Anything purple (viola) catches my attention at the farmers' market. And it does not need to be solid purple: a light brushstroke or a hint of that deep color is enough to make me head straight for the basket or box containing the irresistible produce.
Each pod (baccello) of Rattlesnake bean is marbled purple in a unique way, like a sheet of marbled paper. The farmer celebrates singularity in each bean, just as the marbler does in each sheet of paper that he or she peels off from the water, rinses and then dries to reveal the pattern created.
Phaseolus vulgaris "Rattlesnake" (serpente a sonagli) is a variety of pole bean. The way pole beans (fagioli rampicanti) curl themselves around the support necessary for their proper development reminds me of snakes. But rather than stay close to the ground, pole beans aim for the sky, carrying with them, in their ascent, earthy hopes and dreams.
The name “Rattlesnake beans” should not intimidate the prospective buyer. And neither should their look. On the contrary, an unfamiliar item, or a familiar one in a never-seen-before attire should attract the cook like a flower attracts a bee. The meeting opens the door to a little adventure that starts with the question to the farmer: “What's this?”
I met Rattlesnake beans in a wicker basket at the Shakefork Community Farm's stand at the Arcata Farmers' Market a few weeks ago and, after the introduction, we've become fast friends. When harvested early, the substantial and sinuous beans, 6-7 inches long and of medium width, strikingly elegant in their green and purple dress, can be used as you would snap beans. I like to steam and serve them as a salad.
Freshly picked beans beg the dressing hand for a light touch. A vinaigrette is all that's needed. As I like my beans soft rather than crunchy, I offset the beans' tenderness with toasted sliced almonds (mandorle). My nasturtium-infused vinegar is perfect in this vinaigrette as it adds a hint of spiciness that brightens the beans' sweet flavor.
The only regret? As the beans soften in the heat of the cooking pot, the purple marbling runs away, as if made of water-soluble ink, leaving behind a memory, the longing for lost beauty and the desire to see it again the following week in the basket on the stall at the farmers' market.
Since this is a salad, quantities are approximate and can be adjusted easily. Also, in the absence of Rattlesnake beans, other varieties of snap beans can be used.
- 18 oz. / 500 g fresh Rattlesnake beans (or another variety of snap beans)
- 3 tablespoons / 45 ml sliced almonds
- fine sea salt, to taste
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- nasturtium-infused vinegar (or another kind of vinegar, like sherry), to taste
- olive oil of good quality, to taste
Wash beans and trim tops. Trim tails if you wish (I stopped doing it).
In a stainless steel basket inserted in a pot containing an inch of boiling water, steam beans to desired tenderness.
Drain beans, plunge in ice-cold water, drain and set aside to cool in a serving bowl.
Close to serving time, toast sliced almonds in a skillet on medium-low heat. Do not wander away as the almonds burn easily (it will happen the moment you turn your back to them).
Prepare the vinaigrette with Dijon mustard, salt, (nasturtium-infused) vinegar, and olive oil, adjusting quantities according to your taste. Place ingredients in a small glass jar, screw on lid and shake to emulsify.
Shortly before serving the beans, dress them with most of the vinaigrette and toss. Distribute sliced almonds on the surface and toss right before serving the salad. Serve with the remaining vinaigrette on the side.
Serves four, I think. At our house, a third guest would be able to get a small portion; a fourth one not even that, because we love these beans.
Parting note: The grower can renounce to harvest the young pods in favor of the grown up beans that develop in time. Once shelled, they can be consumed fresh or dried for long-term storage.
This is my contribution to MLLA #62, the current edition of the popular, legume-centered event created by Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook, now organized by Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen, and hosted this month by Siri of Cooking with Siri.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the insalata di fagiolini audio file [mp3].
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