August 1, 2018

Dear friends,
The summer soup I made last week was no big deal but it was everything. It was good old green bean and potato soup, but elevated to the sublime.

In the summers of my childhood and probably yours, too, the big soup pot came out when green beans were in season. They were called string beans or snap beans then, and they were the basis of at least one gigantic, cheap meal in mid summer. My mother would toss a ham bone, handfulls of green beans and cubed potatoes into a pot and boil everything until the meagre shreds of ham fell from the bone and the vegetables were soft. Really soft. We ate the soup with buttered bread.

I was reminded of the meal after I asked for ways to use up the boatload of green beans Tony grew. I got a few recipes for bean salads and side dishes, a recommendation to roast the beans (which I do) and two huzzahs for canned dilly beans. But the suggestion that stuck with me was the one for green beans, potatoes and ham. Could I elevate it enough to appeal to more sophisticated tastes?

I started by making a rich stock with a meaty ham bone (I got mine at Honey Baked Ham). I simmered the bone for about three hours, until the broth had lots of flavor. Already I was way ahead of my mother’s soup. Then I cut the beans and potatoes into smaller pieces than Mom did, added salt, and gently simmered them in the stock just until the potatoes were tender — about an hour less than my mother did.

The soup already tasted pretty good, but the capper was a spoonful of pesto stirred into each bowlful. This is how the French amp up the flavor of their Provencal vegetable soup, pistou. The French version of pesto does not include Parmesan cheese, but I like the umami undertone the cheese contributes. The garlic, basil and olive oil in the pesto melt into the soup and infuse every spoonful with bright Mediterranean flavors.

Those who have made green bean and potato soup before won’t need a recipe, although I measured ingredients in order to provide one. If you intend to wing it remember three things:
1. Buy a really meaty ham bone. Mine had plenty of meat on it after I sliced off at least a pound for sandwiches and to add to the soup at the end.
2. Simmer the meaty bone a long time (about 3 hours) to make a rich stock for the soup.
3. Cut the vegetables into fairly uniform 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces and use enough to provide a good ratio of vegetables to broth — in other words, more vegetables than our moms used.

This is what I call a great way to use up green beans.

SUMMER GREEN BEAN SOUP WITH PESTO

1 very meaty ham bone
1 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs. peeled potatoes, diced in 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 quarts (about) fresh green beans, washed, trimmed and cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 tsp. salt
Basil pesto (preferably homemade)

Cut excess meat from ham bone, leaving at least a cup or two on the bone to flavor the broth (just eyeball it). Dice enough of the ham cut from the bone to equal 1 1/2 cups, reserving remaining ham for other uses.

Place meaty ham bone in a 2-gallon soup pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, partially cover and adjust heat until it gently simmers. Simmer for about 3 hours, adding a quart of water midway through if necessary, to keep pot about three-fourths full. Taste broth for richess after three hours and if satisfied, remove ham bone. You should have about 3 quarts of broth (a 2-gallon pot will be not quite half full).

Add potatoes to pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, remove meat from the ham bone. Add beans and salt to the soup. Return ham-bone meat to the pot. Stir in reserved cubed ham. Simmer until the beans are tender and the flavors have blended, about 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Ladle soup into bowls. Stir a rounded teaspoon of pesto into each bowlful. Makes about 10 servings.

MORE GREEN BEAN IDEAS
From Nancy B.:
I have had a plethora of green beans in years past. I mean garbage bags of them. I donated them to the Food Bank and/or Good Samaritan Hunger Center.

From Fran S.:
Dilled green beans are easy to put up and last a long time. Occasionally I will use them as appetizers with cream cheese and dried beef. Roll them up and slice. Everyone loves them.

From Chris M.:
I like green beans roasted with halved garlic cloves and lemon slices, or simply with a handful of fresh-grated Parmesan cheese tossed on at the end of roasting. And I still enjoy green beans almandine.

From William B.:
For about a peck of green beans, saute about 2 cups of diced onion in about 1/2 cup olive oil until wilted. Stir in 3 or 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic, about 3 cups chopped fresh super-ripe tomatoes and about 1/2 bunch chopped parsley. Cook until the tomatoes start to soften. Dump in your washed and snapped green beans and stir well. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until very tender (maybe 1 to 2 hours). Salt and pepper to taste. Great way to use up beans you already cooked and have leftover. Dress beans with a final drizzle of olive oil before serving.

From Kathy:
I make a Caprese-style salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, balsamic vinaigrette, basil and green beans cooked until fork tender. You can eat it warm if you can’t wait but chilled is good, too.

From Joy:
I make Italian green beans with bacon, a fairlly quick recipe I got from “Better Homes & Gardens Farmers Market Cookbook.” Four slices of bacon are crisped in a skillet and most of the drippings are poured off. Butter is added along wth sliced carrots, cut and parboiled green beans and a clove of chopped garlic, and sauteed until the vegetables are al dente. Ground pepper and the reserved bacon, crumbled, are added to serve.

TIDBITS
Two miniature zucchinis have finally sprouted in my garden. Should I split and grill them with a lashing of sweet soy sauce or wait until they get bigger and stuff them?

If you have been luckier than I have, or know where to get an armload of the vegetables, you may want to bring a fabulous zucchini dish or two to the Seville Farm Market on Aug. 11. That’s when this year’s Zucchinni Smackdown will take place.

There’s no need to pre-register. Just take your sweet or savory zucchini dish, along with the recipe, to Maria Stanhope Park in Seville by 10 a.m. that Saturday. Please make it good, because I’ll be sampling the entries this year. Prizes will be awarded in three categories: best savory dish, best sweet dish, and biggest zucchini. Get cooking.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Butter-fried eggs with horseradish; cheeseburger patties on romaine leaves with horseradish pickles and a side of grapes; Genghis Khan (grilled Japanese thin-sliced marinated lamb), boiled corn on the cob, sweet potatoes; hummus with jicama dippers; salade Nicoise with gin and tonics; Caesar salad and shrimp cocktail; green beans, ham and potato soup with pistou; chocolate pudding.

What I ate out last week:
Just-picked corn, a gorgeous salad of home-grown lettuces, nasturtiums and other goodies, sliced cucumbers in a luscious creamy dill dressing and home-grown strawberries (!) at the home of friends, who harvested the vegetables and fruit just before we ate. Perfect.

THE MAILBAG
From V.H.:
I made a muffin microwave recipe in five mugs — three solid black, two mostly white, all of them the same size. I lined up the mugs and added all of the ingredients in each and microwaved them separately. The muffins in the white mugs were 1 1/2 inches taller than the ones in the black mugs. I didn’t realize the color of the mug would make such a difference.

Dear V.H.:
I doubt it was the color. The cups may be the same size but not the same thickness or composition. This was a maddening problem for me when writing my book. I finally used just one type of mug — a 12-ounce Fiesta. Then I discovered I had to account for WHERE in the oven I placed the mug. Center placement does not deliver the same cooking power as off-center placement does. And on and on. The bottom line is that microwaving is an inexact science.

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