Market Matters- Heirloom Italian Yellow Wax Beans

I usually pop right out of bed in the morning. Sometimes as early as 5 a.m. all revved up and ready to go. But sometimes it is hard to get it together on Sunday morning. You see, I meant to get an early start to the Hollywood Farmers Market today, but let’s just say Mr. Vintner’s Grape got a hold of me at a dinner party last night. So I am a wee bit behind schedule.

Still, when I finally got down there I was very surprised to see that there has been a transition in the market from spring produce to summer crops. The stone fruits are starting to come in. Stone fruits are those with pits, like peaches, plums, and apricots. We get them a bit earlier than most of the country, and there was definitely a party-like atmosphere in celebration of their arrival at the market. I have been meaning to do a big luscious tart using these fruits, but today is just not the day. I couldn’t possibly focus on pastry dough!

So, due to my slowed down mood I picked a vegetable that takes almost no preparation to be at its best and it also makes an early appearance in Southern California. I chose yellow wax beans.

The variety I chose is an Italian heirloom. It is flatter than the more common yellow wax bean that looks exactly like a green bean, but is, well, yellow. The window of availability for the flatter Italian variety is very brief. So I moved it to the front of the line.

yellow wax beansIn case you don’t know, wax beans are a variety of Phaseolus vulgaris. It is a type of pod bean. The most common type of vulgaris is the green bean so it’s no wonder they look so much alike.

I have researched to find out why the yellow version of a green bean is called a wax bean. There seem to be no hard facts explaining the origin of the name. It certainly is not the texture. These beans have a crisp texture, and their taste is very sweet. So the “wax” label is a little off-putting. Which is a shame in my opinion. So I am left to offer you a hypothesis I have developed on why the name wax bean.

I have decided the name is derived from the bean’s color. Yellow wax beans are a creamy yellow color very similar to bees wax. I cannot offer this as more than a theory, however. So if you quote me on this please remember that caveat.

Speaking of names. This bean certainly needs a new proper name. It almost seems rude that it’s identified as vulgaris! I mean this bean is anything but vulgar!

It is a well-behaved little bean that takes almost no preparation to be enjoyed at its best. In fact, wax beans can be used almost interchangeably with green or snap beans in most recipes. They are excellent for canning and freezing, too!

The difference between these legumes and the shelling variety of beans is that they are left in the pod, cooked and eaten before they fully mature.

Choosing wax beans is very easy. If you just follow your common sense and look for smooth, whole pods that are free of blemishes and cuts.

However, you should note that if you can see the outline of the beans inside the pods, then the beans are too mature and will be tough. Also, avoid pods that are broken or look like they have insect damage. They should be completely yellow in color with no green or tan showing on the pod.

Wax beans (and green beans for that matter) do not store well in the refrigerator. It’s best to buy them only a day or two before you plan to use them and keep them in a cool dry place. If you store them at room temperature, they may stay fresh a bit longer.

However, if you need to store them more than that you may put them into the refrigerator, but don’t wrap them tightly in plastic. A paper towel covered bowl in the crisper is an acceptable method.

But if you really can’t use all the beans with in a few days, I recommend steaming the extra beans. They will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator this way or up to 3 months in the freezer.

When it comes to cooking them, simple is best. Wait to rinse your beans until just before you use them. Same goes for trimming, cutting or slicing. Keep your cooking time to a minimum. Green varieties can really discolor after cooking and should be plunged into an ice bath to preserve the color. This is not always necessary with yellow wax beans. Yellow wax beans retain their color quite well, but you may want to practice this method nonetheless. Wax beans will quickly turn mushy if you overcook them.

Italian Heirloom Wax Beans with MintRoasted Wax Beans with Mint serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 1 lb yellow wax beans (you may substitute green beans)
  • 4 T mint, minced
  • kosher salt
  • 1 t red wine vinegar
  • 3 T olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Prepare the beans by clipping the stem knob off each bean. Leave the other end intact if possible. I also prefer the beans left whole, but that is up to you. You may certainly cut them into any size lengths you like.

Toss the beans with 2 tablespoons chopped mint, the olive oil and salt and place them into a roasting dish. Try not to crowd the beans too much.

Roast them in the oven for about 15 minutes total. Stir the beans and turn the pan around once during cooking.

Sprinkle the hot beans with the vinegar. Garnish with the remaining mint. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Greg Henry

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