It took me a while to catch on to the beauty and deliciousness of fresh shelling beans. I think I had always been unsure of the best way to cook them, my primary bean experiences having been with the dried and canned varieties. Then I found fresh cranberry beans at my local farmer’s market. I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I get a little emotional about my food – I mean, these beans were just so beautiful, both in the pod and out. I shed a little tear. (Unfortunately, the beautiful mottled cranberry color of the fresh, uncooked beans gets cooked out, leaving you with a rather boring-looking greyish-cream bean. But the memory of the raw bean lingers on.)
I made a super-simple salad with a bit of arugula, but think of this post as a fresh bean primer – you can alter this recipe in so many ways. Experiment with different types of greens (finely shredded kale would be nice, or chopped endive). Add a chopped fresh chile. Experiment with the types of herbs you use. Add a pinch of cumin and a squeeze of lime juice. Or a squashed anchovy. Pile up on toasted bread rubbed with a clove of garlic. Serve the salad while the beans are still a bit warm, or at room temperature. The possibilities, as they say, are endless.
If you can’t find fresh beans, dried or canned are an acceptable substitution, but I implore you to try to find fresh beans at least once this summer. There is a tremendous difference in texture and I think you’ll like it. Marcella Hazan taught me how to cook fresh beans in her awesome Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This recipe is loosely based on several of her recipes.
(Serves 3-4 as an appetizer or side dish)
1 pound fresh cranberry or other fresh beans in the shell
1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
The juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime
1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh herbs, finely chopped (either rosemary, sage, chives, parsley, or cilantro)
1 cup baby arugula leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Shell the fresh beans. Put the beans in a medium, heavy pot and cover with water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and simmer gently for about an hour, or until the beans are tender. (Note: do not salt the water.)
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, olive oil, lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
- Drain the beans and gently rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.
- Toss the beans in the dressing. Taste and correct for salt – you will probably need to add quite a bit more salt at this point. Add the fresh herbs to taste and the baby arugula leaves. Toss very gently to combine. Add a few grindings of black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.