Frankly, I’d rather sift flour into a small bowl, peel potatoes with a dull paring knife or winkle out pomegranate arils wearing a white T-shirt than sort through green beans. That’s how much I love Scott’s take on the vegetable, from his debut cookbook, “Fix Me a Plate.” Slow-braised in rich, savory chicken stock, fortified with ham hock, paprika, garlic, onion and bay, this stewy Southern staple feels at once homey and celebratory. And, like the most reliable articles of clothing, it can transform depending on the need: from side dish to soup lunch to the most nourishing leftovers. When you’re eating a bowl of this on a cool afternoon, each succoring spoonful is a reminder of how hard you worked to get to that point — especially if you took the time to stem your own beans.
Cooked just a bit longer — all the way through — a green bean can become its fullest self.
Botanically, a green bean is the unripe fruit of a common bean, whose young pods we can eat; its inner seeds darken in color and its sugars turn to starch when left (or forgotten) on the bush or pole. Of course, you could buy green beans, already stemmed, even washed and “ready to eat,” but they’ll have been slowly molding in their wet plastic bags, sitting on the grocery-store shelf. Buying them fresh, as from a farmers’ market, is worlds better, and the effort never more apparent than when you braise them. Not only do fresh beans keep their structure, but they also imbue the simmering liquid with an inimitable goldenness that comes from coaxing out their greenness.
There’s a time and a place for crunchy haricots verts (with slivered almonds, which Scott calls “skinny nuts”). Cooked just a bit longer — all the way through — a green bean can become its fullest self. A little oxidized and browned, sure, but what’s wrong with age and experience? When you prepare them this way, their underappreciated sweetness comes through, injecting whatever dish you’re cooking and seasoning everything with its essence.
One recent day, after begrudgingly stemming a pound of green beans for a curry, I had to resist my temptation to do what I’ve always done: throw them into the pan toward the end of cooking so that they remain tender-crisp. But remembering what Scott taught me, I plunged them in at the start and let them simmer away as I happy-houred over a bowl of potato chips with my partner. The resultant sauce was rich and deep, the same kind of magic that’s in a bowl of Scott’s braised green beans and potatoes.