I like to add beans to many dishes, both for their delicious flavor and for the protein they supply. Black, white, cranberry, flageolet, fava all go wonderfully with pastas, grains and greens. Lately, black beans and white beans have been my favorite additions, perhaps because I had such a good crop of each this year and also because now that I’ve finally finished shelling them all, the pantry holds jars full of beans.
The black turtle beans I’ve grown for years are tiny, coal-colored beans full of sweet, earthy flavor. Soaked for about eight hours, either overnight or during the day, they cook in about twenty minutes and hold their shape perfectly. Last year I started adding them to cooked emmer farro. The contrasting textures, soft beans and chewy farro, are perfect together and the black and tan tones are pretty on the plate. With a side of chard sautéed with oil and garlic and topped with some yellow raisins and toasted hazelnuts, they make a satisfying meal.
Black beans and broccoli are another tasty combination I discovered recently. Overwintered broccoli plants had started producing lots of small shoots of sweet florets so I lightly brushed some with olive oil, sprinkled on a little salt and roasted them on a sheet pan. Delicious on their own, they were even better mixed with some leftover black beans warmed in olive oil and garlic. I’ll definitely make this combination again with broccoli and soon with flower buds from kale and other brassicas.
White beans combine well with grains too. In his always-inspiring cookbook Plenty More, Yotam Ottolenghi offers a recipe for parsley, lemon and cannellini bean salad with red quinoa. It sounds like a summer salad but it’s wonderful in winter too. I first made a half batch in January for lunch and we finished it all in one sitting. I used my standard white bean, Drabo, a cannellini type. Its sweet, nutty flavor was perfect with the grassy-flavored quinoa, and the crunch of quinoa contrasted nicely with the soft beans. Parsley, mint, chives and a touch of allspice added herbal flavors to the lemon and olive oil coating the beans and quinoa. And finally, the red quinoa is beautiful against the white beans. I made this salad again yesterday using Tarbais beans, another delicious white bean I grew from seeds my bean-loving friend Carol gave me.
Parsley, Lemon and Cannellini Bean Salad
2/3 c red quinoa
2/3 c flat-leaf parsley, finely shredded
2/3 c mint leaves, finely shredded
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced (I used chives)
1 1/3 cups cooked cannellini beans
1/2 large lemon, skin and seeds removed, flesh finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add quinoa and simmer for 11 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, and set aside to dry completely. Transfer the cooled quinoa to a large bowl. Add parsley, mint, green onions, beans, lemon, allspice, oil, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Stir everything together and serve.
Last month my friend Peggy gave me a pound package of Marcella beans, Italian Sorana beans, grown by Steve Sando at Rancho Gordo and named for the late Italian cookbook author, Marcella Hazan. The January 5, 2016 New York Times reported the lovely story behind these beans and their namesake, and Peggy, knowing my fondness for beans, ordered some for me. Quoting Hazan’s husband Victor, the Times article reveals that “To Marcella, one of the ultimate pleasures in life was warm beans with good olive oil.” I agree. I cooked up some of these creamy, sweet beans and they are delicious this way. I cooked more a few nights later and I tossed them with some sautéed garlic, minced sage and oil-cured black olives, squeezed on a little lemon and paired them with couscous. The light couscous was a great match for the delicate flavor and texture of the beans while the garlic, sage, olives and lemon added lovely background layers of flavors to the beans and couscous.
In two months, around mid-May, I’ll plant beans for the year ahead. They are easy to grow, germinating quickly if the days are warm and dry, more slowly if its cool and damp, filling out into large, leafy plants that suppress weeds and need no attention except watering until mid-to-late September when the pods, swollen with beans, will be ready to harvest and shell. Between now and then, we’ll continue to add this year’s crop of beans to lunches and dinners. And we’ll hope we don’t run out before fall.