This is the time of year when you’ll find fresh shelling beans at the farm stands. A quicker cook than dried beans, makes comfort food fast!
New Englanders love their beans! Baked beans were the traditional Saturday night supper for decades, still are in many households, and most cooks had their own special recipe. I know my mom did! Baked, they are delicious, but we also love them stewed. If you stew a fresh shell bean, it is a much quicker process than using dried beans, yet you still know you are eating bowl of comfort, and maybe some memories as well.
The show-off of the bean world
The star of fresh beans is the Vermont Cranberry Bean, the show-off beauty queen of all beans, often just referred to in these parts as shell beans. They are pretty. Speckled and striped, these vibrant pink and fuchsia pods hide equally flashy beans inside. If you see them, you’ll want to buy them even if you have no idea to cook them!
Alas, beauty fades
Here’s the sad thing. Once cooked, they fade to beige! But in my memory, they are still beautifully decorated.
Cranberry beans are native to Columbia, but are grown all over the world. In Italy, you’d call them Borlotti beans! They are packed full of nutrition. Low in fat and high in both protein and fiber, they are also a great source of zinc, potassium, magnesium, folate, calcium, magnesium, iron, and other vitamins and minerals.
The actual time it takes to stew can vary greatly depending on when the beans were harvested, and how hot your “simmer” is, but usually cook in about 30 minutes. They might take up to 40 minutes, or as little as 20, but the best way to judge is simply to taste and cook them until they are tender and creamy. There is no set schedule for a bean, they are done when they are done!
We need to use shell beans as soon as we get them; the same day is best, but store them no more than two or three days in the refrigerator.
A little bit of this, and that
The shiitake mushrooms add a different texture to the dish, and the paprika a mild smoky flavor. I added a blend of herbs from my still thriving, but slightly tired looking, herb garden, and the Coleman’s mustard because my mother would have added it!
The scallions offer a nice spicy bite, and much needed color to the finished dish!
If you don’t have a source for fresh shelling beans, no worries, the dried cranberry beans can be found in many markets, or you can order them online. The easiest way to cook the dried beans is in a pressure cooker, or let them simmer on the back burner for a few hours. Additionally, you can also substitute pinto beans.
Fresh Vermont Cranberry Shell Beans with Shiitake Mushrooms
- 2 lbs. fresh cranberry shelling beans
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 10 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 large leek, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 tsp. Coleman’s dried mustard
- Bouquet garni: a few fresh sprigs of thyme, sage, rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 quart vegetable stock
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- Fresh shallots to garnish
Wash the beans, then remove them from their pods. 2 lbs. will yield a little more than 2 ½ cups of beans.
In a heavy bottomed soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the mushrooms and leeks. Sauté until the leeks are tender, and add the garlic and dried mustard. Cook for a few more minutes, then add the bouquet garni, bay leaves, paprika, salt, some fresh ground pepper, vegetable stock, and the beans!
Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer.
Cook until the beans are tender and creamy, around 30 to 35 minutes, maybe less so check them at 20, and correct the seasoning.
Serve with a garnish of scallions on top, and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. You can also stir in some spinach or Swiss chard at the end of cooking to add a little more flavor and visual interest.
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