Growing Dry Beans and Shell Beans and Green Beans Too

I’ve written lots of posts about beans on this blog, about growing, harvesting, tasting and cooking them.  With the renewed interest in growing dry beans in home vegetable gardens, I thought it would be useful to return to posts I’ve written on growing beans and see if there are any tips to share this year as bean planting time approaches.  If you already have bean seeds to plant, I hope these posts offer helpful information.  If you don’t have bean seeds for this year because seed companies have delayed order deliveries or simply sold out of beans, keep these ideas in mind for next year.  As one of my old-timer neighbors always told me, “one of the best things about gardening is that there is always next year.”

A good place to start is a post titled “Beans,” a column that I wrote for the Islands Weekly in 2010 and include in my blog under the section Green Living Columns.

Beans ColorIn it, I share my bean story and my experience with bean varieties and with planting, harvesting and eating beans.  If you’re growing beans this year, read this post and try this planting tip: “Of all the tips I’ve gotten over the years, the one that yields the best bean germination is to set the bean seed in the ground so that the “eye” or “bellybutton,” technically the hilum, is facing down.  Such precision planting is only for the fanatic home gardener, but it really does work.  And cover the just planted seeds with Reemay so that robins won’t see the germinating seeds breaking the soil, think they are worms and methodically pull each one out.”  This tip applies to planting bush and pole fresh beans too!

From this post, go to another included in the Green Living Columns, “Yes, You Can Grow Dried Beans on Lopez,” a profile of Lopezian Carol Noyes who is an even more serious bean fan than I am.

Dried Beans Color

It describes her search for dried beans that will ripen on Lopez and what she found.  Her recommendations after her 2010 research were King of the Early, Ireland Creek Annie and Yellow Indian Woman, all “good quality dried beans that are early.”  For black beans she recommended Black Coco and Hopi Black and for a white bean, she recommended Drabo.  If you’re looking to next year to start your bean garden, you’ll find that many of these and other short season varieties will be available then from local seed companies like Uprising, Adaptive and Territorial. Companies farther afield, like Seed Savers Exchange and Fedco, also offer short season varieties.

One of Carol’s and my main criteria for beans is flavor.  Part of the great flavor of a dried bean comes from the freshness of beans you grow and harvest yourself.  We agree that dried beans really are best eaten in the first year; when they get older, their flavor deteriorates.  We also love shell beans, beans that are fully developed in the pod but haven’t reached the “dry” stage.  Some years ago, we held a bean tasting to compare the many flavors of shell beans.

Bean samples

Using a flavor and texture form we’d made for the tasting, “we filled the flavor column with words like earthy, nutty, sweet, fresh, lima-like and the texture column with words like creamy, meaty, mealy, buttery, dry.  The smaller beans tended to be milder in flavor and creamier in texture.  The larger beans were more earthy, nutty and meaty.  Lighter-colored beans tended to be milder while speckled and darker-colored beans were usually richer.”  Dry beans also share this variety of flavor and texture.  If you grow fresh beans this year and find that some pods fill with seeds before you get to harvest them, try shelling out these beans and cooking them. They can be delicious! Rattlesnake Pole bean, delicious as a fresh bean, is one that I often eat as a shell bean at the end of the season.

If you’re new to the idea of shell beans, check out the 2017 post “What is a Shell Bean?

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Dry beans make sense to most people, but shell beans often don’t; I address this confusion in detail this post.  And if you grow beans this year, hoping they will dry, but they don’t, you’ll find yourself with shell beans.  As Carol said, “I learned about them accidentally years ago when frost was threatening, the beans weren’t dry, and I ate some. Get the word out there!  They are wonderful.”  Shell beans are wonderful, and I make a point of growing both.

There is one more shell bean that I always grow in my kitchen garden, mainly because it is my husband’s favorite bean: favas.

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“More than any other plant in my garden favas draw the “what’s that?” reaction from visitors as they point to the rangy, floppy-leafed plants with the shiny, spear-like pods protruding from the stems.”  A raw fava bean has a sharp taste with an earthy, nutty undertone, tasty with olive oil and salty cheese. Cooked, the sharp taste mellows but the earthy, nutty flavor remains.  Another reaction fava beans bring is “so much work!”  It’s true that the process of shelling the bean from the pod and then blanching it, slipping the inner bean from the outer skin is a bit time-consuming, but the result is worth the effort.

