Although various types of dried beans are familiar to us, the same beans, fresh and tender in their pods, are something of a novelty. In late summer and autumn, shell beans, as they are called, can be found in some markets, particularly farmers’ markets. Basically any bean can be treated as a shell bean by allowing it to mature, but cranberry and borlotti beans are the most common. They’re undeniably curious-looking; their drying pods are twisted and shriveled, but inside, the beans are moist and plump, vermilion-colored with black and purple stripes. Unfortunately the gorgeous colorations disappear under heat and fade to a single dull rose color. Cooking with shell beans is one of the possibilities that makes growing vegetables such a pleasure. If fresh shelling beans aren’t available, use dried beans, soaked and cooked until tender, in their place.
The earthy, soft flavor of the beans is brightened by the bite of the mustard. Although a bunch of mustard greens weighing about a pound looks like a lot, it cooks down. You could easily use two bunches, for they really enliven the dish.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 pound cranberry beans in their pods (l cup, shelled, or 1/3 cup dried)
1 quart water
1 bay leaf
6 sage leaves or ½ teaspoon dried
3 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 or 2 bunches of mustard greens, kale, collards, or turnip greens
1 medium-sized red onion, finely diced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 to 10 ounces penne, ziti, butterflies or little shells
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
If you’re using dried beans, soak them first for 6 hours or cover them with boiling water and soak them for an hour; then treat them like the fresh beans, as follows. Shell the beans; then put them in a sauté pan with the water, bay leaf, 3 of the sage leaves or half the dried sage, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Slice 1 of the garlic cloves and add it to the pan along with the carrot. Salt lightly and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes or possibly longer, depending on the maturity of the beans. Should they absorb all the water, add more as needed, including enough to leave some broth. When the beans are done, set them aside with their cooking liquid.
Remove the tough stems of the greens and chop the leaves. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet and gently wilt the onion. Finely chop the remaining garlic, chop the remaining sage leaves, and add them to the onion with the pepper flakes. Cook for a minute or 2; then add the greens. Lightly salt and add a little cooking water from the beans and cook until the greens are tender. Add the beans and enough liquid to make a nice sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt to taste and the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain and toss with the greens and the beans. Season to taste and serve with plenty of ground pepper, the remaining olive oil laced over the top, and freshly grated cheese.
Nutritional information is based on 6 servings using 8 ounces of penne, and includes 1/8 teaspoon of added salt per serving. Nutritional information does not include freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.