"What kind of beans are those?" asked the scrub-clad guy picking out green beans next to me.
"Honestly, I don't know. But I plan to find out," I said as I picked out a generous handful.
"Well, you're braver than me," he said, to which I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed. (Note to self, this is how you meet people at the grocery store…)
Depending who you ask, those could be cranberry beans, or they could be Italian Borlotti beans. Given that my receipt from NYC's Fairway Market said cranberry, I'm going to go with that. Besides, my research (compliments of Larousse Gastronomique) says that even though they are Italy's most popular bean, many sold there are actually Cranberry beans imported from the U.S.
This was my first experience with fresh beans if you don't count the green varieties eaten in the pod. Identifying them was only part of my learning experience. I still needed to know how to prepare them. Improvising on a recipe I found at About.com, I did the following:
~ 1 cup Shelled, fresh Borlotti/Cranberry beans
1 stalk Celery (in 2” pieces)
5-6 pcs. Baby Carrots (or 1 regular carrot cut into 2” pieces)
1/2 Onion (in two pieces)
4-5 Whole peeled garlic cloves
2 ea. Bay leaves
10-12 Whole black peppercorns
2-4 cups Chicken stock (enough to cover)
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/2 tsp. Dried thyme
This "recipe" is simple enough. I placed the shelled beans in my 1 1/2 qt saucepan and then placed the next 6 ingredients in a cheesecloth bundle that I set on top. I poured in chicken stock to cover everything and turned on the flame. I brought it up to a simmer and then turned the flame down to maintain the simmer until the beans were fork tender. The process took about 30 minutes, but it's more important to simply check the beans periodically than to rely on a timer. When the beans were almost finished, I added the salt. Adding it too early can cause the beans to toughen—blech! To serve, I strained the beans, removed the cheesecloth pouch and transferred them to a serving dish. A quick drizzle with a high quality olive oil and a toss with the dried thyme and I was ready to eat. To accompany them, I toasted some rosemary bread that I had rubbed with a split garlic clove.
Overall, the meal was very beige. Fresh thyme would have brightened the final dish, but I was working with what I had. Apparently, an addition of canned tuna to my spread would have rounded out a typical Italian summer meal.