Recipe File: Braised Cranberry Beans
I am not one of those jumping for joy at the arrival of fall. I am way too much in love with summer’s carefree bliss, even if it’s no longer really carefree because I’m no longer an 8-year-old with 2 months off from school to spend just hanging around doing whatever I feel like.
But I am not immune to the charms of crisp, cool weather. And anyway, I can only be sad for 5 minutes in my kitchen or in my knitting corner, both places reliably, always cheering. Out with grilling and tiny objects made of cotton, bring on braising and big piles of wool (temperature blanket languishing in the corner, I see you).
This fall, as usual, on the first cool day I made these braised cranberry beans—inspired by the great Marcella Hazan. I love these beans for their flavor and beautiful color. This recipe makes a beautiful pot of beans in a little cooking broth, vegetal and earthy, flavored by a few aromatics. A gentle nudge into a new season. But first things first.
Brine those beans.
For 1 lb of beans, cover with water by 3 inches, stir in 3 tablespoons of kosher salt and let sit at room temperature for 8–10 hours or overnight. Drain, rinse and proceed.* It goes like this!
1 lb dried cranberry beans, brined and soaked overnight and rinsed
1 small onion, peeled and halved
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled and lightly smashed
1 stalk celery, cut lengthwise into 4 pieces
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 parmesan rind (optional)
¼ lb pancetta, bacon or ham (optional)
1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh, canned, or Pomi brand
½ cup olive oil, plus more for garnish
Minced parsley for garnish
Put brined, rinsed beans in a 4 quart heavy bottomed pot and cover with cold water by about an inch. Bring to a boil uncovered and then immediately lower to a simmer. After about 5 minutes skim off and scum.
Add remaining ingredients—except tomatoes—to the pot, making sure they are submerged. If you plan to remove the pancetta before serving leave it in a whole slice. If you plan to keep the pancetta in the dish, cut it into dice before adding it to the pot. Cover partially and continue to simmer at lowest heat until the beans are almost tender but still a little al dente. Check on them regularly, adding more water if necessary. As you know, cooking times for beans can vary wildly. You don’t want these to be mushy so test one at the 35-minute mark.
When you deem them to be close to done stir in the tomatoes. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if you like. Simmer further until the beans are al dente. Remove herb stems and parmesan rind.
Dish them into a bowl with a bit of cooking broth, more olive oil, and parsley. Serve with the best crusty bread you can find (or make!).
*I’m loving this technique, which yields beans that cook evenly with tender skins intact. They are not salty but their innate flavor is enhanced. Once rinsed they are gently braised with vegetables, herbs, a parmesan rind and pancetta. Obviously bacon or ham would be great, as would omitting any meat at all for a lovely vegetarian version. Leftover beans are great reheated and spooned into a warm tortilla or added to a pan of sautéed greens.