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Aug 18, 2008 02:01 PM

How do I cook shell beans?

I picked up some fresh shell beans from the farmers market and have no idea how to cook them. These beans are a mottled white/pink in colour ( quite pretty ) I would hate to see them go to waste.

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  1. Are they the same as cranberry beans?

    2 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      I don't know. I have never seen either.

      1. re: tunapet

        Yes, they are the same bean. I had often seen them in the US but never tried them. While visiting my friend in Venice I had the heavenly Venetian version of pasta e fagioli which is made with them. When told they were made with borlotti beans, I tried finding some dried beans in the market to bring home.

        Later, in researching, i found out most of Italy's dried borlottis come from the US!

        The restaurant Osteria Coppa here in San Mateo makes a lovely bigoli pasta with pancetta, borlottis, onion, tomato, parmigiana and herbs.

        I've got a mess of fresh cranberries and will be cooking them for that purpose tonight...

    2. All of those beans are related, and they're all cooked exactly alike, although their flavors aren't exactly identical...which is part of the fun. You can cook them as you would dried beans, only they don't need soaking and they cook much more quickly. You can also salt the water early on. Any kind of fresh legume, whether it's a bean or a field pea, is a delight to cook and eat and I'm frankly envious (one of the few things I truly miss about Nashville is the huge selection of beans and peas in the markets). Simply simmering them and seasoning in whatever way you prefer will give you a nice dish. A ham-hock, some onion and a pod of dried red pepper is Southern Standard, but you might try just salt, pepper and an herb such as fresh thyme, with a splash of olive oil to finish it. Cut-up sausages are nice in there, too, either pre-cooked ones or fresh ones browned and then simmered with the beans to finish the cooking. For further ideas I'd suggest you look on the various recipe websites.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Will Owen

        Thanks Will,
        I just cooked them with thyme and s/p and they were delish!

        1. re: tunapet

          There was a recipe attached to a Saveur article about Tuscan food for fresh (or well-soaked) beans cooked in the oven, an adaptation of the traditional method of pouring beans, water, seasonings and oil into a "fiasco", the round-bottomed Chianti bottle, and letting that cook all night in the ashes. I've never had the chance to try it with fresh beans, but I intend to - with good soaked beans they come out both firm and creamy-soft, something that's hard to achieve on the stove-top. I'll post a non-copyright-busting version here when I get the chance.

          Glad you liked them. Good beans are a true blessing to everyone who loves to eat.

          1. re: Will Owen

            I've been doing fresh beans "al fiasco"-style on the stove for decades.

            In a heavy enameled pot, wilt a finely chopped onion in olive oil. Add the beans, add water to cover. Do not bring to a boil, just reduce heat to lowest and cover. After four hours, salt to taste. Cover and continue cooking until beans are creamy. Usually takes 5-6 hours on my stove. Strain and reduce the liquid if you like.

            If the beans, onions, and olive oil are all first-rate, it's hard to believe that there was nothing else in the pot.

            Can be a soup or side dish depending on how much liquid. Classic combination would be a bistecca fiorentina (charcoal-grilled T-bone steak).

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I've never cooked "fresh" shell beans for more than 20-30 minutes, using the method you describe. Are you sure you're not talking about dry beans? If I cooked my fresh beans for 5-6 hours, they'd be mush.

              1. re: chemchef


                Maybe your stove doesn't go as low as mine. After four hours, this season's first batch of cranberry beans from La Tercera were still a little grainy / chalky in the middle. After around six they're still firm but creamy all the way through.

                1. re: chemchef

                  With my recipe, it probably takes 30 minutes before the beans even start cooking. I should stick a thermometer in there sometime.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Do you think this method would work for fresh black eyed peas? The little peas are a smaller than cranberry beans. I would have to start testing them earlier.

                  And, if so, can I leave them in the shell or should I shell them?

                  1. re: pagesinthesun

                    I don't know that blackeye pods are edible, or (more accurately) palatable. All the varieties of field peas that I know of are shelled before cooking. As for this method, cooking legumes at these temperatures gives you a very long window between "done enough" and "done too much." I know that dried cannelini beans cooked overnight in a slow oven are perfect after eight hours, just as good if you forget to set the alarm and give them ten. Fresh or near-fresh field peas can be done in maybe half that time, but more won't hurt them. I'd allow eight hours and start checking at five or six.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      I will have to experiment with these guys. The peas themselves are small and green with a green pod, but they are black eyed peas. I've struggled with these for two years from my CSA. They are a HUGE pain to shell!
                      Thanks for the advice.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        If picked young enough, intact blackeye pea pods can be eaten just like regular green beans/haricots. In fact, this is probably our favorite stage for eating, with the shelling stage being a close second.

