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Best. Southern. Green Beans. Ever…

Green Beans

It’s not a brag, it’s a fact. Or maybe a simple statement of philosophy…

Green beans are something that all too many families take for granted these days. Even in the South, where we really, really know how to cook beans. Canned green beans now are the go-to version of this classic vegetable side. Frozen ones are a good option too, and just about as fast to cook as canned now that Einstein invented the microwave. (Or was it Al Gore? I forget what he got his Nobel for.)

Of course, there are many out there who don’t like the softer texture of Southern-style green beans. Terms like “overcooked” and “mushy” get kicked around by those people. They like their steamed haricots verts all stiff and crunchy. (Well, I like those too, in the right circumstances. But that’s for another show.) Southerners like them slow-braised in good stock, with plenty of seasonings, onions and, if at all possible, some salt pork or bacon.

Sorry, Yankee cooks; we win this time.

Here’s the version I make this time of year, when good beans are available fresh from the garden patch. First I collect the ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 pounds fresh green beans, cleaned and snapped
  • 2-3 strips thick-cut smoked bacon, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 garden-fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes (nice-sized ones)
  • 1 cup beef stock, plus some water (or more stock) as needed
  • some herbs from the garden: Thai basil, sage, rosemary
  • garlic powder (or minced), cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes

The hardware includes a saucepan (bean pot), a big pot of boiling, salted water, a large bowl of ice & water, and the usual utensils.  After the beans are snapped I blanch them in the boiling water for a minute or so, then quench them in the ice water.  While the beans are cooling, score the tomatoes with a sharp paring knife, making a small “x” at the bloom end.  Drop them into the boiling water for a minute or so, to start the peeling process. Fetch the tomatoes out of the pot and quench them in the ice water bath as well.

Once the veggies are cool, drain the green beans and rescue the tomatoes. Peel and quarter the tomatoes, then wash out the seeds under running water. Cut away any hard stem-end material and then dice the tomato flesh.

Black Krim Tomato

  Back 40 Farm & Garden

Put the bean pot over medium-high heat and add the bacon. Sauté for a bit, not to brown the bacon but simply to render out some of the oil. Add diced onion to the pot, as much as you like. (I like a lot of onion in there, others, maybe less.) Stir that around for a few minutes, until the onion is a bit softened. Add in the tomatoes and stir for a minute or two, then put in the beans and the beef stock. Add just enough water to cover the beans, then add in some herbs and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes.

At the end you’ll want to check the seasonings and adjust however you like. I find I don’t need any more salt if the stock’s homemade, but if you use canned broth you may want a bit more.

I made some of these wonderful lovelies last evening with some heirloom Black Krim tomatoes, fresh from the garden. These two tomatoes weighed in at about 8 ounces each, before peeling and deseeding. I didn’t throw away the tomato juice either! It’s a nice addition to the broth. I strained out the seeds, though.

I know my mom doesn’t blanch the beans before she cooks hers. I don’t think it matters much to the taste, but my beans stay a bit greener in the pot while cooking. If you want to save some work, now you know how…

Enjoy the (Garden-Fresh Southern Beans) Heat!

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