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I used to plant fava beans in late fall, and they would overwinter and start growing early in the spring.  Then I found that I was encouraging pea weevils with this timetable, so I switched to planting them in May when the pea weevil cycle is mostly over.  The planting plan is the same. The new timetable just makes the fava bean harvest later.

Finally, fresh green, yellow or purple beans are wonderful bean additions while we wait for shell and dry beans. I mostly grow pole beans, preferring their rich flavor and texture to the milder-flavored bush green beans.  I also prefer their growth habit.  Rather than producing all at once, the way many bush beans do, pole beans produce over a longer window as the vines climb higher and higher, making more blossoms and pods.  Varieties I plant every year are Fortex, Gold of Bacau, Nor’easter, and Rattlesnake, left to right in this photo.

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I space them 6-8 inches apart beneath strings on the bean supports and by the end of the season, I need a step-ladder to harvest them.

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There is one bush green bean that I do grow because my friend Carol convinced me to try it: Maxibel.

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It is very good, not quite as richly sweet as my favorite pole bean Fortex but certainly tasty, earlier and very prolific.  Planted at the same time as Fortex, Maxibel produces about three weeks ahead of Fortex and is winding down as Fortex begins to produce.

May is the month to plant beans.  I’ve planted mine and hope I’ll get good germination in this changeable weather we’re having. If you’ll be planting too, remember, keep that bean belly button pointing down!

Melissa Clark’s Sheet Pan Ratatouille

Caponata, that richly delicious blend of eggplant, peppers, onions and tomatoes, has been my go-to summer vegetable stew for years.

Eggplant caponata

Ratatouille is basically caponata with the addition of zucchini and quite a bit more olive oil, but until this year I’d never made it. Now, though, thanks to my friend Nancy and to Melissa Clark and her NYTimes “A Good Appetite” column, ratatouille is in serious competition with caponata for favorite summer vegetable stew.  The zucchini adds another surprisingly rich layer of flavor to the caponata blend, and as an additional bonus, zucchini’s place in ratatouille is a great way to use this always-abundant summer vegetable.

I had noticed Clark’s recipe for sheet-pan ratatouille in a recent column, and been intrigued by both her article title, Ratatouille, Simplified and Just as Satisfying and the opening line of her recipe description: “Cooking ratatouille on a sheet pan in the oven isn’t just easier than cooking it in a pot on the stove, it’s also better: richer and more deeply caramelized in flavor.” The “richer and more deeply caramelized” definitely spoke to me, but it was Nancy’s endorsement that spurred me to try it.  Not only is this ratatouille yummy, Nancy emailed, “The ratio of effort vs reward is heavy on the reward.”  Here, at the end of summer, with the last of the season’s harvest coming on, an easy recipe was very appealing.

Ratatouille ingredients

Clark’s method combines quick vegetable preparation and simple sheet pan technique.  Slice the zucchini into ¼ inch rounds, the onion into thin slices, the eggplant into inch-chunks and the peppers into chunks or strips.  Combine the zucchini and onion on one sheet pan and the eggplant and red pepper on the other.  Add garlic, springs of rosemary and thyme, salt and ¼ cup of olive oil to each pan and toss.

Rataouille raw on pans

Put both pans in a 425 oven and roast for 40 minutes, turning the vegetables two or three times with a spatula.  At first, the vegetables will give off liquid, then they will reabsorb it and begin to caramelize, all on the sheet pans, in the oven, out of sight.  The final time-saving step is simply scattering cherry tomatoes over the eggplant and pepper pan where they burst and melt into the caramelized eggplant and pepper, covering them in a quick and easy tomato sauce.   The additions of goat cheese and olives are delicious too, but even without them, this dish is a lovely celebration of the end of summer.

