Beans in cheesecloth

Like beans in a brick, this is not an innovative recipe but a technique, the result of a 20-minute discussion last week between my husband and me about the most efficient way to blanch filet beans. If you have several pounds to process at once like we do, dumping the pot of water with the beans every time will turn the kitchen into a Turkish bath. Bringing one pot of water after another to the boil will take forever. If you leave the beans in the same water and remove them with tongs, half of them will be overcooked by the time you fish them all out.

Therefore, in previous years, I put the beans in a metal colander, which I placed in a pot with boiling water. But unless I did this in very small batches, the beans were too crowded and did not cook evenly.

After we took out half of our pots and colanders of various sizes and staged the different options, it occurred to me that cheesecloth might be the way to go. I placed a pound of green beans on a large piece of cheesecloth, twisted it several times at the top so it formed a loose bag around the beans, and lowered it into a large pot of the boiling water. I firmly held onto the top with a pair of tongs. When I immersed the bag into the bowl with ice water, it cooled off almost instantly so I could open up the cloth and release all the beans.

Tonight it’s blanching time again. For now I am happy with the cheesecloth trick. I am only curious what my assistant, in charge of the ice water cooling and spreading the beans on dish towels to dry, will cook up on his end. He usually runs the ceiling fan at top speed to dry the beans. But there is always room for improvement…

Beans in a brick

Unlike chicken under a brick, beans in a brick is not a recipe but the way I grow green beans. Every year I had entire rows of French filet beans, aka haricots verts, getting knocked over, a paining sight. Whether it’s the wind on our hilltop, or the weight of the beans that does it, I don’t know.

I tried different things, from securing every plant individually with a small stake (tedious and useless) to stretching wire along each side of the row (equally useless). I even called the company where I bought the seeds to find out what they recommend but they did not seem to understand what I was talking about, since the beans are described as self-supporting in the catalog.

Then, one day, I was standing outside the car wash waiting when my eyes fell on a pile of bricks nearby. What if I buried the seeds into the holes of bricks and let the plants grow into them? That way the crucial first 1.5 inches of the stem, where the plants always break, would be protected. Lucky coincidence – our local hardware store was just discontinuing selling bricks, so I got a few dozen bricks for free.

It worked! I seed the beans very densely, one in every hole, so they also support each other. The most important thing is not to move the bricks the slightest bit after seeding because the small hole is the seed’s lifeline to air and light. Without it, no germination!

A few plants still get knocked over, but this is minimal compared to the previous damage. Now it’s almost time to harvest, and I am looking forward to my favorite salad with green beans. The original recipe is from Bon Appetit but because I don’t like raw onions of any kind, I omit the shallots in the dressing. Since with my growing method, I get a good crop of haricot verts, I use three times more green beans than the recipe calls for. Therefore this is not a Potato Salad with Haricots Verts, but a Haricot Verts Salad with Potatoes.

Haricot Verts Salad with Potatoes, Blue Cheese and Walnuts

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

1 pound small reds-skinned potatoes


1.5 pounds French filet beans

1/3 cup walnuts

2/3 cup crumbled  blue cheese (Gorgonzola or Roquefort)

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Whisk the mustard with the vinegar and olive oil. Stir in the rosemary and sage.

3. Wash the potatoes and toss them whole with 3 tablespoons vinaigrette until they are evenly coated. Spread them in one layer in a baking dish. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes until they are soft, turning them once in a while. Cool.

4. Bring salted water to the boil in a large pot. Have a large bowl with ice water standing by. Cook the beans in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and throw immerse the beans in the ice water immediately. Swirl them around so they cool evenly. Drain again.

5. Lightly toast the walnuts in an ungreased pan. Chop them coarsely.

6. In a large bowl, mix the potatoes, green beans, cheese, walnuts and the remaining vinaigrette.  Season with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings