Many recipes for green beans exhort you not to overcook them, lest you lose their lovely crunch and bright green color.
It is true that a lightly cooked green bean is a delightsome thing and that a middlingly cooked green bean is generally less so. A number of delicious recipes from Paula Wolfert, however, have convinced me that cooking green beans for a long time is also a good idea. I suppose that green beans are like squid in this way. Cook them quickly or stew them forever; in between lies sadness.
I have noticed that Wolfert often speaks of long-cooked green beans as "putty colored," perhaps as a scheme to preempt confusion and disappointment. These, inspired heavily by a recipe in her book The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, are not quite that far gone. Though I have made them several times, I have perhaps not yet ever truly cooked them long enough. Even so, they will not be winning any contests for vividness or crunch. They have other qualities to recommend them. The yogurt (which I add later than the original recipe suggests, because I found that I had trouble with curdling when I made it as written) makes a luscious sauce. Saffron is not commonly paired with the humble green bean. That gives this dish a little thrill of the not-ordinary, and in fact the combination works very well.
These are served at room temperature, which is nice because you can make them ahead and pull them out as an accompaniment to a simple light supper or hot lunch, an omelet for example.
GREEN BEANS WITH A SAFFRON SCENTED YOGURT SAUCE
1 1/2 c. plain yogurt
1/4 t. sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
Fat pinch saffron, crumbled
1 lb green beans, ends trimmed and cut into about 1" pieces
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. mixed chopped herbs -- dill, mint, tarragon, thyme, oregano...
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Mix together the yogurt, sugar, cinnamon, and saffron, and set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and simmer the beans for about 10 minutes and drain very well. Even tip them out of the colander onto a clean towel to absorb the remaining water.
3. Meanwhile, take a large skillet or the closest thing you have to one that also has a lid, and sauté the onion in the olive oil, with a pinch of salt, over medium heat. When the onion is soft, add the minced garlic and cook a minute more.
4. Add the green beans and butter to the pan and put the lid on. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring very occasionally.
5. Remove cover and remove from heat. Stir in the herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Let cool to room temperature before combining with the saffron yogurt mixture.