Runner beans are common as muck, stringy, need to be sliced thinly on the diagonal - and utterly gorgeous with lots of garlic and butter.
I know my food, or so I like to think
Nobody likes to admit they were wrong. It’s human nature – nobody knows their stuff better than we do ours.
So naturally, I am the be all and end all of food; nothing infuriates me more than someone professing they know better about cooking, nutrition and such unless they are professionally qualified.
Well-meaning friends who inform me that sourdough is good for your gut or explain that steak should be brought to room temperature before cooking are really, trully annoying. I know all that! I knew it before they made the discovery!! I practically invented steak and sourdough!!!
But if I express an opinion, it's a different story. If I say things like: ‘kale is inedible’, ‘shortcrust pastry always wins over puff’, ‘you have to separate your eggs to make a decent cake’ and ‘muffins? who cares about making muffins?’ I expect to be listened to and applauded.
I don’t like to be contradicted. I like even less to realise myself, albeit in the privacy of my own dinner plate, that I might possibly not have been entirely right.
What are runner beans good for?
And so I have been saying for what seems like centuries that runner beans are a huge misunderstanding; a stringy, fibrous and tough vegetable that is grown in England only because the English don’t know any better about haricots verts, Italian beans and so on.
I have probably had one run-in with the runners and decided for ever. Well guess what – I was completely wrong.
Why might we dislike runner beans?
One thing in my defence is that runner beans, like a lot of vegetables in this country, are picked too late: when overgrown and over-tough. But recently I had a very cheffy dish of the runner beans raw, sliced paper thin and tossed in some supremely sophisticated dressing.
I might have ordered it by accident, thinking they were French beans, but I ended up quite impressed. I toyed with the idea of using them since then.
I’ll cut to the chase now (to the run, ha!): they are gorgeous. I bought some with the raw cheffy thing in mind but couldn’t be bothered so I sliced them, blanched them, buttered them. Epiphany.
And the lesson from the story? It’s so good to be wrong if it means a brand new dish to be enjoyed.
How to prepare and cook runner beans
They are still stringy, you know, so there is a little preparation involved. While topping and tailing, you need to pull off the string from both sides and both ends. So yes, turning each bean four times in your hands, but I actually find it quite satisfying, possibly therapeutic.
Give me a pound of runner beans to string and I'll contentedly shut up.
They are still tough as well, so have to be sliced and parboiled. The slicing is best done with the terrifying kitchen tool which is the mandolin (glove is a must) but it might be therapeutic again to slice them by hand, on the diagonal, using a very sharp knife.
Parboiling the beans takes about five minutes, after plunging them into boiling water and bringing to a simmer. The should retain the bite but the texture should be crunchy rather than tough. Of course, the smaller, early picked ones will taste the nicest.
Ant then it's just fun cooking: toasting the garlic slices and breadcrumbs until barely coloured, returning the beans into the butter and tossing with handfuls of Parmesan.
More beans recipes
Use runner beans to prepare the two side dishes featured below: beans with tomatoes and beans with Parmesan cream.
Or use them in a salad with bulgur wheat and chorizo.