Beans are among the first foods domesticated, and archaeologists have found evidence of their widespread use in the Mediterranean and Americas from as early as 9,000 B.C. Shell beans are any of the 500 varieties of beans grown around the world whose pods are removed and typically not eaten. Popular varieties include fava (broad) beans, cranberry (borlotti) beans, lima beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), black beans, and scarlet runner beans. Fresh shell beans, available in late summer and early autumn, have a sweet and creamy taste that cannot be matched by dried beans. Fresh shell beans can be prepared in the same ways as their dried counterparts, but take less time to cook. They taste great on their own alongside poultry and fish, in soups, or puréed to make a spread.
Green beans should snap easily when broken. Choose beans that are a vibrant green color with velvety smooth pods and tips that have not been precut. They should be free from brown spots or bruises.
Fresh shell beans should be eaten within a few days of purchase, before they dry out. Green beans can be wrapped in paper towels and stored in a plastic bag for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. To prevent mold, leave the bag open for air circulation.
If you have purchased shell beans still in the pod, remove the beans from the pod just before cooking. Fresh shell beans tend to cook much faster than dried shell beans, so be sure to pay attention to cooking times; remove shell beans from the heat as soon as they become tender.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, by Tasha DeSerio & Jodi Liano (Weldon Owen, 2010).