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Cooking a Legendary Legume

Versatile and creamy, Italian borlotti beans are widely used in Italy to make classic Italian dishes such as Pasta e Fagioli and Minestrone soup, as well as a simple pot of beans. Low in calories, high in fiber these beans are super healthy, rich in potassium, magnesium and iron and a good source of vegetable protein. They are creamy, nutritious and have been the foundation for plant-based cooking for hundreds of years. The borlotti bean's low glycemic index is helpful for controlling diabetes, heart problems or for those want to lose weight and because of this they are highly sought after. However as with most legends, Italian borlotti beans can be elusive and most bean experts agree that dried borlotti beans do need some attention. But with the right amount of preparation they are easy to use and well worth the effort.

Not a typically stocked item on your grocery shelf, artisan borlotti can be difficult to find. Opening a can of beans might be the easiest way of using this legendary legume but by no means the best. We encourage you to by pass the can opener and and cut open a hermetically sealed bag of beans to experience the true aroma and rustic flavor of the borlotti. Cooking with dried beans allows you to choose the texture you like and how to flavor them and this is a definite plus when it comes to using this ingredient.

However most home cooks don't really know how to cook dried beans and whether soaking them for hours or overnight and then boiling them for a good amount of time really makes a difference in the end product. Here is a way to make the preparation of borlotti beans a quicker cook. I use dried artisan Italian beans from Umbria, a region of Italy known for the exceptional growing of legumes, because nothing compares to the generational cultivation of these beans in quality, flavor and aroma. You can definitely taste the difference. It's like being in an Italian kitchen in the countryside.

Here are our instructions for making a perfect pot of beans:

  • Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight in the refrigerator. Once soaked, discard the water and rinse in a colander.· Put the beans in a large pot and cover with 3 inches of water.

  • Add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 garlic clove, a sprig each of sage and rosemary, and a bay leaf.

  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle, slow simmer. Every once in a while swirl the pot. But do not stir.

  • Start tasting the beans for doneness around 45 minutes. When done, they should be evenly cooked throughout with a firm texture.

  • Turn off the heat and let the beans cool in the cooking liquid.

  • Refrigerate in their broth and keep on hand for your favorite recipes.

Although beans need a lot of salt, do not salt while cooking because this can prevent beans from softening. Add salt and additional flavorings during final preparation.

Soaked vs Unsoaked

In a hurry? Here is a method that eliminates soaking your beans overnight. However soaking beans in the refrigerator overnight will reduce the time they have to cook and the texture of the beans will be at their best. Either way save the liquid that they're cooked in to use as a delicious broth.

Put 1 lb of dried beans in a pot. Cover with 8 cups of cold water. Place on stove on "high" setting. Soon the beans will be moving and float to the top. Wait until the beans are in a rolling boil. Boil 2 minutes. Take off heat and put a lid on the pot. Let sit for at least 20-30 minutes. Drain water off beans and rinse them in cold water. Your beans are now ready to use in any recipe calling for "soaked beans."

Borlotti are sometimes called cranberry beans in North America because they are are ivory with red streaks. When cooked they will turn brown and have a more robust, nutty flavor.

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