Ratatouille roasted on pan

Sheet-Pan Ratatouille with Goat Cheese and Olives

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 ¾ pounds zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 7 cups)

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

6 thyme sprigs

4 rosemary sprigs

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

Fine sea salt, as needed

2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups)

2 medium red bell peppers, sliced into 1/2-inch slices (about 3 cups)

3 cups cherry tomatoes (12 ounces)

8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

¾ cup Castelvetrano or other good-quality olives, crushed, pitted, and torn into pieces

Lemon wedges, for serving

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees, and arrange two racks in the top and bottom thirds.
  2. On one rimmed 13-by-17-inch sheet pan, toss together onion slices, zucchini, 1/4 cup oil, 3 thyme springs, 2 rosemary sprigs, 3 garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. On a second rimmed baking sheet, toss together eggplant, red peppers, 1/4 cup oil, 3 thyme sprigs, 2 rosemary sprig, 3 garlic cloves and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place one tray on the top rack, and a second on the bottom rack of the oven. Roast both for 40 minutes, stirring vegetables two or three times.
  5. Add tomatoes to the baking sheet with eggplant and peppers, then continue to roast until the tomatoes burst and the zucchini turn deeply golden brown, another 20 to 25 minutes. The vegetables will become very caramelized, and that’s a good thing, particularly with the zucchini and onions.
  6. Transfer zucchini and onions to the baking sheet with eggplant, mix well, and spread in an even layer (it will just fit). Drizzle vegetables with another 1 tablespoon oil, then sprinkle goat cheese and olives over the top. Roast until goat cheese is soft and warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Transfer vegetables to a serving platter, drizzle with a little more oil and squeeze juice from the one of the lemon wedges over the top. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot or warm, with more lemon wedges on the side.

 

Summer Vegetable Sauces for Pasta 

The kitchen garden is full of high-summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, corn, zucchini.  So many possibilities for delicious meals.  We have two favorite summer vegetable pasta sauces, Grilled Eggplant with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese Puree from Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996) and

Eggplant pastaFagiolini con Pomodoro, Aglio e Basilico, a saute of green beans, tomatoes, garlic and basil from Marcella Hazan’s Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (1986) that make fine use of this high-summer bounty.

Beans pasta

This week, I’ve tried two more vegetable pasta sauces that will become favorites as well. One is Zucchini Spaghetti alla Nerano from Food 52, “a legendary pasta made of spaghetti and fried zucchini was apparently invented in 1952 by Maria Grazia, who owned a restaurant in Nerano that bears her name.”  The other is Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil from Melissa Clark at the New York Times.  Each of these vegetable pasta sauces includes a puree of the vegetable as the base for the sauce, a wonderful technique that intensifies the flavor of the vegetable.  Each recipe is also accompanied by a video which illustrates this technique. I watched the videos that accompany each recipe several times before making the sauces the first time, just to get the timing sequence down.  I may watch them again the next time I make each of these delicious sauces, but after that I should be on my own.

Zucchini Spaghetti alla Nerano (Spaghetti with Zucchini)

The simple ingredients become a dish very quickly—because you must multitask. While the pasta water is boiling, the zucchini are frying. Then the spaghetti is cooking. A quick purée is made out of some of the zucchini, and then it’s all tossed together. The result is a fast, exceptionally tasty pasta dish, where the sauce clings to each strand of spaghetti. Don’t think the frying or the touch of butter will make this dish heavy—it’s not remotely, and the butter helps “mantecare”—that is, to create that clingy sauce that you need.

clove garlic

1/2 cup (125 milliliters) olive oil

small zucchini, sliced into very thin rounds (I used a mandolin on the 3mm thickness.)

Salt and pepper

11 ounces (320 grams) spaghetti

3 ounces (80 grams) grated Provolone del Monaco (or Parmesan)

knob of cold, unsalted butter

1 handful basil leaves

Zucchini and mandolin

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.

In a wide skillet over medium-high heat, add the garlic clove and olive oil so the mixture sizzles and the oil gets infused by the garlic. When just golden, remove the garlic and add the zucchini rounds. Toss every now and then, letting the zucchini fry away until tender but not brown.

Zucchini in skillet

In the meantime, add a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water, then place spaghetti in the pot.

Drain the zucchini on paper towels and season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Keep warm. Blend together about a third of the zucchini and about 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of water from the pot of pasta—I use a glass jar with a handheld blender for this. (I used my food processor.) Pour this purée into a large serving bowl, where you will eventually add all the pasta. 

