Skulking around the stalls of my farmers market the other day, these Cranberry Beans immediately caught my eye. Haricots Écossés (pronounced air-ee-koe ay-koe-say) literally translates to Beans Shelled or Shelled Beans, as we’d say, which is one of the more staid names for this beautiful bean, though it must be shelled to be eaten so some practicality thrown in there.
I was expecting it to find it hailed from some exotic locale high in the Andes or on an uninhabited island off Madagascar but no, it’s grown in the good ol’ USA and Canada. Some other monikers include borlotti bean, saluggia, crab eye bean, rosecoco bean, fagioli romano, October bean, and ironically French Horticultural bean. It is of the Phaseolus Vulgaris (sounds like my last French boyfriend) variety and is related to the tongues of fire bean! Now that’s a name!
So now that we’ve dispensed with the formalities, let’s get down to business. Just what is this whimsical bean with the delightful red spots? It’s a bean, a legume, akin to the kidney or pinto bean known for its creamy texture and chestnut flavor which is why it is popular in stews and soups. They begin to decorate their vines in late summer as the harvest of string beans fades.
Prolific in Spanish and Portuguese cuisine, they are also a popular first course in Northern Italy simply cooked and served with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and a twist of the pepper grinder. Or with a chunk of good crusty bread and a salad they can make a meal of themselves.
So how do you actually cook these lovely legumes? Rather daunting when they are rock hard and could put an eye our if mishandled. The standard method if you have dried cranberry (or other) beans is to first soak them in cold water overnight or at least 12 hours. Drain the water, a few times if you can, and cover with fresh cold water. Bring the water to a boil for 3 minutes, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 45 minutes, or until tender. 1 cup of dried beans should give you about 3 cups of cooked beans.
If you are given a last minute head up that guests are arriving for dinner that evening, here is the quick soak way: Add beans to a pot of boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Do not add salt. Remove pot from heat and cover and soak for about 4 hours. Drain the water, add fresh cold water and simmer until tender, as above.
Fresh beans are of course exponentially easier and faster and here is one of my favorite way to prepare it.
- 3 cups shelled fresh Cranberry Beans
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- fresh thyme sprigs or dried thyme in a pinch
- ¼ lemon
- a few sprigs worth of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1. In a pot, combine beans, olive oil, herbs and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil.
NOTE: Please do not add salt until the beans are thoroughly cooked, it will make the skins tough.
2. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until beans are tender, anywhere from 20-30 minutes.
3. Remove lid and let cool to warm. Drain beans from water and herbs.
4. Toss beans in olive oil, a grind of salt & pepper, squeeze of lemon, and chopped parsley
5. Serve with a chunk of bread and/or a green salad.
Last night I was particularly sluggish and not terribly hungry so I simply sautéed a cup of fresh cranberry beans in olive oil and dried thyme for a few minutes, added ½ cup water, covered and cooked on low for about 10-15 minutes, tossing the beans every few minutes. A grind of salt & pepper, squeeze of lemon, et voila. A great light evening treat. Bon appetit!