The Last Green Beans

by Marykate Smith Despres, Salem Depot

We had an abundance of beans in our garden this year. This is a good thing, but also problematic, especially when your garden is not outside your back door. Packing the baby up and trekking to our community garden plot every other day did not prove as easy as I had anticipated back in the spring when we first planted and when said baby was still snuggled up inside me in an oh-so-portable way. As it turned out, my postpartum garden visits dwindled to once weekly.

Despite my divided attention, however, the beans grew. And grew. And grew. Until they became so large as to be tough, too tough to eat raw and even quite tough when cooked. I considered throwing them in the crockpot with some other veggies and meat to make a stew, but it just hadn’t been stew weather until this week. I considered a twist on pork and beans and emailed my friend, a chef, for advice. She directed me to the following recipe, adapted from the Southern-Style Green Beans featured in this year’s April/May issue of Cook’s Country. Not only did it solve my bean problem, it also gave me an excuse to use my Dutch oven – a wedding gift that had sat un-opened in our closet for the past three years.

You’ll need:

5 slices bacon*
1 large onion, halved and sliced
3 pounds green beans, trimmed
2 1/2cups water
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar

* Because I had pork belly on hand rather than bacon, I used that. I used about 3 thick cuts of pork belly (which is about three times the amount of bacon, in other words, three times the amount of yum), diced into pieces about the size of my thumbnail and 1/4″ thick.

Cook all of your pork belly or half your bacon over medium heat in the Dutch oven until crisp. If you’re using bacon, you’ll want to take it out and put it aside, but I left my pork belly in and added my onions right in on top, stirring occasionally.

Once your onions are soft, add everything else to the pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, give it a gentle, so as not to break the beans, stir every once in a while. After about 45 minutes, uncover.

The original recipe tells you to toss your bacon at this point and cook uncovered on higher heat for about 5 more minutes, but I left my pork belly in for the remainder of the cooking and the entirety of the eating. If you did use bacon, you’ll want to crumble those previously cooked slices on top before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Of course, you don’t need over-grown green beans for this meal. It works just as well with the picked-when-perfect beans some folks got in last week’s share.