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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's spring: Go green with beans

Buds. Green things. Do you think it is possible that the city has actually made it to the spring stage? I mean it's only May and all that, but it does look pretty promising. Now I hope I haven't put a hex on all of this by anticipating warm weather. After all, it did happen last year. May 22, remember it? I do because it was a friend's birthday and he had a barbecue out at the dacha. A crowd had gathered and, although it was a little chill, we were looking hopeful. And there was the birthday boy out among the lilac trees and leafy things deftly turning over the shashlik skewers and basting the eggplant. Suddenly, out of nowhere along came a snowstorm. It was vile. That real cold hunkering messy stuff you aren't prepared for when you climb into your T-shirts a month too soon. At least he got his birthday wish: He was hoping for a special surprise -- more of the fishing rod kind than the snow variety -- but at least he will never forget his 30th birthday. So spring. First things first. Defrost the fridge, find the seeds, locate the pots and, best of all, unseal the glass doors that open onto the balcony. That's my favorite bit. I felt I had really made it back in 1990 when I worked out what all the cotton wool and wads of newspaper were for. They used to drift all over my first apartment in little flurries whenever a fierce arctic blast dislodged them from the windows. I learned you had to keep the blunt knife handy to stick them back in. Now I'm an insulating tape girl doing dastardly deeds to the edges of the windows and doors each and every November. I had a preliminary unsealing yesterday, but will devote this weekend to the whole project because on looking outside onto the balcony I realized my neighbors upstairs have been hard at work. They are remonting. Most of their balcony has found its way -- gravitationally speaking -- to mine. Huge chunks of plaster and roof, mess and grit. And springtime dishes? Well, I'll be frank. I'm still waiting for the last snowstorm in May and I would advise you hold off the fantasies about new potatoes, succulent lettuce and tangy radishes for a few weeks yet. This week it is a late and hopefully last reminder about the glories of beans. Canned and always ready to transform themselves into a last-minute feast. As is often the case with preserved vegetables, you win on convenience but often lose on texture. That's where the nuts come in. My favorite bean recipes all include nuts because you aren't going to get fresh crunchy beans right now so you need to fake it. All these recipes are Italian in origin. You just can't beat a long tradition of imaginative antipasto. They are all simple but flavorsome. All dishes serve two. Italian Bean and Pear Salad 2 cups green beans 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 firm pears Toasted almond flakes Rinse the canned beans under cold water and allow to drain, making sure they don't break up too much when you transfer them to a serving platter. Carefully toss them in the olive oil. Peel, core and halve the pears. Cook them for a few minutes in water and then allow to stand until they are quite cool. Carefully toast your almond flakes so they are a little browned. Cool. Cut the pears into slices and arrange in a fan pattern around the edge of the platter of beans. Scatter over the toasted almond flakes, serve cold. Beans in Hazelnut and Cream sauce 2 cups green beans 1 lemon, squeezed 3 heaped tablespoons shelled hazelnuts 3/4 cup heavy cream Rinse the canned beans under cold water and allow to drain, making sure they don't break up too much when you transfer them to a serving platter and pour over the juice of a lemon. Mix carefully. Finely chop half the hazelnuts and in a bowl combine the heavy cream and the chopped nuts, add salt and pepper. Pour this over the beans and toss them well, being careful not to break them up. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Almond and Butter Dressing for Beans 3 tablespoons butter 1 clove garlic, crushed 2 tablespoons almond flakes Chopping the garlic clove won't do. You will have to crush the garlic for this to obtain the most juice. Melt the butter over low heat and add the crushed garlic. Stir the garlic around for about a minute. Remove from heat and leave to cool. Prepare beans in the usual way, place on a platter and drizzle the melted butter over the beans (you can remove the crushed garlic if you like, but I prefer to think some lucky dinner guest is going to feel pretty special if they get the blast of garlic in the dish) and scatter the almonds over the top. You must serve this dish immediately as the butter will do unattractive things to your beans if you allow it to cool. The next dish is one you can make with fresh spinach; it makes a great first course or side dish. If you wish, omit the ham. Double the ingredients for four people. Finding the pine nuts is difficult. You can easily substitute sunflower seeds (from Stockmann). Beans with Pine Nuts and Raisins 2 cups green beans 1 tablespoon butter 1 clove garlic, crushed 1/4 cup ham, cut into 2 cm squares 2 tablespoons raisins 2 heaped tablespoons pine nuts Prepare the beans in the usual manner. Warm the butter in a heavy-based frying pan and gently cook the garlic and the ham for a few minutes. Add the raisins and pine nuts, stir well and then carefully add the beans, making sure they do not break up. Coat well for a few minutes, remove from the heat and serve warmed on a large platter.