cranberry beans

I love all types of beans, but there’s something about cranberry beans that really sends me. I’m probably in the minority here, but I find the process of shelling them incredibly satisfying – pulling their mottled rose-colored pods open to reveal the deep red swirls on the beans themselves makes me smile every time. While they lose their color in cooking, their nutty flavor and creamy texture make up for it. They’re more than just a pretty face.

My original plan was to use the beans in a hearty soup in the style of a minestrone, but when the forecast called for temperatures in the 80s, I changed things up a bit. I thought a smooth soup would feel a little lighter, and since the basil in our garden is still going strong, I decided to make a basil-walnut pesto to dress it up a bit. With crusty rolls and some sliced garden tomatoes on the side, this meal was a nice celebration of the changing seasons.

Dinner:  October 22, 2007

Fresh Cranberry Bean Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced red onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
Kosher salt
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 pound fresh cranberry beans, shelled (about 2 cups)
3 cups stock (I used some of the homemade chicken stock I made over the weekend, but you can use veggie stock or even water)
Several sprigs fresh thyme
One parmesan rind*
Optional: 1/4 cup crème fraiche or heavy cream
Basil-walnut pesto (recipe below)

*When I get to the end of a wedge of Parmagiano Reggiano or similar grating cheese, I always save the rind. Toss them into a zip top bag and store them in the freezer – they’ll stay good for a long time, and they add great flavor to soups

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot, and add the onion, carrot, celery and salt. Allow the vegetables to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften, and then add the garlic and stir. Cook for an additional minute or two until the garlic is fragrant, and then add the cranberry beans, stock, thyme and parmesan rind. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook 30 minutes, until the beans are tender.

Turn off the heat, remove the parmesan rind and thyme sprigs, taste and add more salt if needed. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Whisk in the crème fraiche or heavy cream if using. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a spoonful of the pesto.

Basil-Walnut Pesto

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup shelled walnut halves
1 cup fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

Place garlic, salt and walnuts into a food processor or mini chopper and pulse. Add the basil and pulse again until you have a coarse, chunky mixture. With the blade moving, slowly add olive oil until the pesto is at the consistency you want (some people like a looser, more fluid pesto; I like mine a little tighter).

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