Pasta with Cranberry Beans and Tuscan Kale

The brief cold snap in South Florida this week happened to have coincided with the appearance of fresh cranberry beans in my local farmers’ market this past weekend.  A bean stew would be perfect for dinner in this weather.  I haven’t made beans in a while and there’s nothing like fresh ones–shorter cooking time than dried, and no soaking required.

Although the cooking time is greatlly reduced when working with fresh beans, they are perhaps a little more labor-intensive than dried ones.  When buying them, you need to select them pod-by-pod, to ensure that you’re buying pods with nice, plump beans in them.  There will be plenty of pods with few or no beans in them, so selection takes a littlle time and attention.  Then of course, they need to be shucked.  You’ll have approximately 1/2 – 3/4 cup yield of beans for every quart of pods, therefore, in order to make beans for four, you’ll need to shuck a couple of quarts of beans. 

To flavor beans, there’s nothing like a little cured or smoked meat of some kind.  In today’s dish, I’ve decided to use prosciutto.  I’ve found a a domestic brand (“Applegate Farms”) that is nitrate and nitrite-free (not the reason I use it–it just happens to be very delicate and good).  This is pre-sliced and vaccuum-packed in the bacon section of the supermarket.  It’s great for cooking, since it’s sliced rather thickly (considered indelicate for Italian prosciutto), has a nice fat to lean ratio and mellow flavor.

Tuscan kale is always a pleasant surprise at the farmers’ market here in Florida.  Because I rarely find this variety at my farm stands in New York, I buy it every chance I get. 

It’s sturdy, freezes well, and makes the greatest addition to a variety of soups, stews, and pasta dishes.  It even makes a great pesto (see my rigatoni with kale pesto and sausage). 

Today’s preparation begins with a saute of prosciutto and aromatics, then the beans are added, along with some broth, and all is simmered for about 45 minutes.  Tuscan kale is blanched separately, tomatoes are peeled and diced and both are added towards the end.  Pasta is cooked separately and added at the end.  A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of pecorino make the dish irresistable (especially with a piece of bread). 

Pasta with Cranberry Beans and Tuscan Kale

serves 4

2 c freshly shucked cranberry beans (approximate yield from 2 1/2 qts whole pods)

1 small onion, finely diced

2 ribs celery, sliced finely

2 bay leaves

1 sprig fresh rosemary

2 cloves garlic, peeled and split

1/4 lb prosciutto, diced crosssise into 1/2″ ribbons

2 c chicken broth

1 whole tomato, peeled, seeded and diced

1 bunch Tuscan kale

1 lb orrecchiete or ditalini

1/4 c olive oil

salt and black pepper to taste

grated pecorino for sprinkling

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Strip leaves from stems of tuscan kale.  Slice leaves crosswise into 1″ ribbons.  Boil for about 5 minutes, then drain and set aside. 

 Reserve the cooking liquid for boiling the pasta.

In a large skillet or dutch oven, place prosciutto, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary in olive oil.  Turn heat to medium and saute for about 10 minutes, or until softened and aromatic. 

Add chicken broth and beans.  Cover and simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes.

In the cooking liquid from the kale, boil the pasta until cooked, approximately 10 minutes.  While the pasta cooks, add the tuscan kale and chopped tomato to the bean mixture and continue simmering until pasta is cooked.

Add pasta to bean mixture, along with a half-cup of cooking liquid, drizzle with another tablespoon of olive oil and add salt and pepper, if necessary. 

Serve with plenty of grated pecorino.  

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