If you love beans, you are one excited cook at the end of summer and into autumn, because that is when beans are best. Depending on the year, beans are in the market as early as mid-August through October. It’s a decently long season but it feels so fleeting because beans are such a special, flavorful vegetable, and there are so many things to do with them in the kitchen.
Here in France, the haricot vert – green bean – is Queen of all. But her handmaidens are the shell beans, of which there is a variety in the market in the fall.
May Favorite Bean has a Pedigree
My favorites are the white shell beans, coco blanc, the best of which come from Paimpoul, in Brittany. There, they benefit from rich soil, the sea, and from the considerable know-how of growers who’ve been cultivating them since the early 20th century. The beans arrived in Brittany by chance when a mariner brought the grains back from a trip to South America. First, the beans were planted in home gardens, then market gardeners took over and commercialized the beans, which received an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlé) in 1998, one of the first vegetables to do so. (AOC is a pedigree which guarantees growing, harvesting, and processing methods so the consumer knows exactly what she is getting. Because it is now Europe-wide, it is called AOP, Appellation d’Origine Protegée). For the haricots de Paimpoul, which are called cocos de Paimpoul, they merit the name only if they are grown in and around Paimpoul, using the required techniques and methods.
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Shell Beans are Delicious No Matter Where They Are Grown
There are shell beans grown in many parts of France, of course, each with its own subtle variance of flavor. I either get the cocos de Paimpul or cocos from a local grower who, like all growers of any type of bean, harvests them painstakingly by hand. They stay fresh in their pods for three to four days, and then they begin to dry so it behooves the eater to shuck and eat them immediately, for they are best when they are fresh and tender. At this stage they cook quickly in boiling water, benefiting from a branch of rosemary or winter savory added to the water. I never salt them while they are cooking, to avoid any toughness setting in.
Because I love both shell beans and green beans, I combine them here. They’re the same family of vegetables but they couldn’t be more different, nor more complimentary. You’ll see if you try this that it enlivens a plate and a meal because the flavor of the beans is wonderful, their look on the plate cheerful and alluring. To make this dish, place the fresh, white beans in cool water and bring to a boil, with or without herbs. Boil for 12 minutes, remove from the heat and leave the beans in the water until you use them. For the green beans, trim and place them in a skillet with about ¼ cup water, bay leaf, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, and a clove of garlic if you like. Bring the water to a boil, cover, and cook the beans, shaking the pan regularly, until the beans are the texture you like. If you like them cooked all the way through but not mushy, it takes about 11 minutes. Combine the beans, anoint them with olive oil, season them and voila!
Little, Yummy Tip!
And here’s a tip to turn this into an amazing first course; get some fresh foie gras, slice and sauté the slices, set a slice atop the beans. Mmm. Miam.