Speckled Beans

Pretty pink speckled beans – Borlotti beans – are an obsession of mine. I love them fresh, but they are difficult to find here. I once tried to grow them, but after a miserable cool, wet summer, only managed to get a handful of beans. Alas, some things are best left to hot Mediterranean summers, so I won’t be trying to grow them again. Besides, I’ve now converted all of the growing area to berries – much more in keeping with British climes. The dried ones, although slightly different in taste than the fresh, are equally delicious.

Borlotti beans are used in Italian as well as other Mediterranean cuisines, some of my favorite foods. Because of their pink speckled appearance, it came as no surprise to me that the borlotti is a European relative of the cranberry bean of the Americas.

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I regularly cook borlotti beans in the Tuscan recipe Fagioli all’ olio or “beans in oil”. I know that this is usually made with the white meaty cannellini bean, but borlotti beans are so good cooked this way. They can be eaten as they are, with a poached egg or sausage, with a tomato sauce and other vegetables as a vegetarian stew, simply mixed with rice or pasta … or used in soups, salads, in tortilla wraps. It just takes a bit of kitchen creativity to see just how versatile Fagioli all’ olio can be.

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Fagioli Borlotti all’ olio
This takes a while to cook – an over night soak for the dried beans and then about 2 hours cooking time. However, once cooked they can be refrigerated and used within a few days or frozen for a few months.

  • 250g dried Borlotti beans
  • 2 small or 1 large carrot
  • Handful of celery leaf or 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 to 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 4 Tablespoons oil

The night before you cook these, soak the beans. I now try to soak beans in whey, a slightly acidic byproduct of yoghurt and cheese making. This is a highly recommended use for whey as it really softens up the beans and is said to reduce the flatulent properties of legumes. If you don’t have whey, try adding a squeeze of lemon juice to the soaking water.

After soaking, drain and rinse the beans. You will notice that they have begun to swell. Add these to a pot with enough cold water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil. Drain and rinse again, cleaning the pot from any scum that might have formed. Put the beans back into the pot.

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Assemble all the herbs and vegetables. Chop the onion and carrots into small dice. Coarsely chop the celery leaf. I tend to use celery leaf in the summer months since it conveniently grows in a pot outside my back door. If you don’t have celery leaf, chop the celery stalk (preferably one with a few leaves) into pieces the same size as the carrots. Smash the garlic clove and chop finely. Place all the chopped vegetables in with the beans. Finely shred the sage and add this and the bay leaf to the pot.

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Add about 1 liter of water and the olive oil to the pot and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat and cover for 1 hour.

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After the first hour, remove the lid and let it simmer until the liquid reduces to a thick sauce – from 30 minutes to 1 hour more. Season with salt to taste.

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18 comments

    • I soaked them overnight. No need to refrigerate – at least not here in Britain. The whey is a bit sour, but it is discarded once the beans are soaked and rinsed. Aren’t Borlotti beans pretty?

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    • Can’t say that pink is my favourite colour. I’m more of a blue person, though these beans are very pretty to look at. I only wish we could get the fresh ones. I remember cooking them in Greece – really lovely and the pods are speckled pink, too, and a subtly different taste.

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  1. I love when you cook italian, cos you do it very well, with passion! I love borlotti but I never tried this tuscan recipe! I will for sure!

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    • What a wonderful compliment! I love Italian food and love exploring traditional foods. I remember long ago seeing a classic Tuscan bean dish slow cooked in a chianti bottle. I think this recipe comes close to that.

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  2. I love borlotti beans too and this looks like an excellent recipe, allowing the beans to star. I have tried to grow then too, but with little success. The tall variety do well here,but now most of the seed sold is a midget plant that doesn’t go so well.
    Fresh borlotti are expensive here- around AU$7.00 a kilo.
    I remember years ago when we stayed in a little village in Languedoc, France, these were cheap and plentiful and the local cooks always advised to buy the ‘coco rouge’ when the pods appeared a little rotten, as the beans inside would be at their peak.

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    • I’ve never seen the dwarf plants as we get the tall runner ones. Still, the climate here really is not conducive to growing them. It’s a shame since I had visions of piles and piles of fresh Borlotti beans coming from the garden and many left over to dry myself. They were a bit more expensive than other beans in Greece, too. I had noticed that about the pods – a bit yellow and brown tinged – produced the best beans. Now I have a name to go with the phenomenon.

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