When I was growing up, the green beans on my plate were a mushy, washed out, tasteless vegetable that came from a can. I didn’t know they came any other way until that summer trip we took to my grandparent’s farm in Arkansas. That’s when I learned to snap beans. Yep, they actually had a snap to them and were a far cry from anything I’d tasted before. As was every other vegetable we ate on that trip.
We traveled across country from California in the back of a camper. Five kids crammed into that jostling, bouncing cabin. We stopped along the way to see some of the sites, but we passed the rest of the time by staring out the bug-splattered window, counting cows and VW buses. Or we lay about reading stacks of comic books: Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, Archie and Beetle Bailey, Superman and the Green Hornet. We played Fish and Crazy 8’s and listened to our transistor radios. Yes, I’m aging myself here. =)
And then we arrived at a real honest-to-goodness farm – with cows and pigs and chickens and corn! My grandparents grew most of their own food. Canned it too. And it was great fun for us kids to be able to dig up the potatoes for dinner or collect fresh eggs for breakfast. And when it came time to make fresh beans for dinner (which is what I learned they called lunch), we sat on the porch swing, a bowl of freshly picked beans beside us, and another on our laps to hold the snapped ones. Pop. Pop. First each end came off, then pop, pop, pop, we snapped them into three more pieces. My grandmother was old, but her fingers were nimble. She seemed to be able to snap several of them at a time while I was still working on the same one. I’m sure she would have had them finished a lot faster without my assistance, but I’m glad she let me help her.
I still think of her when I’m snapping fresh beans. My kids have never had the ones in a can. They only know what the fresh ones taste like.
So here is, what has become our family’s holiday beans. (Though I do make them year-round.) We don’t eat the ones cooked in mushroom soup as there’s wheat in most of those.
Tomato Basil Green Beans
- fresh green beans - 2 lbs.
- extra virgin olive oil - 1 Tablespoon
- minced garlic (as you like) - 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons
- chopped onion - 1 ½ cups
- ground pepper (more to taste, if you like...at the end) - ½ teaspoon
- sea salt (more to taste, if you like...at the end) - 1 teaspoon
- dried basil (crushed) - 1 teaspoon
- freshly chopped tomatoes or 2 (14-16 oz.) cans of chopped tomatoes (with the juice) - 4 cups
Set a large pot of water onto the stove to boil. Wash and snap the beans into even pieces. When the water is boiling, drop the beans into the water and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes. Then drain in a strainer.
Saute garlic and onions in the oil on a low to medium heat until they begin to change color. Add the chopped tomatoes (with their juice) and turn the heat low enough they just simmer. Add the green beans, salt, pepper, and basil and lightly cover. Allow them to cook all together for 50 - 55 minutes (until the beans are tender), stirring occasionally. If there's not enough liquid, add just a little water. When they're done, taste and add more salt or pepper if necessary (to your taste).
Serves approximately 6 (If you don't have kids eating it out of the skillet like mine do!)