Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Donna's Fresh Green Beans With Bacon And New Potatoes

Let's talk about the humble green bean, perhaps the blandest of all vegetables.  Unless you doctor those beans up with some real flavor, they really are quite tasteless, and boring, and tasteless.   Did I say tasteless?   So, let's make some green beans the way grandma did, except without all the bacon grease.  Yeah, those things would slide right off your plate.  They were so shiny from the bacon grease you could put your lipstick on looking in one of them.  Did they taste good?  Sure, but we know that is not the healthiest way to eat them even though grandma lived to the ripe old age of 96.  Hmmm, there may be something in that bacon grease after all.

Grandma always classified green beans as bunch beans or pole beans.  Actually, they are bush beans and pole beans.  Did you know there was a difference?  If you have family from Kentucky, you know the difference.  Bush beans grow low to the ground on a bush like plant and are thin and not very stringy.  Pole beans, otherwise known as shelly beans in the Kentucky vernacular, are the ones I really love.  They were planted next to a tripod of poles with string staked to the ground and the beans would vine up the strings.  They are thicker green beans and can be kind of stringy so you have to remove the strings when you snap the beans.   Also, you can pop them open and let some of the beans inside the pod fall into the pot and they are super delicious.  Those are known as shelly beans.  Anybody know what I'm talking about?  I know my cousin Linda does.  When they are available in the summer, I would much rather have the pole beans than the bush beans.  They have so much more flavor and personality than the bush beans.  If bush beans are all that's available, I'm good with those.

Green beans were available fairly early in the summer at the farmer's market and I fixed a lot of them.  Then the drought came along and there were no green beans because they need a lot of water.  I am more than happy to report that they are available again at the farmer's market.  We got enough rain in July that there are fresh green beans again.  Yay!!!

If you have never prepared fresh green beans, you don't know what you are missing.  Seriously.  Canned or frozen green beans in no way compare to the fresh variety, especially if they are cooked the right way.  Grandma's way.  About the only way I will eat a canned green bean is if you fix a green bean casserole - what we always called the Indiana state casserole.  You know, the one that shows up at every holiday and pot luck dinner.  Yeah, that's the one.

Let's talk about fresh green beans and how to make them heavenly delicious.  If I am going to go to the effort to cook green beans, I don't want just a handful when I'm done.  I want left overs, several days worth of green beans because they actually get better each time you eat them.  They just keep absorbing all the goodness from the onions and the smoked meat and the new potatoes.  Okay, I just drooled on the keyboard.  Time to get down to business.

You want to buy 3 to 4 pounds of green beans.  Don't faint.  You will eat them.  If not, share them with friends and family.  They are going to love you forever if you do.  Now, you have to snap all those beans.  That's right.  Snap them all.  I use it as a meditation practice.  Our youngest son Tyler always loved to help me snap beans when he was a little guy.  I really miss him helping me.  We always had a lot of fun and that is such a good memory.

First, set up your snapping station.  I use a colander, a bowl to hold the strings and bean ends, and the bag of green beans.  Put another plastic bag down to catch any ends or strings that miss the bowl.  Makes clean up easier.  Trust me, this is not my first rodeo.  You will be glad you did this.
If you've never really studied a fresh green bean, they have two distinct ends that must be removed.
If you are using bush beans, they are not very stringy so you will remove each end and snap the rest of the bean in several pieces.  If you are using pole beans, they can be really stringy and the string will be attached to the end when you break it off.  Just peel it all the way down to the end of the bean.  Repeat with the other end, then snap into several pieces.  This takes a little time, maybe a half hour.  Put on some good music, clear your mind and snap away.  Before you know it you have a colander full of green beans, an empty bag and a bowl with ends and strings.  Clean up the bags, toss the ends in the trash, and take the colander to the sink to wash the beans.  Let the colander drain in the sink while you get the seasoning ready in the big pot you will cook the beans in.
Lets talk about seasoning.  You want something with a good smokey flavor like bacon, country bacon (like in the picture below), a smoked ham hock or a smoked turkey leg.  All are delicious and impart wonderful flavor to the beans and the pot liquor.  Pot liquor is the flavored water that remains from cooking the beans in case you didn't know.  It's yummo.

For this batch of beans, I used this smoked bacon I get at the farmer's market.
It comes in a chunk and only costs about $3.00 and I use it for many, many things.  I cut off some thick strips, about 3 or 4, and dice it.  You can also use strips of bacon you buy in the grocery.  Stack 4 or 5 strips on top of each other and cut into lardons (strips cut crossways) and do the same thing I am going to tell you about.

Get your dutch oven or big pot out (at least 10 quarts) and put it on the stove.  Peel two big onions and cut them in half.  Then cut them into big chunks.  Put the diced bacon in the bottom of the pot to cook and render out the bacon fat.  Grandma always kept a container with bacon grease in it and just spooned it into the pot.  Most of us don't have those today, so this is the way to render out that scrumptious, flavorful fat.  Don't let the bacon get very brown, it will continue to cook with the green beans.  Take the pot off the heat and add all the drained green beans in the colander to the pot.  Add the onion chunks and stir to mix the bacon and rendered fat into the green beans.  Fill the pot with water so that about 3/4 of the beans are under water.  They will release more water as they cook, so don't overfill.  You can always add water.  Put the pot back on medium heat, cover,  and cook for at least an hour.

Now, we like new potatoes cooked with our beans.  If you want to do that, buy about 2 pounds of small new potatoes, red or white, scrub them and cut the middle of the peel away from the potato.  You will add these about the last 45 minutes of cook time.  It's so worth doing.

At about an hour, season your green beans with salt.  They take a lot of salt, but start with a small amount, about a tablespoon - you can always add!  I taste and add, taste and add until I get where I want them to be.  Add black pepper too.  Lots.  Put all the new potatoes on top of the green beans, cover the pot and continue to cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the green beans are really soft and tender and the potatoes are too.  They should look like the picture at the begging of the blog.

If you want to use a smoked turkey leg or ham hock, get the green beans ready to cook and just add either one on top of the beans.  It's just a little different than using bacon.

For a complete meal, you can add corn on the cob on top of the potatoes.  Shuck the corn, remove the silks and break the cobs in 1/2.  Lay them on top of the potatoes and let cook for about 20 minutes.  Ta da.  You now have a complete meal.  Add some sliced tomatoes, cornbread or biscuits and enjoy.  If you used a smoked turkey leg or ham hock, cut the meat away from the bone and add to the beans. Super delicious!  This is one of our all time favorite summer meals. Our kids always loved fresh green beans.  My Grandma sure knew what she was doing.  This grandma has been fixing green beans the same way for 43 years.  No complaints yet!

I wish I could give you an exact recipe, but cooking green beans is not an exact science.   It is a flavor and a feeling and a taste that suits you.  Don't be afraid to give this a try, you'll never want canned beans again.  Let me know how they turn out and Good luck!

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas.
Horace Gray

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