Everybody in the South knows that a vegetable, when properly prepared, must bear no resemblance to its original fresh-from-the-vine self. My mother's green beans were beyond delicious, cooked for hours with a piece of salt pork. They looked like flat little bits of army green flannel and I could eat the whole pot by myself, with some new potatoes and corn bread. Mine, when cooked this way, never match up to hers. They're good, but not AS good as Mama's were. I'm going to give you her recipe and then give you our favorite quick (much healthier, I have to say) recipe and you can prepare them both depending upon your mood, which is how one should cook whenever possible.
MAMA'S GREEN BEANS
Buy about 6 good handfuls of regular-size green beans, not the little skinny ones. Those don't work for this recipe. Go home, wash the beans well, and sit someplace comfortable because it's going to take a little while. (She usually sat on the sofa and watched "General Hospital", especially in those heady early days of Luke and Laura.) Snap the beans into pieces around 1" long, discarding the ends. When General Hospital is over, go into the kitchen and put about a 3" piece of salt pork (cut into strips), or 4 or 5 strips of bacon, into a big pot. 8-quart size is good. Render it down til it's just getting brown and DO NOT DRAIN OFF THE GREASE! Throw in your beans and add enough water to cover by a couple of inches. Add 1 and 1/2 tsps of salt to start, and you will need to check for seasoning while they cook and probably add more. You may also need to add more water as it goes along. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, cover (put the lid on the pot slightly crooked so some steam can escape) and let it cook for at least 2 hours, or more if you have time. Give it a stir once in a while. If you like, drop some peeled new potatoes into the pot for last hour of cooking. You MUST have cornbread with these or the sky will fall on your head and all your children will grow up pigeon-toed.
This next recipe is so fast, you wouldn't have time to watch General Hospital. It's also very very yummy.
BAREFOOT CONTESSA'S GREEN BEANS
Yes, we stole this recipe. Or is it stealing when you've bought the cookbook?
1 pound of the skinny green beans that don't work for Mama's recipe
2 tblspns unsalted butter
1 tblspn olive oil
3 large shallots, diced up chunky (to me, the best part of the whole thing)
Wash the beans, break off any stems, and trim the ends off if you like. I trim them if they look tough, otherwise I just let them be.
Blanch the beans in boiling salted water for 90ish seconds. Drain and throw them into a bowl of ice water right away to stop them cooking and set that beautiful greenness.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a 12-inch saute' pan and add the shallots. Cook them over medium heat til they're nice and brown. The fragrance will make you giddy with hunger. People will come and knock on your door and beg for toasty brown shallots.
Drain the beans and toss them in the pan with 1/2 tsp salt and black pepper to taste. Heat them only until the beans are warm.
You can blanch the beans early in the day, and then cook the shallots at the last minute. They also reheat really well. They are actually good finger food for parties. They're like green french fries only better than french fries. You could eliminate the unsalted butter altogther if you wanted a more heart-healthy recipe, and I've made it with just butter when we've been (Heaven forbid!) out of olive oil, which is pretty much the only oil we use except for baking.
These are really good with pan-seared steak (made in Mama's ancient and perfectly seasoned black iron skillet) and mushroom ragout...another recipe to come...but I've never had them with anything that they didn't compliment.
So, there are many schools of thought when it comes to green beans. I like to plant a foot in both worlds and keep my options open. Now, go cook something, y'all.