Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Creamy Green Flageolet Beans

I spoke too soon in my last post, forecasting the start of the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market in April. With the rainy spring weather, our anchor vender, SLO Farm, has had to delay their early planting, and now anticipate their first crops in June. However, they report that their plum and pear trees and berry plants are blooming beautiful, so we can look forward to delicious late summer and fall fruits. I'll keep the information sidebar updated with the most current information of the Market start date.

While waiting for fresh spring produce, I can still turn to my treasure trove of heirloom dried beans from Lonesome Whistle Farm. Last weekend I prepared a springtime dish of delicate green flageolet beans seasoned with a classic trio of aromatic diced shallots, celery and carrots and sprigs of fresh oregano and thyme, based on a recipe from Deborah Madison's Greens Cookbook

I was thinking about the Madison recipe, which had been a favorite of mine in graduate school, because of an article about beans by Melissa Clark in the New York Times Dining section entitled "Secrets of the Bean Pot." Clark pointed out what a mistake it is to drain the delicious cooking liquid from a pot of beans, echoing the thoughtful instructions in the Greens Cookbook to save this liquid as flavorful broth for a soup. In my own bean recipes I try to modulate the amount of liquid so that one doesn't need to strain off a lot of the flavor in the end. For example with these flageolets, I simmered them in just enough liquid to cover the beans, along with a bay leaf, until they were soft, and then cooked off a little more of the liquid. Another strategy is to cook a double pot of beans, use some drained (such as for a pureed bean spread) and some for a soup.

While we're on the topic of dispelling bean cooking myths, I'd like to point out a few rules of thumb I've come to ignore during my experimentations with cooking dried bean. And I'll just interject that I have some new bean cooking credentials, since two of my bean recipes were recently selected as editor's picks on the food52 website (both Rio Zapes with Toasted Chile Sauce and Boston Baked Beans). First is the whole pre-soaking business, which I think is entirely unnecessary unless you are anxious to hurry along your beans, and even then it only shaves off an extra half hour or so of cooking time (the real determinant of cooking time is the dryness of the beans, so you just have to plan to be flexible and open-minded with each new batch). I'm a proponent of cooking beans in a slow cooker, which lets them plump up gently without the danger of drying out, because very little liquid evaporates if you keep the lid closed, and it gives you the freedom to wander off and plant some peas in the garden or catch the Family Music Time at the library. You should plan to give the pot a good swirl every so often to ensure that the beans cook evenly. The second myth I've come to reject is the danger of cooking dried beans with salt. I've included plenty of salty ingredients in my bean pots, such as ham or bacon, with no perceptible increase in toughness, and I think a sprinkle of salt can add flavor to the beans as they cook. Finally there is the myth about acidity causing toughness, which again I've come to reject. I've cooked beans with acidic tomatillos or a vinegary sauce, and both came out deliciously tender and flavorful. The bottom line is that I see no reason to treat dried beans like shrinking violets.

On the other hand, there's no reason not to pamper them with a rich cream sauce, which is what Deborah Madison's recipe does. One tends to think of bean dishes as lean, even meager affairs, but this is a truly decadent delight.

We served them with a spring salad with asparagus in a mustardy vinaigrette with shaved parmesan cheese and (in violation of the vegetarian ethos of Greens) a ribeye steak broiled with a topping of horseradish and gorgonzola. The meal was delicious, but the steak was almost superfluous with the decadent beans and tasty salad.

Creamy Green Flageolet Beans

1 cup green flageolet beans, sorted and rinsed
1 bay leaf
~4 cups water
2 shallots
2 carrots
1 stalk celery
leaves from 1 sprig fresh thyme
leaves from 1 sprig fresh oregano
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Simmer the flageolet beans with the bay leaf and a generous pinch of salt on low heat until tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove the bay leaf. Drain the beans and reserve the bean liquid for another use, such as a soup (or cook 2 cups of beans and save one half in the broth for another dish).

2. Finely dice the shallots, carrots, and celery. Heat the butter in a pan over medium low heat and saute the dice vegetables until they are softened and glassy, about 10 minutes. Add the cream, thyme, and oregano leaves and warm for a couple of minutes. Add the drained beans and cook for w few minutes until the beans are warmed through and the flavors have melded. Adjust salt and pepper seasoning to taste. Turn off the heat and stir in fresh chopped parsley. Enjoy with some spring sunshine.

Other recipes for heirloom beans:
Dutch bullet bean soup with Indian spices
Arikara beans with tomatillo pork
Ireland Creek Annie Baked Beans
Flageolet bean salad with fennel, orange, and tapenade
Arikara beans with roasted fennel and peppers
Jacob's Cattle bean and ham stew
Calypso beans with ginger and black mustard seeds
Ireland Creek Annie bean bruschetta
Lemon and herb Dutch bullet beans
Minty green flageolet beans
Dutch bullet beans and roasted squash soup
Rio Zape beans with toasted chile sauce
Arikara bean gratin
Calypso bean and leek soup


Anna said...

The creamy beans sound so delicious. I loved that Greens recipe as well! And congratulations on the Editors Picks! (Again!)

Renee said...

Fantastic!! No pre-soaking! I must admit that has held me off a bit from cooking beans. I'd love to give more bean recipes a try. Thanks for the inspiration!