When the spaghetti is al dente (take out about 1 minute before the suggested cooking time on the packet), drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the spaghetti into the serving bowl with the purée, the grated cheese, the fried zucchini, and the cold butter. Quickly toss, using tongs or a spatula to help you. You want spaghetti to be silky and just coated with the purée, not dry but not watery either. If it’s too dry, add cooking water a little at a time. Top with the basil leaves and serve immediately.

Zucchini pasta sauce in bowl

Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil

There’s no cream in this wonderfully summery pasta dish, just a luscious sauce made from puréed fresh corn and sweet sautéed scallions, along with Parmesan for depth and red chile flakes for a contrasting bite. Be sure to add the lemon juice and fresh herbs at the end; the rich pasta really benefits from their bright, fresh flavors. And while this is best made at the height of corn season, it’s still quite good even with out-of-season supermarket ears, or with frozen corn.

 

12 ounces dry orecchiette or farfalle

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (keep the whites and greens separate) (I used half a red onion because that’s what I had.)

2 large ears corn, shucked and kernels removed (2 cups kernels) (The ears from my kitchen garden are smaller, so I used 4.)

½ teaspoon ground black pepper, more for serving

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, more to taste

⅓ cup torn basil or mint, more for garnish

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

Fresh lemon juice, as needed

Corn pasta ingredientsBring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until 1 minute shy of al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat; add scallion whites and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, 3 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and all but 1/4 cup corn; simmer until corn is heated through and almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, transfer to a blender, and purée mixture until smooth, adding a little extra water if needed to get a thick but pourable texture.

Heat the same skillet over high heat. Add butter and let melt. Add reserved 1/4 cup corn and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. (It’s O.K. if the butter browns; that deepens the flavor.) Add the corn purée and cook for 30 seconds to heat and combine the flavors.

Reduce heat to medium. Add pasta and half the reserved pasta cooking water, tossing to coat. Cook for 1 minute, then add a little more of the pasta cooking water if the mixture seems too thick. Stir in 1/4 cup of the scallion greens, the Parmesan, the herbs, the red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. Transfer to warm pasta bowls and garnish with more scallions, herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper.

Corn Pasta sauce cooking

 

Fava Bean Salads

Friends who like fava beans joined us for dinner this week and I took the opportunity to explore new ways to serve these rich, flavorful beans.  My fava crop is a little late this year because I planted late so the mid-August timing for a fava-themed dinner was good.

My quest for new recipes began, as it sometimes does, with a search of the New York Times Cooking site.  Entering “fava bean recipes” yielded lots of inspiring titles and photos of fava bean purees, salads, pasta sauces, soups, stews and risottos, and, most useful to me, names of the recipe authors so I could go to cooks whose recipes I’ve liked in the past.  David Tanis, Melissa Clark and Martha Rose Shulman are three favorites.

Imagining salads for this summer meal, I was drawn to David Tanis’s recipe for Burrata With Fava Beans, Fennel and Celery as well as to a favorite Tanis recipe I’ve made before: Fresh Multi-Bean Salad with Charred Red Onion.  Offering more inspiration, Martha Rose Shulman’s Green Bean and Fava Bean Salad With Walnuts also combines favas with green beans, and her Rainbow Quinoa Salad With Fava Beans and Herbs suggests a tasty pairing of favas and quinoa.

As often happens when ingredients overlap among recipes, I started combining recipes. Inspired by Shulman’s pairing of favas and quinoa, I decided to serve Tanis’s Fresh Multi-Bean Salad with Charred Red Onion on a bed of red quinoa. Another change I made to the Tanis recipe was to sauté the fava beans in olive oil, garlic and chopped rosemary until they were soft rather than adding them raw.  I like the sharp, earthy flavor of raw fava beans but sautéing brings out a deeper richness that worked well with the sweet bean flavors of the cooked pole beans.

Fava, beans, charred onions

As also often happens, I substituted some ingredients.  I wanted to make Tanis’s Burrata With Fava Beans, Fennel and Celery, but I don’t have any celery in my kitchen garden. Remembering a salad of Golden Beets with Fava Beans and Mint I’d made from from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, I substituted yellow beets from my kitchen garden for the celery, peeling the beets, cutting them into ½ inch cubes and steaming them.  I left the favas raw for this salad.  The combination of the slightly bitter raw favas with the deeply sweet yellow beets and finely sliced sweet fennel was perfect dressed with a lemon vinaigrette and tossed with the creamy burrata.

