veg of the month
As summer rolls on, runner beans are coming into season. They were sown in early May and have been creeping up the rows of bamboo canes ready for picking now and over the coming weeks. Runner beans are an iconic part of the British summer for gardeners and their bright red flowers and wild foliage are a satisfyingly traditional sight. At home, keep them in a bag in the bottom of your fridge and they should last for up to a week. At their freshest, they should snap in half cleanly and are best to eat at this stage.
Runner beans need topping and tailing before cooking. They also benefit from ‘de-stringing’; just run a potato peeler down each side. It is traditional to slice them diagonally and boil them in plenty of water (without a lid to help maintain the colour) until they are just how you like them. Opinion is divided on whether they should ‘squeak’ in your mouth when you eat them; you might prefer them cooked a touch longer.
If you’re stuck for inspiration beyond boiled beans, try making a moreish side dish by tossing warm cooked runner beans with crispy pancetta and sliced spring onions. Trickle over some good balsamic vinegar and serve. They are also good with a simple vinaigrette or just a splash of olive oil and some black pepper. If you can’t be bothered to cook them at all, chop the lengths into batons and chomp on them raw, perhaps dipped in hummus.
To make a light, summery soup, cook a chopped onion in melted butter over a low heat. Stir in a tablespoon of flour and cook for a minute, then add a litre of chicken or vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, add very finely chopped runner beans and two tablespoons of fresh herbs (try rosemary, thyme, tarragon or parsley). Simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. Pour in a wineglass of sherry, season well and reheat. You could serve the soup with a little parmesan grated over the top and a squeeze of lemon.