Fresh summer baby green limas, known locally as “butter beans,” are highly prized in the South—they command a higher price than other peas or beans because of their fine texture and flavor. The speckled butter beans may look prettier at the farmers’ market with their attractive multicolored skin, but when cooked, their novel coloring is lost and their flavor not nearly as fine as that of the green ones. When picked young and cooked soon afterward, butter beans have a delicacy to be treasured. We like to flavor spring water with an onion and a few sprigs of thyme and savory for cooking the beans. (We prefer spring water for these simple dishes for its purity of flavor.) For an Old South note, drizzle a bit of sizzling bacon fat over the top just before serving—or add a splash of good fruity Italian olive oil and chopped fresh herbs, such as tarragon, basil, dill, or parsley.
Peas of all kinds (black-eyes, pink-eyes, crowders, butter peas, lady peas, etc.) may be prepared in a similar fashion. If fresh peas are not available, use frozen. You might also consider finishing the beans with a few chopped scallions and tomatoes, and a sprinkling of cilantro.
Yield: Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish
6 cups water, preferably spring water
1 onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs, plus a scattering of leaves for garnish
4 savory sprigs, plus a scattering of leaves for garnish
1 pound small green butter beans, picked over and rinsed
2 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil, bacon fat, or unsalted butter, melted
Freshly cracked black pepper
Combine the water, onion, herbs, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 15 minutes. Add the beans, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beans are just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans rest in their liquid for 10 minutes.
Serve sprinkled with the herbs and drizzled with olive oil. Finish with cracked black pepper.