Thursday, April 1, 2010

Old Beans and Ancient Grains

Ever since I began Monday Beans I've been on the lookout for different and interesting varieties. I'm a member of the East End Food Co-op but they only have the usual kinds. I found the best local selection at Penn Mac, just about my favorite food emporium in Pittsburgh.
Purely on looks alone I picked up some Scarlet Runner Beans, then had to look them up. Turns out they're an heirloom variety, known at least as far back as the eighteenth century and grown in Thomas Jefferson's garden. The vines produce beautiful red blossoms that attract hummingbirds so they're a favorite with backyard gardeners.

These are big beans. I figured they'd be better as a accent ingredient rather than the main thing. A little more poking around and I came across Lorna Sass's Scarlet Runner Beans with Farro Risotto from the book Heirloom Beans by Vanessa Barrington and Steve Sando. (I'm amazed at how many great food blogs there are!) Lorna Sass is queen of the pressure cooker and that brings up an interesting point.
I've been using a pressure cooker for beans since I inherited an old 1940s Presto 6-quart back in the 70s. For Monday Beans, though, I've been cooking the beans the old-fashioned way, soaking overnight and cooking in a saucepan. I just want to get to know the beans a little better and some beans go mushy too quickly in a pressure cooker. So I used Lorna Sass's ingredients as a guide, but I made the risotto the usual way.

I actually had farro in the house and was glad to find an interesting use for it. Farro is an ancient form of wheat and originated around the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Old Bean and Ancient Grain Risotto

2/3 cup scarlet runner beans, soaked overnight
1 small onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. saffron
2 Tbsp. boiling water
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup farro
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 tsp thyme
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the small chopped onion in a little olive oil until transparent. Add the beans and soaking water, bring to a boil, add the bay leaf and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until the beans are tender. This took forever for me. Halfway through I almost reconsidered the whole pressure cooker thing. In the end it took nearly three hours to get the beans to the edible stage. I did this the day before.

To make the risotto, heat the broth to simmering and keep it hot. In a small bowl dissolve the saffron in 2 tablespoons of boiling water. In another saucepan saute the onion in a little olive oil until transparent. Add the farro and stir to combine. Add the saffron water and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add the wine and stir until nearly dry.

Add 1 cup of hot broth and stir until absorbed. Keep adding broth and stirring until all of the broth is incorporated. Add the drained beans and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the thyme, walnuts and cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.

 My sister-in-law was in town on Monday and we both thought this twist on risotto was great, and the beans themselves were delicious. I think next time I'd add some red pepper flakes and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor.

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