Fava, beet, fennel salad

Finally, beginning the meal with favas, I made a simple fava bean purée for an appetizer, serving it with raw sweet peppers for dipping. I followed Alice Water’s recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables.

Fava puree and peppers

3 lbs. fava beans

1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine

1/4 bay leaf                       

1 small sprig rosemary           

1 sprig thyme

1/2 lemon

    1. Shell the favas discarding pods. Boil a large pot of water and blanch the favas for 1 minute. Drain and plunge in ice water. When cool pop the favas out of their skins.
    2. Warm 2/2 cup olive oil in a sautee pan. Add beans and salt. Add garlic, the herbs sprigs and a splash of water. Cook favas at a slow simmer stirring occasionally 30 minutes till they are completely soft. Add a splash of water if the beans begin to dry out.
    3. When they are done discard the herbs and mash the beans to a paste with a potato masher or puree in a food processor. Taste for seasoning and add lemon juice. If paste is at all dry add additional olive oil. Oil is an important part of the flavor so don’t be stingy. Serve at room temperature with slices of grilled baguette.


While these fava salads would make fine meals on their own, for this shared meal they complemented our friend Anne’s very delicious poblano chili relleno, stuffed with potato and cheese and topped with a spicy tomato sauce, all the vegetables in it from her garden.  High summer gardens are great inspirations for dinners with friends and we’re looking forward to more of these dinners as late summer slides into autumn.

 

The First Eggplant of Summer

I was checking the eggplant in the plastic greenhouse the other day, hoping I’d see a few small, dark purple vegetables forming among the lavender blossoms of the Galine and Diamond plants.  Instead, to my great surprise, I found, nestled in the mulch beneath the robust green plants, some really big eggplant.  Yikes!  I know it’s been warm, but I really hadn’t expected eggplant this soon. Dinner suddenly included eggplant.

Eggplant growing

Eggplant counter

Harvesting five big purple globes and bringing them to the kitchen, I turned the oven on to 475 and cut the largest two lengthwise into wedges.  I arranged the wedges on a sheet pan, brushed them generously on all sides with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and, when the oven reached 475, I put the pan in the oven.

Eggplant wedges raw

Eggplant roastedTwenty minutes later, the wedges had softened into creamy, sweet and slightly smoky eggplant flesh.

Half of them went onto our dinner plates, a perfect side dish for basil pesto on linguine, sugar snap peas and Orange Paruche cherry tomatoes.  We ate dinner outside, celebrating the start of high summer meals.

Eggplant dinner

I put the remaining roasted eggplant into the Cuisinart to make a spread I discovered a few years ago.  This Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread is one of the best reasons to grow eggplant.

Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/charred-eggplant-and-tahini-spread

  • 1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into quarters
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin

     Toasted sesame seeds

 Preheat oven to 475°. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with ¼ cup oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly charred and very tender, 20–25 minutes; let cool slightly. Chop eggplant (skin and all) until almost a paste.

Mix eggplant in a medium bowl with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tahini, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and top with sesame seeds.  Makes 1 and ½ cups.

Eggplant spread

There are a lot of other reasons to grow eggplant. From the remaining eggplant from this first harvest I made grilled eggplant, dried tomato and goat cheese pasta sauce from Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996).

Bishop 1

Bishop 2

Bishop 3

Eggplant pasta

Looking ahead to more eggplant harvests, there’s eggplant pizza, our favorite summer pizza, and for a dinner party or even just the two of us, Ottolenghi’s eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts from his cookbook Jerusalem (2012).  Finally, as the tomatoes and peppers ripen, there is caponata, the perfect summer stew.  And with any excess eggplants, I’ll keep making the Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread, great on sandwiches for lunch, on crackers or appetizers or simply by the spoonful.

What is a shell bean?

