The Washington Post

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 (, 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’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.” View Archive

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.

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

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

No Higgins key

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.