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Escalloped Runner Beans and Potatoes

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I was asked the other day how to cook cabbage.   Cabbage is one of those vegetables that we just love in this house, but it is a very easily maligned vegetable, mostly because a lot of people cook it rather horribly.   There is nothing more appealing than a plate of ather insipid and stinky overcooked  boiled cabbage.  Blah.  Blah. Blah.  Fresh cabbage, lightly cooked, is full of goodness, packed with vitamins, minerals and flavour and it’s not expensive or boring in the least.

Cabbage should always be eaten as fresh as possible – it loses nutrients if stored for too long. An unwrapped fresh cabbage should look bright and crisp, with its outer leaves intact (often if it’s had its outer leaves removed, it was because they were limp, which is not a good sign). The centre should feel firm and the leaves should squeak as you pull them apart.  You will want to get rid of any discoloured or wimply outer leaves and then cut the cabbage into quarters.   Remove and discard the core and then cut the cabbage crosswise into thin strips, about 1/3 inch in width, with a sharp knife.  The secret to cooking cabbage is to cook it briefly in rapidly boiling water. I like to  pack it down quite tightly into a saucepan, sprinkle with some fine sea salt.  I then place the pan over a high heat, adding boiling water from the kettle.  This comes back to the boil almost instantly.  I then time it for 3 to 5 minutes.  It is done when you can bite a piece and is just yields, much like cooking pasta.  Drain it immediately in a large colander,  tossing and pressing it lightly to extract as much water as possible from it.  I use a bread and butter plate for this.  I cut down into the cabbage with the edge of the plate which chops it lightly.  You can then dress it with a bit of butter, some salt and pepper and serve it while it is nice and hot.  Delicious!

I think the old school method of cooking most vegetables was to cook them pretty much to death for some reason.  I have some very old cookbooks which recommend cooking carrots for 45 minutes, for instance.  Absolutely all of the nutritional value would pretty much be boiled out by that time I would think!  I wouldn't want to eat a carrot which had been boiled for that long.  Neither would  I want them rock hard.  It is the same with most vegetables.  There is a very fine line between them being overdone or underdone, but  with a bit of practice anyone can get it right.  You can find an excellent chart with cooking times here.   

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I was recently gifted with some really tasty looking runner beans.   I can remember my friend Jacquie telling me about these foot long green beans before I came over here to live in the UK.   I couldn't imagine a bean that long really, but she was right, they are that long, or even longer!  They're really quite easy to prepare for cooking.  You need to first take a sharp paring knife and strip away the stringy bit on the join at either side of each bean. If you are lucky enough to have one you can then feed them through a bean slicer.  If you don't have a bean slicer you can do the same thing with a sharp knife.  It will just take you a lot longer to do it!

It doesn't work cutting them into cubes or diamonds.  If they're simply chopped into little diamond shapes, the skins take longer to cook than the insides and they end up being either grey and overcooked, or undercooked and tough.

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I cut mine by hand into long strips.  I didn't simply want to steam them however, I wanted to try to incorporate them into a tasty vegetable bake.   I looked online to see if I could find anything there . . . but everything I found used tomato sauce or tinned tomatoes.  That did not appeal to me.

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I wanted something rich and indulgent, and filling.   I will admit, I have gone a little bit off meat lately for some odd reason.  I am wanting vegetables and lots of them.

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I have always enjoyed my veggies, and I love potatoes and so I decided to incorporate the beans into one of my all time favourite potato dishes . . . Escalloped Potatoes.  Layers of potato and onion cooked in milk until meltingly knife tender . . .the potatoes absorbing the milk for the most part, the rest becoming a butter sauce when the flour and butter you also layer with the potatoes melds together.

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A bit of cheese and seasoning and they get even tastier.   I thought adding a layer of runner beans and some leek (instead of onion) would result in a very scrummy vegetable bake indeed.

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I was right.  This was fabulous.  Todd had his with some sliced turkey.  I enjoyed mine on their own with some sliced ripe tomatoes on the side and was as happy as happy could be!

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I do hope you will give them a try and that you enjoy them as much as we did.   If you can't get runner beans, then feel free to use regular haricot verts, or string beans.  The taste difference would be negligible if there was any at all.

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*Escalloped Runner Beans and Potatoes*
Serves 4
I came up with this delicious side dish a few weeks ago when I was gifted with a nice bag of runner beans and was trying to figure out something tasty to do with them besides just boiling or steaming them.

a package of runner beans
(about 10 or so of them.  If you don't have runner beans,
you could use a small packed of frozen french style beans)
1 medium leek
4 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
240g of grated strong cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
cracker crumbs
Whole fat milk

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First prepare your runner beans.  De string them, then cut them into 3 inch lengths and slice them lengthwise into thin strips.   If you are lucky enough to have a runner bean slicer, you can use that.   Trim the dark green and root end from your leek.  Wash it carefully and cut it into thin rounds.
Cook the runner beans in a pot of lightly salted water for about 6 minutes, adding the leeks for the last minute.  Drain all very well.

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Butter a 2 litre casserole dish very well.

Begin by layering in the bottom with a layer of the sliced potato and topping that with a layer of the bean and leek mix Sprinkle on some salt and pepper and flour and some of the grated cheese.  Repeat the layers until all the potatoes and runner bean mixture  are used up.  You should have a bit of cheese left to sprinkle on top of the final layer.  Top with crushed cracker crumbs and dot with butter.

Carefully pour the milk into the sides of the dish until you can just barely see the milk under the surface. You don’t want it to completely cover the potatoes. I use the tip of the knife to kind of lift the edges a bit as I am pouring it in. You want it to come up about ¾ of the way.

Cover loosely with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, then remove the foil and continue to bake until bubbly, the top is golden brown and the potatoes are tender (about half an hour longer).

Remove from the oven and let set a few minutes before serving.

Marie Rayner
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  1. Your way of cooking cabbage sounds very good. I fry a few pieces of chopped bacon in my heavy iron skillet. Then put the chopped cabbage in and saute it for a few minutes. Only using salt and pepper as season.

    When I tell my husband to eat veggies he says "are they green".... That is his standing joke. He's a meat-a-tarian, but will eat the cabbage prepared this way.

    That is a nifty gadget for stringing the beans. That dish looks wonderful too.

  2. I do like cabbage done that way Ramona and Sprouts too! I am lucky the Toddster does like most vegetables.

  3. I have never boiled cabbage or carrots or any other veg. I lightly steam everything even potatoes that are going to go into something other than plain potatoes.
    Kale especially is wonderful steamed. Once cooked, you can add butter or anything else you would like.

  4. Gosh, this looks too good to be true! We often eat potatoes and runner beans as a primo in Italy but I've never seen anything done like this before! Will be trying it out on the Italians!


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