“What is a shell bean?” a friend asked me the other day when I was describing succotash, a traditional New England dish of corn and shell beans that I often serve at Thanksgiving. We’d been talking about her dry bean crop and the varieties she’d just harvested. “A shell bean is the bean fully formed in the pod but not dry yet,” I said, adding that I often harvest beans at this stage, remove them from the pods, boil them to eat right away with just olive oil, salt and pepper, or blanch them and freeze them so I can have shell beans in the winter.

Shell beans harvesting

Shell beans on terrace The idea of a shell bean was completely new to her and I realized that my answer wasn’t making sense. I’m so used to calling the plump, fresh bean harvested in mid-summer a shell bean and the smaller, hard, dried bean harvested in early fall a dry bean that it never occurred to me that this fresh shell bean stage could be so unfamiliar.

Later, wondering if I was trapped in my own bean universe, I turned to seed catalogs to see how others talk about these two bean stages. Territorial Seeds refers to shelling beans and Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco refer to shell beans but the harvest stages are the same. Territorial advises: “For shelling beans, pick when the seeds are fully formed but still soft and green. For dry beans, maturity can take 3-4 more weeks depending on the weather. Harvest when 90% of the leaves have yellowed or fallen off.”   Johnny’s advises picking shell beans “when beans are plump inside pods” and harvesting dry beans “when at least 90% of leaves have fallen and pods are dry.”

In the Fedco catalog, there’s a “Shell and Dry Beans” section with some introductory sentences advising gardeners to “Harvest shell beans when the beans are plump inside pods. For dry beans allow pods to dry on the vine until pressing the beans with your fingernail leaves no indentation.” In the descriptions of the beans that follow, Fedco’s catalog writers often characterize qualities of the shell stage and the dry stage. Silver Cloud Cannellini beans “make amazingly early and absolutely superb shell beans…When dried and cooked its smooth, meaty texture and dense meaty flavor are prized in minestrone.” Limelight is “excellent both as a shell and a dry bean.” Tiger Eye makes “superb fresh shell and delicious baked beans …Wide 4” pods fill with large flattened kidney-shaped seeds mostly white at the shell stage but taking on more yellow as they dry.” Jacob’s Cattle “if harvested earlier…make superb shellies.”

Any bean can be harvested at the shell or the dry stage; even green beans that have grown too tough to eat green can hold tasty shell or dry beans. In my years of harvesting beans at shell and dry stages, I’ve come to favor certain beans at the shell stage and others at the dry stage. Cranberry, the pole flageolet Soissons Verte, Good Mother Stallard and all runner beans taste best to me at the shell stage while cannellini and black beans taste better fully dried then rehydrated.

Soissons Verte

Bean Soissons Vert

Good Mother Stallard

Beans Good Ma S

Runner Beans

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But if your intent is growing dry beans, even seed catalog descriptions might not encourage shell bean harvest. The phrase “shelling beans” might signal only the process of removing the beans from the pods. Yes, you do shell both shell beans and dry beans, along with peas, so the term is confusing. And if you didn’t grow up eating shell beans as I did, maybe you have to discover shell beans by chance as my friend Carol did, explaining: “I learned about them accidentally years ago when frost was threatening, the beans weren’t dry and I ate some. Get the word out there!  They are wonderful.” It’s true. As a bean tasting  we did a few years ago revealed, shell beans are rich and creamy, fresh tasting and nutty, needing nothing but a little olive oil and salt and pepper, or maybe a little corn, to make a meal.

Bean tasters

Bean samplesDry beans are very good, but they aren’t the same; they’re starchy and less sweet, wonderful at absorbing other flavors but not so good alone.

Or maybe you can discover shell beans at Thanksgiving dinner. As I do nearly every year, I’ll serve succotash at Thanksgiving, using a mix of Cranberry, Aunt Jean and Soissons Verte shell beans and sweet corn I’ve frozen in the summer in anticipation of this holiday meal. I’ll be sure that my friend tastes these shell beans and hope that my answer to her question: “What is a shell bean?” will finally make sense.

Succotash bowl

My favorite succotash recipe

1 ½ Cups fresh corn cut from the cob or frozen corn thawed

1 Cup fresh shell beans or frozen shell beans

1 Garlic clove, minced

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 Teaspoon Olive Oil

Salt

Pepper

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add fresh or frozen beans; simmer until soft, about 7-10 minutes but check often. When soft, drain and set aside.

