I just chanced upon a great snack that can also serve as hors d'oeuvres, is super healthy for you, and costs less than 2 bucks. But you have to act quickly because the main ingredient will only be with us for another couple of months.
What I'm talking about here are cranberry beans. Those speckled magenta and white pods with beans that look like colorful pebbles you might find in a river. Cranberry beans have a wonderful creamy flavor that some liken to a chestnut. Often referred to as barlotti beans, they are a part of every Italian grandmother's fall repertoire of cooking. My own grandmother loved to toss them into salads or serve with pasta. I, however, have stumbled upon something a little different to do with them.
I recently bought a big bag of cranberry beans, thinking I would cook them up as part of a week-day meal. But after a hectic week, followed by an even crazier weekend, I found those beans still sitting in their bag in my refrigerator on Monday afternoon (Labor Day). With friends arriving in a half hour, I realized I had completely forgotten to buy anything to serve as a snack while my fellow Sicilian friend Christina and I cooked together. And so I started shucking.
Now shucking (or shelling) cranberry beans is not difficult work, but it does take about five minutes. Usually my kids are only too happy to pry open the pods and pop out the beans for me, as it’s sort of fun if you’re a kid and avoiding homework. But with their friends about to arrive for our Labor Day dinner, they were too excited to sit and toil over a bag of beans and so the task fell to me. Sitting at my kitchen counter, I twisted the pods and extracted the beans while listening to Louis Prima sing Angelina -- "Oh Mama… Zooma zooma baccala..!" in the background; it was the most peaceful part of my day.
Still without a plan for my bowl of white and magenta barlottis, I decided to simmer them in salted water until al dente, after which they sat in a colander, forgotten on the counter for about a half hour. Once I rediscovered them, they were mostly dried. I decided the quickest and most hassle-free way to deal with them would be to toss them into a pan of hot olive oil and then sprinkle with sea salt. I had been lucky enough to snack on something similar years ago in a little Italian restaurant and was inspired to try to mimic the recipe. After crisping up the outer skins, I generously seasoned and they were good to go. Salty with a mild crunch on the outside and a buttery texture within, they were perfect for munching with our Pimms cups.
I love a good snack, especially if it's easy to make, nutritious and inexpensive. Pass the barlotti.
Fried Cranberry Beans
Makes: 2 cups
2 cups shelled beans
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt to taste
1. Simmer shelled beans in hot salted water for about 10 minutes or until al dente.
2. Let beans drain in a colander and then pat them dry so they are no longer moist. This is an important step as damp beans won't crisp up in the oil.
3. Heat a large pan (not nonstick) until it's nice and hot.
4. Drizzle in the olive oil so you coat the pan's bottom and then toss in the beans.
5. Stir until the beans are crispy with a crackled exterior.
6. Season with salt to taste and serve.
Tips for shelling beans:
There are a few different ways to shell beans. I like to twist the pod so the middle pops open. You can then just separate the folds of the pod and remove the beans.
Note: Check out a similar recipe posted by Cucina Testa Rossa in 2005 on Bay Area Bites. Her cooking technique and execution are a little different, but cranberry beans are so delicious it's worth trying both recipes. Manga!