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June 2008

Rancho Gordo's Giant White Lima Beans

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My beans have arrived! With their cheeky packaging and glossy little hulls, they are simply gorgeous. Giant white limas, Good Mother Stallards, Ojo de Cabras, and Christmas limas. Speckled and smooth and a delight to behold, I've quite literally not been this excited about something in my kitchen in a long time.

Ben and I had a plate of gigantes in Astoria this winter, so good we licked the plate clean, so I thought I'd just scrounge up a recipe for that stewy Greek dish, fragrant with tomatoes (and sometimes polluted by dill). But then I got sidetracked by a dish from Diane Kochilas's book on meze that combined the giant limas with roasted peppers and promptly changed my mind. I guess I sometimes have a short attention span.

I did a lot of things differently from the original recipe, which didn't seem to make much sense (1/4 pound of beans for 4 to 6 people?). I'm not sure you should necessarily attempt this on a weeknight, unless you get home far earlier than your eating partner, because it takes a little more than 2 hours to get this on the table.

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But it's such a delicious pay-off. The beans are creamy, yet still pleasingly firm. The ones at the top have a chewy little crust that is browned in spots. The peppers and onions are stewy and sweet, and the vinegar gives the dish just the right amount of acidity. You could swap out the bay leaf for oregano, scattered throughout, or sage could also be a nice choice. We ate our beans with fresh slices of country bread and murmured delightedly through bites that we should eat nothing but beans and vegetables (steamed asparagus with a mustard vinaigrette) forever and evermore.

To further the conversation about sustainability and locavorism, it's true that buying Rancho Gordo beans is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you're supporting a small business that aims to keep heirloom beans alive and well and in our tummies, and that supports small farms. On the other hand, the beans are expensive (relatively speaking) and need to be shipped all the way across the country, if you live on the East Coast. Not exactly great for the environment.

I loved these beans and I can't wait to cook the rest of them, but I'm not sure how often I'll be able to justify ordering them. What do you think, readers? Am I overthinking? Not doing enough? And all that heavy stuff aside, what else should I be doing with beans? Recipes, please! Links! Ideas! We have a lot of beans to get through.

Giant Lima Beans with Roasted Peppers
Serves 2 amply as a main course    

1/2 pound giant white lima beans
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
2 roasted red bell peppers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste

1. Put the beans in a pot with ample water to cover (enough to come about 3 inches above the beans). Let sit for half an hour. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the flame to low and simmer the beans for approximately 1 hour, or until al dente. About 15 minutes before removing the beans from the heat, season with salt. Drain and reserve the boiling liquid.

2. As the beans simmer, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove the peppers from their oil and finely chop. Add them to the onions and garlic, and stir over medium heat for about 3 minutes to meld the flavors a little. Remove from the heat and add the beans to the pepper mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir gently to combine.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Scrape the bean mixture in an ovenproof glass or ceramic baking dish. Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the beans. Tuck a bay leaf into the center of the dish, covering the leaf well with the beans. Cover the dish and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the beans are very tender and their centers creamy.

4. Five minutes before the beans come out of the oven, pour in the vinegar. Remove from the oven and serve. You can let the beans cool to room temperature as well and serve the next day.