A bit of space has opened up in my vegetable garden and I’ve been debating what to plant there. Since there are so many fresh grown vegetables available locally at this time of year, I don’t want to plant just any old thing. I think I’ll indulge my penchant for the slender French beans known as haricot vert or filet beans. I should have just enough time for a slow, steady harvest into fall.
Beans are a great vegetable to grow if you want a big harvest in a small space. But you can get great beans at every farmers market in summer and even grocery stores have fresh, snappy, green beans. Since I have limited space, I like to devote some of it to vegetables my grocery store will never stock. Things that are too delicate or too obscure to devote space to. One of these is the matchstick thin French fillet beans. (Remember matchsticks?)
French beans have the juicy, acidity of green beans with a touch of nutty sweetness. When picked young and crisp, before the seeds inside have a chance to develop, you get the full-flavored sharpness without the starchy offset of the seeds.
Filet beans, or haricot vert, are every bit as easy to grow as their plumper cousins. You can find bush varieties or pole filet beans. There is even a purple version, although like all purple beans, they will lose their color when cooked.
The caveat with filet beans is that they are only crisp and tender if you pick them while young. That means you’ll be harvesting every 2-3 days, to stay on top of the harvest. A bonus is that these skinny beans require minimal cooking – literally a flash in the pan will blanch them.
You have a number of filet bean choices for your garden and many require less than 2 months to mature, so they are perfect for a late season crop. A personal favorite of mine is the French heirloom ‘Fin de Bagnol’. The ‘Fin’ in the name means fine or thin, which they definitely are. ‘Fin de Bagnol’ was also known as the ‘Shoestring Bean’ and it has been a favorite with American gardeners since the 1800s.
Some of the heirloom haricot verts can be hard to find, but there are plenty of hybrid seeds out there to try and I’ve listed several of both, with sources, below. Experiment to see which grow best in your garden and taste terrific on your plate.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy them is in a salad with slivered fennel bulb and black olives. You just ever so slightly blanch the beans and then chill them well. I adapted this recipe from one in one of Frances Mayes Tuscany books, which I recommend highly, unless you are dieting. My recipe is below the seed listing.
Bush Filet Beans
‘Fin de Bagnol’ – This is the French standard haricot vert, with good reason. Their flavor really is outstanding. They prefer cooler soil, so don’t be afraid to plant early in the season or try a fall crop. You will need to stay on top of harvesting, though. 55-60 days Baker Creek Seed
‘Finaud’ – I mention ‘Finaud’ because many gardeners have told me it’s their personal favorite, however I have never found seed for it. There are usually a few home gardeners offering see through the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, so I will give it a try one of these days.
‘Mascotte’ – If you are really tight for space, Mascotte is touted for its ability to give a reasonaly high yield when grown in containers. That’s not to say you have to grow them in containers, but the plants will remain short, (16 – 18 inches), even if grown in the ground. They are very long producing, if you keep up with the harvest. 50 days Territorial Seed
‘Maxibel’ – This bean is very popular with market gardeners. It’s early maturing, it tends to be more forgiving of lazy harvesting and isn’t bothered by bean diseases. 60 days. Territorial Seed
‘Nickel’ – This is another favorite of mine. The beans are quite short (3 – 5 inches), which makes them easy to cook and eat whole. They are stubby beans, but there are plenty of them and I find the flavor to be excellent. 52 days. Renee’s Garden
‘Tavera’ – This one is similar in flavor and habit to ‘Maxibel’, but a little shorter in length (4 – 5 inches). The flavor is still great and the beans are super skinny and tender.. 55 days. High Mowing Seed
‘Triomphe de Farcy’ – Another flavorful French heirloom, but the seed is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Similar to ‘Fin de Bagnol’, but the beans are a bit longer. 60 days. Heritage Harvest Seed
Pole Filet Beans
‘Climbing French’ – I’ve always had trouble catching these while they are small and skinny. They generally wind up looking a lot like regular string beans, but they still taste great. If you are more diligent with your harvesting, this is a very prolific variety and worth a try. 65 – 75 days Seed Savers Exchange
‘Emerite’ – This French hybrid is my choice for a filet pole bean. The pods are long and slim, easily growing 7 or more inches in length before they plump up. The vines can get very tall and tangled, so give it a good support. 60 days Renee’s Garden
- 1 lb. Filet Beans
- 2 Small Bulbs of Fennel
- 1 C. Black Olives (of your choice)
- Optional: You can any add additional flavors you like, but you don't want anything that will compete with the fennel and overwhelm the beans. Here are good 3 options.
- Goat Cheese
- Shaved Parmesan
- Quickly blanch the haricot vert until just slightly limp. About 1 minute for very young beans, longer if your beans have gotten a bit tough.
- Immediately toss them into ice water. Drain and allow to cool completely.
- Thinly slice or sliver the fennel bulb.
- Slice your olives in half.
- Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and toss with a dijon vinaigrette. (1/2 C. good olive oil, ¼ C. white wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. dijon mustart, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, salt to taste)
- Plate and add the walnuts, cheese, or other optional items.
- Serve with crusty bread.