Last Friday, while trawling my neighborhood farmers market for farm-fresh goodies, I spotted them: shriveled, damp looking bean pods, cream with rosy highlights. Cannellini shelling beans! Not a very attractive looking bean on the outside. But inside–heaven.
Cannellini beans themselves are white kidney-shaped beans, with a pale green to pale yellow pod that may be moist. Delicate bean flavor, not too dense. The shriveled pod indicates that the inside of these shelling beans are swollen and plump, full of rich bean flavor, and the dampness indicates the bean is still tender and ready to eat.
A shelling bean is any bean that is grown primarily for the edible seed inside. The pod is not eaten, because it is tough and stringy, unlike snap beans, which are eaten for the pod, with the bean inside barely developed. Most of the shelling bean crops are harvested when the pods and beans inside are dry, just before the pod shatters. After harvest, they are stored and sold throughout the year as dry beans. However, in late summer, some of these beans make it to the market in their fresh state – that is, when the edible seed is still moist, and can easily be bitten through. At this point the beans take only minutes to cook, not the hour or more needed for dried beans.
I think fresh shelling beans are one of the highlights of summer’s bounty, and I seek them out. Sometimes I grow them myself (favas!). It is so simple to make them taste good–all the work is in getting them out of their shell. The shelling process, however, is an ideal time to keep your family and friends in the kitchen, sipping a glass of wine, and all shelling together. It goes quickly that way. Plus it’s a lot more fun.
Of course, you can always use Cannellini beans from a can. And I have. But–if you can find them fresh, why would you want to?
How to cook ’em?
You will need to judge the time needed to cook the beans based on how mature they are. To do this, bite one of the shelled beans. If the bean is quite tender, if will need only about 5 minutes of cooking in boiling, salted water. If the bean offers resistance, you may need up to 20-25 minutes of cooking (which is how long I cooked mine). A pound of beans in the pod equals approximately 1 cup of shelled beans.
Where to get ’em?
I got mine from Rand at One Leaf Farm, my favorite farmers market veggie seller. Check out your neighborhood farmers market!
Simple Recipe for Cannellini Beans with Olive Oil, Garlic and Sage
- Cannellini beans, shelled
- Boiling, salted water
- High quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Course salt (Kosher or sea salt)
- Chopped fresh sage (or herb of your choice), a few tablespoons
- One or two (depending on how many beans you’re using) cloves of garlic, minced.
- Shell your beans.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
- Add shelled beans.
- Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5-25 minutes (I sampled a bean at 10 minutes and then cooked another 15).
- Drain beans through a strainer.
- Put the cooked beans in a bowl.
- Top with minced garlic, chopped sage (or other herb), and a healthy drizzle (1/4-1/3 cup, again, depending on how many beans you use).
- Give it a few stirs to blend it all together.
Seriously, that’s it! So simple. So delicious.
Optional add-ins might include:
- a few tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- a generous sprinkle of shaved or grated Parmesan cheese
- a handful of chopped Coppa, prosciutto or similar uncured meat
We enjoyed our beans with a garden salad of tomatoes, roasted corn and basil…and a lovely bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc! And now I can’t wait to make more. Next year, Cannellini beans are definitely on my short list of veggies to grow in our garden.
Take the road less traveled, Beth
For more simple goodness, take a look at Wanderfood Wednesday!