Flageolets

These small, tender, celadon-hued French beans, the traditional accom-paniment to lamb, are my favorite of all beans. They are not at all pasty and, when properly cooked, have a nice bite. It was a French chef from Limousin who taught me the simple but terrific technique of sautéing the cooked beans in the roasting pan of meat drippings. Michel held some strangely inventive theories about food. Perhaps the funniest of all was his explanation for why there are so many fat chefs: “Because they eat with their hands. There are large pores in the fingertips that absorb the food, which they handle all day, directly into the blood stream.” Well, I was stupid enough to have asked! But Michel, who humbly insisted that he was not a chef but merely a cook, was a truly good one, and when I disregarded most of his old cuisinier’s tales, I found some treasured trues like this one.

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Preheat the oven to: 400°F.
Roasting time: 10 minutes

Most flageolets must be soaked before cooking, either overnight or with the quick-soaking method (see Pointers for Success).

INGREDIENTS MEASURE WEIGHT
volume ounces grams
dried flageolets* 2⅓ cups 16 ounces 454 grams
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped 12 grams
2 to 23 fresh thyme sprigs
salt ½ teaspoon, or more to taste
black pepper, freshly ground ½ teaspoon
cayenne pepper a sprinkling

*These French beans are available in specialty food stores such as Dean & DeLuca.

Or ½ teaspoon dried thyme.

TO SOAK 8 HOURS OR OVERNIGHT: Place the flageolets in a cool spot. If soaking overnight, refrigerate to keep the beans from fermenting.
TO QUICK-SOAK: Bring the beans to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Cover, remove from the heat and allow to sit for 1 hour.

Method

Wash the flageolets and pick out and discard any stones or shriveled beans. Place them in a medium saucepan and add unsalted water to cover by 2 inches.

When ready to cook, drain off the water, rinse the flageolets and add fresh unsalted water to cover by 2 inches. Add the garlic and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered until the beans are just tender but still firm, about 20 to 30 minutes. (If the beans are old they can take as long as 75 minutes.) Add more water if necessary so that the flageolets are always covered. Test a bean by cutting it in half to see if it is cooked through.

Remove the beans from the heat, add the ½ teaspoon of salt, and set aside in the saucepan. (Or drain off most of the liquid from the flageolets and cover them with plastic wrap, preferably Saran brand, to prevent cracking.)

When the leg of lamb is done and resting on a carving board, raise the oven temperature to 400°F. Drain off all but about 3 tablespoons of fat and drippings from the roasting pan (reserving 2 tablespoons for the Pan-Roasted Whole Potatoes if desired). Drain the flageolets, and discard the thyme sprigs. Add the flageolets and garlic to the roasting pan and stir to coat them well. Sprinkle with the black pepper, cayenne and salt to taste. Place the pan in the oven, and roast the flageolets for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.

NOTE: If desired, 3 tablespoons of olive oil can be used in place of the lamb fat. If preparing flageolets without the lamb, a cube of Glace de Viande or a bouillon cube dissolved in a little boiling water can replace the meat juices. Omit the salt if using the bouillon cube.

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