Two years ago, John and I got the chance to experience a really special Outstanding in the Field event held on a private beach in Santa Cruz. The 100-person table was set up on the sand and wrapped around a huge beach bonfire. It wasn’t so bad watching whales spout in the background while sifting sand through our toes and sipping wine with our good friends! You’d think that would be the most memorable part of the evening, but no – since I’m an insufferable foodie douche weenie, the most mind-blowing thing about the whole dinner was being introduced to my new favorite food: the Italian butter bean. The beans, which are large white limas, are creamy, tender and slightly nutty tasting – they’re unlike anything I’ve ever tried! They are as tasty as they are filling, making them great for entrees and side dishes alike.
The Outstanding in the Field organizers paired up local organic farmers with two top Bay Area chefs, one of which was Richard Reddington of Napa Valley’s acclaimed restaurant, Redd. Chef Reddington created an incredible tomatoey Italian butter bean dish that left all of our jaws on the table. After dinner, Chef Reddington was kind enough to sit with me at the bonfire and give me some of his secrets for his incredibly flavorful butter bean dish. Unfortunately, I had sampled quite a few glasses of delicious local wine by then and had killed far too many brain cells to remember all the details he shared with me, but thankfully, enough key pieces of intel stayed with me so that I could create my own version of his delightful dish. I’m calling mine the Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot, which features a thick, rich sauce and deep, earthy flavors. Whenever I make this dish, it instantly transports us back to the beach and that spectacularly special evening, which might be why John and our friends request the bean pot so often. Well, it might have more to do with the fact that this dish totally rocks and the butter beans are to die for! And since it’s super easy to make, nutrient-rich and loaded with protein, it has become a staple in our house. I bet you will love it, too.
Cimeron’s Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot
Serves: 15 people as a side dish, or 6 as a main course
From fridge to table: about 3 hours (plus overnight soaking of the beans)
(Don’t worry – it’s one of those “let it sit on the stove for hours” kind of recipes, so it won’t require much of your time at all)
1 pound dried Italian butter beans*
1 extra humongous yellow onion, finely chopped
15 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and finely chopped
1.5 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
Smoked sea salt and pepper, to taste
First, soak the beans in water overnight. To de-gas the beans, soak them with a piece of kombu (a dried seaweed you can find at Whole Foods), or change the water often within the first few hours.
Drain the soaked beans, put them in a large pot and fill with fresh water until the beans are just covered. Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the salt and pepper. (Salt stops beans from cooking, so don’t add the salt yet). Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered. Then reduce heat to simmer (on my range, I set it to 3), and cook, uncovered, for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours until the beans are tender and the cooking liquid and veggies become a thick, rich sauce. Be sure to stir every now and then to prevent scorching. If the sauce thickens but the beans aren’t soft enough yet, add some water (1/2 – 1 cup at a time) and continue cooking the beans. Once the beans are tender and creamy, add smoked sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve hot as a side dish or as an entree. Enjoy!
*I get dried Italian butter beans from Iacopi Farms at our local farmer’s market. Mr. Iacopi’s father immigrated to the Bay Area from Italy and brought his family’s famous butter beans with him. If you can’t find them where you are, you can buy canned Italian butter beans in most high-end grocery stores, or buy the dried beans online. You could also substitute another large white bean, but if you can, try to find the butter beans since they are simply divine.