A treasure from the late summer garden: These striking beans, known variously as cranberry beans (for the cranberry-red striations of the pods), borlotti beans (their Italian name—they’re a Tuscan favorite), or as shucky beans or shell beans, an old-fashioned country name
They’re a treasure because they can be consumed three ways. In July, as fresh green beans, they’re a little tougher than more common slender green beans of high-summer gardens but they’re full of flavor and respond well to long, slow cooking. Much later, the bean pods, left to dry on the stalks, are harvested and set out on a bench in the September sun to dry further; when they’re completely dry, the beans are shucked or shelled and stored for winter soups and minestrone.
This is a no-recipe recipe: Boil the shucked beans in lightly salted water until they’re done to your liking. (I figure on around 10 minutes of steady boiling.) Then drain and while they’re stll warm (this is the important part), dress with a couple of spoons of your finest extra-virgin and a splash of vinegar. I sometimes mix a teaspoon of good French mustard with the vinegar.
Add minced garlic, chips of red onion, maybe a few slivers of celery, some chopped tomato, slivered basil leaves, chopped chives—whatever you have in the herb garden, or at the farmer’s market. Last night I added some shiso leaves, scissored into the mix. A sweet red pepper or a fresh green chili would not be amiss. I have had this bean salad served as a main course at lunch with a can of best-quality tuna, drained and flaked in, along with a chopped hard-boiled egg. Complete protein and perfect for lunch on the porch on a hot September afternoon.
But whatever you add, make the beans the focus of the whole thing and you won’t go wrong.