Shell Beans

Summer 1998
Drawing by Toki Oshima
Drawing by Toki Oshima

By Roberta Bailey

For the first time in almost, 20 years of preserving food, I had a surplus of canned green beans and tomato sauce. I had planned on putting up a little less food as my son, Isak, was leaving for college. I hadn’t planned on my daughter having swim team practice from 5:30 until 8:30 every night for close to four months. With just John and me at home, a lot less food was eaten, or even prepared. I won’t need to grow or put up nearly as much food as I have in the past. Excitement stirs as I contemplate what I will do with all that extra garden space and all the free time. Isn’t there a law of human nature about a half hour of free time being filled with three quarters of an hour of new interests?

My new interest seems to be shell beans. I detected this trend while inventorying the pile of seed amassed over the winter. (Much of the ice storm was spent immersed in the summery fantasies of seed catalogs.) Favas, green soybeans, horticultural beans, limas, they all made my heart leap in anticipation of summer harvests. Pasta with fava beans and radicchio, garlic, and fresh , tomatoes, tossed with olive oil and fresh minced herb, also seemed to be a sustaining fantasy. Sometimes the bean would change.

As a result I will face a garden full of swelling shell beans of impressive variety, and I suspect that I will be fulfilling that law of human nature. But that was part of the decision to grow all these beans and I’m prepared to put in the time shelling them. I’ll have waited patiently through three seasons for this time, and I know I will relish the shelled beans for many months to come. The tomatoes are ripening, the radicchio is ready, and so am I.

Cooking shell beans: Shell beans cook faster than dry beans and need to be simmered in just enough water to cover them or steamed until tender. Test them often. Onions and herbs can be added to the cooking water for extra flavor. If cooled in their cooking water they become more tender and flavorful.

Ice Storm Special

1/2 to 1 lb. penne or ziti

2 to 3 c. shelled beans, steamed or simmered 30 minutes or until tender

20 pitted Greek olives, chopped

1 head radicchio, coarsely chopped

6 paste tomatoes (or more as desired), chopped

1 c. minced herbs, including parsley, basil, oregano, chives

2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

Cook pasta al dente. Drain and toss with olive oil, garlic and radicchio while hot. Add remaining ingredients, adjust oil and seasonings. Serves 4 to 6.

Radicchio and Warm Bean Salad

2 lb. fresh shelled cranberry beans

1 lb. Treviso radicchio or Belgian endive or dandelion

1/4 c. minced fresh parsley

2 to 4 cloves minced garlic


olive oil

quality red wine vinegar

freshly ground black pepper

Shell the beans and put them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Simmer for 45 minutes. Time their preparation so that they are warm when you are assembling the salad.

Detach the radicchio leaves from the head. Shred them into narrow strips about 1/4-inch wide. Drain the beans and put them, while still warm, into a serving bowl with the radicchio, parsley and garlic. Add salt, toss once, pour in enough olive oil to coat well, add a dash a vinegar and liberal amounts of pepper, toss thoroughly and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

Shell Bean Gratin

2 to 3 lb. fresh shell beans


7 T. olive oil

1 small onion

3 to 5 cloves garlic

1 sage leaf

1 bunch greens: mustard, turnip, broccoli raab, etc.

2 to 3 paste tomatoes

2/3 c. toasted bread crumbs

Cook the beans with salt, sage leaf, and 2 T. olive oil until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, saving the liquid. Dice the onion and slice the garlic. Sauté them in 3 T. olive oil and some salt. Add the greens and a little bean water. Cook until wilted, then add the tomato, raise the heat and cook for a few more minutes. Add this mix to the cooked beans. Add bean water to almost cover. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Cover the top with toasted bread crumbs, seasoned as desired. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes.

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