I have gained a new appreciation for the humble bean since we started carrying Rancho Gordo beans in our shops. Rancho Gordo beans have so much of their own flavor you hardly want to add anything else when you eat them. Steve Sando began the Rancho Gordo company, based in Napa, with the goal of promoting native new world specialty foods, with a focus on beans. Steve reminds us native foods from the Americas are worthy of celebration. We’ve learned from Steve that the very Italian borlotti bean originated in Mexico and the ever-so-French flageolet actually has its roots in Colombia.
Steve has excelled in finding small farms where farmers are still growing heirloom, near forgotten varieties since common varieties such as kidney, limas and great northerns took over the U.S. market. The freshness of Rancho Gordo beans offers insight into the pure and individual flavors hidden within each type of bean. Steve defines fresh as consumed within two years of harvest. With grocery store dried beans, there’s no way to know how long they’ve been stored, and often beans are kept in storage before distribution for years, even decades. Fresher beans also cook faster.
Last night I made beans and rice with the Vaquero beans (cooked with a few whole garlic cloves and a chorizo butt) and today I made the beans & rice into burritos. When summer comes it’ll be time for Beans and Greens with collards, beans, a bit of (Newsom’s ham or ham bone in the pot) and some hot sauce. Served with corn bread, of course. Chef Jason at the South End store is of late consistently providing us with a light and fresh heirloom bean salads simply dressed with lime, cilantro and red onion. Ask for a taste when you see it in the deli!
Both of our stores carry a rotating assortment of bean varieties, as well as Rancho Gordo hominy, crimson popcorn, chili powder and hot sauces. The popcorn is amazing, too; pure white and exquisitely tender. Right now we have black & white Vaquero, pale Snowcaps, and creamy Yellow Indian Woman beans among others. Also look for beans like Sangre de Toro from the Rancho Gordo XOXOC Project that works with small farms in Mexico.
We are also stocking Rancho Gordo’s cookbook, with a forward by Thomas Keller. This fantastic cookbook contains information on heirloom bean varieties and is chock full of tasty recipes like Florida Butter Bean Succotash with Mint & Goat Cheese and Drunken Beans (cooked in beer). But all beans really need is a soak, some diced vegetables for flavor and a little simmering in a pot. It really is simple and the result is a nutritious, inexpensive and delectable food.
Red Beans and Rice
Note: Beans and rice was traditionally made on Mondays because Mondays were wash days and this is a dish that doesn’t need to be tended while it cooks. I used a Newsom’s ham bone instead of a meaty shank.
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound beans, soaked in cold water 2-4 hours
1 ham bone
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp each dried thyme, dried oregano, and cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Cooked long-grain rice for serving
Bottled hot sauce or pickled jalapenos
In a large, heavy Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic and sautee until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the beans and their soaking water and then the ham shank. Add enough cold water to cover beans by one inch. Add bay leaf, thyme, oregano and cayenne. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer partially covered until beans begin to break down, 2 to 3 hours. Add water as needed to keep ingredients submerged. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove ham bone. Raise heat to meduim high and cook beans uncovered until thick and creamy, about 20 minutes. To help thicken them you can use a wooden spoon to mash some of the beans against the side of the pot. Serve over cooked white rice and pass the hot sauce at the table.
Adapted from the Rancho Gordo cookbook. For more information on Rancho Gordo, check out this article from the New York Times.
Julie Cappellano is the General Manager and wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End.