I keep hearing about Rancho Gordo beans. The first time I read about them was in this post on one of my favorite cooking sites, 101 Cookbooks. I checked out the website and was intrigued by the different varieties of heirloom beans. I added "order Rancho Gordo beans" to my to do list. I didn't get around to doing the actual ordering, but carried it over from list to list. Then, a few weeks ago, I opened the New York Times magazine and saw that the entire recipe page was devoted to Rancho Gordo beans. The article described how Steve Sando, Rancho Gordo's owner, came to be a bean collecter, and his quest to collect forgotten beans that had originated in the Americas. It was a great article, but I think that the picture of Sando with his children eating a pot of beans is what really hooked me. Hoping that my morning started earlier than that of most New Yorkers, I got right on line hoping to order my beans before they sold out.
So we all huddled around the computer and ordered beans. Chloe chose some Santa Maria Pinquitos, Olivia chose the Yellow Indian Woman beans, and Oscar chose the Midnight Black Beans. I think they all chose by the colors, which are quite appealing. Throw in a few more that I wanted to try, like Borlotti frequently used in Italian minestrones, Flageolet which the French often serve with lamb, and the Vallarta that is the favorite of Thomas Keller from the fabled French Laundry in Napa Valley, and we soon had ourselves a houseful of beans.
The kids were eager to try them, and we first chose to make the Black Calypso beans. I didn't want anything too complicated because I wanted to be able to taste the flavor of the bean. The package said that these beans have a potato-y flavor and recommended trying them with sage. That sounded perfect to me.
Well, now I see what all the fuss is about. The beans were smooth and creamy, and they definitely had a potato flavor to them. Their broth, especially cooked with the sage, made an aromatic stew. As Chloe so aptly put it after two bites, "These beans are delicious!"
The beans are dried, but because they are fresher than supermarket dried beans, they take less time to cook. The flavor is also fresher. If you don't use Rancho Gordo beans, pinto beans would make a reasonable substitute, or you may be able to find another interesting heirloom bean near you.
This recipe is very simple to make. The preparation just requires chopping garlic, onion, and sage. The beans could use a 6 hour or more soak, but if you haven't time for that, just factor some extra simmer time. The beans retain their beautiful speckles throughout cooking, although the spots go from black to brown.
15 minutes preparation time, plus soaking time
approximately 2 hours cooking time
1 pound Black Calypso Beans (or dried pinto beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 of a large onion, chopped (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons sage, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
Soak the beans for 6 or more hours in enough water to generously cover them, or bring them to a boil and let them simmer until tender (1-2 hours).
In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil, then add the onion and garlic and cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the beans with their soaking/simmering water and let simmer until the beans are soft, at least 15 minutes.