One of my earliest memories is of playing on a wraparound porch while a cache of women snapped green beans.
I think the house was somewhere in Pleasant Hill, MO, where my mother grew up. I’m pretty sure the women included my mom, my grandma and my great-aunt. I’m convinced we ate the beans for dinner — most likely long-cooked with onions and lots of ham.
In my mind’s eye, that image is synonymous with summer: Warm breezes, fresh beans and the murmurings of women I loved fiercely.
I’m snapping my own beans these days. Victims of our neighborhood’s rabbits the past few years, the bean patch has remained unscathed this summer. (A tribute to “Deer Be Gone” and an … ummm … “homeopathic” remedy from the men in my house.) I harvest big bowlfuls every afternoon, then snap the beans on my own back porch. It’s peaceful, solitary work, interrupted only by our beagle, who occasionally sticks her nose in the bowl to lift out a single, solitary bean.
The biggest difference between my memory and reality is the way I cook the beans. I’m a sucker for a slow-cooked string bean, but these days I like them better when they’re crisp. Five minutes in boiling, salted water; a quick dip in an ice bath; then a romp in some mustardy, vinegary dressing. Served hot or cold, these are the beans of my children’s summers.
I hope they remember them as fondly as I remember my own childhood beans.
Green Bean Salad (adapted from “Gourmet” magazine)
- 4 cups green beans, stem ends snapped off
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Fresh basil and parsley
Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Salt it generously, then add the green beans. Cook for 5 minutes.
As the beans are cooking, place a couple of handfuls of ice in a large bowl. Add water.
When the beans are done cooking, use a handheld strainer to move them from the boiling water to the ice bath. Let them sit in the ice water for a couple of minutes, then drain them and pat them dry.
In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, the lemon juice, the mustard, garlic and sugar. Season with salt and pepper, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning. If the dressing seems too acidic, add an additional 1/8 teaspoon of sugar.
Place the beans in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over them, and toss well. Add some torn basil and parsley, and toss again. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.