Heat butter and olive oil, add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes

Add fresh or thawed corn and cook, stirring frequently, until hot

Add beans to corn, mix, heat through and serve

Serves 4

Easy to double or triple

For an interesting history of succotash, see this article from Yankee Magazine.  And for more history and some tasty variations on the basic succotash recipe, see David Tanis’s New York Times City Kitchen column Yes, Succotash Has a Luxurious Side.

Slow-Roasting Tomatoes

 

Plum Ts and toes

This year I have a very big crop of Fiaschetto di Manduria, an Italian plum tomato from Uprising Seeds. I grew this variety for the first time last year, attracted by the catalog description emphasizing its adaptation to our climate, its 2-3 ounce size, productivity, suitability for drying and determinate habit. Because of the advertized determinate habit, I grew last year’s plants in the cold frame where they produced well despite outgrowing the cold frame’s protection, and the manageable-sized crop made nice dried tomatoes. This year I grew a few more plants, six instead of four, and planted them in the greenhouse. Yikes! In this warmer environment, they grew twice as tall (definitely not your standard determinate habit), spread out in all directions, and produced at least four times as many tomatoes as last year’s plants. Now I understand the warning in the catalog description: “These small, 2-3 oz, plum shaped tomatoes…hang like grapes from the bushy determinate plants in such prolific quantities that we eventually had to just stop picking them because we couldn’t keep up with the processing.”

Luckily, I haven’t had to give up on picking. Just as the plants were sinking under the weight of ripening tomatoes, I found a great way to keep up with the processing. A September 6, 2017 Food 52 column titled “Molly Wizenberg’s Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Sea Salt & Ground Coriander” arrived in my email just as the harvest was getting overwhelming. I remembered hearing about this recipe from Orangette years ago and I was grateful to be reminded of it again. As the author of this Food 52 column notes: “This is the single most genius thing you can do to a tomato. They’re best and most outrageous when made with ripe Romas or other meaty types, but as Wizenberg points out, slow-roasting will bring out the tomato in even the pale and off-season, if you feel the need. Make a lot. They keep for a week in the fridge, and are just fine in the freezer. Adapted slightly from Orangette and A Homemade Life (Simon & Schuster, 2009).”

Here’s the recipe:

drying plum Ts set up

Makes as many tomatoes as you want to cook

 Ripe tomatoes, preferably Roma

Olive oil

Salt

Ground coriander

Heat the oven to 200° F. Wash the tomatoes, cut out the dry scarred spot from the stem with the tip of a paring knife, and halve the tomatoes lengthwise. Pour a bit of olive oil into a small bowl, dip a pastry brush into it, and brush the tomato halves lightly with oil. Place them, skin side down, on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle them with sea salt and ground coriander—about a pinch of each for every four to six tomato halves.

Bake the tomatoes until they shrink to about 1/3 of their original size but are still soft and juicy, 4 to 6 hours. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. Place them in an airtight container, and store them in the refrigerator.

Dried tomatoes in pans

Still warm on the baking sheet, these slow-roasted tomatoes are amazingly delicious. It’s very easy to stand there and snack on them. The ground coriander is a subtle but perfect flavor addition, providing slightly nutty, very slightly curry overtones to the tomato’s sweetness. They are lovely as an appetizer with cheese and bread. Lightly chopped or pureed, they would make a perfect sauce for pasta or roasted vegetables. I’ve already roasted enough tomatoes to pack eight pint-jars for the freezer and will fill a few more jars with the last of the harvest. They will be a highlight of this winter’s meals.

Dried tomatoes in jars

And if you don’t have plum tomatoes to roast, cherry tomatoes, larger plum tomatoes like Speckled Roman or Amish Paste, or even big, lumpy heirlooms like Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter or Pruden’s Purple all roast well with this technique. I roasted a pan of Sunchocola and Orange Paruche cherry tomatoes the other day, transforming them into concentrated tomato-flavor treats.

drying cherry Ts terracotta

I also tried small a pan of Speckled Roman and Amish Paste and one Mortgage Lifter, equally delicious and already packed into freezer jars for winter.

Will I grow Fiaschetto di Manduria in the greenhouse next year? Yes, but no more than six plants.