I don't need a vacation, I need summer beans
different than other beans
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Summer beans are different than a winter bean or a fall bean. These are beans that grow in the summer and must be treated as such– less with ham hocks and breadcrumbs and hours of your time, more with tomato and fresh herbs and you never have to turn an oven on. Summer beans are shelling beans (the fresh beans in their pod that eventually become the dried bean) and Romano beans, green beans and fava beans (though depending where you live, those can be over by July). Summer beans are to be shelled or tailed, briefly simmered or quickly blanched, sautéd or braised. Summer beans are beans for the summer.
Of all the summer beans, it’s the shelling beans that give me the biggest thrill. The season is short, and the pods they come in are long. Often dressed in hot pinks and deep purples, their wild aesthetic is nothing short of magic, defying logic and inspiring joy (don’t get too attached though, they turn a shade of brown once cooked). It’s nearly impossible to find them outside of a farmers market, but I’m writing this from the spoiled perspective of a woman who lives among some of the finest farmers markets in the country (yes, Union Square Greenmarket is elite!). If you live even within an hour of a farmers market, I promise the trip will have been worth it if you can find them. Shelling beans are my “my precious” (I have never seen LOTR).
I don’t know if it’s boredom or maturity but I feel more open to long, fussy, annoying cooking tasks than ever before, and shelling things like fresh beans and peas is…annoying. But also a focused and meditative activity, one that I look forward to given I don’t otherwise focus or meditate. It also (conveniently) functions as a great excuse for when you don’t want to do anything else. Sorry I couldn’t text you back, I had to shell all these beans.
Sorry to bring the word intimacy into the bean conversation, but when the fresh beans are inside their pods, there’s also undeniable intimacy (with the bean). Running your nails along the long seam of the fresh pod, freeing the plump little beans from the only home they’ve ever known, there’s a connection between you and the bean. You’ve seen and felt where these beans come from, so you better understand the bean. Suddenly, you know these beans, deeply. Intimately.
What time you spend shelling, you more than make up for in how much time you save actually cooking. Fresh shelling beans simmer for about 45 minutes (and before you ask…..absolutely no soaking), and favas (or peas) blanch for approximately 90 seconds. Blink and you’ll overcook a fava, but somehow the fresh shelling beans don’t mind a little extra time in the pot, only becoming plumper, creamier, more fabulous, never turning to mush despite a split skin here or there.
There are also other types of summer beans– not a bean in a pod, but still a bean. Pole beans– any bean that grows on a vine (presumably, up a pole). Romano beans, flat beans, green beans, yellow beans. While less of a novelty, Romano beans are hands down one of my top five favorite vegetables. Like a tuna sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off or a sliced cucumber that’s been peeled 50% of the way to make a funny little stripe pattern, for reasons unexplainable by science, they simply do hit harder than a regular green bean. They’re larger but more delicate, longer but thinner, quick-cooking but also take kindly to a slow simmer. Never mushy, they always keep a little structure, and when treated well (see below) are as pleasing as a strand of al-dente spaghetti.
The following recipes are a bit of a variation on a theme, because regardless of variety (romano, shelling, fava) or method of preparation (sauté, simmer, blanch), all summer beans mostly like the same things. They like spiciness and they LOVE fat. They take kindly to alliums of all sorts and almost always enjoy the presence of cheese. They love a splash of vinegar and never say no to a squeeze of lemon. Summer beans, make me feel fine.
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