Shelling Beans—The Taste of Indian Summer

There’s just a brief period of two or three weeks between the snap bean’s flat green pod with unformed beans and the dry, papery pod with fully formed, dried beans.

If left on the plant, fresh shell beans would continue to dry out to yield the dried beans most people know. But harvest them a few weeks earlier, when the beans have formed but are still moist, and you will taste them at their best. Their rich taste and melting texture deliver an eating experience that dried beans can’t duplicate. Where a dried bean is starchy, a fresh shell bean is creamy and sweet.

Take a little time today to sit on your porch or by an open window and soak up the last bit of summer while liberating some shell beans.

How to Choose: The pod should be leathery, not crisp like a snap bean. You should be able to feel the fully formed beans inside. If the pod is dry and papery, however, the beans are at least partially dried. Because fresh beans are moist, they can mildew quickly, so watch for any sign of mold on the pods.

How to Keep: Shell fresh beans right away. Don’t leave them in a plastic bag or they may mildew. If you aren’t going to eat them within a day, we recommend shelling and freezing them to eat later.

Use Shell Beans in any way that you would use Dry Beans: Soups (be careful not to overcook them, they’re more delicate than dry beans); Pasta Sauces (leave
the seasonings and strong flavors to a minimum to really taste the beans’ flavor).

Fresh Shell Bean Gratin

2 to 3 pounds Fresh Shell Beans (any variety or a mix)
Salt
6 tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Onion (or a few Shallots), diced
4 cloves Garlic, cut into slivers
1 to 2 Sage Leaves, chopped
1 small bunch Greens (broccoli raab, chard, mustard, kale, turnip, etc.)
2 medium Tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup Toasted Bread Crumbs

1. Shell the beans. Cover them with just enough water to cover by an inch. Bring to a boil, add salt and 2 tbsp. olive oil, and lower to a simmer. Cook the beans until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain the beans and save the liquid.

2. While the beans are cooking, cook onion in 2 tbsp. olive oil with garlic, sage, and some salt. Cook over low heat until soft and translucent. Add the greens and a little of the bean water. Add the tomatoes, raise heat, and cook for a minute more.

3. Combine beans in a baking dish with the onions, tomatoes, and greens. Add enough bean water to almost cover. Pour the rest of the olive oil over the gratin. Cover top with toasted bread crumbs, and bake in a preheated 350° oven for 45 minutes. Check occasionally, moistening with bean water if to dry.

Pasta with Shell Beans

2 pounds Fresh Shell Beans
5 large cloves Garlic
1/2 Onion
6 Fresh Thyme Sprigs
Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for garnish
2 tbsp. chopped Italian Parsley
1 tbsp. chopped Fresh Sage
1/2 pound Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1 pound dried Pasta (rotelli, campanelle, fusilli, bowties, shells)

1. Shell beans and put in a large pot. Smash 2 garlic cloves and add to pot with onion, thyme and 6 cups water. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and cook until beans are tender, 30 to 60 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and let cool in broth.

2. Mince remaining garlic. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Add parsley , sage & garlic. Cook a minute or two to soften garlic. Add tomato and 1 cup of bean liquid. Season with salt & pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook, covered 20 minutes. Drain beans, reserving liquid. Discard thyme. Add beans to skillet and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Cook pasta. Reheat beans, adding bean liquid if necessary—the beans should be brothy. Drain pasta, return to pot, add beans and sauce. Toss well and serve, drizzling with additional olive oil.

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