Our farm season is soon coming to a close, yet we still have much to offer at our market stall. Beautiful lettuces, spinach, turnips, rutabaga, three kinds of kale, Swiss chard and beets have all made their appearance. As farmers we are always looking for ways to extent the season, and bring unfamiliar veggies to our customers. This year we ventured into fresh shelling beans. A shelling bean is any bean that is grown primarily for the edible seed inside. Almost any bean that is destined to be eaten dried can be eaten fresh, and that was the kicker. I had never even seen fresh shelling beans, much less tasted them. This year we grew cannellini, black turtle, Hutterite, Saturday-night specials, cranberry and kidney. It was fascinating to watch them develop and learn when each variety was ready to harvest. We checked weekly to make sure the beans within the pods were developing without incident. By the end of August the cannellini and black turtle were ready to start harvesting. We recognized that each variety would be harvested multiple times. Although labor intensive, it was indeed a labor or love.
Much to our surprise our shelling bean experiment went better than we could have imagined! The first time we offered fresh cannellini, one of our customers bought all 15 pounds! Some of our customers were thrilled, some wondered why in the world we brought such shriveled, damp, ugly beans to market. It was moving to see the diversity of our customer base. When we brought the black turtle beans, one Mexican woman cried. She bought them to put in her tamales, then returned the following week with her husband to buy more. Beans are such basic foods for so many people. I soon realized that many people had only seen these beans dried in plastic bags or canned and had never seen them fresh. Although a convenience, canned beans are usually too mushy for my taste. Dried beans are definitively an improvement, yet it is sometimes a challenge to be organized enough and remember to soak them the day before. The texture of fresh shelling beans are something so unique, that its hard to not to wax eloquently about them. Fresh cannellini beans practically make me swoon. We have put up dozens of bags for winter, as once they are shelled they can be placed directly in the freezer without blanching to preserve their freshness.
One way to enjoy our favorite shelling bean: the cannellini, is in a simple bean bowl. Mix yourself a drink, sit in a comfortable chair with a view of something soothing (we love to sit between our fields and listen to the sprinklers). I find it sweetly contemplative to shell beans. I love how the pod gives way to my fingers and the sound of each bean dropping into the bowl. You will have several cups in no time. We like to shell multiple cups so that when we cook them we can have both bean bowl and use them for an additional recipe the following day. Make sure not to add salt to the beans until after they are cooked, as adding salt to the cooking water will toughen the beans.
The Bean Bowl
- 2 cups fresh cannellini beans, shelled
- Water to cover beans, plus an additional one inch
- 2-3 whole cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 Tbsp white truffle oil
- 1/2 cup shredded Pecorino cheese
- Bring the beans, water, garlic and bay leaf to a boil uncovered, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. Taste a bean, if not done continue to simmer checking every 5 minutes.
- Put beans in individual bowls with some of the cooking water.
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, then drizzle 1 Tbsp of the white truffle oil.
- Top with 1/4 cup freshly shredded Pecorino cheese.
- “Simplicity is an acquired taste. Mankind, left free, instinctively complicates life.” —Katherine Fullerton Gerould