They are so pretty, until they’re cooked. Then the sweet speckles and swirls of cranberry-red on a cream background turn to a dull, unappetizing grey or light-brown. We’re not even going to discuss the excitement caused by the hot-pink pods. If you don’t believe me, just do some recipe/image searching and you’ll find numerous pictures of just shelled beauties, but only a smattering of completed dishes, usually with the beans swimming in colorful soup or dark broth. Even Martha, Epicurious, and some other big names didn’t have the confidence to photograph the final unattractive product. My solution was to cover the cooked beans with caramelized shallots and just-wilted radicchio to hint at the ravishing colors that existed before they hit the stove. In fact, I got so carried away with the garnishing that the beans are barely visible under the savory melange. This raspberry-edged serving plate really put those dull beans over the top!
Complimentary descriptions abound from meaty, hearty, comforting, and nutty to mild, creamy, plush, and versatile. Like their dried cousins, fresh shell beans need to be pumped up with added flavor to balance their dense texture. The strong herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and winter savory, combine beautifully with garlic, onions, olive oil, lemon, and, for spice lovers, a generous pinch of dried red pepper flakes. Don’t stint on the addition of salt along with some freshly ground black pepper to round out the flavors . Although water is completely acceptable for cooking the beans, a homemade vegetable broth really adds another flavor dimension. Also, don’t leave the bean pods more than 2 to 3 days before shelling and cooking, for they quickly become moldy – even in the fridge. Cooked beans freeze beautifully and may be stored for up to 6 months.
- Fresh Cranberry Beans Topped with Radicchio and Shallots
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups fresh shelled cranberry beans
- 4 cups vegetable broth or water
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small head radicchio, sliced in ½-inch strips
- Parsley to garnish
- Place the olive oil in a heavy pot and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until lightly browned and beginning to caramelize, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the shallots from the oil, place on a plate, and set aside.
- Add the garlic to the hot oil and cook for 1 minute until fragrant, being careful not to brown. Add the cranberry beans, broth, sage, salt, and black pepper. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are very tender.
- Taste and add more salt or pepper, if needed. Place the beans on a serving plate, leaving the liquid in the pot. Add the radicchio to the pot and stir for 30 seconds, until just wilted. Place the radicchio and shallots on top of the beans. Garnish with parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.
What you do with your beans?