Italian flat beans are a form of bean with broad, flattened pods. They strongly resemble common green beans, except that they tend to be larger and flatter. Many cooks use them interchangeably with string or green beans, and some Italian recipes call specifically for the use of these beans. Specialty produce companies and some markets will carry flat beans when in season, and they can also be grown at home.
Like other beans, Italian flat beans come in two forms. The first, green bean form is eaten whole, pod and all. It is crispy and crunchy, with a mild beany flavor, and they perform best when they are very lightly cooked. Overcooked beans can get mushy and dull in flavor. They can also be allowed to mature on the vine, in which case the pods wither and split to reveal dried beans. In this form, they are sometimes called Romano beans, and they have more nutritional value, while also requiring a long cooking time to soften into digestibility.
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When selecting Italian flat beans in green form, consumers should look for crisp pods which snap easily. The beans may be green or purple, depending on regional varieties. Floppy or discolored beans are unsuitable, and they should be discarded. They can be stored under refrigeration for several days until use, or they can be canned like other green beans for year-round use. They can be steamed, briefly fried, or boiled, and some people include them in casseroles and other dishes for a zesty color and texture.
Dried beans can be used in any recipe that calls for beans. They are brown with black splotches, and like other beans they are high in protein. Some recipes such as soups and casseroles call specifically for Romano beans, and they can be used to make chili and other similar dishes from around the world. Remember to cook they until they are soft and breaking apart, to ensure that they are digestible.
To grow Italian flat beans, start seedlings in a greenhouse or plant the seeds directly into moist soil in fair weather. They should be planted in mid-spring, to ensure that they will mature in the summer. Make sure to provide a trellis for the vines to climb as they grow. You can either harvest the beans in green form for eating fresh, or you can let them dry on the vine so that you have dried beans.