Hot, late-summer days end with cold suppers on the porch. Simple spreads of green bean salads, potato salads, sliced tomatoes, deviled eggs and cold cuts, a loaf of crusty country bread and sweaty glasses of iced tea or gin and tonics give this cook a nice break. Summertime cooking means working ahead on cool mornings, and local vegetables this fresh hardly need any cooking at all.
Freshly picked beans — green, purple and yellow — are a welcome treat. Once known as string beans because of the string that runs along the seam of the bean (less noticeable in modern varieties), they're also called snap beans for what happens when you bend them in half (snap). Green beans, along with the yellow and purple beans, are at their peak right now. Buy them while they're small and slender and at their tender best.
Purple beans get their eggplant hues from anthocyanins, a natural plant pigment that disappears when the beans are cooked turning them green. These are a bit tougher but also a bit sweeter then the green varieties. Those pale wax or yellow beans do not contain chlorophyll, so they're not green at all — though they do taste the same. Haricots verts are simply a long, thin French green bean variety with a more pronounced green bean taste.
Despite the advice in most cookbooks, I favor the old-timey method of cooking any of these beans just beyond the stage of tender crisp. This way that little white bean within the bean cooks through and the full, complex flavor of the bean opens up. In the height of the season, truly fresh beans, once cooked through, are best doused with a good olive oil and a generous sprinkle of coarse salt and eaten with your fingers. They're way better than chips.
Green Beans with Lemony Tahini Sauce
Serves 4 to 6.
You can make the beans up to a day ahead and hold them in the refrigerator and dress them when ready to serve. Make the sauce ahead of time and store in a covered container for up to a week. It's great drizzled over roasted cauliflower or carrots, too. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 lb. green beans, trimmed
• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tbsp. tahini
• 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
• Generous pinch ground cumin, optional
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tbsp. toasted chopped nuts (hazelnuts, cashews or peanuts), for optional garnish
Set a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add enough salt so that it tastes "briny" (about 1 tablespoon). Add the green beans and cook until they're bright but just beyond tender-crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, pat dry, and transfer into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the green beans with just enough dressing to lightly coat. Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with the nuts.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.