Sunday, October 6, 2013

Winning the Shell Bean Game

My brother-in-law Dave had bought a big pile of fresh cranberry beans at the farmers' market as part of the Saturday night dinner he was planning to make for friends at their cottage in the marshes near Plum Island Sound. However, at the last moment, the trip was postponed, and the beans would be part of our dinner in Portsmouth, instead.

"No problem," I told him, "we'll make Asunta's beans -- a favorite Marcella Hazan recipe that I posted on this blog a couple of years ago. It seemed at fitting tribute, as Hazan had died earlier in the week. There WAS a problem, though. In Hazan's recipe, the beans are gently simmered for an hour and a half, which meant we wouldn't be sitting down to eat until well past 9:30.

"We'll have to have the beans tomorrow night," said Dave. "We'll have to find another recipe," I replied. I was sure that fresh shell beans could be prepared in more like a half an hour.

A quick Google search  proved me correct: in a recipe by chef and cookbook author David Tanis, the shell beans took just 30 minutes. That's because the beans are briefly brought to a boil before being gently simmered, as in the Hazan recipe. For seasonings, I combined the best of both recipes -- using some red onion, garlic, sage, and thyme.  The result was creamy and delicious -- not to mention fast!

Fresh Shell Beans 
Adapted from recipes by David Tanis and Marcella Hazan

2 garlic cloves, smashed, then minced
1 small red onion, minced
4 cups of shelled fresh cranberry beans -- about 3 pounds unshelled.
Splash of olive oil
2 bay leaves
A few sage leaves and thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper

1. Film a splash of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Briefly sauté the onions, taking care not to let them brown. 
2. Add the garlic and heat briefly -- again don't brown. Then add the beans, water to cover by an inch or so, the herbs and a generous pinch of salt.  
3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. 
4. Simmer the beans for about 30 minutes until the skins are soft and the beans are tender and creamy. Taste the beans and add salt if necessary. 
5. Cool the beans in the broth. (The beans can be cooked several hours in advance and reheated just before serving.) 
6. To serve, drain the beans, add some freshly ground black pepper and a little dash of olive oil.

Serves four as a side dish