You Should Be Braising Your Late-Summer Beans
Braise, baby, braise!
While strolling through the farmers market in late summer—which, tell your friends, does still technically last through the end of September—it’s hard not to notice the plethora of multi-colored beans available. Though green beans are of course readily available in grocery stores year round, if you’re not already eating beans like runner, long, wax, purple, and romano beans, it’s high time. The variation in color and texture will make you forget all about green bean casserole. Though they can be grilled, fried, steamed, or even eaten raw with some olive oil and salt, one of the best ways to take down a bunch of these beans is to let them cook low and slow in a braise.
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Though you might think you hate vegetables cooked for a long time (they’re mushy! they’re mealy!) I promise this is not the case when it comes to braising. As long as you have plenty of acid and salt, your green beans will come out of the braising pot tender and packed with flavor, yet crisp enough that you’d never mistake them for canned.
This does require you turn on the stove for an extended period of time in the time of year where it seems punishable to even think about applying heat to food outside of the grill. Indeed, summer beans licked with charcoal are a delight in their own right, but as the late summer evening wind gets a bit chillier, and you start to think about the first soup you’ll make this fall, I invite you to grab a pot and get braising.
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Start by rinsing off a pound or so of summer beans—truly, any variety will do. Trim their ends. If you have onions or other alliums around, chop those until you have about a cup. Crush a few garlic cloves. You probably have a few tomatoes on the counter, as it’s basically illegal to visit a farmers’ market in late summer and not purchase at least one heavy, fragrant heirloom. Give those a rough chop. It’s totally OK if they’re not perfect sandwich tomatoes either! As long as they’re ripe, they’ll do.
Heat a 5-second pour of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Toss in a few pinches of cumin or fennel seeds if you have them. Let cook for about five minutes, then add a few spoonfuls of harissa or tomato paste (or, heck, one of each) and the chopped tomatoes. If you have a few sips of white wine in the bottom of a bottle, add it. If not, a few splashes of white or red wine vinegar will do the trick. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and simmer for another five or so minutes.
Add the beans and toss them well with the tomato mixture. Mix in about half a cup of whatever stock you have on hand (water works too), season the beans with more salt, then cover partly with a lid. Reduce the heat to low and gently cook the beans, coming back to stir them every now and then, for half an hour. Taste a bean, and if they’re not quite tender, continue to cook for another ten to twenty minutes. Season again with salt before serving warm or at room temperature. If they taste a bit flat, wake them up with another splash of vinegar. Freshly toasted bread is an almost mandatory accompaniment.