Green beans, the ultimate role player, 12 ways

Have you ever thought about how hard it must be to be a green bean? Just think of it – there you are, a simple string, surrounded by all those voluptuous colorful fruits of summer: tomatoes, peaches, melons. What's a bean to do?

The reality is, and this sounds a little silly to say, green beans are one of my favorite summer foods. And I love them because they don't stand out and whomp you over the head with flavor. Instead, they're the perfect bit player; they just make everything taste better.


Don't believe me? Try this next time you grill a steak, a lamb chop or some chicken: Blanch green beans until they are just crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes; refresh them in ice water to stop the cooking, and pat them dry; toss them in a bowl with thinly sliced garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and coarse salt and toss to combine.

It's so simple, but it's so delicious. It seems like almost an afterthought but it makes the meal complete.

There are two main kinds of beans you can find at the market right now, round ones and flat ones.

Round ones need to be cooked briefly, as I've described above. Their charms are immediate and sweet and crisp. Flat beans, commonly called Romano, are the opposite. You can cook them quickly, but they really repay a long, slow simmer that tenderizes their thick, tough hull and turns it almost meaty.

You want a flat bean equivalent of that string bean dish? Here: Simmer freshly chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and pancetta; add Romano beans and stew until they're tender – it could take 45 minutes or even longer. The texture is silky and the depth of flavor is amazing.

Choose both kinds of beans the same way. You want the color to be deep and saturated and you want the texture to be crisp enough that it snaps when folded.

Pro tip: do your sorting at the market. Rather than scoop up beans by the handful, pick through them, choosing the ones that are roughly the same size, so they'll cook evenly, and avoiding any that are kinked or misshapen. This'll save waste at home.