All you adherents of boiling and "shocking" green vegetables need to take the following quiz.

Green beans are done cooking:

a) After five minutes;

b) After 15 minutes;

c) After three hours;

d) When they start singing "La Marseillaise."

Those of us who cut our teeth on French techniques would respond that proper green beans must be boiled in heavily salted water for a few minutes until barely tender, then immediately plunged into a freezing bath of water and ice -- or shocked -- to stop the cooking process and preserve the beans' bright green color.

Fine so far if you love chlorophyll. The real shocker is, if you prefer true bean flavor, many cooks believe the correct answer is probably closer to "c." Green beans need to cook a long, long time, and certain cooking methods work better than boiling.

I was first exposed to this phenomenon as an exchange student in Switzerland. This was centuries ago, but I still vividly remember my host mother, Mrs. Bernhard, heating a heavy, screeching pressure cooker on her electric stovetop. What went into the cooker were certainly green beans: longer, flatter and broader than anything I had seen at home but definitely fitting the general description. Yet what came out was almost unrecognizable.

Perhaps someone had warned me that many Europeans overcooked their vegetables. Mrs. Bernhard's beans looked more than overcooked. They looked like something out of the Black Lagoon: dark, limp and scary.

Oh, but the joy of eating those beans. They yielded to a fork like fresh foie gras. The flavor was ambrosial, with deep earth tones, like fragrantly braised meat, and unlike any mere vegetable I had ever tasted. There was no hint of chlorophyll -- only a heady, transfixing aroma.

I quickly cleaned my plate. I pleaded for more. Of course, if I had grown up in the South, this would have come as no surprise. There, they've been cooking green beans to death for generations and loving every bite.

I trace my own green bean epiphany to an article by Corby Kummer that appeared in Atlantic Monthly magazine 13 years ago.

The highlights of Kummer's research:

* Flavor compounds can take a long cooking time -- hours, even -- to develop.

* The pods of green beans contain lignin, a substance also found in wood, hemp and linen, that can be hard to digest unless fully cooked.

* Color and flavor in green vegetables are governed by distinctly different compounds.

The result? According to some southern cooks, three hours is the minimum cooking time for tasty green beans. The preferred method is braising in a small amount of liquid. Boiling can leave beans waterlogged.

Choose the long, thick beans typically sold in supermarkets (not the small, French haricots). If you're insecure about going against the crunch green-bean trend so popular today, don't serve these beans to your new boss. Save them for family and special friends.

Braised Green Beans With Tomato and Fennel

(6 to 8 servings)

For 13 years, this has been my go-to recipe for green beans. I adapted it from a recipe from Italian food historian and cookbook author Anna del Conte that was featured in Kummer's Atlantic Monthly article.

The fennel gives these beans a bit of an Italian twist, but the bacon flavoring is a southern touch. They cry out for a heap of corn bread to mop up the broth the vegetables create during their three-hour braising.

2 tablespoons bacon drippings or olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into thin slices

1 pound green beans, trimmed and washed

14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice

1 teaspoon freshly ground fennel

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 thick slices bacon (or 1 ham hock), diced

In a heavy pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat, heat the bacon drippings or oil until warm. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes with juice, fennel, salt, pepper, bacon or ham hock and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently until tender, about 3 hours, stirring and tasting the beans occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Serve warm.

Per serving (based on 8): 74 calories, 2 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 122 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Garlic-Roasted Green Beans

(4 to 6 servings)

This recipe proves that green beans don't have to be pretty to taste great. They will be wrinkled, browned and a bit leathery-looking. But they will be infused with garlic and seasoned almost like snack food.

There is a lot of garlic here, but it becomes fairly sweet and mellow after roasting. Either serve the roasted cloves with the beans or pick them out and use them for something else.

11/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and washed

2 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled

11/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the beans, garlic, oil and salt until the beans are coated. Spread the beans on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the beans, stirring once or twice so the beans don't burn. The beans are done when they are blistered, lightly browned and a bit shrunken, 35 to 45 minutes. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 6): 80 calories, 3 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 202 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Sauteed Balsamic Green Beans With Caramelized Cherry Tomatoes

(6 servings)

Cooking green beans for an extended time in oil concentrates their flavor. The technique is basic enough that you can adapt them to almost any cuisine. For instance, substitute oregano and lemon for the marjoram, and it becomes a Greek dish. Finish the beans with some chili sauce and black bean paste and they take on a Szechuan flair. Add green mole sauce and pumpkin seeds, and they seem Mexican.

For the tomatoes:

1 pint cherry tomatoes (or substitute grape tomatoes), halved through the stem

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus additional to taste

For the beans:

11/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

11/2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

11/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh marjoram leaves

For the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, gently toss together the tomatoes, salt, pepper and vinegar. Spread the halved tomatoes in a single layer. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the tomatoes have lost much of their liquid and the vinegar has caramelized. Remove from the oven; set aside to cool.

For the beans: In a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the beans, season with salt and cook, turning the beans occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the beans are blistered and lightly browned. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the beans are tender and slightly shrunken, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.

To serve, in a large bowl, toss the cooked beans with the roasted tomatoes and marjoram and add additional vinegar to taste. These beans are best served immediately.

Per serving: 88 calories, 3 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 256 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber

Ed Bruske last wrote for Food about the gentle art of poaching.