The people at Rancho Gordo talk about their beans the way oenophiles talk about wine. They can explain the subtle variances in flavor among Black Calypso Beans and Black Valentine Beans, and stock heirloom varieties with crazy names such as “Goat’s Eye,” “Christmas Lima” and of course don’t forget to call dear old “Good Mother Stallard.” They’re not quite as cheap as buying from the bulk bin at the grocery store, but since it’s beans we’re talking about, they’re still not a bad buy. You can do as I do and always order in bulk to save on shipping. Dried beans are a pantry staple, after all. And since it’s gardening season, it’s worth mentioning that these beans are so fresh you can plant them and grow your own. They are so fresh they sprout almost immediately.
As much variety as there is, most beans have a more well-known counterpart (i.e. don’t be put off by the fancy names if you can’t find the one you’re looking for). Rio Zapes are similar to pintos, Yellow Eye Beans can stand in for cannelinis. But it’s fun to try the recipes that have been crafted specifically for each variety, and Rancho Gordo has plenty on their website and more in their book, Heirloom Beans–even though Rancho Gordo provides recipes almost reluctantly, emphasizing that their beans are so flavorful that little elaboration is warranted. Nevertheless, I’ve been coveting this book for a while, every since I gave it to my father-in-law two years ago for Christmas. (I figured it would be bad form to pretend it accidentally ended up with my stack of gifts so I resisted the urge to “borrow” it). I guess virtue or patience or something like that eventually pays off as I got my hands on a copy recently.
No news that I love my sweet potatoes–I’m still happily eating them, even if by early spring I should theoretically be sick of them. Adding beans in to make this salad makes them a meal and not just a side dish–and since I left out the salad greens (since my kitchen is always understocked), it turned out to be one of those great salads that just gets better as it sits in your fridge.
This salad is pretty simple to make, especially if you are lazy like me and skip the adornments: toasted pine nuts and fried fresh sage leaves. This is a pity, I admit, because pine nuts are easy to toast (and given their price, it’s worth the effort) and my sage plants are roaring to life in the garden. But no point hiding it. I am sometimes lazy and wont to skip the glorious finishing touches–and this salad was delicious enough, bare-bones style. I did pluck a few sage leaves for the garnish in my photos though, and I do provide the instructions if you are a bit more ambitious than I. That redeems it somewhat right?
Adapted from Rancho Gordo’s Heirloom Beans
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 1T extra virgin olive oil
- ½t salt
- 2T pine nuts
- 1c well-drained Rio Zape (or other pinto beans)
- fried sage leaves
- ¼c grapeseed or safflower oil
- 20 fresh sage leaves
- 1 small shallot
- 1t grainy mustard
- 2T cider vinegar
- ¼c olive oil
- 1T chopped parsley
- 1t fresh chopped chervil (1/2t dried)
- ½t chopped fresh marjoram (1/4t dried)
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise into eighths, so you end up with wedges. Then cut each wedge into triangles about ½-inch thick. Place on a jelly roll pan or other baking dish, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and use your hands to mix. Roast about twenty minutes until tender and starting to caramelize at the edges, turning with a spatula or shaking the pan a few times to help roast evenly.
- Toast the pine nuts in a small heavy skillet over low heat, shaking the pan often and watching closely. This should take about 4 minutes. When the aroma rises, remove to a plate (don’t let them sit in the pan and watch carefully so they don’t burn–as with all toasted nuts, they go from beautifully fragrant to burnt quickly).
- To fry the sage leaves, warm the safflower oil over medium high in a small heavy skillet. (Presumably the one you just toasted your pine nuts in). Fry the leaves a few at a time for 10-15 seconds, removing to a paper towel to drain.
- For the dressing, choose the bowl in which you will be serving your salad. Whisk together the shallot, mustard, and vinegar. Drizzle the olive oil in in a thin stream, whisking all the while, Then whisk in the the parsley, chervil, marjoram, salt, and pepper.
- When the sweet potatoes are done, allow to cool somewhat, then add to the bowl with the dressing along with the beans. Stir to coat and adjust for salt. (Beans often need extra salt).