Last year I bought cranberry bean seeds for no good reason except they were so pretty. Now the first of their offspring are ripening, the pods all swollen and streaky with pink flames, and they’re so gorgeous they might just get elected to public office. And then what? I wasn’t convinced that this bean was all so different than any of the others out there.
So I sussed things out with a Marcella Hazan recipe for embogone, a hearty stonecutter’s pasta that originated in small hilltop towns in Italy. Embogone calls for cranberry beans and four other ingredients that I’ve grown or cured myself — how could I pass it up? Well, the dish turns out to be an unusual and interesting combination of creamy beans, rich and salty pancetta, and sage and rosemary, which contribute pleasing background notes. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t pasta with a cream sauce. But it is something that will keep you going all day long, with the potential to knock out dinner guests. With more tinkering it might become a staple around here.
As to whether cranberries are really that different than your average bean, well, I’m not convinced. But cursory investigation reveals a long history of cultivation by Colombians, Italians, and New Englanders, making it the bean of choice in certain ethnic and regional cuisines. The recipe:
1 cup dried cranberry beans / olive oil / 1/4 cup pancetta or lardo, minced / 1/2 onion, diced / 1 tsp garlic /1 tsp fresh sage, chopped / 1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped / salt & pepper / Parmesan cheese
Soak beans overnight if you wish then cook until tender, anywhere from 1-2 hours. Heat 1 tbls olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add pancetta and onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and herbs and stir. After garlic has begun to release its fragrance, add most of the cooked beans and about 1/2 cup of bean cooking liquid, and mash beans with other ingredients. Add additional bean liquid to create a sauce consistency. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes or so, while you cook pasta, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with pasta as soon as pasta is cooked and drained, sprinkle with cheese, and indulge immediately. Feeds 3-4.