This is the time of year, over here anyway, when the shelling beans start appearing at the farmers markets. Brightly colored, striped and speckled pods filled with fat beans ready for the cooking pot. This weekend, a favorite vendor had big piles of deep purple crowder peas and the ones I really wait for, red and white striped borlotti beans. Sometimes called tongues of fire or cranberry beans, they cook up nice and creamy yet slightly firm. I love them but for some reason, my work schedule always kicks into high gear in September, just as they make an appearance on market tables. If there’s one thing I have a problem with it’s buying too much food at the exact moment when I have zero time to cook it. This has happened more times than I care to admit with these beans.
But this weekend, I was on it. It was a long holiday weekend and though I had 12 recipes to develop for a client, god dammit, I was going to cook these beans. Sunday morning I shucked the beautiful red pods, splitting them one by one with my fingernail to expose fat, maroon speckled beans. They were so pretty as they plopped into the bowl. Into a shallow pot with parsley, rosemary, thyme, garlic cloves, a bit of salt and pepper I set them in for a slow simmer. In only 30 minutes they were tender, incredibly fragrant from the herbs and swimming in a delicious broth. Game on. As often happens with beans, both dried and fresh, the pretty markings faded during cooking, which was unfortunate but unavoidable. They still tasted great.
To top my beautiful beans, I roasted off a few Italian sausages and made a quick fennel relish I trot out on occasion. Fennel isn’t something I use nearly enough. I’m going to work on that. With a bit of red pepper, onion and a pickle-y punch, it brightens up all kinds of meats and is particularly good with this dish. I can’t remember where I originally found the recipe but I could have sworn it was in Bon Appetit at some point. I can’t find the source now so a tip of the hat for whomever came up with this one. Good job. If you can’t find fresh beans, canned cannellini beans work but I’d encourage you to search out some good dried beans, like those from Rancho Gordo. I do so love their beans.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SHUCKING TRANCE. I love shucking beans and peas. Theirs is something wonderfully hypnotic about splitting a pod, beans in this pile, and discarded pods in this pile. If I had a porch and a rocking chair, I sit and do this all day while conjuring up visions of a small southern grandma somewhere with a bowl in her lap. Shucking makes me feel good even if I end up with a gigantic pile of empty pods and a small bowl of beans. Seems like a lot of work, I know, but I love it all the same.
seven years ago: Empanadas -Two Ways, Confessions of a Cookbook Addict
six years ago: Peach Pandowdy
five years ago: Tomato Confit
four years ago: Bastille Day Lunch – Figgy BBQ Sauce
three years ago: Yunnan Pineapple & Tomato Salad, Tomato Chile Jam
two years ago: Fresh Mint Limeade
last year: Mexican Corn Salad
BORLOTTI BEANS, ITALIAN SAUSAGES & FENNEL-PEPPER RELISH
With fresh shelling beans, the yield of shelled beans is typically half of the total weight. So say for example you buy 1 ½ pounds of beans in the shells, you’ll end up with ¾ shelled beans. I like to keep things simple but if you want to jazz them up, sauté some chopped bacon and ½ an onion first.
for the relish:
½ red bell pepper, seeds and 1/8” dice (about ½ cup)
1 small fennel bulb (sometimes called anise, about 1/3 pound), trimmed and 1/8” dice (about 1 cup)
½ small white onion, peeled and 1/8” dice
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 garlic clove, crushed
For the beans:
1 ½ pounds fresh, shelled borlotti beans (or two 14-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained & rinsed)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
3-4 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
2-3 cups water
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 links fresh Italian sausage (about 1 pound)
- For the relish: place the diced pepper, fennel and onion in a medium bowl and set aside until needed.
- In a saucepan bring vinegar, sugar, oil, mustard seeds, salt and garlic to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar; pour over vegetables.
- Marinate the relish, covered and chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 1 week. Serve the relish cold or room temperature.
- For the beans: with kitchen string, tie the parsley, rosemary and thyme into a neat bundle.
- Add the beans to a medium pot; nestle in the herb bundle, the garlic cloves and a good pinch each of salt and pepper.
- Add enough water to cover the beans and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid slightly askew and simmer until tender about 30 minutes (15-20 if using canned beans).
- Discard the herb sprig.
- Fish out the garlic cloves and in a small bowl, smash with a fork to puree and mix back into the beans. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.
- For the sausages: Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- In a medium saucepan, cover the sausages with water, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
- Place the drained sausages on a sheet pan, toss with a little olive oil and roast in the oven, turning occasionally, until evenly browned; about 20-25 minutes. Alternatively, you can do this in a sauté pan over medium high or on a grill.
- To serve: Divide beans and some of the cooking liquid between 4 plates, nestle a sauce in the beans and top with some of the fennel-pepper relish.