The farmers market is a source of roiling internal debate. On one hand, there's the glory of fresh, delicious chard and peaches; on the other, I dread the Battle of the Strollers and small talk with tan people in Tevas. This time of year the cons are definitely outweighed by one giant pro: fresh, unshelled cannellini beans. As I write on this sunny morning, a tanker of lovely white beans is bubbling away on the stove. My garden parsley and garlic are chopped, my local olive oil is waiting. Ah, la vie bourgeoise.
Seriously, cannellini beans are one of late summer's great treats. They're very nice dried, but freshly cooked out of the pod they are so creamy and fine-fleshed they embody all the beauty of rich soil and Shively sun. New Moon Organics sells them for $4 a pound, and a pound of shelled beans is enough to make a good side dish for four or a hearty meal for two.
Lest you be tempted, the pods are not for eating. Yellow and browning pods mean the plump, white beans inside will be easy to shell and perfectly ripe — eat them too green and they cause stomach upset. All these recipes can be made with dried and boiled beans as well, but we are lucky to be able to get them fresh, at least for another month, so go to the farmers market and try some.
Shelling the beans is fun as a communal activity, or with a colander in the sun as a mindless solo meditation. Even handling the beans is a pleasurable aesthetic experience, with their firm, smooth skin and marshmallow color. Fresh cannellini beans are easy to cook, too. Just cover them with a few inches of boiling salted water and cook until they're quite soft, 20 to 25 minutes. I prefer them very simply dressed, with lemon, garlic, salt and pepper, parsley and good olive oil, but there are many ways to gussy them up. Mashing them with olive oil, anchovies and red pepper flakes makes a vibrant crostini spread. Tossing them in chickpea flour, cumin and salt and frying them in butter makes a lovely snack with white wine.
You can easily make the beans a full meal by simmering them with leeks, chicken stock, green beans and a splash of white wine until the vegetables are soft and the liquid is almost gone, then covering and poaching an egg on top. Totally delicious. And in case you still have some summer tomatoes, here's a side that's great with fish:
Ingredients and method:
6 tomatoes, halved
2 minced garlic cloves
2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 pinch salt
1½ cups fresh, shelled cannellini beans, boiled 'til tender and drained
1 cup breadcrumbs
Preheat your oven to 375 F. Place the tomatoes in a baking dish and sprinkle them with the garlic, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes. Using kitchen shears, a pizza cutter or knife, chop the tomatoes while still hot. Mix the beans with the vinegar and sugar, then add them to the roasted tomatoes. Taste for salt and drain off liquid if the mixture is too soupy. Place everything in 8x8 baking dish and top with a cup of breadcrumbs, a drizzle of olive oil and more garlic if you like garlic. Broil for 4 minutes or until brown and bubbly.