What We’re Cooking This Week: Green Beans Agrodolce

You can make frozen green beans delicious without opening a can of soup. This Italian approach involves a simple blend of honey (or sugar) and vinegar.

You probably ate green beans recently, most likely in November when nearly nearly 20 million Thanksgiving meals included a baking dish of the casserole Americans love to hate (a 2019 survey revealed that about 25% of us didn’t like gloppy, canned soup-flavored, crispy onion-topped hot dish). If you did, the odds are good that the beans were grown right here in Oregon; we’re No. 4 when it comes to green bean production.

We’ve been eating some form of green bean here in the New World for millennia. Our modern version descends from Phaseolus vulgaris, the “common bean,” and is actually the immature pod of the same family of plants that produces pintos and kidneys. Those OG green beans were tough and stringy, and the food residue from ancient human settlements in the Southwest and Mexico seems to show that quids, wads of chewed vegetable matter, contained the remnants of bean pods.

Northern Europeans likely bred the first tender podded beans; their colder weather prevented the beans inside the pods from maturing, so they ate the pods. But the truly stringless green bean didn’t come along until around 1880, and the term snap bean emphasized how easy it was to get them ready to eat. It also made them easy to process, and growing green beans that could be packed into cans became a profitable endeavor for small farmers in the Willamette Valley.

But growing the popular Blue Lake beans meant stringing trellises and picking by hand. For decades, thousands of migrant workers and school children worked for hundreds of small bean farmers. When researchers at Oregon State University bred the Blue Lake bush bean in 1961, mechanized harvest took over.

Most of the 1.3 million pounds of Oregon’s green beans get frozen, and they taste better than out-of-season green beans flown in from Florida or Mexico. And for the cook in a hurry, ripping open a bag straight from the freezer is much easier than sorting and trimming a tangle of fresh green beans. Even better, you can make them delicious without opening a can of soup. This tasty pot uses the Italian approach to sweet and sour called agrodolce, a simple blend of honey (or sugar) and vinegar. And while that icy bag might not carry the label, the beans inside probably came from Oregon.

Green Beans Agrodolce

1 bag frozen green beans

1 onion, quartered and sliced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher-style salt

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoon wine vinegar

Cook the onion in the olive oil and salt until very soft and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.

Add the frozen green beans and water, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until beans are very soft, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the honey, and vinegar, taste and add salt if needed. Serve warm.