OCTOBER’S FRESH SHELL BEANS
Like almost any expat southerner, I am besotted with the shell beans of summer. The native American legumes, often referred to as peas, have pods that must be removed before the moist, tender beans (ie., seeds) can be cooked. Black-eyed peas, pink-eyes, lady peas, cream peas, purple-hulls, and the small, pale butter beans called sieva, or sivvy, beans are among those that have long been prized for their delicacy and nuances of flavor.
Up North, the closest most people get to fresh black-eyed peas is the frozen-food aisle. A few farmers at the Greenmarket do offer butter beans in season, as well fresh fava beans (which belong to a different, Old World genus of the legume family), and, occasionally, flageolets.
Perhaps because I didn’t get my fill of shelly beans this summer, I’ve paid particular attention to the bumper fall crops of pinto, cannellini, and cranberry beans at the Greenmarket. (The generic term cranberry bean, by the way, covers examples such as Tongue of Fire, Vermont Cranberry, French Horticultural, Roman, borlotti, and the October beans of southern Appalachia.)
The brilliant thing about these beans when fresh is they take only about 20 to 30 minutes to cook and do not require an overnight soak. They have a rich, round flavor that has a bit more heft than summer shell beans, and make a wonderful component to meals in October—nature’s great swing season.
It worries me, though, that people aren’t standing in line to buy them. This is true, even for summer’s butter beans and favas. I mean, down South, those stands would be mobbed. Maybe the market for them might improve if they had an on-site sheller—someone who tosses a customer’s pounds of beans in the pod into a commercial pea sheller and gets the job done lickety-split. Hey—there’s a job opportunity for me, now that Martha Stewart Living is restructuring and cut me loose, effective yesterday. I’ll think about it over lunch.
Fresh Cranberry Beans With Tomatoes, Sage, and Egg Sauce
These beans are delicious alongside a steak or over pasta or thick slices of buttered toast, but today I’m eating them in a deep bowl with soft-boiled eggs cut in—a fast-track homage of sorts to Bill Neal’s mixed beans in egg sauce.
2 cups shelled fresh cranberry beans or other shell beans
1 to 2 cloves garlic (optional)
2 large eggs
Unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
A small ripe tomato, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh sage leaves, to taste
1. Place the beans and garlic (if using) in a saucepan, add enough water to cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to a brisk simmer and cook until the beans are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. (Taste the beans to make sure they’re cooked through and creamy, and if they start to look dry before they’re ready, add some more water.)
2. Take the beans off the heat when ready. Fish out the garlic and drain off any excess water. Meanwhile, soft-boil the eggs. Carefully peel them, put them in a shallow dish, and coarsely chop.
Fold some butter and the tomatoes into the hot beans. Immediately stir the eggs into the beans to coat and season with salt and pepper. Add the sage, and, as Bill Neal would say, rush to the table.