Last week, former Lutece chef Eberhard Müller noted that when he first moved to the United States in 1982, “nobody ever had heard of...chervil or mache or cranberry beans — you couldn’t get fresh cranberry beans to save your life.”
Fortunately, the New York food scene has come a long way since the barren years of the early '80s. In particular, cranberry beans are currently in season and can be found in abundance at area farmers markets.
Cathy Erway, who writes the blogs Not Eating Out in New York and Lunch at Sixpoint, grows cranberry beans, as well as dragon’s tongue beans and purple string beans, on the roof of Sixpoint Brewery in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The beans, and about 40 other heirloom varieties of vegetables, are planted in recycled and retired beer kegs. She notes that this year, her beans were scorched in the earlier-than-expected summer heat, but said that it would be conceivable to grow beans indoors, too.
She suggests sowing them in a large planter, making sure they have a trellis or pole to grow on. “They really want to cling on to them and crawl and climb just like 'Jack and the Beanstalk,'” Erway said. “The other thing to keep in mind is that you do want to plant it in a container and keep it there. Pole beans and string beans don’t like to be transferred. That’s why you don’t see them in...seedling trays.”
Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen explained that the cranberry beans have the advantage of being easy to shell — potentially even a good activity to keep kids’ hands busy. “They’re very thin pods, they pop open easily,” said Perelman. “There’re no stems to remove or anything, and when you open them, the beans literally just fall out into a bowl.” She recommends boiling the fresh beans for about 20 minutes in lightly salted water.
Perelman uses cranberry beans in her recipe for summer succotash, as adapted from Gourmet. Find that below.
Summer Succotash with Bacon and Garlic Croutons
Adapted, barely, from Gourmet
Serves 6, 4 as a main
- 1 pound fresh shell beans in pod or 1 cup frozen baby lima beans (I used 1/2 pound fresh cranberry beans, 1/2 pound fresh lima beans)
- 1/4 pound bacon (about 4 slices)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 3/4 pound cherry tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pints), halved
- Fresh kernels from 4 ears corn
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup packed small fresh basil leaves (I used less)
- 1/4 cup packed small fresh arugula leaves (I used more)
Shell fresh beans if using. In a small saucepan of boiling salted water cook beans over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 5 minutes for fresh or frozen lima beans, 20 to 25 for fresh cranberry beans. In a sieve, drain beans and rinse under cold running water to stop cooking. Set aside.
In a skillet cook bacon over moderate heat until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels and crumble. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from skillet. Add oil to bacon fat in skillet and cook onion over moderate heat, stirring, until just softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, corn, and vinegar and cook, stirring, until tomatoes just begin to lose their shape. Remove skillet from heat and gently stir in cooked beans and half of bacon. Cool succotash to room temperature and gently stir in basil and arugula, and salt, pepper and additional sherry vinegar to taste. Toss with croutons (below, if using) and sprinkle with remaining bacon before serving.
Here's Perelman's recipe for garlic croutons.