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Archive for Wednesday, July 18, 2007

With yellow wax beans, flavor depends on prep

July 18, 2007

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I've fallen in love. The object of my recently ignited affection is a yellow wax bean called Goldito.

Every few years, I grow something in my garden that tastes so extraordinary that I find myself feeling both smug and a little sorry for all the people who will never have an opportunity to eat that particularly wonderful item of produce. Usually the cause of my satisfaction is a tomato - several have nearly caused me to swoon - but I had the same experience with the lemon cucumber.

Most people encounter yellow wax beans as a fairly tasteless color accent in three-bean salad that comes from a deli counter. Basing one's opinion on this version of the yellow bean is unfair to the bean as well as oneself.

I picked my double-row of Goldito beans when the largest beans were about pencil thin. One of the issues with some yellow wax beans is that if they stay on the plant just a bit too long, the seeds inside harden up and the pods become waxy. Hence the name, I suppose.

By picking the Goldito beans when they were still young and tender (most were just about 4 inches in length), I caught them at their prime. The results were divine.

I washed up about a quart of beans, pinched the ends and snapped them, then placed them in a saucepan and covered them with water. I added a heaping teaspoon of salt, a couple of turns of pepper and plenty of diced onion (1 small onion in this case) and chopped bacon (4 strips). I then brought the pot to a boil before reducing the heat and letting it simmer for about 45 minutes.

I took the beans off the stove when they were fully tender. These yellow beans had an astonishing depth of flavor, helped no doubt by the onion and bacon, and they tasted nothing like the usual yellow wax bean. If we could amass a hundred blindfolded taste-testers, we would go far down the line before anyone would guess that these flavorful beans were - gasp! - yellow wax beans.

Not to take anything away from Goldito, a variety I ordered from the Vermont Bean Seed catalog, but the way fresh beans are cooked has a lot to do with how they taste. This holds true for regular green beans as well.

Fresh bean pods can be prepared al dente, in which the beans are warmed through but still crisp, or cooked what I call home-style. For most of us, our expectations of home-style green beans have been shaped by canned green beans, which have been cooked until they are soft and injected with large quantities with sodium. The bean - green or yellow - is not salty by itself, yet that is the overriding flavor in canned beans.

When shoppers buy fresh green beans in the store, many have an expectation that the cooked beans will be similar to the canned beans they know and love. Many people are taken aback by the amount of preparation required for a large "mess" of home-style beans - pinching the stems and snapping them one by one is labor-intensive - and the lengthy cooking time needed for tender beans.

The time I simmered the Goldito beans was short, because I picked the beans so early. I have had to simmer some more mature green beans as long as 90 minutes.

The payoff is in the taste, which the Green Giant cannot duplicate. As I found with the Goldito beans, the rewards more than compensate the extra effort of growing and cooking them.

- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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