Pork and beans is always, to me, a thrilling combination and a wonderful thing to eat year-round, but fresh shell beans are a seasonal treat not to be missed. In the South, black-eyed peas, crowder peas, and fresh limas are longtime favorites and farm stands there always have them fresh in season. More and more, fresh shell beans, such as cranberry, flageolets, and cannellini, are appearing in farmers’ markets around the country. If the beans are already shucked, packed in a little bag, it’s a gift. If you can’t find them fresh, substitute dried heirloom beans from a recent harvest. Summer shell beans cook quickly, usually in 30 minutes or so, and have a sweet, creamy succulence.
Shuck the beans from their pods and put them in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add water to cover by an inch or so. Add a splash of olive oil, the bay leaf, sage leaves, and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer the beans for about 30 minutes, until the skins are soft and the beans are tender and creamy.
Taste the beans and add salt if necessary. Cool the beans in the broth. (The beans can be cooked several hours in advance.)
To serve, reheat the shell beans. Drain them (reserve the broth for another purpose) and put them in a warmed bowl. Grind over a little black pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil.
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