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Green beans and Julia Child

Green beans and Julia Child

Green beans are always high on my garden priority list. First, because they do well in my garden, and I’m always in favor of vegetables that aren’t problematic and fussy. Second, because fresh green beans from the garden taste great. Cooked just right, they’ve got a slight crunch and lovely flavor without any adornments. Third, because they’re vegetables. Healthy. I can’t think of anything wrong other than bunnies eating the young plants or plants that get so overcrowded I can’t find all the beans. You do have to pick them in a timely fashion, because they quickly grow too big, turning out mushy and fibrous.

Last winter, I decided a fresh green bean dish would be perfect with a holiday meal, so I bought a big bag of nice looking green beans. “Nice looking” turned out to be all they had going for them. When I started cleaning them, many had a weird spongy/woody texture and were well past their prime. Yuck. I was so disappointed. Even worse, plenty of people don’t know the difference. When it comes to produce, they think “pretty” = “quality”. They cook those spongy beans, they have an off-putting texture and don’t taste great, and they conclude that green beans aren’t very appealing. Sad.

Where does Julia Child come in?

We’ve been watching the new series “Julia”, which tells the origin story of her famous TV cooking show “The French Chef”. I admit, I’ve never really watched that show, although I’ve got 2 of her cookbooks, and am a Big Fan of her attitude to good food, epitomized by many of her famous quotes:

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” 

and

“Fat gives things flavor.”

Julia Child

True that. Another favorite quote that sums up the idea of moderation, from the Introduction to her book “The Way To Cook”:

I.. would much rather swoon over a few thin slices of prime beefsteak, or one small serving of chocolate mousse… than indulge to the full on such nonentities as fat-free gelatin puddings”.

Julia Child in The Way To Cook

Intrigued by the series, I checked out a collection of DVDs of The French Chef from the library. The first set focused on vegetables, starting with green beans. Ms. Child was adamant about cooking vegetables in a French way, which sounds intimidating, but in fact was simple. In this episode, she cooked them briefly in a very large pot of boiling water, drained the hot water immediately and poured cold water over the beans. Just before serving, she tossed the beans in a sauté pan to re-heat and added a generous amount of butter and some salt. That’s it! Nothing complicated about the beans, but the cooking technique resulted in slightly crunchy, not-overcooked, delightful green beans.

The only disconcerting aspect was that her shows were all originally in Black-and-White. Color TV was uncommon. Despite that, she talked a great deal about how this cooking technique preserved the lovely green color of the beans, which of course the viewer can’t see. The beans were gray.

I’ve been cooking green beans from my garden in a similar way for a few years. Boil them quickly for a short period of time, until they’re still a bit al dente. Drain immediately and serve. I usually pass on the globs of butter, but maybe this summer I’ll give that a try.

Back to the Garden

You can grow many types of green beans from seed. Some aren’t even green: wax (yellow) and purple are popular, too. Pole beans climb supports and produce beans over a longer period of time. Bush beans tend to produce in short period of time, so you have to be diligent about picking them. I grew an heirloom style bean a couple of years ago. It had a flat shape, which wasn’t my favorite. Read seed package labels carefully to understand what type of bean you’ll be growing.

Bean Nutrition

Green beans have a variety of nutrients, but I wouldn’t call them super sources of anything in particular. Significant fiber and potassium, smaller amounts of minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium. Lots of fiber. A modest amount of vitamin C and B vitamins. A bit of protein, almost no fat.

Take Away Message

Vegetables are wonderful food. They should be cooked to enhance the enjoyment of eating them. Accomplishing that goal doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need fancy sauces or complicated equipment or techniques. The key is starting with quality fresh vegetables, such as from your garden or a local farmers’ market.