Weekend essay: Green beans & redemption

Weekend essay: Green beans & redemption

The first green beans of the season were harvested last weekend. Sadly, they were a disappointment.

But it wasn’t the beans, per se; though a tad small, they looked delectable. No, it was the cook. He took a chance and roasted them along with a small piece of pork on a bed of celery tops. The beans were overcooked. They shriveled. And shriveled green beans hardly are appetizing.


Lesson learned. There will be plenty more beans, primarily Blue Lake bush beans. And the cook will go back to what he knows.

There’s nothing quite like setting the table, so to speak, for cooking a large pot of freshly picked green beans. Think of a 4-quart sauce pan filled with beef broth. Add a few chopped white, yellow and green onions from the same garden. And don’t forget the fresh chopped parsley from the herb boxes or the salt and pepper.

Go ahead — throw in a few slabs of butter. (Oh, what the heck, throw in a few more.)
One more thing – that bit of ham that’s been cooling its shank in the freezer since Christmas? Throw that baby in, too.

Brought to a boil, then allowed to simmer for 90 minutes or so, the broth’s building aroma fills not only the house but the neighborhood.

“Somebody’s cooking again!” shouts one neighbor, feigning disgust in his obvious appreciation, knowing the cook might just share.

The liquid enticement is brought back up to a rolling boil. In go the beans. Ten to 15 minutes does the job. They’re not quite al dente. But neither are they mushy. “Tender” has just be redefined.

Dished up in that same rich broth and, yes, topped with more butter, these Blue Lakes can be a meal unto themselves. But they sure do complement a nice steak — grill-seared on the outside and quite rare on the inside — and a baked potato, wrapped in bacon, of course.

And do remember, bean broth, like a good gravy, must never be wasted. What’s left will be frozen, repeatedly reconstituted and used over and over again. Funny, but the next iteration always seems to be tastier than the last.

It’s a culinary gift that keeps on giving – just like those bean plants that give cooks who experiment and badly fail those repeated opportunities to redeem themselves.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).