There’s nothing like fresh shell beans, in my opinion. No matter what you do, you can’t get the same result with canned or dried beans. Cooked properly, the texture and flavor can’t be beat. I used cranberry beans for this recipe, but you could substitute just about any fresh shell bean you can get your hands on. And if you weren’t already, hopefully this recipe will be a wake-up call – save your parmesan rinds! They’re a ready-made flavor booster. Throw them in soups, or use them to make parmesan stock, as we’re doing here, and then save the stock for the next time you have a pasta dish, soup or sauce in need of a kick in the seat, flavor-wise.
3 ribs celery
2 large yellow onions
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh parsley, plus 2 T fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp black peppercorns
3-4 rinds from parmigiano reggiano
12 C water
2 T butter
2 lbs unshelled fresh beans, preferably cranberry beans
zest of 1 lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
First, make the parmesan broth: Roughly chop 2 of the carrots, 2 of the celery ribs and 1 1/2 onions. In a large pot, combine the vegetables, half the bay and thyme, the 2 sprigs of parsley, peppercorns, parmesan rinds and water. Bring to a boil on the stovetop or in your oven, then allow to simmer about 2 hours, or until the liquid has taken on a rich, parmesany flavor. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer. Reserve the liquid and discard the solids.
While the stock is simmering, shell your beans and set aside. Cut the remaining carrot, celery and half an onion into a brunoise, or very fine dice. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest of the lemon in long strips. Using kitchen twine or cheesecloth, tie the remaining thyme, bay and lemon zest into a small bundle.
When the parmesan broth is ready, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the bottom of a pot large enough to hold the beans and broth. Add the finely diced vegetables and sweat, stirring often, until softened and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the beans, parmesan broth and herb bundle. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook in a low wood oven or on the stove until the beans are tender and creamy inside. This could take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the type of beans you are using. My cranberry beans took about an hour and a half. If necessary, add more water to the pot so that the beans remain just covered with liquid until they are done cooking.
Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Stir in the remaining butter and allow the broth to thicken slightly. Immediately before serving, remove the herb bundle and stir in the chopped parsley. These beans are good enough to enjoy on their own, but if you are looking for pairings I’d say a slow-roasted pork shoulder or lamb shank would do nicely, or even some smoked ham. Or just serve over rice with some roasted broccoli alongside, and you’ll be all set.