A Bean Feast
The garden offers something good at every time of year, even in the depth of winter, but August has to be the best month, except that this year it is September because the season is so late. The best thing about this season, apart perhaps from the tomatoes, is the beans.
Blue Lake french beans make a glorious and simple green vegetable, so full of flavour that once you have tasted them you will never again bother with those tasteless and pointless things you find in the supermarkets, usually imported from Kenya. All you need to do is to boil them in salted water, for at least five minutes – they need a bit more cooking than you might think to bring out their rich buttery flavour and texture.
These beans grow so fast that you need to pick them every day, but if you miss some you can leave them for another couple of weeks until the pods begin to turn yellow, when you can shell the pale green coloured beans which are now fresh flageolet beans. The ones in the picture however are borlotti, or what the French call cocos rouges, which can be prepared in exactly the same way and are delicious and substantial; and unlike dried beans they are perfectly easy to digest.
To prepare them make a mirepoix by cutting some aromatic vegetables that are also in season into small dice, onion, carrots and celery in this case and sweat them in olive oil. Add the shelled beans and water to cover by a centimetre or so and cook until the beans are soft and tender and any grainyness has been cooked out of them. The liquor should now be boiled off until just a tablespoon or so remains, or more if you have a large pot. Into this stir raw chopped garlic and parsley, and then a generous quantity of the best olive oil you have, which should be absorbed into the liquor and because it is not cooked should impart its fresh flavour to the dish as well as richness and texture. That’s it, all it needs now is a sprinkling of salt and maybe pepper on the plate. It’s simple and easy and cannot be improved on and I’ll be eating it most days until the autumn weather does for the beans which will probably be all too soon, and I’ll have to spend the next eleven months looking forward to next August when we can feast on beans again.
If you have any of these beans left over, or made a double quantity in the first place, you can make a magnificent soup by pureeing them, adding water to get the consistency you want for you soup, and dressing it with exactly the same mix of raw garlic, parsley and olive oil. This is Tuscan bean soup and is often made from dried beans which can be hard on the stomach, and while good, never as tasty as the fresh beans. If you can find a greengrocer who sells fresh borlotti or other shelling beans they will be just as good as the ones from your garden – but you might have to go a long way and I have only been able to buy them in France.
TO garnish these beans I seared thin sliced of calves’ liver and made a cream sauce with fairy ring mushrooms which are growing in great profusion at the moment in the grass around our elderflower trees, and which have a glorious perfume. Clean them well making sure any grit is removed, cutting off the lower half of the stems which you can never clean properly, and sweat them in butter. After searing the liver over maximum heat for a minute or so either side, remove it to plate, and put a cup of good jellied stock into the pan to deglaze it. Add a teaspoon of dijon mustard and a couple of tablespoons of creme fraiche, and reduce over a high heat until the sauce thickens. Stir in the mushrooms (if you don’t have them don’t worry, the sauce will be delicious without) and finally a generous knob of butter. Cream, stock and then butter – it may sound like overkill but it works and you need all three. Without the stock the butter will separate out rather than being absorbed into the sauce, which is why only a home made jellied stock will do, and as you will see the butter improves the texture of the sauce giving it a glossy finish and a rich flavour.