17 August 2015

10 things to do with runner beans

Runner beans are a veg plot stalwart, which can be harvested in southern England from about mid July until the end of October. They can also be found in good-quality greengrocers. Being climbers, they can be grown up a wall or fence, taking up a fairly small amount of ground. They are one of my favourite beans, but by about August it is easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by huge gluts of runner beans. It can be difficult to think of different things to do with them, so I thought I would share some of the things I have been doing with runner beans recently.

Growing runner beans

Runner beans are an easy vegetable to grow from seed. For an early crop, plant the seeds in modules or small pots inside in early to mid April. They will germinate quickly, and should be hardened off in a coldframe or unheated greenhouse in late April to early May. Runner beans are not frost hardy, so should be planted out only once all risk of frost has passed. Living in Brighton right on the South coast, I planted mine out in early May, but in most other locations I would suggest waiting until mid/late May. Grow runner beans up long canes either against a wall or fence, or make an A-shaped frame. You can also plant the seeds straight in the ground in mid to late May.

Keep an eye on the young plants, which can be prone to attack from slugs and snails. Sometimes the young plants need a bit of encouragement to wrap themselves around the bean frame, but once they do they are off and will rapidly reach the top of the canes. At this point the growing point can be pinched out, which encourages the plants to bush out and fruit.

Once the beans appear, pick them regularly, as they are best relatively young. If left to grow too large, they can become tough and fibrous. They can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days, but will get tough and lose flavour if kept for too long.

10 ideas for runner beans

How to prepare runner beans

To prepare runner beans, chop off either end with a paring knife. The sides can be stringy so should be removed with a vegetable peeler. I often cut runner beans into diamond shapes, which is a habit I have never been able to shake off since I had to prep boxes of runner beans working in a restaurant kitchen in my late teens.

1. Boiled or steamed with lashings of butter

One of the simplest ways of cooking runner beans is to boil or steam them in slightly salted water. Cook until just soft, but not mushy, and serve with lashings of butter and a grind of pepper. Young beans, freshly picked, are delicious cooked this way, but there comes a time when you will want something different.

2. Blanched and refreshed in salads

Cook as above, but once drained refresh in ice cold water. Use in green salads, as the French do with haricot verts. Runner beans are particularly good in a salad nicoise.

3. Piccalilli

The firm texture of runner beans makes them a great addition to piccalilli. Piccalilli makes a great accompaniment to pork pies, hams, sausage rolls and English cheeses.

4. Pickled runner beans

This is an idea I got from Pam Corbin's excellent book Preserves which is part of the River Cottage Handbook series. I cook the beans less than in her recipe, in a bid to keep them just a little crunchy.


approx 750g runner beans
400ml cider vinegar
2tbsp granulated sugar
1tsp pink salt
1/2 tsp red pepper corns
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
2 juniper berries


You will need a couple of tallish jars. Sterilise these.

Top and tail and string the beans. Trim so that they will easily fit into the jars.

Meanwhile, add the vinegar and all the other ingredients to a pan, and bring to a simmer. At the same time, bring a pan of slightly salted water to the boil.

Add the beans to the boiling water for 2-3 minutes, depending on their size. Then add to the simmering vinegar for another 2 minutes. Remove from the vinegar.

Using a pair of tongs and a cutlery knife, carefully pack the beans into the jars. Top up the jars with either the vinegar or extra virgin olive oil, depending on how acidic you like your pickles.

5. Warm runner bean salads

Runner beans also make a great warm bean salad. For a simple bean salad, I cook the beans, then dress with a shallot vinaigrette and shavings of parmesan.

For a slightly more complex version, quarter a red onion and roast with a little salt and balsamic. Shell 10-15 fresh cobnuts and roast in a medium oven for 5 minutes. Cook the beans in slightly salted boiling water, then drain. Stir together the onions, runner beans and cob nuts, dress with some good-quality balsamic and extra virgin olive oil and shavings of parmesan.

6. Vegetable stews and curries

Stews and curries and a great way to use gluts of veg. I often use runner beans in a braise of artichokes and pearl barley with summer vegetables. With both stews and curries, the key is to add the beans about 10 minutes before the end so that they are neither over- nor under-cooked.

7. Fritto misto

Runner beans are delicious deep-fried, where they take on a sweet moreish flavour. I enjoy them in a fritto misto, along with some courgettes and a range of fish. Simply top, tail and de-string the beans, dip in a little beaten egg then semolina flour, and deep-fry.

8. The stockpot

When you grow your own runner beans, there will inevitably be some large, stringy beans that have lurked under foliage for too long. They aren't really worth eating, especially when you have lots of younger tastier beans, but these older specimens make a fine addition to the stock pot.

9. Runner bean chutney

So I will freely admit I have never actually made runner bean chutney, and it is a bit of a cliché, but my mum tells me that runner bean chutney is actually quite good. I would suggest shredding the beans in a food processor before making the chutney.

10. Runner bean and chorizo tortilla

Runner beans and chorizo make a great combo (and thanks to fellow food blogger Chloe at whatchloecooked.co.uk for alerting me to this.) Put some runner beans, chorizo and sliced potato into a tortilla for a delicious week-night supper.

And finally, give them away to your friends and family

When you feel that you are drowning in runner beans it is worth remembering that friends, family and colleagues who don't grow their own might actually be grateful to receive a bag of runner beans.

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