I know beans have the reputation of being, ahem, the musical fruit but still, they’re a rich source of plant protein and once your body adjusts to the added starch, beans are one of the most flavorful and least expensive dishes you can make. If you’ve been eating lighter fare all summer, comfort foods like bean soup may take a little getting used to and the secret to maximum digestibility lies in the preparation. I’ll share a method that has worked for me but first, I want to tell you about LaVonne’s heirloom beans.
One of the reasons I love stopping at Mother Flight Farm in the Skagit Valley is that Charlotte, one of the owners, always has interesting bits of information, stories and recipes to share. Last weekend we heard the story of LaVonne’s beans, a gorgeous heirloom variety that seems to be related to the scarlet runner with 12 foot vines and reddish flowers.
The story goes that LaVonne’s family were farmers somewhere in the Midwest. Sometime around this time of year, they harvested their potatoes and spread them out in the barn to cure. Once their work was done, they loaded up the kids and went into town to buy some new school clothes. When they returned home, all the potatoes had vanished. Feeling betrayed and suspecting that it must have been a neighbor or someone who knew the family well, they sold the farm and moved across the country to Concrete, WA. LaVonne packed up her favorite beans to use as seeds and some of them ended up on Mother Flight Farm. Charlotte says that everyone loves them and I can’t help but think beyond their striking physical beauty, knowing the story makes them even more special.
LaVonne’s beans are bigger and meatier than your normal bean — about the size of fully mature favas. Not that I know for sure that size has anything to do with “potency” but after a run-in with a pot of lentil soup a week ago, I decided not to take any chances and soaked the daylights out of them. They sat on the counter in a bowl covered with cold water for two days. Charlotte soaks her beans almost to the point of sprouting but one day should be sufficient, especially if you change the water once or twice. Drain off the soaking water before cooking.
I bought fully dried beans but fresh beans are also available this time of year. You can soak them too — overnight or even a few hours should be plenty, depending on their freshness. Adding fennel seeds, ginger, a bay leaf or a strip of kombu (seaweed) to the cooking water is said to increase digestibility while giving flavor and nutrients. Alkaline-rich greens, like spinach can help balance the negative effects of beans, just mix some in right before serving.
My favorite method of cooking beans is based on a Tuscan recipe, I started using years ago from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook. Once the beans are tender, you cook them even longer in a skillet with garlic and some of the cooking liquid. Cheese and herbs are added at the end for the ultimate bean-lover’s side dish or appetizer. Once the beans are fully cooked (be sure not to add salt until they’re almost done — the skins will toughen), they also make an excellent soup with added broth and vegetables.
Heirloom Bean Recipe
1 C dried heirloom beans
1 t sea salt
1 carrot, cleaned and cut in half lengthwise
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half and stuck with 2 cloves
1 celery rib
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 heads minced garlic
1 t each minced rosemary, sage & thyme
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
Cover the beans with cold water and soak overnight (or longer).
Drain beans and place them in a saucepan with cold water to cover by at least 3 inches. Add carrot, celery, onion, bay leaf and fennel seeds.
Bring to a boil, then immediately turn down and simmer for 1 hour, skimming off any foam.
Add salt and continue cooking for 30 minutes more or until beans are completely cooked and tender (Not al dente!!)
Discard vegetables and let beans cool in their cooking liquid.
At this point you can use the beans as is, in a soup or “recooked” with the cooking liquid, garlic, herbs and cheese, as I did.
In a skillet, lightly saute garlic in olive oil.
Add beans to skillet with 1 1/2 C of their cooking liquid.
Bring to a boil, add the minced herbs and about 3/4 of the cheese.
Continue to boil briskly until the liquid reduces to form a sauce about 10-15 minutes. When thickened, add salt & pepper to taste, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Pesto also makes a wonderful topping if you have some on hand.
Once LaVonne’s beans are cooked, they lose their pretty pink and purple color and become an earthy brown. They’re delicious and starchy — tasting almost like delicious tiny new potatoes.