dip. Like broccoli or even summer squash, they’re a substantial green vegetable that you can turn to automatically as a side dish, one not expected to upstage the main course but that helps to fill out the meal.
Then this past year rolled by, and I found two versions that changed the way I thought about (or rather, tasted for) green beans. Rather than boiling the beans and quickly sauteeing them with your nuts and aromatics, these recipes called for the beans to cook for a good long time, in the pan, with butter. One of the recipes said you want them to “stew in their own juices,” which was a revelatory way of thinking about green beans; both of them told you to cook them until they browned, shrunk, and got tender. This, as I found, intensifies the flavor, a pure concentrated green bean goodness that one very rarely experiences in other preparations. Once the beans are browned and almost caramelized, you then throw a good amount of chopped garlic into the pan, enough to flash cook it but still keep its bite, which provides a welcome contrast to the vegetal sweetness. And voilà! Beans living up to their fullest and best potential.
The cooking process.
Penelope Casa’s Garlic Green Beans (from Food52)
- ¾ pound Fresh Green Beans
- 1 Tbsp Butter
- 1 Clove Garlic, crushed
- Coarse Salt
Trim the green beans. Melt butter in a skillet, add beans, and cook over medium to med-high flame, stirring, until they beging to brown.
Lower the flame, cover, and cook 15-20 min, or until the beans are your desired tenderness, stirring occasionally.
Mix in crushed garlic, sprinkle with salt, and serve.
Chinese-Restaurant Style Green Beans (from Fine Cooking)
- 1 Tbs Less-Sodium Soy Sauce
- 1 Tbs Honey
- 1 Tbs Unsalted Butter
- 2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1# Younger Green Beans, trimmed
- Kosher Salt
- 1 Tbs Minced Garlic
In a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan, heat the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the green beans and ½ tsp salt and toss with tongs to coat well. Cook, turning the beans occasionally, until most are well browned, shrunken, and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. (The butter in the pan will have turned dark brown.)
Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, until the garlic is softened and fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Carefully add the soy mixture (you’ll need to scrape the honey into the pan). Cook, stirring, until the liquid reduces to a glazey consistency that coats the beans, 30 to 45 seconds.
Immediately transfer the beans to the serving dish, scraping the pan with the spatula to get all of the garlicky sauce. Let sit for a few minutes and then serve warm.