Fresh Shelling Beans

White Marrow Fat and Black Coco fresh shelling beans. The “black” ones varied from a deep marine blue to a pearly gray.

Fresh Shelling Bean Season

It’s way too short, just a few weeks. And then we spend the winter cooking with dried shelling beans. But while they are fresh and in season, grab them. Fresh shelling beans take just 20 minutes or so to cook vs. the usual 45 minutes to an hour for dried beans. And their flavor is fresher, too. Perhaps a subtle difference but an important one.

Sure, they need removing from their pods. But this can be a happy task: my sister and I gossiped and shelled beans while sitting in the sun on the deck.

For several weeks, Tierra Vegetables sold Black Coco and Marrow Fat beans. The former can be jet black but this year some were the most beautiful French blue and some were pearl gray, the color of my mother’s beloved “black” pearls. “Cook both types together,” customers were told. And we did. So much easier, too, than keeping them separate, getting two pots of boiling water going, etc.

The cooking could not be easier: a pot of boiling water, a bay leaf, perhaps a sprig or two of thyme, a crushed and peeled garlic clove or two. If fresh herbs are not about, or if the cook lacks the motivation to descend to the garden and back (that’s me); a pinch of herbes de Provence will suffice. Simmer the beans gently, uncovered, ten minutes. Set your timer and then pay attention when it rings. Test your beans. When done, the beans should be tender throughout but hold their shape. If they are half cooked or so, add some salt. Set your timer again—five minutes or ten, you can tell by how far along the beans got in the first ten minutes—and go do something else.

Fresh shelling bean (butter beans) salad with green beans, red onion, nepitella, and garlic flowers

Return as soon as the timer rings. I procrastinated (at which I am expert) and nearly overcooked the first-of-the-season fresh butter beans purchased from Jacobi at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. That would not have been a disaster as I could have mashed them with herbs, more salt, pepper, and olive oil and topped crostini with the rough bean puree. But my idea was to turn them into a room temperature salad with the romano-type green beans that are the one crop doing spectacularly well in my garden this year. (So well, in fact, that the plants intimidate me; more beans ripen every hour.)

When I think of fresh shelling beans, I remember a dish from years ago: a plate of braised, fat white beans teamed with crispy fried artichokes. Oh dear. It remains a dish that inspires dreams. Just yesterday, I noticed piles of artichokes at the Castro Farmers’ Market. Time to try a repeat.

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