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COOKING

No Strings Attached

From spicy to tart, green bean salads are quick and easy summertime sides.

'BEANS X3' Haricots verts are combined with cannellini and lima beans, then tossed with a lemony tarragon vinaigrette for a cool but hearty summer side dish.
"BEANS X3" Haricots verts are combined with cannellini and lima beans, then tossed with a lemony tarragon vinaigrette for a cool but hearty summer side dish. (Photo / Jim Scherer; Styling / Catrine Kelty)

Not even the humble green bean is immune to progress. Once strictly a warm-weather crop, good transportation and refrigeration have helped transform it into a year-round supermarket staple, but the beans are best and cheapest during the summer.

Meanwhile, those annoying strings of yesteryear's "string beans" have essentially been bred into oblivion, so now green beans are tender enough to munch right off the stalk - or, for most of us, out of the supermarket bin.

Conventional wisdom has it that small, slender green beans are superior to large, fat ones, and a bit of empirical research confirms that. Therefore, these recipes use the especially slim French variety called haricot vert (both t's are silent, as is the h), unless conventional green beans are all you have. Now almost as widely available as their hefty American cousins, haricots verts are tender, deeply flavored, and lithe enough to use whole.

Two final notes: First, it's best to eat these salads within an hour or two of making them, because the beans' color and texture begin to fade once they are dressed. (They'll still taste fine the next day, but they won't look fresh and pretty.) Second, these dressings - as with any vinaigrette for fresh or cooked vegetables - are best when made with extra virgin olive oil, whose flavor is vastly superior to that of regular olive oil.

BEANS X3 WITH LEMON AND TARRAGON
SERVES 6

1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon plus
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, finely chopped
Pepper, to taste
1 can (15.5 ounces) white beans such as cannellini, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen lima beans, cooked and cooled
1 1/2 pounds haricots verts or green beans (for the latter, ends trimmed and beans halved)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly pour in half the olive oil while vigorously whisking. When the mixture is blended, add the remaining olive oil in the same way. Mix in the tarragon, season with pepper, add the white and lima beans, mix to coat them with dressing, and set aside.

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. When the water on the stove boils, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt and the green beans, and cook until they are tender-crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain the green beans in a colander and immediately plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain the green beans again, pat them dry with a kitchen towel, and place them in a large bowl. Add the dressing-and-bean mixture and toss to combine. Drizzle with olive oil and serve at once.

GREEN BEAN SALAD WITH PEPPER VINAIGRETTE
SERVES 6

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped (about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon plus
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons sliced marinated hot cherry peppers, drained and chopped
1/2 cup thin strips roasted red pepper
1 1/2 pounds haricots verts or green beans (for the latter, ends trimmed and beans halved)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly pour in half of the olive oil while vigorously whisking. When the mixture is blended, add the remaining olive oil in the same way. Season with black pepper, add cherry peppers and roasted red pepper and mix so that the peppers are coated with the dressing. Set the pepper mixture aside.

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. When the water on the stove boils, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt and the green beans and cook until they are tender-crisp, about 3 minutes.

Drain the green beans in a colander and immediately plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain the green beans again, pat them dry with a kitchen towel, and place them in a large bowl.

Pour the dressing-and-pepper mixture over the green beans, add the parsley, and toss to combine. Serve at once.

GREEN BEANS AND MUSHROOMS WITH SHERRY VINAIGRETTE
SERVES 6

1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 anchovy, mashed to a paste (about 1 teaspoon)
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped (about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Pepper, to taste
1 1/2 pounds haricots verts or green beans (for the latter, ends trimmed and beans halved)
1/2 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, anchovy, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Slowly pour in half of the olive oil while vigorously whisking. When the mixture is blended, add the remaining olive oil in the same way. Season with pepper, mix, and set aside.

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. When the water on the stove boils, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt and the green beans and cook until they are tender-crisp, about 3 minutes.

Drain the beans in a colander and immediately plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain the green beans again, pat them dry with a kitchen towel, and place them in a large bowl. Add the dressing, mushrooms, and 3 tablespoons of chives and toss to combine. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of chives and serve at once.

Kitchen Aide: That's Shocking!

Have you ever noticed how green vegetables always assume a bright, healthy, verdant glow as soon as they're dropped into boiling water? That's because in the first minutes of heating, the thin film of air that naturally surrounds the cells of the plant when raw expands, escaping to the surface of the water, where it boils off. That leaves the compounds that color the vegetable to do their thing with no visual interference from trapped air.

But prolonged exposure to heat can dull vegetables' colors. As vegetables cook, their cell walls break down, causing the release of naturally occurring acids from the cells. Once the acids hit the chlorophyll or other coloring compounds, often around the 6- or 7-minute mark of cooking, the color begins to dull.

Even if vegetables cook for just a minute or two, the residual heat after they're removed from the boiling water can affect the color. That's why we "shock" the hot veggies with a plunge into ice water. The abrupt chill puts an end to the chemical reaction and the cooking process and sets the vibrant color.

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