Italian heirloom varieties such as anellini add a twist to snap beans

The snap beans were great this year, mainly because I went all out for Italian heirlooms, especially the anellini type. These are sometimes called “shrimp beans,” because, like the crustacean, they grow in the shape of a crescent. Anellini means “little rings” in Italian, but the pods rarely make a full circle like anellini pasta — the one that goes into canned SpaghettiOs.

A lot of old-time Italian bean pods are curvy, including some flat-podded Romano types such as Garrafal Oro, which I grew as well. But there’s something delightful about the smaller, round-podded ones. My favorite variety is Yellow Anellino, offered by Seeds From Italy (www.growitalian.com), as the famous Franchi seed line is called in the United States. The bean has a sweet, rich flavor, and a pile of the little pods on a plate is very cute.

(Barbara Damrosch/THE WASHINGTON POST) - Anellini-type, Italian heirloom snap beans. These are sometimes called “shrimp beans” because they grow in the shape of a crescent.

This year I grew a curly green one, too, for contrast. Both are pole beans that need a sturdy support. I used single poles of one-inch-thick bamboo, buried a foot in the ground. They worked fine, except for a few that were blown down by Hurricane Irene.

I also planted a curly bush version called Anellino di Trento. Its little rings are green with deep purple spots and streaks. “Marbled” is the best description, hence its alternate name, Anellino Marmorizzato. The marbling disappears when you cook these beans, because the anthocyanins that color them are water-soluble. But it’s fun to arrange the three colors — yellow, plain green and green with streaks — and serve them raw with a dip such as aioli or a spicy vinaigrette. To do this, you must pick them young and tender, but not too young. I find that the yellow ones do not reach their fullness of flavor until they have completely colored up; this happens when they are well past the size of a skinny French filet bean but no fatter than a yellow pencil.

You can learn quite a bit of Italian by shopping for Franchi seeds. A plant that is “nano,” for example, is dwarf, and one that is “rampicante” is a climber. Yellow is “giallo.” Over the years I have also learned a thing or two about cooking vegetables Italian style by reading Seeds From Italy’s catalogue, penned by its former owner, Bill McKay. Just recently McKay retired and sold the business to Kansas farmer Dan Nagengast, who runs it with his wife, Lynn Byczynski, and their two grown children. Their updated Web site has fine culinary suggestions, and the company is clearly in good hands. When I contacted Byczynski, she said the family members were “having a great time with Seeds From Italy,” that they were “learning much about the varieties from the wonderful customers” and that they had just bought a new pasta machine to celebrate. And yes, they still have both the yellow anellini beans and the marbled ones in stock. The green ones will be along by Christmas.

Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.”

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