                        At the "green bean" stage, blackeye peas require a bit more cooking time than green beans/haricots, but this affords the cook an opportunity to create a tasty pot liquor similar to what s/he might get from cooking collards or other braising-type greens.

                        We like to start with rendering a little bacon fat, sauteing onion and garlic in the fat, and then adding a bit of salted water to the pot along with the cooked bacon and cut beans. We cook the beans at a gentle simmer for about 20 minutes or until they're tender.

                        These are observations based on our experiences with the California #5 variety, which might not apply equally across all cowpea varieties.

                  2. re: Will Owen

                    (I think) I used something like this approach last night. The person staffing the Phoenix Pastificio stand at the Saturday Berkeley farmer's market gave me a rough outline of what to do, and I gave it a go.

                    Short story:
                    I braised a couple of goat shanks with white wine, veal stock, shallots, carrots, a simple bouquet garni, a bit of tomato paste, and about a pound of shelled borlotti (from La Tercera) in a 300-degree oven for about 3 hours.

                    Longer story:
                    After seasoning and browning the shanks, the peeled & halved shallots, and the chopped carrots, I placed them all in large rectangular metal cake pan (The kitchen I use in Berkeley is on the under-/weirdly-equipped side). I deglazed the skillet with about a cup of white wine and then poured it along with what little fond had formed on the skillet into the baking pan ("*&$!% non-stick cookware"). I then schmeared the shanks with about 3 TBSP tomato paste, added around 1/2 cup stock, the herbs (thyme, parsley, bay), and beans to the baking pan, and then added enough water to the pan so that the beans were just covered. I covered the pan with a cookie sheet ("Where's the &#!% foil?") and popped it into the oven (preheated to 300 degrees). After about 2 1/2 hours, I flipped the shanks over (to put the tomato paste in contact with the braising liquid) and seasoned with salt and pepper. I re-covered the pan and cooked for another 30-40 minutes until the beans were completely tender, yet still firm.

                    [Pointless step: I cooked the whole thing uncovered in the oven for about 10-15 minutes in hopes of reducing the liquid. "Bah! I'll just do it on the stove."]

                    After a little over 3 hours of oven time, I took everything out of the oven, discarded the herbs, and separated the meat and veg from the liquid, which I then reduced by about 1/3.

                    Initial impression? The beans clearly could have benefited from longer contact with the seasoned liquid and probably could have been cooked another hour or so without going mushy. Also, I wonder if I could have salted the dish earlier and if garlic might have been a good addition. Despite the doubts and questions, I am mostly satisfied with how everything turned out. I'm eager to see how it is as leftovers.

              2. In addition to following Will Owen's good advice, peruse a copy of Frank Stitt's SOUTHERN TABLE or any book by Edna Lewis -- your mouth will water and you'll be beating a fast pace back to the seller of your beans for more! I envy you. We do not have a great selection of fresh beans in the Phoenix area, sigh .....

                1. In Rome, where I live, these are called fagioli borlotti and they are in season now. My two main ways of serving them are (1) cold (or room temp) with oil and vinegar (extra virgin and best red wine, of course), lots of freshly ground black pepper, and sliced Tropea onion, which is a very sweet red onion from Calabria available only in summer (people tell me Vidalia can substitute); these can be served alone as a veg or with a can of top-quality Italian tuna as a light main dish; and (2) in pasta e fagioli. Pasta e fagioli involves tomatoes and is a great summer dinner lifesaver because it can be made ahead and served at room temperature. I have quite a bit about these beans, including my pasta e fagioli recipe, on my blog.

                  To cook the beans, you cover them (just) with cold water, no salt, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cook gently till tender, and salt generously at the end. This takes 20-30 minutes.

                  1. By way of an update, I don't know if the word's gotten all around yet, but the estimable, indispensable Harold McGee has thoroughly determined that salting beans from the get-go (a) does not toughen them at all, and (b) actually allows you to use less salt, since the salt penetrates an uncooked bean better than a cooked one. So please disregard anything I may have said about salting later, and all those other guys too!