I love a bowl of beans! We grew up with Mom’s baked beans, a staple side at every family gathering, and often a weeknight supper. We also loved her creamy stewed yellow-eyed beans, cooked with salt-pork and served with milk to add an even creamier finish.
I’ve cooked just about every bean I could find over the years, and I definitely have my favorites: Vermont cranberry beans (borlotti), pinto beans, the yellow-eyes, and the nutty and delicious Jacob’s Cattle Beans, which are as much fun to look at as to cook!
A native treasure
Jacob’s cattle beans are one of hundreds of shelling beans native to North America, originating in Maine with the Passamaquoddy indigenous population. They have been popular in New England since Colonial times, but not much noticed anywhere else. They are widely available now from mail-order sources.
They get their name from the mottled markings on the mature dried beans which resemble a cattle’s markings! Deep burgundy in color, but they fade after soaking and cooking. They hold their shape well even in a long cook, which makes them great for many purposes.
High in protein and fiber, these meaty beans are also a good source of calcium, iron, and potassium, and weigh in at only 100 calories for a half cup.
To salt or not to salt?
I used to wait until my beans were cooked before adding salt, cooking wisdom long dictated that the beans might end up with a tough exterior or stay hard if you added salt at the beginning. A couple of years ago, I read an article at the Serious Eats website and they had performed a test on salting the beans at various steps, and the best beans ended up being those soaked in salted water in addition to adding salt at the beginning of the cooking process. It made sense to me because my mother always made her beans with salt pork, a really salty element that she added right at the beginning of the cooking process.
I tried the method many times, and it works great! Apparently, the chief culprit in hard beans that don’t ever soften is the age of the beans themselves.
A little of this, and that
In this recipe, I added garlic, something my mom never added to beans, and I loved it! I also rounded out the nutrition with a rutabaga (you could use butternut squash or carrots), some whole grain pasta, and some fresh and lively arugula. When I say I used two large handfuls, I mean as much as I could grab!
The sage and the smoked paprika tie everything together. I salted the soaking liquid and the cooking liquid at the beginning of the cook with good results. The beans softened nicely, and had few bursts. I used a try-color brown rice pasta.
This is a hearty recipe. If the leftovers absorb most of the liquid, just thin with a bit of water.
Jacob’s Cattle Beans with Pasta and Greens
- 2 cups Jacob’s Cattle Beans
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large leek, diced
- 3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. salt and pepper
- 1 medium rutabaga, cubed
- 2 tsp. dried sage leaves
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups cooked whole grain pasta
- 2 large handfuls fresh arugula, baby spinach, or watercress
Place the beans in a bowl, fill with water two inches above the beans, add the salt, and soak them overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse.
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the leek. Sauté until nicely softened, then add the garlic cloves. Continue cooking for a minute or so, then add the rinsed and drained beans, water, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover tightly. Cook for about 1 ½ hours. The beans should have softened, and there should be a lot of “pot liquor” or bean liquid still. If not, add some more water and lower the heat a bit.
Add the rutabaga, sage, paprika, and the white wine.
Continue cooking uncovered until the rutabaga is tender and the liquid has thickened. Taste for seasoning, you will probably need to add a bit more salt. You should still have a nice amount of liquor in the pot.
Add the pasta, and simmer an additional five minutes. Remove from the heat, add the greens, and combine. It will almost immediately wilt.
Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, or perhaps a few grates of Parmesan, and serve.
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