Chef Derek Burns + Shelling Beans
Every year as the summer heat wanes and the evenings begin to cool, my favorite fall produce item appears at markets around the Bay Area. Explosions of scarlet and burgundy hues fill the bins where the romano beans and haricot vert had been just the week prior. Cranberry beans have arrived.
Early fall is the time to experience the velvet-smooth texture and tender bite of fresh beans, many varieties of which will be available in farmers markets in the next few weeks. Easy to shell and quick to cook, fresh beans round out any autumn meal and boast a plump, succulent texture that sets them a world apart from their dried or canned counterparts. Fresh beans cook much more quickly than dried and require no soaking because the water mother nature put in is still there. This is what gives them their delicate mouthfeel.
Cranberry beans, with their striations of burgundy and cream, are the most common shell bean and happen to be my personal favorite. However, the same preparation techniques apply to all shelling beans, so you can substitute any of them in the recipes that follow.
When selecting bean pods, look for ones that are brightly colored and plump. As the pods get thinner and their burgundy color fades, the beans inside are beginning their drying process. However, beware of the younger, greener pods; the beans inside will be smaller and more difficult to shell.
This recipe for cranberry bean ragout is a basic recipe that can be used as a launch pad. Any number of flavors may be added to this dish so that it suits your tastes and melds with whatever you are serving with it. In any case, the end result will be a creamy bean ragout with the viscosity of baked beans, but a fresh, bright flavor.
Cranberry Bean Ragout
2 c. Shelled cranberry beans
1 T. Olive oil
1/2 c. Each diced onion, carrot, and celery
3 Whole cloves garlic
1 Bay leaf
1 qt. Vegetable or chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a pot large enough to accommodate 2 quarts. Sauté the onions for a couple of minutes until they soften. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic and sauté for a few more mintues. Add the beans and stir to combine them with the vegetables.
Add enough stock to cover the beans by an inch. Bring this to a gentle boil, and then immediately reduce the heat and simmer gently for 45min.-1hr. The ragout is done when the beans begin to burst and are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then cool them in their liquid. Serve the ragout as a hearty side dish to grilled fish or roasted meat, or allow them to be the star of the meal.
Heirloom Tomato and Cranberry Bean Salad
Because the c ranberry bean season starts while the tomato season is still going strong, this is a favorite of mine. The beans are cooked using the same method as above, except the aromatic vegetables are left in big chunks so that they may be removed after cooking. The beans are then tossed with the marinade ingredients while they are still hot. This process, called forced marination, allows the beans to absorb the maximum amount of flavor as they cool. In this version I use lemon juice for the acid in the vinaigrette and sage for the herbal component, but your favorite vinegar and herbs may be substituted.
2 c. Shelled beans
1 Onion, quartered
1 Carrot, scrubbed and quartered
1 Stalk of celery, quartered
4 Whole cloves of garlic
1 tbs. Olive oil fo r sauté
1 qt. Vegetable or other stock
1 tsp. Lemon zest
2 tbs. Lemon juice, or to taste
1/4 c. Extra virgin olive oil
2 Heirloom tomatoes, cut into large dice
2 tbs. Freshly chopped sage
Salt and Pepper, to taste
In a large sauce pan, sweat the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to release their aromatic qualities. Add the cranberry beans to coat and then cover by one inch with the stock. Bring this mixture up to a light boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender. After 45min. or so, when the beans are tender but not bursting, remove from the heat.
Drain the hot beans and pour them out on a sheet pan, reserving the broth for another use (it makes a great addition to almost any soup recipe). Quickly pick out the aromatic vegetable chunks and then place the still hot beans in a mixing bowl.
Add the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and sage and toss gently. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally to allow all the beans to evenly absorb the flavors of the marinade.
Once cool, add the tomatoes and a little more sage to brighten the herbal qualities. If you are a garlic lover, some minced raw garlic can be added at this point.
This salad is a great accompaniment to a grilled steak or chop, or it can be served as its own course. Some arugula or other green can be tossed in just before serving.
Photo by The Ewan