I have never seen these in my farmers’ market but I’m hoping I will this year! Do cranberry beans grow in Virginia?
Well I found the dried kind in the grocery store a few weeks ago and got a little adventurous for one of my Sunday night dinners. When I spotted them, I had never seen them before but I was instantly intrigued and knew I had to try them. Last Sunday I couldn’t stop thinking about what to do with them. I distractedly entered my friend’s house to meet up for a walk to the coffee shop, tapping away at my BlackBerry in search of ragout and soup recipes. When she asked me how I was doing, I replied “I have to figure out what I’m going to do with these cranberry beans.” Accustomed to my food-related outbursts, she just went with it and we set out on our walk. That evening, I figured it all out. Cranberry Bean Ragout over Grilled Polenta with Garlic-Parsley Green Beans.
No explanation this time, because beans are beans are beans, and I was less interested in research this time around and more compelled to just get them on the plate. I suppose I did my research in the kitchen, rather than on the computer. In the end, I didn’t use any of the recipes I found while tapping away at my BlackBerry on my morning walk. However they served as inspiration, and when I got into the kitchen that evening I just cooked on the fly. Many thanks to Kyle, who wrote down an improvised recipe while I spilled wine on the stove, picked up pieces of onion from the floor in an attempt to save the cat from eating them, and unintentionally flung chopped carrots in his general direction as he took notes.
I quick-soaked the beans. I probably should have soaked them overnight, but when the idea for this dinner popped into my head, I wasn’t patient enough to wait another day. I rinsed the dried beans, and then boiled them in a pot of water for five minutes, followed by 1 hour of rest, covered, on the stove.
Then I drained them. Sadly, they lost much of their reddish color and turned to a gray speckled brown. Let’s compare dried to soaked beans:
I believe it was at this point that I pulled the bottle of cooking wine out of the refrigerator and declared that I would make these cranberry beans red again. They really just turned out brown, but more on that later.
I prepared the following, which I added to 2 tablespoons of hot olive oil in a pan over medium heat:
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
I rarely have celery around, so my mirepoix isn’t really mirepoix. Anytime a recipe calls for it, I just throw in an extra carrot for crunch and leave out the celery. It’s much better than having neglected celery rotting in my refrigerator. Anyway, back to deliciousness.
I sauteed this for several minutes and then added 3/4 cup of red wine, let the carrots get drunk for a minute, and then added 2 cups of vegetable broth. Pacific Foods makes this great vegetable broth that comes in a pack of four 1-cup servings. It’s perfect for recipes that don’t require a quart of broth, and for people who have a hard time using a whole box of broth before it goes bad in the fridge.
Then I added the cranberry beans (3/4 lb, quick-soaked and drained), 1 tsp of dried thyme, and 1 tsp of dried rosemary. I covered the pot and got to work on the sides.
I got these green beans at the Bel Air Farmers’ Market in Harford County, MD on a visit to my parents’ house. After washing and snapping off the ends, I steamed them over the stove and then sauteed them in olive oil, garlic, and fresh parsley. Season them to taste with salt and pepper.
Sadly, I have no photos of the grilled polenta. I had never used prepared polenta before (the kind that comes in a tube) and I was so focused on getting the grill marks right that I completely forgot to capture the process with my camera. Although, cornmeal isn’t that exciting so it really isn’t that big a tragedy. Basically I chilled the tube of polenta, then sliced into 1/2″ thick rounds, and then laid the slices on a hot oiled grill pan. Let them cook for a few minutes then turn over. I plated the polenta first and layered a bit of parmesan cheese on top instead of salt.
Then I checked on the ragout, which was just about done. Do not forget to salt and pepper your ragout! After seasoning the bean mixture, I spooned it on top of the grilled polenta rounds and then added the tender-crisp green beans on the side, with a garnish of fresh parsley so my dinner guest would think that I’m fancy.
This was a great meal, although it is probably more suited to the Fall or Winter. As long as your A/C is working properly, you could enjoy this meal in the Summer as I did, but don’t try taking it out on the porch or deck for an outdoor feast. It is way too heavy for that. Plus those little beans really hold their heat! I did find some cranberry bean salad recipes though, so I won’t write off these beans as a seasonally inappropriate ingredient. I think with a dash of lemon and a dice of cucumber and tomato, they could make a colorful and seasonal salad for a picnic or cookout.