It's that time of year again, the days start to get shorter, the sun no longer wakes me up before my alarm clock (now I actually have to start setting my alarm clock), and I must begin to convince myself that summer is on the way out. In fact, there is a distinct chill in the air, if only to remind me. Sigh. The weather is still nice. But the nice man at Frog Hollow told me we'd be lucky to have even another week of peaches (as I quickly add more to my shopping bag). I can't even find corn anymore. Cherries are sooooo last season. Strawberries are few and far between and I've heard they are not long for these parts. And tomatoes. Oh tomatoes. They are still here, and delicious as ever, but I know my time with them is limited. I am buying them almost on a daily basis now. They are part of nearly every meal I prepare.
But even though I am lamenting summer's dwindling bounty, a whole new crop of food is peaking and autumn treats are appearing. One of my favorites has appeared recently, my late-summer love The Cranberry Bean.
Those of us who know them tend to horde them. I see the occasional stuffed plastic bag with the tell-tale mottled pinky-red pods, firmly grasped in hand. Standing at the bin, I load up my bag as full as possible (knowing full well I'm going to have to lug it on Muni all the way home). But cranberry beans have such a limited season, it's worth it to buy all that you can. They are not only the most brilliant delicious creamy wonderful fresh legume on the planet (in my oh-so-humble opinion) but they freeze extremely well.
I really shouldn't be telling you all of this.
But really they are so good that you should know about them. Creamy, plump, and full of fresh bean flavor.
And there are all kinds of ways to use them: simply boiled and dressed as Cucina Testa Rossa describes in her previous post from last September, tossed with pasta, drizzled with vinaigrette in a salad, or my hands-down favorite, a big steaming bowl of Pasta e Fagioli. This hearty bean, pasta, and vegetable soup is the perfect antidote to a rainy end-of-summer night. It almost makes you happy that winter is right around the corner.
Pasta e Fagioli
2 slices thick-cut smoked bacon (like applewood smoked) or pancetta, chopped
1 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded or 1 (regular size) can finely chopped tomatoes
About 4-6 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
About 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberry beans, removed from pods (this equals approximately 1 lb unshelled beans in their pod)
Parmesan rind (Note: if you buy a chunk of fresh Parmesan, just cut off the rind and throw it into the soup while it's cooking)
About 1 cup small soup pasta, like ditalini or macaroni
Fresh chopped basil
Grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the bacon in a stock pot until crisp, then remove to a plate and set aside. You can pour out the grease, but leave at least 1-2 tablespoons. Add olive oil if needed, then saute the onions, carrots, and celery until just tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes, broth, cranberry beans, and the Parmesan rind, if using. Simmer until the beans are tender, about an hour (give or take, it really depends on the freshness of your beans; start tasting them after about 45 minutes; you want them creamy but not mushy) . Add the pasta and cook just until al dente, about 7 minutes. Add the reserved bacon back to the soup. Serve with grated Parmesan and fresh basil.