In late summer and early fall, visit your local market to find fresh versions of shell beans. Shell beans are any of the 500 varieties of beans grown around the world whose pods are removed and typically not eaten. While you’ll commonly find these bean varieties sold dried or canned, their fleeting fresh analogues have a sweet, creamy taste that their dried or canned counterparts simply can’t compete with. (As a bonus, fresh beans take far less time to cook.) Read on for tips for choosing, working with and using fresh shell beans, straight from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Shell Beans: Everything You Need to Know
What to Look For
Choose beans that are still slightly moist, and free from brown spots or bruises. Beans will be freshest if they’re still in their pods, and when picking pods, look for ones that are pliable, not crisp. You should be able to feel round beans present inside of the pods.
A few of the most popular of the 500 different varieties of shelling beans include cranberry (borlotti) beans, lima beans, flageolet beans, scarlet runner beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and fava beans.
If your beans are still in the pod, remove them just before cooking. Fresh shell beans tend to cook much faster than dried ones, so be sure to pay attention to cooking times; remove shell beans from the heat as soon as they become tender.
Fresh shell beans should be eaten within a few days of purchase, before they dry out. Store pods in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days. To prevent mold, leave the bag open for air circulation. If the beans are shelled and you’re not using them right away, blanch them and place them in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to five days.
Use fresh beans any way you would use dried—pureed into a spread, in soups and salads, alongside meats, or as a simple side dish. Here are some recipes to get you started.
This Pasta Salad with Summer Beans and Herbs takes well to any bean variety. Try it with scarlet runners, lima, cannellini or kidney beans.
Perfect for an autumn supper, this recipe combines pancetta-wrapped pork chops with fresh shell beans. Fresh beans cook more quickly than dried ones and require no presoaking. Almost any variety will work here, from flageolet or Jacob’s cattle to lima. Or, try borlotti or cannellini beans, and use sage in place of the thyme.
A Provençal Minestrone is typically topped with pistou. Popular in southern France, it’s similar to Italian pesto, although it typically doesn’t contain the pine nuts that are popular in the Italian version. You can substitute prepared pesto for the pistou in this soup if you like.
Zuppi di Farro con Verdura—Roasted Vegetable and Farro Soup—is a specialty from the mountains of northwestern Tuscany. Here, robust dark green, lacinato kale replaces the usual smoked pancetta for a hearty vegetarian version.
Halloumi has a satisfying chewiness, especially when it’s seared in a pan just as you would chicken or another animal protein, which makes it a great choice for a meatless meal, especially when paired with hearty fresh fava beans.