When it comes to green beans, we all owe a great debt to Julia Child, who was adamant that they must be cooked until tender, not simply blanched, as has been the custom among certain trendy chefs for the last couple of decades. There seemed to be no easier way to incur Child's wrath than to serve her undercooked green beans. Most of the home cooks I know have taken this to heart or else simply know it intuitively — all you need to do, really, is taste — but too many restaurants are still serving raw or nearly raw green beans.

Why is this so important? It's not simply about about texture. A green bean's flavor does not blossom fully until it is cooked. And exactly how long is crucial, too, as flavor fades quickly if a green bean is cooked too long.

Exactly how much time a green bean needs to be cooked varies by variety and, to some degree, size. The tiny haricot verts that Nancy Skall of Middleton Farms grows require only about 90 seconds, while full-sized Blue Lake green beans can take 7 to 10 minutes.

Yet size is not a reliable measure when it comes to Romano and other flat green beans. The luscious Spanish Musica, another specialty of Middleton Farms, requires just 3 to 4 minutes; cooked longer, the flavor drops off. Yet other flat green beans can take twice as long.

Unless you know a variety of bean well, you need to test for doneness every 30 seconds or so. What you are looking for is a bean that you can bite through easily but that still retains texture. If you have to struggle to bite through it, it's not done; if it falls apart in your mouth, it is overcooked.

For the best flavor, do not skimp on salt. You want at least a tablespoon of salt for every two quarts of water.

It is important, as well, to use a large pot and a lot of water so that it will return to a boil as quickly as possible after you add the beans. In "Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home" (Knopf, 1999, $40), Child suggests plunging a solid metal poker, heated over a burner, into the water when the beans are added. This helps the water return to a boil quickly, which in turn sets the color of the bean.

Our farmers markets are filled with all manner of green beans right now. Sizes range from pencil-lead to about 12-inches and in color from pale yellow and yellow speckled with red, to green and dark purple. They can be dressed simply, with nothing more than butter, olive oil or a delicate vinaigrette and added to other summer ingredients for delicious soups, salads, pastas and stews. These beans are also excellent pickled.

For green bean recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit "Eat This Now" at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.


This recipe works with any type of green bean except tiny haricots verts, which should be cooked for just 60 to 90 seconds, depending on their size. Be sure to test them before removing them from the heat.

<strong>Basic Green Beans, with Variations</strong>

<em> Makes 4 servings</em>

— Kosher salt

1 1/4 pounds green beans, trimmed (see Note below)

3 tablespoons butter or best-quality olive oil

— Black pepper in a mill

Fill a large pot two-thirds full with water, add a tablespoon of salt for every 2 quarts and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water reaches a full rolling boil, add the green beans, stir and watch until the water returns to a boil. Cook for 3 minutes, remove a bean and carefully taste it for doneness. Continue to test every 30 seconds until the beans are perfectly cooked; your teeth should bite through easily but with a tiny bit of resistance along the way.

Immediately drain the beans thoroughly, tip into a warmed serving bowl, add the butter or olive oil, toss and season with salt and several turns of black pepper. Serve immediately.

<strong>Note:</strong> The stem end of green beans should be snipped off but the blossom ends do not need to be removed. The easiest way to do this is to arrange the beans on your work surface with the stem ends lined up evenly together. Use a sharp knife to cut close to the stem.


Cut 10 to 12 large basil leaves into very thin ribbons and add to the beans with the butter.

Add 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley to the beans with the butter and squeeze the juice of one-half lemon over the beans before seasoning with salt and pepper.

After tossing the green beans with olive oil, add 4 or 5 ounces of smoked salmon, broken into pieces and toss again. Add a generous dollop of creme fraiche, season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Slice a pint of small, golden cherry tomatoes in half and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Toss with the green beans and olive oil, add a tablespoon of Italian parsley and 4 ounces of crumbled feta cheese. Toss and season with salt and pepper.

Fry 3 strips of bacon until crisp; drain the bacon and, when it is cool, crumble it. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and saute a minced shallot in the fat that remains. Remove from the heat and add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or best-quality white wine vinegar. When the green beans are cooked, transfer them to a warmed serving bowl, add the shallot mixture, season with salt and pepper and top with the crumbled bacon.


This dish was originally made with pasta noodles, but here I've replaced the pasta with zucchini, making it a great dish to serve to friends who cannot or will not eat pasta. It is simple, delicious and can be either a main course or a side dish. For a more substantial first course, cook 2 sausages (andouille, Spanish chorizo or linguica), slice them into half-moons and add to the zucchini with the tomatoes.

<strong>Haricots Verts with Zucchini Noodles, Sungold Tomatoes and Garlic</strong>

<em> Makes 4 servings</em>

— Kosher salt

6 ounces haricots verts, trimmed

2 medium zucchini

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

— Black pepper in a mill

1 pint golden cherry tomatoes, preferably Sungold variety, halved

2 tablespoons fresh herbs: a mix of Italian parsley, chives, basil, summer savory and oregano

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Fill a medium saucepan half full with water, season generously with kosher salt and bring to rolling boil. Add the haricots verts and when the water returns to a boil, cook for 1 minute; test for doneness and cook for 30 seconds more if needed. Drain thoroughly and set aside.

Use a mandoline to cut the zucchini into spaghetti-sized ribbons.

Pour the olive oil into a large sauce pan, set over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the zucchini, toss and cook until it just loses its raw texture, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add the tomatoes, toss and cook for 1 minute more. Add the drained haricots verts and the herbs, toss and transfer to a warmed serving bowl. Add the feta, toss again, taste and correct for salt and pepper.

<em>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</em>