Jack was thought to be a foolish boy when he traded his mother’s cow for a handful of supposedly magic beans. But giant beanstalks from tiny beans do grow. If magic exists, then Mother Nature is the supreme sorceress. Think of the miraculous produce she provides from such seeds.
Those bright crisp edible pod beans with a multiplicity of names such as pole, snap, wax, haricot vert, string and plain ole green are the immature fruit of the same plants that provide navy, lentil, pinot, Great Northern and lima beans to mention just a few. The long skinny pods are cooked in as many ways as they have names and varieties: steamed, blanched, roasted, tempura-ed, stir-fried, curried, tagined, grilled, souped and pickled. The yellow and purple varieties, often referred to as wax beans, are a bit larger than the usual green beans. It’s sad that the purple ones lose their deep rich hue when cooked and turn to green.
Regardless of their proprietary attitude, the French can only claim to have developed varieties of these beans. Nor is the nomenclature “haricot vert” as French as is now sounds. Waverly Root says that name is a corruption of the Aztec ayacotl. The French should, however, receive full credit for the marriage of green beans and almonds.
On his second voyage to the west, Columbus sent the edible pods back to Spain where they were largely dismissed. In 1528 Cabeza de Vaca found them in Florida and sent them to Pope Clement VII who in turn passed them on to a canon. Said canon grew them in pots. He found them to be so tasty that he introduced Lorenzo de’ Medici’s son, Alessandro to them. One thing bean to another and the Tuscans became known as mangafagioli, or bean eaters. Alessanadro gave the beans to his half-sister, Catherine de’ Medici, who carried them to France along with other Italian delicacies when she wed Henry II. It is Catherine and that marriage spawned the Italian claim that they taught the French to cook.
Getting good tasting, good food on the table quickly is a widely shared goal. Green beans lend themselves to this readily. What could be simpler than to steam the beans for seven to ten minutes, drizzle a bit of olive oil and toss with Golden Fried Shallots? Otherwise, today’s green bean recipe is Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots.