My first experience with cranberry beans was a failed attempt at a soup (see here) where dried cranberry beans were cooked for an inappropriate amount of time, leading to a texture so unpleasantly undercooked it was like eating unpopped popcorn kernels. The years have passed, but the scars took a while to heal: I wasn’t too eager to cook cranberry beans again. Not even fresh ones. That is until I saw a beautiful mound of them at the farmer’s market and, knowing I was cooking a dinner for Stella two weeks ago, I said: “What the ‘ell!” (I had a British accent.) I bought the beautiful bag of beans you see above.
Cranberry beans are so, so, pretty, you just want to stare at them and not cook them for hours. That’s what I did, entering a catatonic state so severe that when Stella came over she had to smack me hard across the face to get me cooking.
But look at the open pod in my hand:
Can you believe that comes from nature?
I spent a pleasant 20 minutes shelling all the beans into this bowl and, again, found myself mesmerized by their beauty:
Stella smacked me again.
“I’m sorry, Stella!” I screamed.
The bean preparation I chose came from one of my desert island cookbooks: Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The recipe is for “Haricots Verts and Fresh Shell Bean Ragout” but I adapted it to leave out the haricots verts, seeking to feature the cranberry beans alone.
The process is easy easy easy and very rewarding. Watch how easy:
In a pot, heat 2 Tbs olive oil and saute 1/4 cup diced onion, 1 tsp minced garlic, 1 tsp thyme leaves (approximately: you can play around with the amounts.) When the onions are translucent (5 minutes), add the shelled beans and cook a few minutes, coating in the oil. Now add water to cover by 2 inches and a bit of salt (enough to season the water); simmer 10 to 15 minutes until the beans are just tender. You can tell by tasting. Here’s what mine looked like when they were ready:
Remove from the heat and cool the beans in their liquid. When cool, drain the beans and save the liquid (I just used a spider tool to get the beans out, leaving the liquid where it was.)
Now, in a saute pan you heat some more olive oil and add sliced shallot (or onion, if that’s what you have) and some thyme; season with salt and pepper and cook a minute or two and then add the cooked beans. Stir around gently, don’t crush the beans; now add 1/2 cup (or more) shell bean liquid to moisten.
Taste for seasoning, cook a few more minutes, until it’s hot. Add some basil and parsley and that’s it. Look how scrumptious:
These beans are unlike any beans you’ve ever had; their freshness gives them a vibrancy no canned bean or dried bean can replicate. And this preparation provides the beans with a gentle coating that enhances and doesn’t cloak their natural flavor.
Stella agreed: “These are yummy.”
Now let’s let the B52s play us out with their song “Butter Beans” which works nicely, only change the word “butter” to “cranberry” in your head. It makes more sense that way: