I was shopping at one of my favorite farm stands the other day when I found some fresh Cranberry beans or Borlotti beans as they are known in Italian. I just knew I wanted them, hadn't settled on what I was going to do with them.
I was sifting through them looking for some nice ones when this older Italian gentleman sorting green beans next to me gives me the eye. He tells me he is going to make a minestrone, with the hand up and eyebrow at the same time. After rattling off recipes and hearing about his grandchildren, pasta e fagioli it is; seriously that was the extent of my excitement for the day!
Cranberry beans they are so cool to look at when fresh, too bad they turn brownish/gray when cooked. You are going to want to shell them and boil them in a little salted water for about 20-25 minutes and drain them, before adding them to your soup.
They are easy to shell, run your fingernail along the spine and they will open right up. You just want the inside beans not the pod.
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
4 ounces chopped pancetta
1 box low-sodium chicken stock
5-6 black Russian heirloom tomatoes, skinned and crushed (use whatever variety you can find)
2 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. fresh cranberry beans (if you can't find these (1) can rinsed cannellini beans will work great)
1 cup cooked pasta
couple of sprigs of fresh Thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat a large stockpot on medium, add olive oil. Add pancetta and cook for a couple of minutes until some of the fat is rendered. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic, cook for 5-7 minutes till softened. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add zucchini, beans, tomatoes, pasta, thyme (leaves only, not stems), salt and pepper.
Turn the heat down to simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes longer. I like my veggies still crisp, if you want yours a little softer, just leave it on for another 5-10 minutes.
Tip for the tomatoes: Cut an X on the bottoms and dip in boiling water for a minute or two till the skin is loosened, put in ice water to cool, then peel.
You can grate some fresh Parmesan over the top before serving, but I like to make some Parmesan crostini. Slice a sourdough baguette on the diagonal, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with grated Parmesan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, bake in a 350 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes till crisp.