My first experience with shell beans was a disaster. I'd seen them in the store packaged in neat little bags labeled "cranberry beans," their irregular lipstick-pink spots dotting a slightly yellowish, waxy surface. I imagined braising them with some onions and garlic, something simple that would allow their flavor and texture to shine.
I brought them home, stuck them in the vegetable bin and, like so many impulsive purchases I've made in the past, promptly forgot about them. When I rediscovered them a month or so later when cleaning out the fridge, they were not a pretty sight, and I have to say that the shame of it put me off of them for some time.
Then the other night I had braised beans with roast chicken at Bar Avignon, and it was so simple and such a terrific combination it made me want to venture into shell bean territory again. I picked up a bag of soldier beans from Anthony and Carol at the Hillsdale farmers' market the next Sunday, bought some sausages at the store and stuck a post-it note to my forehead labeled "BEANS" so I wouldn't forget. (Well, not really, but I did leave them on the counter just to make sure.)
With some of the last tomatoes and a few leaves of kale from the garden, this easy braise took a little over a half hour to cook and was totally company-worthy. Leave out the sausages and it would be a great side or vegetarian main dish if you throw in some oregano or fresh basil leaves to pump up the flavor quotient. The sausages, of course, could be sweet Italian or any type you choose, but I'd say the simpler the better. Though browning them on the stove then letting them cook with the beans, rather than grilling and adding them at the end, let their juices seep into the stew and took it to a whole different level.
Shell Beans with Tomatoes and Sausages
2 lbs. sausages (I used brats)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
4 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
4-5 leaves lacinato or other kale, cut in 1/4" slices
1 lb. shell beans
Salt to taste
Heat cast iron skillet over medium flame until fairly hot. Add sausages (in batches if necessary), allowing the surface to get a nice sear but not cooking them through. Set aside.
In Dutch oven, heat the oil and add onion and garlic and sauté till translucent. Add tomatoes and simmer till they start to break down, then add kale, beans and sausages. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about a half hour or until sausages are cooked through and beans are tender but not mushy. Add salt to taste.