This is the basic method for cooking fresh shelling beans (or “shellies” as some people call them) such as cranberry, borlotti, Tongues of Fire. You can eat these beans “as-is,” but if you have leftovers these beans are great with grains or added to a soup, such as a minestrone. You can use this basic recipe and add sausages and cooked rapini for a one-dish meal, or you can use a rich vegetable stock with some carrots and celery and add some long cooked farro, and puree for a hearty soup. If you have pesto, it is a wonderful seasoning for these beans. Just stir in a dollop and enjoy an end of summer treat. Enjoy shelling beans while you can, as the season is fairly short, and then these will all be dried beans.
2-3 cups fresh shelled beans*
1 brown onion, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled, de-germed, and sliced thinly
2-3 fresh sage leaves, or 1-2 tablespoons fresh marjoram, or 2 inches rosemary stalk
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable stock or water to cover by 1 inch
Olive oil as needed for cooking
1-2 tablespoons very flavorful extra virgin olive oil for finishing the dish
Heat a chef’s pan or heavy pot just large enough to hold the beans and liquid over medium heat.
When the pan is hot, add enough oil to coat the pan bottom generously. When the oil heats up, add the onions and cook until they are softened and fragrant, but not browning.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. While the garlic cooks, bruise the sage (or rosemary if that is your herb of choice) with the flat of the knife. Hold the stem in one hand, and lay the knife almost flat on the herb and slide the knife the length of the stem/leaf.
When the garlic is softened but not colored-about 1 minute, add the herbs and stir around.
When you can smell the herbs, add the beans, and then add the liquid to cover the beans by an inch or a little more.
Season with a pinch of salt and a generous amount of pepper and bring to a boil.
As soon as the water boils, bring the temperature down to a gentle simmer, and gently cook the beans until done. If you cook the beans too vigorously they will break down and turn to mush and the flavor will be watery. This should take around 30 minutes. The skins should be tender and the insides should have a creamy consistency.
Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed. The beans are ready for use now, or you can cool them in their liquid for use later. In my opinion, I think the beans have deeper flavor when allowed to sit in their cooking liquid for a few hours.
If reheating, you can heat the liquid the beans cooked in and then add the beans for a gentler re-heat, or just heat the pot over low until they are hot enough. Before serving, hit with a little fresh ground pepper and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive. A big Tuscan style oil is perfect here.
Chef’s Notes and Tips:
*To peel, just open the pod and pull out the beans. This is easiest done sitting down, opening the pods over a bowl to catch the beans as you run your finger down the inside of the shell. I frequently shuck the beans while doing something like waiting for other things to cook, or if I am watching a movie. I also find that kids find it a fun task to help with.
This dish lends itself to so many options! Half the time I cook shellies I start by cooking some kind of pork. Diced pancetta or prosciutto leaves flavorful fat to start the dish, as does sliced sweet Italian sausages.
Start by sautéing the pork until the fat is rendered or the sausage slices are browned. Remove the pork from the pan and drain, and then pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the fat in the pan. Proceed with the recipe and add the pork back into the dish in the last ten minutes of cooking. To make this heartier, sauté chunks of carrot and celery with the onions. You could also sauté rapini with garlic, and then chop it and fold it into the beans with the sausage. A nice iteration of this dish is to mix the beans with sautéed rapini, and then finish it with a squeeze of lemon juice and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. This dish is a great study in contrasts of flavors and textures.
For an elegant looking soup with deep flavor, cook the beans as above, but add carrots, and a little celery and cook until everything is very tender, and then puree it to a creamy smooth consistency. Serve with a drizzle of good oil or a few drops of truffle oil, and for a really elegant presentation, make fricco (lacey cheese “crackers”) and serve with the soup. Add grains and you have a complete protein.
YIELD: Serves 4