The signs of fall are everywhere: The buttery light of summer has shifted to the haunting gold of autumn, most apparent in late afternoon.
There’s a deep chill in the early morning air, and if you find yourself pulling your comforter up around your neck or adding an extra blanket, you are not alone.
Sunflowers are tilting their heavy heads downward, tomatoes are turning into sauce in the fields, and there’s a sense of urgency: Enjoy the last of the harvest now, before it vanishes.
There’s time for a few more Caprese salads, another BLT or two, fresh salsa, fried Padrons, grilled zucchini and such, but it won’t be long now until we must turn our attention to the foods of fall and winter.
It’s not a bad thing, saying goodbye to the foods of summer and welcoming the new season. Hearty soups and stews, winter squash curries, posole, and before too long, turkey await us.
Right now we can find fresh shell beans at our farmers markets, and they are a special treat that vanishes fairly quickly. One of the season’s singular pleasures is to sit outside in the golden afternoon light with a mound of shell beans at your side. Watch the light as you strip the beans out of their pods; if you can do this on your front porch, with a glass of something good to drink alongside, all the better.
Soon, those fresh shell beans, which cook up more quickly than dried beans, will be gone, too. When they are, you can still find local beans from a number of farmers at your local farmers market.
When you can’t, we’ve got one of the best producers around next door, in Napa County, home of Rancho Gordo.
This company is a purveyor of extraordinary heirloom beans and a number of other New World products, including hominy, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, herbs, spices, chiles, hot sauces and more. (For more information, go to ranchogordo.com.)
If you typically buy canned beans, you might not realize how simple it is to prepare fresh or dried beans from scratch. The best way to do this successfully is to begin with really good beans, either grown locally or purchased from Rancho Gordo.
Once you have the beans, you just need liquid and heat to make them edible and even delicious, though most people, myself included, believe they must be salted after cooking for their flavors to blossom.
The very best beans need nothing more, though you can add all manner of flavorings, from garlic and fresh or dried chiles to homemade sofrito, onions, celery, carrots, stock, meaty bones, meat, and herbs, such as bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
Once cooked, the beans can be served neat, over rice, in soups, and, if drained, in tacos, tostadas, and burritos.
When you make beans at home from scratch, it is always a good idea to prepare more than you’ll eat at a single meal. They improve in flavor overnight and you can use them to make a great breakfast or lunch.
For recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, including basic recipes for both fresh and dried shell beans, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
This dish borrows its technique from shakshuka, a delicious Middle Eastern dish in which eggs are baked or poached in a spicy tomato sauce. Here, the beans replace the sauce.