Sunday, August 12, 2012

Make your own pot of fresh shelling beans

Does making a pot of beans seem a bit unimpressive to you? It shouldn't. Beans, cooked well, are delicious, healthy, economical and versatile. In our home we happily eat our way through at least one pot of beans a week - with rice and tortillas, in vegetable soups, or simply in a warm bowl topped with a bit of salt, pepper and Parmesan. The very best book I read this year, Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, devotes an entire chapter to beans. The chapter's title? How to Live Well. I couldn't agree more!

So easy a three-and-three-quarter-year-old can do it.
Charlie described shelling these beans as "really fun"

The loveliest time of year for bean-lovers is here. It's fresh shelling bean season, and the Dirty Girl Produce stall has baskets heaped full of Cranberry and Cannellini beans. The Cranberry beans come in freckled, magenta bean pods and have similarly colored beans inside. The Cannellini bean pods are a cream color with white beans inside. Fresh shelling beans do not need to be soaked before cooking, they cook quicker than dried beans, and they are especially flavorful and creamy in texture. 

Cranberry beans

Cannellini Beans

Here's what you do:

1) Shell the beans (holding each end of the bean shell, twist, then pop the beans out into a bowl). Some people are turned off by the need to shell the shelling beans but it really does not take long at all and can be a great job for kids in the kitchen.

2) Put beans in a pot and add cold water to cover by about two inches. Place on the stove top.

3) Bring to a boil then quickly lower to a simmer. If scum rises to the top of the pot skim it off and discard it.

4) While simmering add a good amount of salt (and add more when they're done cooking until they're seasoned to your liking). Add a big splash of olive oil. You can also add any other tasty flavor-adders that you may already have in your kitchen such as: fresh herbs like thyme, oregano, sage, a bay leaf, or parsley leaves or stems, an onion, leek, carrot, and/or celery stalk. If you don't have any of these things that's ok too.

5) Simmer beans for 20 minutes or so. But do not take my word for it. Taste the beans and see if they taste good to you. Here's a great description on "doneness" from An Everlasting Meal: "Beans are done when they are velvety to their absolute middles. You should feel as soon as you taste one, as though you want to eat another."

Serve warm and topped with any of the following: Parmesan or another cheese, breadcrumbs, chopped fresh herbs, pesto, or a drizzle of olive oil. Or use in a number of other dishes such as bean gratin, bean and pasta soup, ribollita, minestrone, or rice and bean burritos.

Cool beans in their liquid and refrigerate or freeze to use later.

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